By Jean Hodgkinson
An American presidential election is a movie, usually a very bad movie, but the American public likes bad movies –Lewis H. Lapham
During his presidential campaign Mitt Romney asked American voters to consider whether they’re better off now than four years ago, as if the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression hadn’t happened under George W. Bush’s watch or the Republicans haven’t deliberately crippled the government’s ability to function for the last four years just to spite the Democratic president. More curious is the sudden Republican inability to steal an election after previously demonstrating such consummate skill in this shady art (think Florida in 2000, Ohio 2004).
Hardly surprising however is the not-so-subtle headline story of this month’s Harper’s magazine, “How to Rig an Election: The G.O.P. aims to paint the country red.” In it Victoria Collier lets slip “From the earliest days of the republic, American politicians (and much of a cynical populace) saw vote rigging as a necessary evil.
Since the opposition was assumed to be playing equally dirty, how could you avoid it?” In January 2005 Lewis Lapham (Harper’s editor-in-chief at the time) reflected on the 2004 election and listed a few “clues at least worthy of further investigation:
• A precinct in Franklin County, Ohio, possessed of only 638 voters awarded 4,258 votes to Bush.
• In forty-seven of the sixty-seven counties in Florida, Bush received more votes than there were registered Republicans.
• Of the 120,000,000 votes cast on Election Day roughly a third were processed by electronic voting machines supplied not by government but by private corporations, at least one of them (Diebold) controlled by a zealous partisan of the Republican Party who made no secret of his wish to bring victory home for the holidays. The software programs enjoyed the protection granted to commercial trade secrets.
• In three states that relied extensively on paper ballots (Illinois, Maine, Wisconsin) the exit polls corresponded to the final tally. In six states that relied extensively on electronic touchscreens (North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio) the discrepancy between exit polls and the final tally invariably favored Bush.
• In ten of the eleven swing states the final result differed from the predicted result, and in each instance the shift added votes for Bush.
• Voters in six states, most particularly those in three Florida counties (Broward, Dade, and Palm Beach) reported touching the screen for Kerry and seeing their ballots marked for Bush.
• The electronic machines in Broward County began counting absentee ballots backward once they had recorded 32,000 votes; as more people voted, the official vote count went down.
• Exit polls in states equipped with verifiable paper receipts corresponded to the final tally; in states employing electronic touch screens the margin of difference between exit polls and the final tallies was as high as 5, 7, and 9 percent …”
Of course the presidential losses of 2008 and 2012 don’t necessarily mean the G.O.P. stopped trying to steal elections. Maybe they just forgot a few of their old tricks in a haze of senility. Maybe the voting base has been so whittled down by the march of time it can no longer keep the party close enough for the traditional vote-stealing tricks to be effective. Maybe Lapham got his wish, voiced in the closing lines of the aforementioned 2005 election essay, True Blue:
“We do nothing else except rewrite the past—in every morning’s newspaper, every novel, poem, history book, interoffice memo, message posted on the refrigerator or the Internet. We inhabit the landscape of our stories, and of the two best-selling fictions explaining the Democratic Defeat, I found myself more at home in the one about the robbery. Although not without its flaws, at least it was consistent with what I know of the country in which I was born and proudly count myself a citizen, the story vouched for in the writings of Henry Adams and Mark Twain, in line with the taking of the land from the Mexicans and the Indians, with the heroic scale of the government fraud embedded in the building of the transcontinental railway, with the Teapot Dome swindle, the stock-market collapse of 1929, the Internet bubble of fond and recent memory. An American story, true blue and fire-engine red. If the Democrats don’t spoil it with a Bible and a flag, maybe they can regain the courage, traditional and culturally conservative, to steal the next election.” Well they did. And then once again last Tuesday night.
Or maybe American voters finally recognized the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party for what it really is, and simply responded as sensible people do.