The Jury Talks Back


Could it happen here?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin M @ 10:07 am

The fixed election in Iran, with its blatant manufacture of millions of votes and/or assignment of votes without regard to ballots, gives rise to the question: “Could it happen here?” The short answer is “No”, the longer answer is “No, except when it is very close.”

Unlike Iran, we don’t have a direct election for President; we have our idiosyncratic Electoral College system.  The EC is often criticized precisely on this point, and the fact that it occasionally results in an odd outcome.  It is, instead, the solid basis for our 220 years as a republic.

The EC provides several levels of protection to the legitimacy of our election.  It is first and foremost a firewall.  The system distributes vote counting to the states.  Since states only award electoral votes, padding state totals doesn’t do anything.  Since such shenanigans are possible only when one has complete control over the counting, it usually doesn’t affect the state’s outcome, either.

Only when the state total is very close and one controls a sizable portion of the state can the outcome be swayed without notice.  And, in the end, you have only changed one state’s electoral vote; forty-nine to go.  So, it also takes a close federal election to matter.  Chicago 1960 (successful fraud) and Florida 2000 (take your pick) are possible examples where the system failed.

Secondly, the system partitions any needed recounts to one or a few states.  Election 2000 is a perfect example.  The federal margin (~500K votes for Gore), the Florida margin (537 votes for Bush) and the New Mexico margin (267 votes for Gore), along with close votes in Oregon and Wisconsin would have meant a nationwide recount.  If you think the Florida recount was bad, multiply that by 50.  Given Bush v Gore, you have to count them all again; can’t cherry-pick.

Third, the system provides a tie-breaker.  Tight elections (margin less than, say, 1%) go the the candidate who won the most states.  This is part and parcel of the Senate-membership deal struck in Philadelphia in 1787, and not at all an accident.  This also adds to the difficulty in rigging an election, as it is the large metropolitan areas where machine control is most likely, and they cannot easily get past the dead hand of the two base EC votes per state.

In short, it could only happen here if we reformed the Electoral College to be more “democratic.”


  1. And yet, there is no person or agency responsible for verifying the documents to prove a person is eligible to run for president. The Senate is required to certify the election but is not required validate that a person is legally able to be president when doing so.

    So yes, it can happen here until at least the same documentation is required to be allowed to run for President as is required to sign your kid up for baseball.

    Comment by Jay Curtis — 6/23/2009 @ 12:50 pm

  2. I don’t recall showing ID to be in little league. They were far more interested if I knew which end of the bat to hold.

    Comment by Kevin Murphy — 6/23/2009 @ 5:53 pm

  3. Kevin: it’s possible the little league rules have changed since your childhood, however. :)

    Comment by aphrael — 6/23/2009 @ 6:44 pm

  4. Kevin : There was definite major voter fraud in the 1960 election. Not only in Chicago but also in Texas.

    However, there was little or no voter fraud in Florida in 2000.

    The problem in Florida was flagrant judicial misconduct by all seven Florida Supreme Court Justices. As all nine SCOTUS Justices found, the Florida Supreme Court had no authority under either the Florida Constitution or Florida Election Law for it’s first ruling.

    The whole thing was a naked attempt to steal the Florida election for Al Gore.

    However, when the MSM got through with the “spin,” George W. Bush, Karl Rove and SCOTUS got the public blame.

    Comment by Longwalker — 6/24/2009 @ 1:22 pm

  5. It’s not “little league rules” aphrael — it is system engineering. The electoral college is a VERY difficult thing to game — all distributed systems are.

    The people who set up the EC distrusted each other. Elbridge Gerry himself was at the Convention. So they set up a system where, no matter how much you stuffed the ballot box in South Carolina, it didn’t affect the results. Presumably the party doing the stuffing was the majority anyway.

    It has issues, if you actually are crazy enough to think that exactly correct vote totals are ever possible, but if you are just after “what do the people want” it does pretty good AND IT IS IMMUNE to large-scale national fraud.

    In a way that a direct election can NEVER be.

    Sure, when the national vote is close (1% margin at most) there can be a close, or even inverted, electoral vote. In that case changing one state can have an effect. But even that is hard.

    But a system that “fails” only when the people have no clear preference and works solidly when they do would have saved Iran. And one election like Iran’s fraud would kill any democracy. The EC makes that impossible.

    Comment by Kevin Murphy — 6/24/2009 @ 3:35 pm

  6. Kevin, I agree that the electoral college is a very difficult thing to game. I was failing to make a joking response to:

    #I don’t recall showing ID to be in little league. They were far more interested if I knew which end of the bat to hold.

    Comment by Kevin Murphy — 6/23/2009 @ 5:53 pm

    I don’t think that exactly correct vote totals are possible. I’m a software engineer; I think all systems have margins of error and that the best you can do is design the system to minimize the error margin. (Which is, incidentally, why I’ve never been terribly upset about the outcome in 2000, and why I think former Sen. Coleman should give up already: the elections in question were both clearly within the margins of error of the system).

    Comment by aphrael — 6/24/2009 @ 3:46 pm

  7. Coleman (and Bush, for that matter) screwed up when they did not IMMEDIATELY make a one-day-only coin toss offer.

    They were slightly ahead, but only enough to have a few points over 50% better odds, and they would have looked like a class act no matter what happened. And if their opponent refused, griping about a loss after refusing would have been widely ridiculed.

    At worst, they have lost the election with good will, and the winner of the toss would have no mandate (but would also have few bad feelings).

    Win for both candidates AND their electorate.

    Instead we had scortched earth.

    Comment by Kevin Murphy — 6/25/2009 @ 10:14 pm

  8. Everyone is forgetting that Bob Beckel and Bob Mulholland tried to black mail the Electoral College Electors into voting for Gore regardless of who they were pleged to in 2000.

    Yes, it can and does happen here.

    Comment by PCD — 6/29/2009 @ 7:57 am

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