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Tue Jun 5, 2012, 08:51 PM

A brief but very important word about election rigging. [View all]

It seems like you can't go five minutes here today without seeing someone proclaiming that the vote in Wisconsin is rigged in favor of Walker. Speaking as someone with actual real-world experience in election logistics, voter data, and ferreting out fraudulent election numbers, I felt I should clarify some things.

Rigging the vote tally of an election, and doing so in a way that can't be traced or exposed, is about a thousand times harder than most people here think. Between multiple counts, election observers, poll watchers, paper ballots, et al, it's very hard to actually just make up the results of an election if anyone is paying even the slightest attention. And if the situation is uncertain in the least, such as, say, not knowing roughly how many people are going to vote, it gets harder again by another order of magnitude.

Now as always, the most effective way of putting your thumb on the scales of an election is to make sure people don't vote in the first place. It's nearly impossible for the system to "forget" a ballot, but there's no ballot if the person doesn't cast one. Misinformation about when and where to vote, jamming get-out-the-vote operations, fraudulent robocalls, demoralizing base voters, these are the sorts of things that are the real tools to try and illicitly swing an election.

A case straight out of the real world: in 2008, I was busting my butt on a New York State Senate campaign against a very entrenched incumbent, with all of us hoping that the coming Obama surge would have coattails. Come election day, the district was blanketed with some very, very illegal robocalls--no ID on them, no claim of responsibility--encouraging people to get out and vote for Barack Obama... and insert the name of the Republican State Senator here. They were banking on confusing first time or low-information voters who were enthusiastic about Obama, but didn't know the local candidates that well. At least several districts in the area were hit the same way. I doubt it swayed any of our local elections, but in a tight race even a few hundred votes can make a difference.

The metaphor of the thumb on the scale is an accurate one; none of these things can stop a landslide, but under the right circumstances they can shift the balance. That's why the best counter isn't paranoia, it's vigilance.

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