When I say that the result will be suspect, I don’t mean that the election will, in fact, have been stolen. (We may never know.) I mean that there will be sufficient uncertainty about the honesty of the vote count that much of the world and many Americans will have serious doubts.
How might the election result be suspect? Well, to take only one of several possibilities, suppose that Florida – where recent polls give John Kerry the lead – once again swings the election to George Bush. Much of Florida’s vote will be counted by electronic voting machines with no paper trails. Independent computer scientists who have examined some of these machines’ programming code are appalled at the security flaws. So there will be reasonable doubts about whether Florida’s votes were properly counted, and no paper ballots to recount. The public will have to take the result on faith. Yet the behavior of Gov. Jeb Bush’s officials with regard to other election-related matters offers no justification for such faith. First there was the affair of the felon list. Florida law denies the vote to convicted felons. But in 2000 many innocent people, a great number of them black, couldn’t vote because they were erroneously put on a list of felons; these wrongful exclusions may have put Governor Bush’s brother in the White House.
The problem with this argument is that, in close elections, there is never absolute certainty that there weren’t irregularities or errors at the margins. Regardless of how one fashions the system, doubt will be impossible to erase. The standard course of things, however, has been to presume that elected officials, poll workers, and others responsible for conducting and monitoring elections are acting in good faith absent specific evidence to the contrary. Unfortunately, the tactic now seems to be to start the process of undermining confidence in elections months in advance so that there is a built-in excuse in case a candidate loses. This is not a good trend.