Stolen Elections

Paul Krugman [RSS] joins the list of those preparing the ground to delegitimate the results of the election in case Bush wins again.

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.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Tiger says:

    While the need for fair elections is paramount, the history of the votin’ process in the US would show that a fair election has never occurred, nationwide, what with there havin’ been political machines in place in many areas for years that remove the element of fundamental fairness from some people’s votin’ process. There is plenty of finger pointin’ to go either way, in most cases, when it comes to votin’ irregularities.

  2. dc says:

    I specifically remember the contempt and ridicule republican operatives heaped upon poll workers and election officials trying to do a recount of the Florida paper ballots. James Baker, put in charge of the operation by Bush himself, was on television regularly denouncing, maligning, ridiculing and heaping scorn on county workers trying their best to just do their jobs.

    Then Scalia stops them cold with his order to cease all activity in the state-wide comprehensive recount by saying that counting the ballots would jepordize the legitimacy of the Bush presidency. Well duh? Since the conservates on the USSC were planning to award the election to Bush all along, regardless of the actual vote in Florida, of course Bush would be illegitimate.

  3. James Joyner says:


    Bush won the initial count. He won the mandated recount. Both of them closely. The third recount, ordered by the Florida Supremes, clearly violated not only the state’s election laws but also federal law. Had the results come out differently on the third count, it would certainly have delegitimated the process–especially if the federal courts later overturned that result.

    And, contrary to Democratic mythology, the Supremes didn’t hand Bush the election, they merely stopped the selective recount orchestrated by the Democrats. Which, ironically, would still have given the election to Bush, as we later learned from the non-binding media recounts.

  4. Maybe Krugman is correct in some of his stated concerns. I do look forward to his concern for repeated voting irregularities in St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee, South Dakota, and New Mexico this fall.

  5. dc says:

    james joyner,

    I’m not sure what nationalty you are but here in America we believe that unless we count every vote in a close election the ‘winner’ is questionable.

    The US Supreme Court first stopped the ballots from being counted then a few days later, at 10pm at night, ruled that Florida could finish it’s recount – by 12 midnight. Any results turned in past their arbitrary deadline of midnight would not be recognized.

    Since it was clear that any win by Gore would be reversed the the Supreme Court it seems senseless to proceed. But with the ballots never completely counted it is clear Bush never legitimately won the office of the presidency. At least that is how it looks to us here in America.

  6. Shelby says:


    Speaking as someone “here in America” the US Supreme Court did NOT “stop [a] count [of] every vote in a close election”. It stopped a *partial* recount in which many counties were using *different* standards. The Court was on solid legal ground; the Florida Supreme Court was not. (And I am a lawyer, though not a Floridian or an election-law specialist.)

    Yes, there was much silliness throughout, from both Republicans and Democrats, and from many but not all of the courts involved. Yes, there are reasonable grounds for disagreeing with the US Supreme Court’s ultimate decision. But they were given very little time to clean up a mess created by Florida’s high court and Florida’s mediocre laws on this issue.

    And speaking of silliness, Paul Krugman’s call for pre-emptive paranoia and greater reliance on iffy exit-polls (inherently less accurate than an actual “count of every vote”) takes the prize. It would multiply the problems of 2000 manifold.

  7. Jim says:


    Apparently you people in Amerika don’t watch the news.
    The rest of us, in America, saw the results of the complete state-wide count performed by the media (unbiased? more likely left-leaning) itself.

    Results: BUSH WON!

  8. dc says:

    hey jim,

    We don’t have the media, left leaning or right wing, count our ballots here in America to determine our elections. We have county workers do it in each state. You can malign, ridicule, scapegoat and verbally abuse the process all you want but, that is your right. But don’t stop the ballots from being counted like the conservatives on the US Supreme Court did. It creates illegitmacy.

  9. dc, your utopian rhetoric is childish. If I were you I’d refuse to vote again until there are never any more problems with dogs voting in St. Louis.

  10. And no, the dogs in St. Louis don’t vote for Bush.

  11. Attila Girl says:

    I see everyone’s forgotten the process by which the Gore people wanted to “count” votes. They were looking for “pregnant” chads, and “dimpled” chads, and “hanging” chads, and basically any other type of chads they could use to manufacture votes for Gore.

    (Yes–I know the plural of chad is chad. But it sounds funny. I’m therefore being colloquial, here.)

  12. Daniel Kerr says:

    The issue in Florida is a sign that the time has come for all to understand the process. When you have political operatives doing the deciding for those cs\asting the votes, you will always have the losers being sore and sour. The last word on this was the Democratic chairperson admitting the fact that, yes, Bush won the ACTUAL count in Florida. What seems strange is two things – One – How come those aged persons in Florida can manage 10 bingo cards at once but can’t manage a voting machine that they should have been familiar with for over 3 decades. Two – how come the supposed voting irregularities were not reported in other key states that were lost by Bush but were Republican strong holds. Finally, the judges are the one “Selected – Not elected” It is time for you Bush bashers to grow a life.