The Uncertainty Principle

The recent Al Franken – Norm Coleman vote recount in Minnesota reminds me of just how annoyed I get with the politics surrounding our current voting system.

We witness the same tiresome theatrics every two years. Before elections, Democrats and their allies at ACORN and other “get out the vote” organizations work feverishly to register as many voters as they can. Then Republicans get busy finding all of the dead voters, imprisoned voters, criminal voters, alien voters, multiple vote registrations, and fairy-tale voters (Mickey Mouse, etc.) that Democrats add to the voting rolls. Then Democrats accuse Republicans of making votes disappear, while Republicans accuse Democrats of stuffing ballot boxes. Is there anyone in the party leadership brave enough to admit that maybe — just maybe — this is why we have a two party system? That maybe it’s good we have two parties because one acts as a check on the power of the other? I would be very happy if both sides would just simply acknowledge their roles in the game, then sit down and shut up.

Yet there is a consistent trend noticeable in the major election recounts of the last few years (Bush-Gore in Florida, 2000; Gregoire-Rossi in Washington, 2004; Coleman-Franken in Minnesota, 2008) — Democrats consistently gain votes during recounts. Only during 2000 recount in Florida did the Democrats fail to gain enough votes to eventually beat the Republicans.

There seems to be a compelling reason as to why this happens, which goes right back to those irksome election year political attacks — Democrats really do try to register as many disadvantaged voters as possible. If you are homeless, illiterate, have a substance abuse problem, have a criminal record, are in the country illegally, live on government disability payments, didn’t graduate from high school, or are unemployed, it is almost a sure bet that a Democrat (or a Democrat-allied) election worker will try to register you to vote.

Why go to so much trouble to register this segment of the population? After all, it can be argued that they are probably the least likely to have informed opinions on major issues, and they are probably the most likely to have trouble filling out a ballot properly. I’ll let Captain Ed Morrisey explain, vis a vis the Minnesota recount:

In the end, a dead heat winds up getting decided by the incompetence of individual voters who under any other circumstances would not matter at all. That’s what we had here.

It’s all so … simple. “Everyone” wants to make sure that “every vote is counted.” After all, it’s only fair. The only time Democrats blew an important recount was in Florida in 2000, when Team Gore claimed to want to count everyone’s votes, yet made an embarrassing spectacle out of suing to keep a group of absentee military ballots out of the count. There was nothing wrong with the ballots themselves (they were just post-marked improperly) and Team Gore subsequently lost a significant amount of trustworthiness. The Democrats learned from that experience and seem to have since adopted a general “count it all, even if it’s someone’s grocery list” rule.

And when that happens, no one pays attention to the competently-cast ballots. They zip straight through the counting machines and go right back into the boxes. All the attention is focused on spoiled ballots, the ones with scribbles, scratch-outs, hanging chads, write-ins, or whatever. And no one — NO ONE — will challenge the right of a disadvantaged American to have his vote counted. When one political party makes an effort to register more disadvantaged people than the other, guess which party ends up benefiting in hand recounts of spoiled ballots?

At this point I could present several ideas for eliminating the uncertainly created by spoiled ballots. But if I did so I would simply be wasting both my time and yours, because no political party is ever going to fine-tune election law in such a way that eliminates small levels of uncertainty or judiciously uses runoff elections to clearly determine a winner.

During the 2000 Florida recount ordeal, I remember hearing endless analogies contrasting the uncertainty of elections to the unambiguous nature of sporting events. Both types of contests must end with only one winner, but in sporting contests the athletes themselves compete against one another. Most of them are mature enough to accept the finality of wins and losses because they know whether or not they played well enough to earn a victory. But in elections, it is the general public who decides the outcome of the contest, not the politicians themselves. Therefore uncertainty becomes an integral part of the election process, because a small amount of uncertainty provides each candidate with a slim chance of reversing a minuscule margin of victory by his opponent.

Uncertainty, then, becomes sacred. And no one wants to attack something sacred, especially if you think it’s always going to be on your side.

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