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30 September 2006

It's all in the framing of the issue

Issue: Election fraud

Election fraud is the act of interfering with the efforts of the system of election administration
to ensure accuracy of results. Republican policymakers, as usual, frame the issue as one of protecting trusted institutions
from untrustworthy individuals, constructing hypothetical scenarios and wielding them as cautionary tales about the dangers of
assuming that the magnitude of present threats and dangers is not sufficiently ominous to justify giving up irrevocably
on avoiding a National ID card or certificate of citizenship for domestic use.
Progressive activists frame the election fraud issue as one of protecting honest citizens
from institutional dishonesty, citing voluminous concrete examples of reasons for possible concern. Democratic politicians stand characteristically mute.

Question: Is it a problem?

Should election results reflect exact counts tabulated using exact rules or estimates based on scientifically and statistically
legitimate techniques of estimation? If we replace 'election' with 'census,' we could ask, rhetorically,
which is a more important goal for a census? An objective estimate of the de-facto human population of
a geographically defined region based on scientific observations, perhaps including satellite data?
Or a head count for the express and exclusive use in legislative apportionment,
performed to strict constructionist standards? Now, switching back to the subject of elections,
what is the ultimate goal of election administration? To get the right answer (as to who won) as close as possible to 100% of the time?
To make the election an actually-scientific poll, in which estimates of margin of error and margin of victory come with
statistically legitimate levels and intervals of confidence reported in a transparent way?

How should we 'frame' the issue?

Since the Democrats seem to be soft-pedaling the issue (perhaps out of fear of getting a reputation as conspiracy
theorists, or worse, poor sports) one can only assume the Republicans will win by default the opportunity to frame
the issue in a way that gives the institution of electoral democracy the benefit of the doubt, and the prospective applicant
the burden of proof of eligibility, both when attempting to register to vote and when attempting to exercise
one's franchise.

Who is to blame?

Have any of the secretaries of state or other election officials failed to exercise due diligence?
Is the spirit of the voting rights act being violated? If so, in what way? Systematically?
Is remaining a voter in good standing an exercise in threading a paper trail though a series of
hoops erected around firm deadlines and tight windows of opportunity? America has allowed its
credit card industry to explore the theoretical frontiers of contractual strong irreversability. Why is the government (at multiple levels) trying to bulletproof America's social contract
against straightforward, simple and realistic conditions for compliance? Why does America's conservative movement feel
sanctity of the voting 'booth' is so threatened by unscrupulous individuals who would exploit it,
that it must deploy strongly proprietary and/or classified technologies of legislative construction,
human inventory tracking, biometric rights management and dedicated election automation hardware and software?
Is the motive to protect institutions in general from individuals in general? Or is it to protect law-abiding
citizens from those individuals who would steal or dilute their franchises?

What recourse might be available, to whom?

What recourse might an aggrieved voter or class of voters have against the election system?
What recourse might the system have against an individual?
What about organized conspiracies of individuals?
What about organized intergovernmental conspiracies of politicians,
perhaps through the nominally transparent process of drafting gotcha clauses and other
inferential land mines, this time coded in strongly non-race-based terms, formally speaking, into new election laws?
Who may request a re-count, and under what conditions?


Is the theoretically inevitable triumph of Machiavellism over formal democracy complete? Irreversible?

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