On Election Night 2004 I was periodically checking a blog run by democratic experts on voting statistic. As the polls closed in Ohio and the exit polls came up a cautious jubilation crept in among the bloggers. But as the actual numbers came in a sense of shock swept over them: something was clearly wrong.

Rather, one of two things must have been wrong: either there had been massive voting fraud in the presidential elections in Ohio, or every single sophisticated statistical calculation on this particular site had been mistaken. Within an hour the verdict had come down among the bloggers: their calculations were wrong, the bloggers were all wrong, there couldn’t possibly have been any fraud, oh no. It read like something from a Communist Party proceeding: just as the comrades sacrifice their minds to the Party, so too the Democrats were willing to make their own self-critique in defense of the Institution. Gentlemen do not accuse gentlemen of fraud, and the bonds between democratic gentlemen and republican gentlemen were greater by far than any sympathy for the long lines of disenfranchised voters in Cleveland, Ohio.

Has anything changed? It’s four years later, and with resentment against Bush at astronomical levels it’s unlikely the Republicans could cheat enough to overcome their disadvantage. But it’s likely there’s going to be just as much cheating as before, except that nobody in the Establishment (democrat or republican) will give a flying crap. Today, even more today than four years ago, “progressive” blogs are crawling with the same privileged, middle-of-the-road Americans who, when confronted with a bit of republican cheating in 2004, were wise enough to their own self-interest to overlook the temporary loss of a presidential election so long as the system was preserved: the two-party system that cheats, and has been cheating voters for the past two hundred years. If anything, they’re in greater numbers because the collapse of the republican machine has created large numbers of Vernunftdemokratiker, democratic activists and supporters whose main concern is getting with the winners. Perhaps the largest political blog around, DailyKos, has the stated goal of “electing Democrats.” By any means, presumably. When people like that call themselves “progressive,” it should be understood, they don’t mean “progressive” as in “seeking greater social justice.” For them, “progressive” is a word like Lions Club or Kiwanis: business-as-usual under a different name. Such people oppose voter fraud the same way they oppose the Iraq war: not because it’s bad but because it’s bad for business: theirs. The blogosphere has created not two hundred million concerned citizens but ten million career politicians.

This year’s Election Night Panic came early to the ProHahaGressive Blogosphere. In its February 16 issue the New York Times got around to mentioning that a recount of New York primary tabulations was underway in order to determine the actual number of delegates allotted to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The news set loose a flood of backwards reasoning the likes of which had not been seen since the leaders of the German Communist Party were summoned to Moscow to explain why they had betrayed the Party by correctly anticipating the Nazi takeover when the Party had thought otherwise. If you were an Obama supporter then obviously, that was fraud in New York City. If you were a Hillary supporter, obviously not. That there had been a massive miscount, nobody denied. That the miscount was not a mere question of deliberate intent or not, but rather an unfortunate side-effect of a systematic, ongoing procedure that has been in place for decades with the full collusion of all political parties, nobody seemed to notice – meaning that nobody cared to notice, with the surprising exception of New York’s Mayor Bloomberg, who sounded as if he’d found a good excuse to kick the old patronage system. Why he’d want to do that, and how he’d do it, and who might benefit, is anybody’s guess.

But “fraud” is such a nasty word. It’s all a gentlemen’s agreement in a City of Gentlemen, and besides, everybody knows ahead of time who’s going to win. The New York Times knows it because it’s endorsed the winner (there are always solid reasons to go with the future winner). The election workers know it because the Board of Elections pays the salaries of the folks who check your registration and those folks are required to be registered Republicans and Democrats and they’re usually recruited through the local republican or democratic clubhouse, and if the poll workers don’t have a good notion who’s going to win by the time they turn up at the polls they will by the end of the day. I don’t know how many registered Republicans the GOP would lose if this system were repealed: the job pays well but it’s not very regular and it’s mostly taken on by retirees and folks without a regular income. If this system were abolished the Republicans would probably lose a fair percentage of their New York City membership, which membership is used to justify the fact that the Board of Elections pays to maintain the system as it is to begin with. Most likely, the number of New York City Republican single mothers on Welfare would drop to zero.

And when the votes are counted at the end of the day it’s understood that the poll workers will use their best judgment to read out loud the results, which is where all of the mistakes come in, because (as I’ve said elsewhere), everybody’s in a hurry to get home and anyhow, we all know who’s won, and just in case we didn’t the Times would tell us tomorrow. The Associated Press reported that in the Obama-Clinton race a number of errors came from the police officers overseeing the process, who can also be assumed to use their best judgment – the judgment that tells them a black man pulling out his wallet is actually reaching for a gun.

But it’s not fraud, you see, because after the results are in you can go and check the machines – if you’ve got the time and money, of course, and if you want to bother, since after all there’s usually some kind of booby prize for the loser anyhow, some cushy job in City Government. This is what the ACLU likes to call a “victimless crime,” meaning a crime with victims who don’t count, and those victims as usual turn out to be the people outside the system. In fact there are dozens of elections in New York City yearly that might go some day to candidates who are neither republican nor democrat; they might even go to Greens, or socialists, or others except that the Greens at least are far more interested in negotiating deals than in actually winning elections: when you win an election at a local level you’re going to have to deliver to your constituents, and that means knowing your constituents, which is something no dignified progressive deigns to do in New York City. It’s so much easier to cut deals: isn’t that what politics’ about?


[12/23/2008; last revised 11/19/2012]

- Paul Werner