Don’t Vote For Lizard People

If you do, your vote for other candidates may not count. So says an op-ed in today’s Gray Lady.

The real point of the article, however, is that the process of physically counting votes in a tight election like Coleman-Franken in Minnesota reveals, as did the Florida Presidential ballots in 2000, that democracy is inexact and messy. The methods available to us to physically tally votes — punch cards or optical-scan ballots — are inevitably going to produce a rate of error. And in Minnesota this time around, “this error rate is more than double the margin between the two camps.” In other words, the original final tally — which was in Coleman’s favor by about 200 votes — is less than the rate of errors that would normally be expected in a recount.

One alternative is electronic voting. But this engenders huge distrust on the part of voters, particularly those who supported candidates who lose, or those who enjoyed the support of anyone remotely affiliated with creating and selling the electronic voting system. Look, I’m not saying whether or not I think the Diebold people would sell a tainted, fixable, or hackable system intentionally, or if their electronic voting system is hackable and if so by whom. What I’m saying is that there is sufficient distrust of electronic voting that any result from it carries a taint of illegitimacy. Until someone can make a hack-free system that will satisfy all but the crankiest of cranks, electronic voting will be difficult indeed to implement.

And, of course, you can’t write in “Lizard People” on an electronic ballot. Because that’s a productive use of your franchise.

So how, then, are we to decide a winner in a close race? Minnesota law provides for a race that is actually tied to be decided by lot. A coin flip, a draw of straws. Something like that. This is similarly unsatisfying.

Georgia may offer a better idea — a runoff with only the two top vote-getters eligible to receive votes. There was a significant third party candidate in Minnesota and it’s not clear which campaign he drew from more heavily. But if that election winds up being a statistical tie also, what to do then?

I think the real answer is found in the Federal Constitution, at Article I, Section 5: “Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members…” In the case of the Coleman-Franken election, if the race is too close to call, the other 99 Senators are the ones who are given the power decide who won the election, in whatever manner they deem appropriate. We can hope that they would try and figure out what the vote really was as best they can, in some principled manner, regardless of which candidate prevails.

I’m sorry, I couldn’t get through that last sentence with a straight face. Let’s be real here. If they simply vote on partisan lines, resulting in the majority party’s candidate winning (Franken in this case) the majority runs the risk of being percevied as corrupt, biased, and untrustworthy. On the other hand, if they act in a bipartisan fashion, giving equal weight to both parties (like in an ethics committee issue) they run the risk of deadlock, which may spread the partisan untrustworthiness around a little bit but otherwise keeps the same problem in place.

The point is, politicians are there to take political heat and elections require finality in their result. We’ve got a method to answer to the question, in the Constitution, and it isn’t a coin flip, however superior that dispute resolution method might be. The Senate gets to decide, and no one else gets to intervene in that decision. In this case, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like the result of that process. But the process is important too, and those of us who care about process as much as result ought to insist on that.

I think even the Lizard People, when pressed to honesty, would have to agree with that.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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