Modern elections have become a parlor game dangerously and needlessly imperiling democracy in the bargain...
By Brad Friedman on 6/15/2009, 3:29pm PT  

At the risk of undermining the vigorous debate and discussion now ongoing in response to my Saturday morning article drawing a comparison between Iran's '09 election and Ohio's '04 election (and the ongoing speculation about the reported Iranian results going on just about everywhere else today), allow me to amplify a bit on the point I was hoping to get at in that piece, written as reports were just coming in about skepticism in the reported results.

Since The BRAD BLOG began reporting on issues of democracy and concerns about elections, most intensely beginning on or about the early morning hours of November 3rd, 2004 and continuing ever since, we've likely investigated, researched and/or written as much or more on virtually every aspect of the topic as any other media outlet in the world.

In the process of observing one election after another since that time, and the increasingly inevitable ensuing questions about, as well as disbelief and/or belief in the validity of each election's results, one thing has become crystal clear: without complete transparency and 100% citizen oversight of every aspect of any given election, most notably the tabulation of its ballots, certainty in any given officially-announced result has become nearly impossible.

Without the transparency required for democracy to actually work, each "democratic" election, whether in this country, or in any other, has become more and more like Russian Roulette, but without the certainty...

In other words, the results of every election will either be accepted by the announced winners and/or losers, or they will blow up in the faces of those announced winners and/or losers. At least with Russian Roulette, after the trigger is pulled, the outcome is clear to everybody. Not so, unfortunately, with the way so-called democratic (small "d") elections are now routinely run, where results are generally only accepted when they match up with the public's perception of what those results should be. Usually, that judgment is based on a measure of perceptions gleaned from media coverage before, during and after, along with the perceivers political biases one way or another.

Enough with the unceasing uncertainty in and each and every election. It's unnecessary and ultimately exceedingly dangerous to the continuing well-being of democracy. (See Iran today; See what could have happened in our own streets at any time in 2000 or 2004 or even 2002, 2006 and 2008).

It is the processes of democracy which are broken, not democracy itself.

I can tell you why it is that George W. Bush "won" the election in 2004 (Bin Laden's Election Eve videotape; Soccer Moms who felt more secure with Republicans; Evangelicals who feared "liberalism"), I can also tell you why he didn't (unpopular war; voters suppressed by the tens of thousands; results rigged by the party in power). I can tell you why it is Ahmadinejad "won" over the weekend (polls showing fading support were over-hyped by U.S. media and supported by agents hoping to foment rebellion; underestimated support from rural voters who he showered with cash over the years), much as I can tell you why Mousavi was "clearly" the rightful victor (unprecedented turnout by an overwhelmingly youthful electorate; populace tired of hard-line exacerbation of tensions with the West; the "Obama Effect" following his speech in Cairo).

You pick the election and the results, and I can offer you a "logical" explanation, citing exceedingly convincing evidence to go with it, as to the reported winner has "won" or the reported loser has "lost". I can also offer a similarly compelling argument for why the "winner" was actually the loser and vice versa, in almost every case. The media has created an industry at this Art of Speculation. Throw a stick or an URL at your Internet browser or cable television or favorite newspaper and you're bound to hit such legitimate sounding guess-work today. And its all entirely meaningless, almost completely speculative and wholly based on the sometimes-informed opinion and/or personal biases of whomever happens to making their favorite case at any given moment.

While that's "fun" for many, and allows us all to be armchair "experts" (including the actual so-called "experts"), it's little more than a chimera, and ultimately, a grave and growing threat to the crucial continuance of democracy.

If democracy is to be the rendered judgment of the people, by the people and for the people, than it is the people --- not the parties, not the media, not the ruling classes, not the voting machine company's or their private hardware and software --- who must bear witness to the process if it is to be seen as legitimate.

The actual evidence, not guess-work, for who won or who lost any given election is there for all to see (save for elections run on Direct Recording Electronic, otherwise known as DRE, most often touch-screen, voting devices), if the people are allowed to actually see it.

After ballots are cast at the polling place, they must be counted at the polling place. In front of the people. In front of the citizenry and/or anyone else who would like to watch. All before ballots are moved anywhere, and before the secure chain of custody disappears into hopes for 'all the best'.

An election, decentrally counted at the polling place, in front of everyone, with polling place results announced and posted then and there --- the entire process witnessed, and even videotaped by all who have an interest and a stake --- is an exceedingly difficult election to game, at least not without being easily discovered (presuming there are equally transparent processes in place before and during voting to ensure full access by the voting populace).

Yet as long as we insist on counting in secret --- as we saw in Ohio and elsewhere in 2004, 2006, 2008 (see the New Hampshire Primary for a start, but you can also point to just about any other primary in the cycle you wish), and now in Iran in 2009 and elsewhere --- the guessing games will continue, the "experts" will make themselves more famous and/or more infamous, and the final results will be as speculative no matter who wins, and no matter what brilliant justifications, political assessment or extrapolated statistical analysis is offered to make the case for or against any given result.

Democracy deserves better. Those who claim to support it, and those who claim to have an interest in seeing it spread throughout the world, would be well served to re-examine the processes by wish democracy now happens --- most notably in this regard, its tabulation --- and the processes which are required to assure that reported results are beyond question or doubt by anyone.

The solutions are simple. The will to see it happen is another matter all together. For those of us who claim to give a damn, isn't it time we stood up to make our voices heard to demand the implementation of 100% transparent, publicly-witnessed processes that would, once and for all, put an end to the second-guessing and Monday Morning quarterbacking, so that nobody can question the results --- no matter which outcome they may have preferred?

Speculation is nice. Certainty is better. Its also, ultimately, a hell of a lot more peaceful. I can think of no better country in the world than my own to begin setting such an example for all to see and emulate. A 'shining city on a hill,' if you will...

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