America's Dirty Elections

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

Trash can as ballot box[djwudi / Flickr]

Last night we dissected the 2004 Ohio presidential election (what went wrong and why), and tonight we’ll use that same Ohio election as a kind of launching point both forwards and backward in time. Backwards to learn whether it and Florida in 2000 were particularly egregious failures — or whether they were basically business-as-usual in a two-party system that’s not eager for voting reform. And forwards to try to understand whether Ohio is any kind of indicator of our country’s electoral health.

Andrew Gumbel, U.S. correspondent for Britain’s Independent newspaper and author of Steal This Vote, will lead the charge — with an outsider’s perspective on how we, the self-proclaimed model of democracy, actually match up to our Founding Fathers’ ideals…and to the rest of the democratic world.

Andrew Gumbel

U.S. correspondent, Independent

Author, Steal This Vote

Shelley McConnell

Senior Associate Director, Americas Program, Carter Center

Ion Sancho

Supervisor of Elections, Leon County, Florida

Extra Credit Reading

Andrew Gumbel, Steal This Vote, Nation Books, August 2005.

Thomas Crampton, Not a simple election, global vote monitors say, International Herald Tribune, November 3, 2004.

Also keep an eye out for Andrew Gumbel’s article in next week’s The Nation.

Related Content


  • AJAverett

    The whole point of the assault on our electoral system by the GOP in the infamous Florida balloting and Bush v. Gore in 2000, along with the Ohio debacle in 2004, was to seize power in order to remake the Federal bench in their [neo-Fascist] image. After all, at the end of the Clinton presidency there existed the largest number of vacancies on the Federal bench since the nation’s founding. This was no accident. Furthermore, the GOP changed the rules by which nominees to the bench might be blocked by Senators – eliminating the very methods they themselves used – and often – after taking control of the Senate, following the 1994 midterm elections. A cautionary tale, “It Can’t Happen Here,” by Sinclaire Lewis, has recently been reprinted; it ought to be required reading because, in fact, it has.

  • AJAverett

    I should like to add, unequivocally, the assertion that the Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore, 2000, was wrong AS A MATTER OF LAW.

    The Court should have directed Florida simply to enforce the election laws of Florida that were in effect on that 2000 election day. Had they done so, thousands of tainted absentee ballots would have thrown out, as they were required to have been. These ballots were defective: they were either missing the Voter Identification Number or other required information, which was ADDED AFTER RECEIPT OF THE BALLOTS by outside Republican operatives allowed to handle them by county election officials in several Republican-controlled counties. This was a gross violation of law.

    Had the ballots cast been treated as they were required to be by Florida statute, Bush would still be signing Death Warrants in Texas.

  • Potter

    AJAverett both above expressed well and thank you.

  • loki

    Bring Back “the Boss” i.e. Richard(the first Dailey”). We need him to bring truth,justice and the American way back to politics. To paraphrase Richard Nixon,Daily knew how to steal(elections.”

  • DrDan
  • loki

    thanks Dr. Dan for bringing me up to speed. ” It Can’t Happen Here” is a great book-shoulbe be read by all along with “1984”

  • mulp

    To me, the fundamental problem is the two party system which presents two false alternatives, and when a real alternative emerges, the game playing begins in the minds of the voters: am I pissed enough that I will throw my vote away voting for Perot and elect Clinton, or do I vote for Bush who is no different than Clinton in any real sense, but is of “my party”?

    The simplest alternative system is approval voting, offered often by the Libertarians where you vote for everyone you approve of, and, of course, you don’t vote for those you don’t approve of. So you could vote for Perot alone, Perot and Bush, Perot and Clinton, or you can vote for Bush and Clinton to indicate that you like things to remain screwed up.

    The alternative offered by the Naderites instant runoff or rank order voting, which requires putting your preferences in order: is it Perot #1, Bush #2, or is it Bush #1 and Perot #2, or is it Bush #1 and Clinton #2, or simply Perot #1.

    I prefer the appoval voting system because that is the closest to reaching concensus, but the Naderite proposal is also better then the existing system because it would break the hold of the two parties.

    but that is the reason we will never see a change to the largest pluraltiy takes all system that we have today that makes sure that all the alternatives presented are false alternatives.

  • joel

    For pity’s sake… if you want someone to vote, you HAVE to give them something to vote FOR!!!!

  • Potter

    I’ve had that book “It Can’t Happen Here” by Upton Sinclair on my shelf for years. I wanted it for it’s title alone but never read it ( did read Main Street though). I’m glad I kept it…

    Excellent program. Chris was in top form. The guest Andrew Gumbel was superb. And it’s all very very depressing.

  • mulp

    joel Says: “For pity’s sake… if you want someone to vote, you HAVE to give them something to vote FOR!!!!”

    Absolutely, so the two parties pick their candidates well to ensure that the people they can rally to bother to vote will vote for their candidate. If the two candidates exclude 50% or even 75% of the voters, that is not a problem because they control the voting in such a way that there is no practical way that a third party can compete with them. And, as they stand for nothing, they have no problems crafting a political campaign and releasing lots of spin to convince their bases that the third party candidate will certainly lose so a vote for them is thrown away. You can see high approval ratings for many third party candidates in the summer and September polling, but by the time the October polling begins, they plummet until the reach a low on voting day.

    The nature of the two party system and the way campaigns are run, it is probably impossible to run based on principle: “My views are liberal in the sense that Milton Friedman describes them, but that word has been corrupted so I am a conservative like Milton Friedman – read Free to Chose and you will know how I think and what I believe in”. That would be death to a Republican Party candidate which you might believe would consider anyone like one of their heros to be an ideal candidate. How can such a candidate come out in favor of all the essential campaign slogans needed to stir the conservative base to vote?

    Don’t forget that the Republicans did nominate a candidate with principles: Goldwater, and that loss resulted in the Republicans vowing to never make that mistake again. That Republican loss was certainly a big factor in motivating Rove to his current career of crafting the Republican candidate that can build just 50.5% of the vote in a two party race, or .5% more the next guy in a three way race.

  • joan

    Thank you so much for doing these programs. What do you would it take to get the major media outlets to cover these issues?

    Could you think about giving some coverage to California’s Open Voting Consortium (OVC)? The group is working to make sure that any machines used for California elections run source code that is non-proprietary — available to the public for scrutiny. I’m sure they would be delighted to talk to you.

    As a software engineer, I can assure you that it is very easy to provide the kind of discrepancy between exit polls and machine produced results. In under a minute one could write code to flip 3% of the vote from one candidate to another. In these close elections that would be more than enough to throw the election.

  • Thomas Prislac Jr.

    I am surprised that more citizens haven’t taken to the streets in a manner emulating our international brethren. If Americans would allow themselves to be “riled up” beyond the old sedentary grumbling, maybe we could effect change. If our fellow citizens in government understood that their civilian brothers and sisters would be willing to shut down the daily business of brand-name America, maybe they would be less willing to undermine the principals so many have suffered and perished for.

  • scribe5

    Potter,

    “I’ve had that book “It Can’t Happen Hereâ€? by Upton Sinclair on my shelf for years. I wanted it for it’s title alone but never read it ( did read Main Street though). I’m glad I kept it…”

    Ha, ha, ha,

    ““It Can’t Happen Hereâ€? by Upton Sinclair”

    I’d like to see anyone read this book. LOL

    This comment is emblematic of the problem I have with many posters.

    There is a zealotry here which is meant to disguise ignorance.

  • scribe5

    It can’t happen here by Sinclair Lewis was and is at best a mediocre book.

    A better book by Lewish about American forced comformism in America in the 20’s and 30’s is Babbit. This is also his best book.

  • Potter

    Sinclair Lewis- wrote “Main Street” and “It Can’t Happen Here” and “Babbit” I read the first.

    Upton Sinclair is a different writer. ( a “muckraker” ) who wrote “The Jungle” which deals with conditions the meatpacking industry.

    I had my Sinclairs mixed. But it’s always nice to be corrected by such a knowledgeable person and with such kindness and tact. Thank you Scribe 5.

    By the way, if we had a edit feature I could have corrected this and so many other mistakes I have made.

  • Potter

    Actually an Upton Sinclair/muckraker would be the man we need at the moment to stir folks up about the “dirty elections”.

  • Brendan

    Hey scribe5, Potter’s right, you know. Regardless of the Sinclair distinction, you basically just called her an ignorant zealot. Try to keep your corrections civil.

    And Potter, I answered the question of editing your own posts a while back here. There has to be some incentive for you to fact-check and phrase things well before you post, since I’m often reading comments on air minutes after they’re posted. Once a show records I don’t have the luxury of going back in to edit my own voice, so I have to be able to trust that you mean what you write, when you write it. Also, often arguments in these threads hinge on specific phrasings; I’d hate for someone to be able to dismiss an argument by changing his or her original words.

    I’d say on balance this is worth the odd understandable Sinclair mistake, no?

  • Potter

    Brendan I see your point, but often you do not know that you have made such a mistake until after the post, then you realize. This happens to so many here, not only me, no matter how careful.

    When the show is on and one wants to get a point in there is not that much time to work over a post on a document and correct the typos never mind the Sinclair type corrections and phraseology.

    When you read these posts on air I am sure you make allowances for mistakes.

    Along with having to post perfectly comes apprehension of possible embarrassment and often subsequent posts to make the corrections, like here.

    Could there be an edit function for before and after the show maybe and no edit during the show? I don’t know if this is do-able technically.

    The lack of edit does not seem to encourage civility if one is so prone. Most are civil. I would say most are honest or I would rather start off believing that and would rather you started off that way. But I would be delighted to even be able to put a line through Upton Sinclair and enjoy the same privileges you have.

    Brendan : If we allow every commenter to edit his or her own comments for typos, we open up the possibility that someone might decide to fix MORE than just a typo, that someone might edit out a point to which someone else just took offense, or one that was prove indisputably to be wrong.

    There’s all sorts of possible dishonesty regardless. But you can get around that by allowing a time limit (say 15 minutes) and/or noting that a post was edited.

    I am sorry to belabor this on this thread for this show which was, again, excellent. Thank you so much for it and the promise that this would be a series. Bravo!

  • DrDan

    ===== quote =====

    # scribe5 Says:

    June 22nd, 2006 at 12:02 am

    It can’t happen here by Sinclair Lewis was and is at best a mediocre book.

    A better book by Lewish about American forced comformism in America in the 20’s and 30’s is Babbit. This is also his best book.

    ===== unquote =====

    I’m not claiming that “It Can’t Happen Here” (ICHH) was Great Literature — its opening chapters were some of the slowest slogging I’ve done, as the (ultimately quite memorable) characters were introduced and developed — but that’s not the point, scribe5.

    The point is that ICHH was more POLITICAL SATIRE/COMMENTARY while “Babbitt,” arguably better Literature, was SOCIAL SATIRE/COMMENTARY. Forced social conformity is a far cry from theocratic Fascism, scribe5.

    Anyone could look it all up if they’d prefer not to actually READ ICHH:

    http://tinyurl.com/qdjbc (for “cheats” on Babbitt, which I read — I believe it was in a High-School English class — cover-to-cover decades ago; apparently my memory still serves. (Strange how American Schools prefer to lampoon SOCIAL MORES rather than to teach POLITICAL SATIRE/COMMENTARY… but I digress…))

    or

    http://tinyurl.com/gq9xu (for “cheats” on ICHH, which I read cover-to-cover about three months back, shuddering at how accurate its POLITICAL SATIRE/COMMENTARY matched our current situation. Also and fwiw, the SOCIAL SATIRE/COMMENTARY therein was much subtler, less pointed and more enjoyable than “Babbitt” imho.

    =====

    In my considered opinion, a person (n0t ment1on1ng any names) who willfully confuses the purposes of “Babbitt” with “ICHH” to make an incorrect point (in terms of sociology, politics and literature) — while apparently not even taking the trouble to read the many “Cliff’s Notes” synopses out there on the ‘Net to which I have linked, much less actually read the latter book — or if he did, is blind to the POLITICAL SATIRE/COMMENTARY which is its main raison d’être — is displaying the negative personality characteristics (oh, let me jes’ pull a couple outta my posterior — howzabout “zealotry” and “ignorance”, and that’s just for starters?) which that person is wont to project upon others.

    ===== quote =====

    # Brendan Says:

    June 22nd, 2006 at 5:51 am

    … There has to be some incentive for you to fact-check and phrase things well before you post, since I’m often reading comments on air minutes after they’re posted. Once a show records I don’t have the luxury of going back in to edit my own voice, so I have to be able to trust that you mean what you write, when you write it. Also, often arguments in these threads hinge on specific phrasings; I’d hate for someone to be able to dismiss an argument by changing his or her original words.

    I’d say on balance this is worth the odd understandable Sinclair mistake, no?

    ===== unquote =====

    With respect, I disagree. While I flatter myself that I understand the intense time pressures and requirements for accuracy under which you labor so well, that doesn’t mean that those same constraints must be imposed on your reader/commenters. When you get the time and resources to loosen those constraints I urge you to add “Edited by” marks, such as many BBSes have — when a writer goes back to change their text, the SW marks such posts as

    “Edited N times by DrDan, most recently on TIME/DATE.”

    Even better would be a system that allows a reader to replace one text with another, while being forced by the SW to link back to a display of the unchanged original text — so that any offense taken may be linked back to the prior-to-revision version.

    So in the short term I guess I’d say (again with respect to the fine work that ROS does) that for me, the imposition of your constraints is arguable, but on balance for me, not worth the candle. I would hope that in future, when resources allow, this environment can be made be more user-friendly.

  • Potter

    I did not know that Barry Goldwater’s remark: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” is a paraphrase of Cicero ( see Wiki on Goldwater). And so we segue into conservatism…….

  • Pingback: Sherry Chandler » Conservatism at the Cross Roads?()

  • solanic

    just heard this today as our station plays it the next day.

    anyway….thought this was very ironic…if that’s the word.

    diebold. their tagline: we won’t rest. we won’t rest until what happens?

    i can’t fathom how this topic does not scare people shitless.

  • Peggy

    Have heard two shows this week.

    Comment 1: How can anyone complain about government inaction in the same breath as they complain that President Bush is spending too much?

    Is there anything that you think government should do?

    e.g. roads, police, fire, schools,health announcements, accredit hospitals, etc.

    Comment 2: Local elections are monitored by mostly unpaid volunteers. e.g. Florida in 2000. Those doing the recount were paid $50.00 the first day. No overtime. This is typical.

    Virginia still has vestiges of federal oversight. But has a one term governor.

    Some local governments have partially discarded this since President Nixon was first elected.

  • Potter

    Comment on comment 1 above from Peggy:

    Bush is spending billions, no trillions, on an unnecessary war in Iraq that is feeding the endless “war on terrorism”. Then there is the issue of tax cuts for the mostly wealthy that can’t be repealed because the Republicans will scream tax increase.

    The above might be the key to comment 2 as well. It’s a matter of where our government Republicans and Democrats, and this administration after 2000 and 2004, puts it’s energy and focus.

  • DrDan

    ===== quote =====

    # Thomas Prislac Jr. Says:

    June 21st, 2006 at 10:12 pm

    I am surprised that more citizens haven’t taken to the streets in a manner emulating our international brethren. If Americans would allow themselves to be “riled up” beyond the old sedentary grumbling, maybe we could effect change. If our fellow citizens in government understood that their civilian brothers and sisters would be willing to shut down the daily business of brand-name America, maybe they would be less willing to undermine the principles so many have suffered and perished for.

    ===== quote =====

    “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”

    –Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith, 1787. ME 6:373, Papers 12:356 (from http://etext.virginia.edu/jefferson/quotations/jeff0300.htm )

    !! http://www.confusionroad.com/article_images/mob.jpg !!

    ===== quote =====

    # solanic Says:

    June 22nd, 2006 at 10:55 am

    just heard this today as our station plays it the next day.

    anyway…thought this was very ironic…if that’s the word.

    diebold. their tagline: we won’t rest. we won’t rest until what happens?

    i can’t fathom how this topic does not scare people shitless.

    ===== unquote =====

    I myself have been so since 2000 and it’s gotten orders of magnitude more worrisome by now. Another thing I can’t fathom is why most of those nearest and dearest to me, while Progressive in their thinking, are … not so much.

    I’d wager that those in the audience who also share solanic‘s concern also have family members whom they think are acting as “ostrich-like” as did the Jews in the Weimar Republic. They counsel “patience” and “not to be too concerned.” Hell, my country is being sold down the river!!

    What do YOU do when faced with ostriches?

  • solanic

    in response to DrDan’s post above…

    What do YOU do when faced with ostriches?

    is it possible bush’s underlying message of we need to help spread democracy…is his subliminal message president jefferenson’s quote mentioned above?

    wouldn’t it be a joy to live again in a democracy and not a capitalist society?

    [does anyone remember who wrote quite the interesting editoral about the democracy vs. capitalist society?]

  • David Weinstein

    One important point overlooked in this show. The constitutions actually allows for the organization and oversight of elections to be controled by each state. I think that is because the framers were worried about the possibility of the party in power in Washington to control the elections and perpetuate their power. They were most concerned with tyranny after having just overthrown a king. Unfortunately and ironically they tyranny they were fearing has become true by the powers given to the secretaries of state such as in Ohio with the nefarious Kenneth Blackwell.

    I also think this show did not adequatley put in perspective the magnitude of the tyranny and oppression we are being subjected to with a presdeintial election clearly stolen in 2004. There are two other cases in American history. One is the cheating of the Daley machine in 1960 that probably allowed Kennedy to gain the White House. The other was in the 1870’s, I believe, when the republicans (the good guys then) manipulated the presdiential election in order to continue a faltering reconstruction of the defeated South. But the democrats, unlike today, stood up on their hind legs, and a comprimise ws hammered out. This spelled the end of reconstruction and the beginnign of Jim Crow in the South.

    The double irony is tht the republicans used many of the Jim Crow tactics to steal both the 200 and 2004 elections, updating the practice. I call it ‘Jim Crow for the rest of us.’

    Tyranny lives on.

  • David Weinstein

    Addenda: The election rigging in 1960 took place in one county in one state. In 2004 there was rampant election rigging in throughout the swing states of Ohio and Florida, as well as many other states such as New Mexico and Georgia. Vote suppression was also prevalent in 2004…. And it wiill get worse if we don’t do anything about it.

    There is some good news though. Jennifer Brunner, a judge who quit here position to run to take Kenneth Blackwell’s position as secretary of state is doing well in the polls against her opponent who was a Bush/Cheney 2004 county chair. He has promised to further turn the screws on democracy in that swing state. But if Jennifer Brunner gets in, she will overturn all of Blackwell’s insidious, anti-democratic practices and make Ohio a clean electoral state again. But the republican politcal machine is desperate to hold onto a rigged electoral Ohio and is throwing everything they have against Brunner. If you wish to support her, and by extension, in my opinion, the furture of democracy in Ohio and this nation, please visit http://www.jenniferbrunner.com

  • rebecca

    I understand you started with the Latke…

    I got on to this show a little later…

    I just want to say the Latke is a real act of LOVE!

    My grandmother’s recipee from Poland is so simple and so wonderful.

    Potato, hand grated

    onion grated

    A bit of flour

    beaten egg

    and salt and a hot batch of oil.

    And it must be hand grated to be truelly delicious!

    Nothing like the act of love of hand grating those delicious potatos.

    ANd it must be eaten in the Winter Solstice season. Otherwise it’s not a latke.

    And it’s not Chanukah without the Latke…to be shared with everyone!