There has been much handwringing in the press about the potential for voter fraud. We’ve all heard by now of ACORN, which has facilitated the enfranchisement of Disney characters and, to hear some Republicans, will “destroy the fabric of democracy.” But is it sensible to equate indignation at the reporting missteps of paid workers (not overzealous partisan volunteers, mind you, but workers who seek to meet a quota in order to get paid) with the looming fear among Democrats that the other side will seek to steal the election (some say for the third time in a row)?
Not really. For one thing, the padding of voter rolls with duplicate or nonsensical names is not the same as inflating the final vote tally. Safeguards are generally in place to ensure that voters are who they say they are and that they only vote once. Make no mistake about it, though — the Republicans will try to equate the ACORN voter list irregularities with all efforts nationwide to get out the vote: Millions of new black and young voters? I bet ACORN signed them up! They have to try that tactic, low as it may be, when all indications point to the probability that these newly minted voters heavily favor the Democratic nominee.
Do I doubt that there will be shenanigans with computerized voting machines? Hell no. The ties between companies like Diebold and Republican interests are a little too cozy for comfort. Do I think for a moment that attempts at voter suppression won’t be made? Heh, please. But I doubt very much that there’s a grand conspiracy to steal the election. And even if there is, the perpetrating cabal better be on its A-game.
Systematic fraud at a national level works best in close elections. As with all dishonesties, the more you pile them on the easier it is to get caught. It is unlikely in the extreme that a campaign could sufficiently stuff the ballot boxes (or databases) to win key electoral votes, given that more swing states are in play than in the previous two presidential elections. This is not just about Florida or Ohio: this is about those states and several others, thereby making a concerted effort to inflate votes in a strategic, effective manner very difficult to pull off. Yes there will be localized attempts to alter vote tallies, but those could just as easily be the exploits of nervous Obama supporters as they could be the machinations of determined McCain/Palin partisans.
And that, in many ways, is what I fear will be the most likely outcome of election tampering. Just as with ACORN, which has, at best, a loose affiliation with Obama, some group will let their nervous stomachs overrule their heads and they will make stupid, sloppy, perhaps even illegal mistakes. And those mistakes will be connected, rightly or wrongly, to the Obama camp. Even the Democratic nominee admonished his supporters earlier in the week not to get cocky or to lose focus, that the election is not over and no presumptions about the outcome should be made. Hopefully his campaign managers all over are also stressing the need to keep it clean. It’s not as if Republicans own the sole patent for stealing elections.
If Obama does win, and his win is tainted by unnecessary attempts to tamper with votes, then folks who already cannot countenance him as president will have an effective tool at their disposal. They will use any fraud allegations to distract Obama from mending fences with the opposition, which will present him greater challenges in moving his agenda forward.
On the other hand, if McCain were somehow to be successful at winning the electoral vote while Obama carries the popular vote by a wide margin, then the Republicans will find it not just distracting, but impossible to govern. If that scenario plays out, a Democratic controlled Congress and a hopping mad electorate may enact change of a sort that no one could have foreseen, much less campaigned for.