A sus­pi­cious wind in the rig­ging

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - BY WES­LEY PRU­DEN

There’s no such thing as voter fraud, as the Democrats and right-think­ing press mavens have been telling us for weeks, but some cu­ri­ous things are hap­pen­ing out there in fly­over coun­try. Some of the as­sur­ances that all is well on the old ship of state have been caught in what looks sus­pi­ciously like the rig­ging.

Early vot­ers in Texas say the vot­ing ma­chines are flip­ping their votes. Th­ese vot­ers marked their bal­lots for Don­ald Trump, and when the ma­chines en­abled them to re­view their work, the votes had been flipped to Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Votes for Repub­li­cans in down-bal­lot races were not flipped. No doubt a coin­ci­dence — it seems to be a law of the cos­mos that votes are al­ways flipped from Repub­li­can to Demo­crat — or it might be a clue to why Democrats have been grow­ing in­creas­ingly con­fi­dent that this year they will flip the state from re­li­ably red to an un­nat­u­ral shade of blue.

Elec­tion of­fi­cials put the glitches, if glitches they are, to “user er­ror,” and say “the ma­chines are fine,” as ap­par­ently they are if you’re of the Hil­lary per­sua­sion. Nev­er­the­less, Gov. Greg Ab­bott, a Repub­li­can, has urged vot­ers to check and dou­ble check the way they mark their bal­lots be­fore ac­tu­ally cast­ing the vote. Ma­chines are not in­fal­li­ble, though they’re of­ten de­scribed that way, like a fast-talk­ing sales­man push­ing a cos­met­i­cally en­hanced clunker off a used-car lot.

Vot­ing ma­chines have short­ened elec­tion night; votes are far more quickly counted now that a ma­chine, some­times a com­puter, does the count­ing. Who would ac­cuse a com­puter of act­ing up? Nev­er­the­less, the fa­mous boast of Earl Long, the late gov­er­nor of Louisiana, that he could make vot­ing ma­chines play “Home on the Range.” be­comes more cred­i­ble with ev­ery elec­tion. Fraud doesn’t hap­pen as of­ten as losers say it does, but it hap­pens more of­ten than the win­ners say it does.

The ex­pan­sion of ab­sen­tee vot­ing, in­clud­ing early vot­ing, of­fers new op­por­tu­ni­ties for ma­nip­u­la­tion. Vot­ers in six states started vot­ing this week, and by Satur­day night vot­ers will have marked bal­lots in 12 states and the Dis­trict of Columbia. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures, about a third of the na­tion’s vot­ers will have cast bal­lots by Nov. 8, which is what was once ac­cu­rately called Elec­tion Day.

Wendy Un­der­hill of the leg­isla­tive con­fer­ence says her or­ga­ni­za­tion has traced ab­sen­tee vot­ing, the pre­cur­sor of early vot­ing, to Louisiana (where no one has ever died of fraud shock) in 1921. But ma­nip­u­la­tion of an elec­tion by ab­sen­tee and early vot­ing, first called “ex­cuse-re­quired ab­sen­tee vot­ing,” started ear­lier than that.

“Ex­cuse-re­quired ab­sen­tee vot­ing started dur­ing the Civil War,” says Prof. Paul Gronke of Reed Col­lege and di­rec­tor of the non-par­ti­san Early Vot­ing In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter. Abra­ham Lin­coln and Gen. Ge­orge B. McClel­lan, who turned out to be no bet­ter at pol­i­tics than he was at war, were locked in a spir­ited pres­i­den­tial race in 1864. “Lin­coln,” says the pro­fes­sor, “wanted to as­sure that he got the votes of the sol­diers who were serv­ing away from home.”

Early vot­ing, when vot­ers did not need an ex­cuse for vot­ing late, started in Cal­i­for­nia, where most bad things start, in the early 1970s. The state was deal­ing with “an in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple who were sim­ply ly­ing,” Prof. Gronke tells Time mag­a­zine, “by say­ing, ‘I couldn’t make it to the polling place,’ when it was clear that they had a re­ally long commute or it was oth­er­wise in­con­ve­nient to make it.”

Con­ve­nience eas­ily trumps cit­i­zen­ship in an era when a lot of things are just too much trou­ble to do well. Ore­gon con­ducted a pri­mary elec­tion to re­place U.S. Sen. Robert Pack­wood, who had re­signed when he tipped his hat to a lady in an el­e­va­tor and was ac­cused of sex­ual ha­rass­ment, in 1995. Five years later Ore­gon be­came the first state to con­duct all vot­ing by mail. The state of Wash­ing­ton soon fol­lowed, and then Colorado, and the race was on.

Soon no one would lis­ten to the skep­tics who re­minded the con­ve­nience-seek­ers that early vot­ing makes a mock­ery of Elec­tion Day. Vot­ers who mark their bal­lots a fort­night early are not par­tic­i­pat­ing in the same elec­tion as those who wait for the first Tues­day after the first Mon­day in Novem­ber, as pre­scribed by the law obeyed by ev­ery­body else. But 37 states now of­fer early vot­ing.

No ma­chine, early or late, makes vot­ing as much fun as it was with paper bal­lots. In some states vot­ers marked their fa­vorite not with an X in a lit­tle box, but by scratch­ing through the names of all other can­di­dates. Noth­ing was as sat­is­fy­ing as scratch­ing through the names of de­spised politi­cians with the stub of an Eber­hard Faber No. 2. The voter went home with a smile on his face. Wes­ley Pru­den is ed­i­tor in chief emer­i­tus of The Times.

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