I've armed myself with a copy of Marty Cohen's The Party Decides which details the origins of the American system for selection of party presidential candidates, and it certainly makes fascinating reading (well, to me, anyway). In it, Cohen details how the Party system has evolved from one based around patronage, in which issues did not matter and party elites controlled things, to a much more dessicated process. Today, 'invisible' primaries controlled by party donors, establishment endorsements, and the media, merge with different systems of delegate selection, county and state caucuses, and primary selection votes to produce a Byzantine system that I'm not sure anyone can understand.

As Nate Silver points out on the New York Times' 'fivethirtyeight' blog, it's almost impossible to tell how many delegates anyone has won at the moment. It's also very difficult for any one person or group of campaign directors to plot how party interest groups and lobbies are going to react to real world events and announcements beyond their control. To a very real extent, modern campaigns are about surfing a wave of broken glass whilst throwing a lasso.

What strikes me is that there are in fact four campaigns going on in the GOP, at least. For some reason, most of the electable republicans, as I noted before, have stayed out of 2012, possibly because it has seemed so obviously winnable for Obama for such a length of time. The invisible primary of donors and party leaders threw up two candidates (Romney and Perry), put another two off (Daniels and Ryan) and actively blocked Sarah Palin. Romney has now won in that category. The primary based around impressing the media with money and organisation has also been won by Romney. The traditional, meet-and-greet, face-to-face primaries have been won, bizarrely, by Rick Santorum; and the ground-based 'enthusiasm' primary has been won by Ron Paul. Paul's supporters are the ones turning out and getting pledged delegates, notarizing votes, and winning county chairmanships.

However, the battlefield on which these selections have taken place has created a sort of fog of war, which the media can't or won't penetrate. In some states, caucuses have only delivered pledges, and delegate selection has yet to begin. There is ample evidence that, in Iowa and Nevada, the state party rigged the votes so heavily against Ron Paul--in Iowa by flooding delegates into caucuses and in Nevada by curtailing and replacing vote totals--that they accidentally boosted Santorum. In other states, party rules about what happens when a candidate wins under 50%--delegates are then selected by county--have been ignored to give the impression that either Messrs. Romney, Gingrich, or Santorum have won a whole bloc of delegates. In some places, proportional division of delegates has been assumed; in others, their transitory loyalty has been misread.

You really can't blame your average journalist, or even the more informed sort of hack, for clinging to the seemingly endless debates, which have probably destroyed two candidacies but not forced candidates to cohere around any particular policies. In this sea, grabbing driftwood and paddling hard is probably what justifies a lot of foreign correspondent paychecks.

For instance, Mitt Romney won what is being described as a 'victory' in Maine this weekend on a low turnout with the state party refusing to count 10% of the votes. He has now gained (probably) 8 delegates (the same number as Ron Paul) because of the distribution of the vote. These delegates are not legally tied to him. He requires almost 1200 delegates to win. Only around 300 have been selected overall, and they are divided between four candidates but largely beholden to none.

In any American election, there will be multiple and diverse forms of vote rigging and gaming the system--the country is that big, and that competitive, and the habits are that ingrained. As the years go on, they get more sophisticated. For instance, back in the sixties, there were basically two methods of stealing an election. In cities, one could steal a load of numbered ballots, send in some people who needed the cash to vote with them, and then get them to take out the numbered ballots which they had been issued, before sending others back in with those marked to repeat the process.

Across precincts, it was very hard to detect the small anomalies which the rigging would have caused. Amateurs could cut their teeth on getting the dead to vote, or stand on the corner with bags of cash (something that certainly went on in Chicago and Detroit right up to 1992 as far as I know) but professionals added ballot-recycling. Of the people who could have known, beat journalists would have been ignored or would have seen their stories spiked, and election authorities would have been in on the deal. The Feds wouldn't have unpicked anything, until civil rights started to get in the way, and then, of course, the parties blew up. Similarly, in rural and semiurban areas, a simple switch of a few ballot boxes held back until near the end of the count could swing a whole state. This is essentially what happened in Illinois and Texas elections for a long time.

Now, there are dozens of illicit or illegal ways to win an election, and in an hyperpartisan atmosphere where fair play is winning for your faction, few get noticed as such, since losers don't count and winners do. Treason doth never prosper/whats the reason? For if it does, none dare call it treason....

I blogged on diebold machines in 2008, and I seem to recall also wondering if Hillary's victory in New Hampshire that year was, on the whole, fishy, before being proven wrong. Yet the exclusion tactics deployed against Ron Paul this season are becoming almost funny--like a Gossip Girl High School run by a fevered conspiracist's worst idea of an elite. I'd love to have someone sue for discovery of the line-by-line code inside electronic voting machines, which I suspect have a connection to some central correlation board hidden away on an innocuous subroutine.

Perhaps those using them just know which way to vote because they fear being recorded. Caucuses, primaries and straw polls are party events after all, and during elections the lobbyists nexus works both ways. I think that might explain why, for three years running Ron Paul (I am not a great fan this time around, though I respect most of his stance) won the C-PAC straw poll. From 2009 through 2011, no lobbyist was bothered with the real CPAC outcome, just with their credibility with right wing groups as a marker of their potential impact on the voters of the congressman or senator they were pressurising. 'The Paul people like me; like me too, and you'll gain from neutralising them with your elites, whilst they'll not actively militate against you' was a line that probably depended upon confusing the astroturfed Tea Partiers with the real Paulers and libertarians scattered amongst them, and which certainly would have worked in 2010 and 2011.

Conversely, this year, electronic devices to record votes were introduced and the word put out that Ron was dead meat. Dr Paul was recorded as coming fourth. That's simply not believable.

Each new outrageous instance, in an age of viral tweets and social networks chips even further at the GOP's credibility. Sooner or later, if they can stop hating Obama for long enough in that demented way some of them have developed, they'll realise that not only has his political team completely outmaneuvered them, but that they have undermined themselves.

All of which moral commentary adds more fun to the demolition derby going on. Meanwhile, the decommissioned Enterprise sails nearer and nearer the Iranian coast, the MERS scandal debases the rule of law and the sanctity of contract just a little bit more, and the West edges further towards bankruptcy whilst prescription drug deaths, suicides, and the misery of unemployment rise. Oh, and we learned this week that Catholic Bishops don't like Catholic enterprises being forced to prescribe abortion pills.

Happy Monday, everyone :D


Edward Spalton said…
What an interesting view of the system. I have felt for weeks that Ron Paul was being elbowed and airbrushed out of the picture.

And to think that the "International Community" send observers to see fair play in all sorts of elections but not the land of the free!

I believe our own registration of voters and voting system to be very far from reliable in the UK. There always has been malpractice around postal voting in old people's and nursing homes. With universal postal voting, heads of households and "community leaders" get a far bigger chance to manipulate the vote in culturally enriched areas.

There have been cases brought to court against candidates of both main parties and there was a high "Mohammed quotient" among the names of the accused/convicted in most cases.
Martin Meenagh said…
One of the things which stopped the Millennium goals for international development from being fully implemented was the inability of developed nations to meet the anti-corruption criteria, as I recall. Then we had a moral fit and passed the ridiculous anti-bribery Act, which got things moving a little again.

All of that pales besides the fun and games of an American election. This is why, of course, everyone prays that it isn't close, even the lawyers--because then things just become an issue of whose news management of their own badness is better.

Anthony Eden and the Foreign Office used to call American election season 'The Winter of the Western World', though I think some sort of Kingdom of the Franks-plus-Celts designation is better myself. There's some very dark and dirty work at them crossroads....

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