Blogger John Emerson, of ‘Seeing the Forest‘ is raising a bet about the coming election. His (original) bet is:
I’m willing to bet $50 at 30-to-one that we’ll see problems in the 2004 Presidential election as bad or worse than those in the 2000 election. Your $1500 says everything will be OK, my $50 says that there will be major problems — as bad as or worse than 2000.
He later tightened it to:
You are betting that none of the following will happen:
1. Whoever is in office on Jan. 21, 2004 is not there because he’s been elected. Either Bush stays in, or a caretaker is appointed.
2. The November election does not take place as scheduled, but is postponed.
3. In a significant number of states (greater than the margin of victory) the vote in the electoral college is not based on a count of the votes (for example, the state legislature intervenes).
4. Some unprecedented intervention decides the election, as in 2000.
5. Major branches of government openly defy President Kerry and refuse to obey his orders.
I’ve left out the “denial of legitimacy” point because there’s a 100% chance that many conservatives will not accept President Kerry’s legitimacy. [Ed. – would have been a nice touch if he’d added ‘…as many liberals have not accepted Bush’s.’]
So what do I think? I think it’s a sucker bet, because – having seen that the courts and formerly ministerial process of vote-counting are now up for grabs – both sides are certainly making plans for their post-election campaigns.
Unless it is a blowout election (which is possible, but not likely) both sides will launch stiff administrative and legal campaigns around the voting and vote-counting process, which means there’s a significant chance that the results will be delayed, and that the decision will be made at some level in the judicial system.
This ignores the very real possibility of an election-eve terrorist attack. The U.S. isn’t Spain, and the immediate emotional reaction to such an attack is as likely to be Jacksonian as it is to be more isolationist. While I don’t think that delaying the elections in such an event is a good idea (unless critical communications infrastructure is somehow down, making it hard to actually run the election), I’ll bet that the losing side will be in court after such an election claiming that the election should have been delayed – thereby delaying the outcome.
So let’s do a four-way matrix:
Close election + attack = challenge & delay (he wins)
Close election = challenge & delay (he wins)
Blowout + attack = challenge & delay (he wins)
Blowout = no effective challenge (he loses)
So if you think the odds of a major attack are high, and the odds of a close election are high – his 30:1 odds suddenly don’t look so good. And it isn’t because of some nefarious plan by the Trilateral Commission (kidding!!) to create a theological dictatorship (anyone read Heinlein?), it’s the natural development of a litigious, rules-based political process where shame is nonexistent and voters appear to have short memories (if the political class had shame, they wouldn’t do this – think of Nixon’s response to the 1960 Chicago results, and if voters had memories they’d punish candidates who ‘gamed’ the system).
This makes the issues of voting process and vote-counting (up to now the province of true election geeks) something we need to address in a serious way in terms of the technology, the administrative procedures, and the legal wrapping around it. Hmmm…