The Electric Commentary

Friday, October 22, 2004

Undermining Confidence

For the last two months, New York Times columnists Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert have made it their personal mission to undermine the credibility of the upcoming election in Florida. Paul Krugman has a column today asserting that officials in Florida will rig the election for Bush and "disenfranchise" minority voters, and that in the last election 22,000 minority voters were denied the right to vote:

Last week I described Greg Palast's work on the 2000 election, reported recently in Harper's, which conclusively shows that Florida was thrown to Mr. Bush by a combination of factors that disenfranchised black voters. These included a defective felon list, which wrongly struck thousands of people from the voter rolls, and defective voting machines, which disproportionately failed to record votes in poor, black districts.

Greg Palast, that name sounds familiar. Oh, I remember. He wrote this. Actually, his books seem to have a bit of a theme to them.

I have no problem with Palast or anyone else writing anti-Bush books. This is a free country, and the President has generously provided so much material. What I do object to is Paul Krugman having blind faith in the works of an author who clearly has an agenda and an axe to grind for support in a New York Times column. Why not just rely on Michael Moore? (And would it kill the NYT to insert hyperlinks into their on-line stories? Krugman argues by authority here, relying on Palast. A quick link to the Harper's article (unlikely) or even to Palast's book list would have added some transparency to the column.)

As for the substance, I would be naive to assert that everything was kosher in Florida four years ago. But, as Captain Ed likes to point out occasionally:

But let's take a look at where these voters were disenfranchised, according to the USCCR. As the nation painfully learned in the aftermath of the 2000 election debacle in Florida, the counties control the ballot preparation and voting procedures in the Sunshine State. In the executive summary of the report, the commission specifically mentions Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties -- all controlled by the same party: Democrats. In fact, 24 of the 25 counties that had the highest ballot-spoilage rates were run by Democrats, not Republicans.

It is common to assign the role of "villain" of the 2000 election to Jeb Bush, but the fact is that a governor doesn't have much control over the election process. Moreover:

The only state-level function specifically pointed out by the commission was the felon purge list, which has only been confirmed to have kept three eligible voters from casting ballots on Election Day in 2000. In fact, as USCCR member Peter Kirsanow put it in his minority report:

Whites were actually twice as likely as blacks to be erroneously placed on the list. In fact, an exhaustive study by the Miami Herald concluded that "the biggest problem with the felon list was not that it prevented eligible voters from casting ballots, but that it ended up allowing ineligible voters to cast a ballot."* According to the Palm Beach Post, more than 6,500 ineligible felons voted.


Which brings us back to vote fraud v. vote suppression. Both parties probably have legitimate concerns, but I detest the strategy of undermining confidence in the voting process as a political ploy. The process is much more important than anyone's ideology and everyone should respect that fact. I'm hoping for a landslide (either way) just to avoid all of the uncertainty and law suits that will inevitably follow a close election.

Krugman, remember, is a professor of economics at Princeton. If he is going to raise concerns about the voting process in Florida, he should be able to find a more reliable source than Palast. The fact that he could not do so undermines his point more than anything else.

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