GELFAND’S WORLD - One side says that the presidential election was stolen. Another side says that it was not.
May I offer a modest suggestion that might cool the temperature a little. One problem lies in the general ignorance about the actual mechanics of how elections are run. I think I know more about the mechanics of the coronary bypass operation than the details of collecting, counting, and reporting on the ballots. I guess I know about as much as anybody else -- I'm used to going to a polling place, signing my name on the line, and taking a ballot. After handing in the ballot (either the old way by sticking it in a box or the new way by returning it to the electronic machine), I'm pretty much in the dark as to the rest of the process.
Here's what's curious about what I just wrote. There are whole television channels dedicated to running documentaries about everything from salmon hatcheries to the evolution of the universe. A brief online search for documentaries about elections reveals that there are quite a few of them, but they tend to concentrate on the political drama -- how did JFK win the nomination -- which is not the one I am looking for.
Here's what I want.
Let's start with Donald Trump's argument that the only way he could lose would be if the election were rigged. When he saw that he was losing, he started making demands and then claims about the stolen election. It's true that many of his advisors including Attorney General Barr told him that this was nonsense.
But how did they know?
I would like to see a documentary or better yet, a series of documentaries, that follow the nuts and bolts of an election, starting from the beginning (you register to vote) and going all the way to the end, where the Registrar of Voters or Secretary of State declares the results to be official and final.
It would be a lot more difficult for the next demagogue to claim election fraud if a large number of people become aware of the details -- how the system works and why it would be difficult for there to be fraud.
I'm willing to be open minded about this. If an in-depth study shows that the system is subject to manipulation, then let's publicize that part and fix it. Right now, the only manipulation I'm aware of is the kind where red state legislatures make it harder for Democrats and Black people and ex-convicts to vote, either by limiting the availability of polls or making people ineligible.
When Trump made his claims, as bizarre as they were, it was a perfect moment for all those documentary film makers and film students and television news producers to point their cameras at all those election related people, places, and things. They could have shown us every step of the way, including the safeguards.
They could also do entire documentaries on the design and operation of the new electronic voting machines, including the way your ballot data are protected.
Here's the thing. Back in the old days when ballots were paper and got put into the ballot box, there was opportunity to manipulate the results, particularly if only one side was in control of the count. Lots of Americans on both sides believed that elections were subject to tampering and sometimes stolen. It was only the fact that big city political machines didn't need to stuff ballot boxes that made for nominally clean elections. They controlled elections through patronage, so they didn't need to pack the ballot boxes too. It's not likely to be that way anymore, but let's see the proof.
Here's a story from a colleague of mine. At one time, she worked for the election board in a medium sized city in the midwest. Whenever and wherever a ballot was involved, from the poll itself to the process of moving a ballot box to the city hall, to the actual process of counting, there were always representatives of both major parties present. There was security for ballot boxes and ballots in the same way that there would be security for money being transferred by armored cars. In the 2020 presidential election, the network news showed how there were observers of both parties in the Philadelphia election count, even as the Republicans continued to claim fraud. We could use 24 hour a day cameras covering those election centers.
Trump and his supporters made outlandish claims about the states which they lost narrowly -- Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona -- you get the drift. What we've heard from the January 6 committee is that there is no evidence for ballot tampering or rigging of the election. The problem with that statement is that it is stated as a negative. It would be nice to hear it stated the other way around, namely that there is strong evidence, excellent proof, that the election was not rigged, and that the result represents the will of the people.
It would be nice to hear the same claim, again stated in the positive, for the next election.
And to be able to make that claim, we also need to make it mandatory on the states that all voters, majorities and minorities alike, have the ability to cast their ballots without harassment and without waiting for hour after hour.
This week's January 6 hearing
It was useful but pathetic to hear the testimony of the two men who had been part of the raid on the nation's Capitol. As I've mentioned before, I divide the world into people who can learn from others' mistakes and people who can only learn by making their own mistakes. These men fit into the latter. One of them offered his advice to those he previously followed: "Take off the blinders" It's sad that he had to plead guilty to a crime and lose his job as a result, being forced to sell his house to cover his losses. But he had had plenty of chances to consider the truth or falsity of what he was being told. He testified that he had been hanging on every word coming out of Trump's mouth. As legal analysts have been telling us recently, willful ignorance is not an excuse for breaking the law. Listening only to the right-wing noise machine such as Donald Trump or Fox News now constitutes willful ignorance.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])