We now have a billboard in our fair state saying Minnesota is “#1 in voter fraud.” Let’s go to the number, shall we? According to the Star Tribune, the evidence for the claim comes from,
Dan McGrath, executive director of Minnesota Majority, referred to a study the group did of convictions of felons voting illegally in the 2008 election. At the time of the report in October of 2011, there were 113 convictions.McGrath said the number is now more than 200, and that is the most for any state for one election since Missouri in 1936.
200 illegal voters? Here’s me being controversial: so what? I base my massive indifference to this trumped up fear to two things:
▪ Statewide elections are unlikely to be decided by two hundred votes.
▪ The idea that the 200 votes swayed the election rests on the premise that all 200 illegal votes were cast the same way. If they were closer to a 60-40 split, we’re talking about a mere 80 vote difference.
▪ Here’s where I’m going to make you mad, because here’s where I make my students mad. If you only win by 200 votes, it means that the voting public was largely indifferent to your victory. I mean, if lost by 180 votes and 200 people illegally voted against me, I’d be relieved that I don’t have to be a politician understandably upset. But elections are not designed for the self esteem of the people running, elections are designed to try to pick the candidate the matches the preference of the voters. No electoral system does this perfectly, and indeed, in multi-candidate elections, our system is comparatively pretty terrible (a sane candidate selection process would have seen John McCain int he White House in 2000 by survey data I have seen because a majority of Americans preferred him to any other single candidate head-to-head). Here’s the catch, we have other problems in the world, and so we cannot spend time parsing, re-parsing and agonizing over what everyone really means when they vote for a candidate. We estimate on the winner as best we can given the desire to be fast and fair as best we can. If it would really be so awful that a candidate be selected, then they shouldn’t get within smelling distance of winning. If a candidate is beloved by all, no amount of voting error is going to sway the results. If both candidates are close, then the loser between the two should have done more to distinguish themselves. If the two candidates are close because the state is highly polarized in an almost even split, then selecting one candidate or the other is not going to solve your problems anyway. Generally speaking, two candidates who finish close to one another in an election are palatable to a majority of people, hence the closeness of the election. We would expect that in such close elections, most people would shrug their shoulders at who won and who lost, and that partisans would think that losing would be a calamity, a fraud, and wonder where the outrage was. There’s no outrage because most people have stable jobs, an education, a family, a stable mortgage payments, some set of investments with long-term stability, and yes, even a relatively stable tax bill. So why would they be outraged when they could be other more fun things like happy, in love, intrigued, laughing, or satisfied?
In essence what do I think about voter fraud in Minnesota? Meh. I’m sure a little bit happens. I’m sure a little bit of error in counting happens. I doubt it changes very much, and if it doesn’t change very much I don’t very much care. Because principles that I might hold that get me outraged simply because of their violation even if they have no consequences whatsoever not only seems to me an unhealthy thing for one’s disposition. Not every political issue is life or death, there’s no need for a revolution, and most political change moves at a gloriously boring pace. I say, huzzah! Stop being outraged, people moved by random-slightly misleading billboard. You can be happy. No that it doesn’t really matter and that 200 felons voting when they aren’t supposed to (the fact that it seems like a violation of their rights that they cannot vote is a discussion for different day and is a separate issue). Go find some drink you really like and really enjoy it. And remember, it will be sold tomorrow and at basically the same price no matter who sits in our political offices… something one cannot say about something as simple as Coca-Cola in many fledgling democracies around the world.
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