The 'Pre-Delegitimization' Watch: It Begins

By James Fallows

In previous items here, here, and here, I've mentioned the deeply conflicting versions of reality about how the vote will go three days from now:

  • Most state polls and polling aggregators show Barack Obama with a substantial lead. Here's another example;
  • Many Republicans say that Mitt Romney is on the verge of winning, and probably winning big. Latest example in this category: Michael Barone, once known as a king-of-the-pre-quant-savants with the Almanac of American Politics, is now predicting an easy Romney victory, with 315 electoral votes to Obama's 233. This involves Barone's calling the following states all for Romney: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Florida.

There are a variety of explanations for such fundamentally opposing views: wishful thinking on either side; media interest in a "down to the wire" race; morale-boosting on either side; and so on, including the residual explanation allowed by FiveThirtyEight today, that there may be some deep and systematic bias in all the state polls. But a reader yesterday suggested this explanation:

I, personally, absolutely believe [that the "Romney will win!" theme] is a de-legitimizing strategy...One can expect legal challenges if the vote is close.  I think this push to portray Obama as having zero chance is laying the groundwork.  At minimum it works to keep constituents of Republicans in Congress from tolerating any compromises in the event of an Obama re-election because they will have a reinforced sense of being robbed (which they have had about Mr. Kenya his whole presidency)....

Are we seeing any signs of this pre-delegitimizing approach? Surprisingly enough, one has appeared on Fox News:

FoxVotingMachine.png

The story says:
Imagine going to vote for your presidential candidate and pushing the button on a touch-screen voting machine -- but the "X" marks his opponent instead.

That is what some voters in Nevada, North Carolina, Texas and Ohio have reported.
Fox News has received several complaints from voters who say they voted on touch-screen voting machines -- only when they tried to select Mitt Romney, the machine indicated they had chosen President Obama. The voters in question realized the error and were able to cast ballots for their actual choice.

"I don't know if it happened to anybody else or not, but this is the first time in all the years that we voted that this has ever happened to me," said Marion, Ohio, voter Joan Stevens.
Stevens said that when she voted, it took her three tries before the machine accepted her choice to vote for Romney ....

Multiple voters from several states wrote Fox News to report problems similar to what Stevens reported.

One voter asked: "I wonder how many voters just hit the 'Cast Ballot' without reading the machine?"

"How can we be sure our votes are not being stolen electronically?" asked another. [Emphasis added.]
It's a natural question, especially if the information sources you rely on have convinced you that, were it not for fraud or cheating, Romney would be winning in a walk. It is worth starting to save up these reports -- and of course accounts of voter-suppression efforts. Side note: that the world's most powerful democracy has such shoddy machinery of democracy is really embarrassing, or should be.

Extra Saturday political notes:
  1. If you haven't read Mike Lofgren's argument against "liberal despair," please do. He's known to the world now as author of The Party Is Over. He has been known in D.C. for a long time as an influential Senate staffer -- mainly working for Republicans. 
  2. Well, I was going to write here why I think that political prognosticators should put their money behind their predictions -- even though Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight was recently chastised for doing so at the NYT. But I'll save that for later today. In the meantime, I'll see what odds Barone will offer on his 315-233 electoral vote forecast. If he really believes it, presumably he should be willing to take even money.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/11/the-pre-delegitimization-watch-it-begins/264493/