Friday, August 5, 2016

Yes, Donald Trump, the system is rigged. But not in the way you think.

If Trump has a mantra, it is "the system is rigged." I think he's been saying this longer than he's been saying "crooked Hillary."

Recently he said, "I'm afraid the system is gonna be rigged," presumably in November. Soon afterwards he said there is nothing to stop people from voting 10 times, which of course means "it's rigged."

Trump is following the advice of shadow paranoid mastermind Roger Stone, who publicly advised him to fight voter fraud by talking about it immediately. He needs to start saying, look, I'm ahead in Florida now, so if I lose Florida in November and Hillary is elected, it will be proof of voter fraud. And then, says Stone, look out: the election will be illegitimate, there will be widespread civil disobedience, and the government will be shut down.

And this: "When I mean civil disobedience, not violence, but it will be a bloodbath."

That's a weird clarification. If there is a distinction in there somewhere, I'd bet it's lost on Trump.

Because Trump's not real good on making distinctions. Let's look at this issue as an example. If we're going to have a bloodbath because of voting in Florida, we need to be accurate as to why.

"The system is rigged"--which Trump says over and over and over--is not the same as "there will be voter fraud."

All "systems" are, by definition, "rigged." This is a neutral statement. The word "rigging" comes from the system of ropes and pulleys that enable sailing vessels to function. When it is applied negatively, it still has to mean a system that has been set up, in advance, to produce a certain result. Loaded dice, marked cards, and a magnetized roulette wheel are rigged systems that the croupier Trump might be familiar with: they are systems that, by design, are "rigged" to produce certain results favorable to the player who knows the rigging apparatus in advance.

The electoral college system is a neutrally-rigged system. Sure, there are unintended consequences (the total popular vote decision might not match the electoral college decision), but it is rigged to work the way it does.

A good example of an unfairly rigged, loaded-dice/marked-card electoral system is the one widely in place in the Southern states during the Jim Crow era. That was a system rigged in advance to enable manipulation by local registrars in order to keep African-Americans from voting.

Or--even better because of the mechanical way it tries to "design" the electoral system for partisan advantage--is the classic, still-robust rigging that is the gerrymander.

Over and over and over, however, Trump's complaints have nothing to do with this kind of rigging. For example, the 2016 Louisiana GOP primary came in for "the system is rigged" condemnation--meaning it was rigged in advance to keep him from picking up delegates--when in fact it was the system working the way it was designed, according to rules that were in place well before the race began. The same thing is true of the Democratic primary: Trump's siren call to disaffected Sanders voters was the same old "system is rigged" mantra, when in fact the superdelegate system so problematic for Sanders supporters was neutral, as outsider Barack Obama demonstrated in 2008. Nor did the Wikileak DNC brouhaha expose a rigged system. It exposed operators within the system expressing personal opinions and suggesting how voters might be influenced, but no rules were changed, midstream, to prejudice the outcome.

Contrary to Trump's claims, the primaries were not systems rigged nefariously to deny votes, in advance, to any particular person.

Is the general election system rigged to deny Trump votes? Take Roger Stone's example, Florida. Its state administration is Republican and Trump-leaning. If anyone should have cause for worry, it would be Hillary Clinton.

Voter fraud? Sure, it's possible, but all studies that I've seen say that it is rare and not of a scale to influence the outcome of a presidential contest. Elections are closely watched. Any suspicious activity would be immediately reported. If a presidential contest were compromised, Roger Stone's bloodletting would not be necessary. The rigged system would crank out a decision, as it did in 2000, when law-abiding citizen and good loser Gore conceded.

Trump's claim that nothing prevents people from voting 10 times is one more example of how little he knows about civic reality. What's more likely is that states with ID requirement designed to prevent multiple voting will be punked by people with driver licenses and residences in multiple states. I'm guessing Trump will poll well among people with multiple residences.

This kind of potential fraud is an unintended consequence of the Constitution's conferring voting control to the states. We have a patchwork system for enabling voting, when we should have a national one. We are American citizens, after all.

The system is rigged.

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