By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Tomorrow, election day will be only one week away. In this post I want to talk about two distinct subjects. First, I want to talk about the sort of calculation that a Martian might make when confronted by the choice we will face in the voting booth. Then, I’d like to paint a brief picture of what election day would look like, in a world where I didn’t want to claw out my eyeballs.
A Martian Looks at Election Outcomes in 2016
I say “Martian,” because a Martian is so detached that the 30,000-foot view looks like a close-up, and I think in this election detachment is a virtue (see above at “claw out my eyeballs”).
So a Martian would feel that despite the all the sound and fury, the numbers have not been that crazy (assuming one trusts them). Among registered voters:
Emphasizing how remarkably stable the '16 race has been — going back to Sept. 2015 https://t.co/odFykkIm8m pic..com/2CKuS9Qi9G
— Mark Murray (@mmurraypolitics) October 31, 2016
RealClearPolitics has a similar chart averaging all the polls with a vertical scale that makes the swings a lot bigger. To me, the pattern of the race is that Clinton starts out with, and retains, a natural institutional advantage of around four points. Again from the head-to-head RCP chart, Trump has closed and then pulled even six times: September 2015, December 2015, February 2016, May 2016, July 2016, and September 2016. And each time either Clinton’s institutional advantages have re-asserted themselves, or Trump has shot himself in the foot (take your pick). Trump is closing now. Can he pull ahead and close the deal? Unknown. Based on past performance, no. Then again, as I remarked before the latest email eruption, “a week is a long time in politics,” Wikileaks has yet to drop its final shoe, and each campaign probably has a garbage truck full of oppo fired up and ready to go.
Paradoxically, Martians are not warlike, since the thin air, small population, and harsh conditions on Mars make war a species-threatening event. For the same reason, Martians prize the deep memories of elders while treating every child as precious. And Martians resist “Marsization,” because the one time there actually was a single, Mars-wide, cosmopolitan class of elite overlords they tried to invade the Earth, and who knows where that would have led! So if you were a Martian, and you believed that Clinton’s election would lead to a new war, and you believe that endorsing Bowles-Simpson and “hemispheric trade” in a speech at Goldman Sachs mean a Grand Bargain and TPP passage respectively, then you might look askance at a likely Clinton victory. What do do? If you had a Martian friend who followed American elections obsessively — this is similar to Southeast Asian countries where people obsessively follow English Premier League football — this is what your friend might tell you:
The last thing you want is for Clinton to be able to enact her (real, private) agenda. Sure, she might make some small good changes, but if you throw war, a Grand Bargain, and the surrender of national sovereignty with another so-called trade deal on one side of the scale, it’s hard to see what outweighs them on the other, at least in terms of concrete material benefits. So, working on the assumption that Clinton will win, what you need is:
A Republican House. Here, the checks and balances built into the American system favor gridlock, and gridlock is your friend, since little legislation will get passed. Whether the House Republicans impeach Clinton if the Senate is in Democrat hands is an open question, but with Clinton having privatized the email server for her public office and the shenanigans at the Clinton Foundation, the Clinton administration will provide a target-rich environment. I woudn’t put it past them to try to take Clinton’s security clearance away!
A Democrat Senate. The emergence of left(ish) party barons with independent power bases is the untold story of election 2016. Warren is at least sound on banksters and financial power, and Sanders, while not a Bolshevik, is well to the left of the Democrat mainstream. That’s a Good Thing. Both are prolific fundraisers who don’t need the DNC. If the Republicans hold the Senate, the tendency will be for Democrats to stick together. If the Democrats do, then Baron Warren and Baron Sanders (and allies like Sherrod Brown) will feel more free to drag the party left.
A close race. If Clinton wins, she’ll claim a mandate if the margin is a tenth of a percent. But in the same way that anybody can print money, but the trick is getting other people to accept it, others will be less likely to accept her claim the closer the result is. (I think the result would have to be better than the four points Obama beat Romney by — 51.1% to 47.2% — and as of today, Clinton’s margin is 2.8% in RCP’s four-way average.) Of course, Bush claimed a mandate in 2004, too — true story: I managed to Google-bomb “Bush mandate” to Mandate magazine, back in the day when Google-bombing wasn’t hard — and proceeded to try to gut Social Security, whereupon the Democrats promptly gutted him and went on to win the 2006 mid-terms. But why make it easy?
So, that’s the Martian perspective on the race. Surprisingly or not, the personal characteristics of puny Earthling candidates are not a factor! Nor are cultural or class markers!
Elections on Mars
Here is how Election Day works on Mars. Again because of planetary and cultural characteristics, Martians reserve tricky and complex electronic devices for important things, like distributed Martian parallel chess, or space operas. They are also convivial, and they hate to be manipulated by large and opaque forces (that time the Jovians invaded). Obviously, I can’t provide links for most of this — the Uniform Resource Locator is a global standard, not an interplanetary one — but in short form:
1. On Mars, Election Day is a national holiday. That’s because Martians, unlike American Earthlings, think that everybody should have an equal opportunity to vote. Voting is equally easy for almost every Martian, whether they work or not.
2. The Martians use hand-marked paper ballots, hand-counted in public. This is remarkably similar to international standards on Earth (which the United States does not use):
Last March, the country’s highest court found that secret, computerized vote counting was unconstitutional. Unfortunately, the country was Germany, and the Constitution violated by e-voting systems was the one that the U.S. wrote and insisted Germans ratify as part of their terms of surrender following WWII.
Paul Lehto, a U.S. election attorney and Constitutional rights expert, summarized the German court’s unambiguous, landmark finding:
- “No ‘specialized technical knowledge’ can be required of citizens to vote or to monitor vote counts.”
- There is a “constitutional requirement of a publicly observed count.”
- “[T]he government substitution of its own check or what we’d probably call an ‘audit’ is no substitute at all for public observation.”
- “A paper trail simply does not suffice to meet the above standards.
- “As a result of these principles,…’all independent observers’ conclude that ‘electronic voting machines are totally banned in Germany’ because no conceivable computerized voting system can cast and count votes that meet the twin requirements of…being both ‘observable’ and also not requiring specialized technical knowledge.
Hand-counting paper ballots is no good at all, argue critics, unless you really want to know who the actual winner of the election was…
After the verdict in the case — filed by a computer expert and his political scientist son — Lehto wondered how it could be that open, observable democracy is seemingly an inviolable right for “conquered Nazis,” but not, apparently, for citizens of the United States…
3. The Martians throw a big party at the precinct after the paper ballots have all been hand-counted. That’s partly because Martians are convivial, but also because the Martians think that democracy is important and ought to be celebrated. (Again, because the Martian population is small, they wish to begin the conciliation process between winner and loser immediately, lest fratricidal violence result, and there’s no better way to do that than over food.)
4. The Martians regulate all forms of political advertising for size (small) and frequency (not often), whether for candidates or policies. That’s because the Martians wish to minimize manipulatio by encouraging face-to-face forms of persuasion and deliberation in public venues wherever possible.
5. The Martians ban published polling data thirty days before the election. That’s because Martians believe that they each should vote for their own reasons, and that elections (unlike markets) are not (manipulative) beauty contests.
Crazy Martians! What are they thinking?
 Sadly, the time for an all-out assault on Republican “obstructionism” was 2009, when all the stars had aligned: The Republicans had no credibility, and the Democrats had the House, the Senate, the most powerful orator of our time (so it was said), in the White House, and a mandate for “hope and change.” Of course, Obama (assuming good faith) squandered this opportunity, starting with his inaugural speech, if not before.
And then there’s Evan McMullin, doing well in Utah. I haven’t seen any actual evidence that he’s Mitt Romney’s straw in case of some kinda electoral college debacle….