Another “winner” in a tied election

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Al Franken was finally declared the winner in his campaign against Norm Coleman for the U.S Senate seat in Minnesota. Norm Coleman conceded indicating that he won’t drag out the eight-month recount any longer.

The ritual behind the concession is an interesting one. Any time there is a close (essentially tied) election, the perceived loser after the initial count can concede or he may call for a recount or for a series of legal challenges. He does this in the hope that enough of the opponent’s votes might be invalidated or enough of his votes might be “discovered” during the recount process.

The idea that “counting every vote” provides a definitive conclusion to an election is one of the many great myths and gossamer clouds upon which democracy is perched.

In any large scale election where the voters number in the thousands, there is no such thing as an election being decided simply by counting every vote. Every close election on such a scale comes down to deciding which votes to count and which votes not to count in a subjective selection process founded upon a variety of legal challenges and judgments:

“Should the provisional ballots be counted?”

“Which of the provisional ballots should be counted?”

“Have the mail-in ballots been counted?”

“Are these ballots cast for this guy or for that guy?”

“The judge will allow these votes to be counted, but not those votes.”

And on and on. It’s not about counting every vote, but about getting a judge to declare which votes should be counted.

So, in reality, many close elections are really just ties with no clear outcome. The 2000 election was a perfect example. Clearly, neither candidate was a clear winner over the other. And yet, this is a very difficult problem for the theory of democracy to contend with. If neither candidate is truly preferred, how can one of the candidates claim to rule with a mandate from the people? And say by some imaginary miracle, one candidate was shown to have one more vote than the other. Why should this be a license to rule over others?

Yet, we see this happen all the time. As soon as a “winner” is declared, the voters fall into line and simply accept the legitimacy of the newly elected candidate while the winner himself declares himself to be the trustee of all the people who possesses a mandate to govern according to his platform. Never mind the fact that, in many cases, the winner was barely able to prove a plurality, much less a majority. Yet, the proponents of democracy quickly look the other way, when even by their own standards, the election results can’t be shown to fulfill the democratic pillars of “majority rule” or even “one man, one vote.” The new winner is illegitimate by their own standards, but this fact is always disregarded in favor of the myth over the inconvenient reality.

10:18 pm on July 1, 2009