Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Politics as Entertainment: The Alvin Greene Story

H. L. Mencken wrote somewhere that Congress was worth the cost of its salary simply as a form of entertainment. I was reminded of that reading news stories about the outcome of the recent South Carolina Democratic primary, where an unemployed veteran with no background in politics won, by a healthy margin, the senate nomination. The Democratic establishment responded with outrage to this particular outcome of democratic politics. The losing candidate strongly hinted at evidence of vote fraud, while one prominent congressman implied that Greene was some sort of Republican plant:

"I know a Democratic pattern. I know a Republican pattern, and I saw in the Democratic primary elephant dung all over the place,"

It's possible, as some of the Democrats claim to believe, that Greene was persuaded to run by someone working for the opposition party, but that doesn't explain his winning—he apparently did no campaigning and ran no ads. My own guess is that it was a random fluke. The Republicans were expected to win the election, so the Democratic nomination wasn't a big issue, so nobody paid much attention to it. Greene won either because voters liked his name, because they disliked the other candidate and, knowing nothing about Greene because they had never heard of him, had nothing against him, because his name appeared first on the ballot, or for some other reason I haven't thought of.

Whatever the explanation, watching the Democratic party, state and national, try to wriggle out of an outcome of majority voting that they don't like, at least provides the rest of us with some entertainment.


"If I was runnin' f'r office, I'd change me name, an' have printed on me cards: 'Give him a chanst; he can't be worse.'"


At 10:09 AM, June 15, 2010, Blogger montestruc said...

I understand that in fact he did campaign, as in going door to door and shaking hands ect. That can be pretty darn powerful if you are pretty energetic and charismatic.

At 10:31 AM, June 15, 2010, Anonymous BobW said...

As I read it, the opposing candidate in the primary seems to blame the voting machines, not actual fraud. I can easily imagine blatant screwups setting up the voting machines.

It makes me miss butterfly ballots and hanging chads.

At 3:25 PM, June 15, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Except it is looking more and more as if there actually were voting irregularities.

At 7:06 PM, June 15, 2010, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous points to an analysis of the data, but not an explanation of the outcome.

The clearest conclusion from that piece is that the explanation wasn't Republican crossover. Beyond that, something seems to have been wrong in the Republican vote count in a few places, which might signal voting machine problems. But there doesn't seem to be a link to the Greene victory--and the piece suggests some "innocent" explanations for that.

A 90% confidence result in a statistical test (for a nonrandom distribution of digits) isn't worth much--especially if there are multiple tests people could do, and only the interesting results get reported.

At 9:29 PM, June 15, 2010, Anonymous David Tomlin said...


I understand that in fact he did campaign . . .

He says he campaigned across the state, creating a 'prove the negative' problem for those who want to claim he didn't.

In one interview he was asked to name a town or community in which he campaigned, and he gave no answer.

As far as I know there is no evidence he did any campaigning except his own assertion.

At 10:04 PM, June 15, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

He simply got the Green Party vote.

At 11:01 AM, June 16, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't imagine anything more american than for Greene to win the Senate seat. We want representation for everyone in the congress right? What's better than to have a black, formerly unemployed poor ex-vet setting in the senate with all the white millionaires men and women? It can't hurt and it might just help!

At 6:08 PM, June 16, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Both major parties have some embarrassing new candidates this month. The R's are trying very hard to keep Rand Paul from talking to the media, for example.

At 9:13 PM, June 16, 2010, Blogger montestruc said...

David Tomlin said...

""As far as I know there is no evidence he did any campaigning except his own assertion."

You mean aside from winning the election?

At 9:05 PM, June 19, 2010, Anonymous Andrew said...

It's simply amazing that entire states are using easily hackable electronic voting machines with absolutely no vote verification capability.


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