Book Review: Down for the Count

Down for the Count: Dirty Elections and the Rotten History of Democracy in America
by Andrew Gumbel.  An updated version of Gumbel’s earlier Steal This Vote.  A lot has happened in 12 years!

I highly recommend, for an overview of the history of voting issues in the United States.. I can add a small caveat the to the description on Amazon:

Down for the Count explores the tawdry history of elections in the United States—a chronicle of votes bought, stolen, suppressed, lost, miscounted, thrown into rivers, and litigated up to the U.S. Supreme Court—and uses it to explain why we are now experiencing the biggest backslide in voting rights in more than a century. This thoroughly revised edition, first published to acclaim and some controversy in 2005 as Steal This Vote, reveals why America is unique among established Western democracies in its inability to run clean, transparent elections. And it demonstrates, in crisp, clear, accessible language, how the partisan battles now raging over voter ID, out-of-control campaign spending, and minority voting rights fit into a long, largely unspoken tradition of hostility to the very notion of representative democracy.
Andrew Gumbel has interviewed Democrats, Republicans, and a range of voting rights activists to offer a multifaceted, deeply researched, and engaging critical assessment of a system whose ostensible commitment to democratic integrity so often falls apart on contact with race, money, and power. In an age of high-stakes electoral combat, billionaire-backed candidacies, and bottom-of-the-barrel campaigning, there can be no better time to reissue this troubling and revealing book.

Some of the items that stuck out for me:

  • The problems and rigging of lever machines pp 106-108.
  • Software is not the only problem with electronic voting machines. Consider microcode.
  • Before the technical reports of the early 2000’s those suspicious of electronic voting were ‘crazies’ p155. I am not so sure that has changed in many circles.
  • Money has almost removed people from elections p 205.
  • “The less grassroots activists know, the more they think they know” p 211. Consider when that might apply to you (or to me), as well as the “others”.
  • The same set of general fixes emerge over and over p 212.

A caveat:

Near the end, the author provides a list of more detailed fixes that he recommends.  I strongly disagree with his recommendation of circumventing the Electoral College, rather than replacing it Constitutionally. Actually it requires more than a Constitutional amendment. As always I can understand that many grassroots individuals see the problems with the current system, including the Electoral College.  Yet the fixes aren’t always so clear and simple. The devil is in the details, wrapped up in the Constitution, the 12th Amendment, and the Electoral Count Act, along with the state-by-state election system we have.  The current system far from a match for a National Popular Vote scheme. They all would need to be changed significantly before we can have a National Popular vote that treats every citizen/voter equally and that can provide a trusted result.  For more on this, see past our posts <here>.

I can only suggest that this is an example for considering the book’s statement that “The less grassroots activists know, the more they think they know”.


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