Thursday, December 4, 2008

Game of Chance

The recount in the senate race in Minnesota gives me another opportunity to make a point that I thought was important during the Florida electoral debacle of 2000. In 2000 the lawyers for the two parties were quick to step in and define the process as a legal one between the parties: may the best lawyer win. In the end the Supreme Court essentially appointed Bush, acting out of a well-intentioned but misguided sense of duty to resolve the crisis. The issue here as I see it is about who the interested party is, and I would argue that that party is the electorate, not the political parties.

The fact is that in a state-wide vote involving hundreds of thousands and even millions of votes, any margin in the three digits is a statistical tie. In that circumstance there literally is no truth about who won the election. The phrase "margin of error" refers to the logical impossibility of establishing, within such a narrow margin, which candidate actually received the majority of votes. While Minnesota has a good reputation for clean and fair processes, I don't think that a recount process that ignores the problem of the margin of error is in the best interests of the voters, considered generically. The political point is that the interests of the voters considered as a group is not the same as the interests of either of the parties.

Say I voted for Franken (or Gore) and my neighbor voted for Coleman (or Bush). The outcome is a statistical tie within the margin of error. At that point my neighbor and I have an equal right to satisfaction. That is, every voter, granting that the electoral process has not determined the winner (it is a tie), deserves an equal chance of satisfaction as that of every other voter: we are not the political parties, we are sovereign individual voters. The fair thing to do is to flip a coin (or any other equivalently random process). That way my neighbor and I enjoy equal chances of satisfaction, uncorrupted by the vagaries of a highly politicized legal process. It doesn't matter what the parties want: the parties are not sovereign. The voters are sovereign, not at all the same thing. That is why a game of chance is actually the most rational way to decide an election when the vote has fallen within the margin of error.

As of this evening my guy, Al Franken, is up by about 600 votes. Doesn't matter. Flip a coin.

1 comment:

Myrisa said...

Yes, I say the same. It's the electorate and not the parties. Precisely this is what Cynthia McKinney stood for when he was a congresswoman. He insisted on this point and begged vice-president Gore to initiate a Congress investigation. But Gore- the candidate- conceded and the decision was left to the courts. McKinney was left alone fighting against the electoral disenfranchisement of black and minority voters. Again in 2004 in Florida and elsewhere, Kerry conceded without an investigation and handled the dispute as an interparty matter. They really believe that political positions belong to the parties' elites and not to the people.