Sunday, March 4, 2012

How to rig an election

Weighing the votes
A brief guide to electoral fraud for the busy despot
Mar 3rd 2012 | from the print edition

THE only poll that counts, supposedly, is election day. But for the
sophisticated vote-rigger that is terrible advice. Election day is too
late. If you go around beating up your opponents' voters, stuffing
ballot boxes and making up results, someone somewhere is bound to
complain. All those foreign busybodies will take you to task. It enrages the crowd and it dents your reputation.
It is also unnecessary. If you set about rigging the vote well in advance (see article), you can have an election that looks all right on the outside but
guarantees the result you want. And nobody will be able to object. The
secret is to obey the rules—having first written them yourself.
In this section
It all starts with television, where most voters (especially the
poorer and less-educated) get most of their news. Don't clamp down
completely—it makes you look weak. Tolerate small, ill-funded opposition outlets (not least so that you have an idea yourself of what is going
on). But make sure that you or your allies control all the main
television channels. Television news should trumpet your successes,
portraying you as statesmanlike, and perhaps also enjoying manly sports
and cuddly charity work.
This makes you the dominant brand in voters' minds. Your propaganda
machine should also highlight the opposition's foreign links, making
them look disloyal and alien. It should play up splits and divisions and any personal foibles (your own vices, meanwhile, must remain state
This makes the next stages easier. Gerrymandering is an excellent
tactic. In a parliamentary election, corral your opponents' votes into
places where they pile up uselessly, while making sure that yours are
spread across plenty of marginal constituencies. If in doubt, look at
how it is done in America. Then sort out the electoral registers: you
need tough registration requirements for the voters who dislike you. You can count on votes from prisoners, army conscripts and others, so make
sure they are registered en masse.
The laws governing political parties are in your hands too: make them burdensome. That will sap the opposition's energies—and if they make a
single slip-up, you can always have their candidates struck from the
ballot. Your own party will control a mighty bureaucratic machine and
will meet the requirements easily. A sophisticated twist on this is to
create your own tame opposition parties, in several flavours. They will
distract attention from your real rivals.
You will have to allow some foreigners into your country on polling
day. So make it easy for the right ones (your ideological soul mates and those from other autocratic countries). Nosy nit-pickers from the West
can come too, but only at the last moment, so they have little time to
get organised. Discredit local election-monitoring outfits as
foreign-funded and partisan. Trumpet your fans' verdict at home: it will offset the complaints from those foreigners who, your television
channel can argue, are secretly bent on doing your country down.
Stuff and nonsense
Do not waste much time campaigning. Anything beyond the odd
triumphant rally makes you seem like a mere politician. Instead say you
are too busy minding the affairs of state—and make sure you are shown on television doing so.
On polling day hand out free food and booze in poor areas. In places
that will not vote for you, have the polling stations open late and
close early. If necessary, they can run out of ballot papers. Long
queues are a deterrent to busy people.
As insurance, you need to be able to fiddle the results. A
computerised system which is apparently secure but actually accessible
is ideal. If ballot-boxes are used, make sure they can be stored
overnight in a discreet location where, if all else fails, you can add
and subtract votes as necessary. If you get caught, say provocateurs are trying to discredit you.
None of this helps you run the country when you win. But who said politics was easy?

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