Re: Election Fraud???

Keith Elis (
Tue, 16 Sep 1997 04:13:23 -0400

Abraham Moses Genen wrote:

> On the rare occasions when an election becomes the subject of media
> exploitation there will be those who extrapolate the few to the majority.
> There is an obvious falicy in such imaginings.

As far as extrapolating the few to the many, "what we hear about" and
"what really goes on" can be two different sets. I have no evidence at
all for this, but I would go out on a limb and suggest that it is indeed
possible that election fraud has occurred without you or I ever hearing
about it. But I do have a fertile imagination and this is not a
"productive" position to take.

What is productive is the position that no amount of media or
governmental "watching" can ensure an honest election in every case. But
you suggest a solution:

> No, the system is not totally corrupt. There are some corrupt people in
> almost every organization. What needs to be done is to increase our
> emphasis on ethics.

Whether the system is "totally corrupt" is more than I know. And you are
right, in one sense, that ethical behavior is the key. However, a 100%
honest ethical system cannot be imposed from without. The actors must
believe in it themselves. So even if we do increase our emphasis on
ethics, this does not solve the problem of unethical behavior. One has
to look at the people who are running for public office, and most of
them come from the legal community, as I'm sure you're well aware.

The legal profession (lawyering in particular) is the only profession
that requires an individual to suspend his or her own ethical system to
perform his or her job. Otherwise only murderer-lawyers or those lawyers
who believed murder was OK would be getting up in court to defend a
murderer. So, to get around this, lawyers have developed a complex
system of ethics in which the right of an accused to a fair trial
supersedes any crime that accused has committed. I won't begin to
address whether that may be correct or not, but I do want to argue that
lawyers are used to dealing with tricky and sticky ethical issues on a
daily basis.

Coloring this is the fact that lawyers engage in post-hoc argumentation
almost exclusively. A scientist will begin with possible conclusions,
argue the correctness of each possibility and then decide on the facts.
Lawyers begin with the facts, choose a conclusion, and then fill in the
argumentative gaps as necessary. This is what they teach you in your
first year of law school -- "how to think like a lawyer."

The synthesis of these two points is that those in the legal profession
are very, very good at justifying themselves to themselves. Where the
typical rational thinker, when presented with the option of unethical
behavior, will follow the normal course of resolving such issues
(options, arguments, facts), the legal professional has the tendency to
see the opportunity as a fact, then decide it's good for him, and then
tell himself why. In short, and in my experience, lawyers are more
capable of ethically questionable behavior than most.

My final point is probably obvious. When a good portion of the people
running for office are more capable than most of unethical behavior,
unethical behavior may be more common among them, than among most. So
imposing an ethical system from without is not likely to do too much
good. And in fact, what you call cynicism about elections may actually
be a recognition of this fact -- politicians are more capable of
unethical behavior than most, and so unethical behavior probably occurs
with greater frequency than we might guess.

> Let's stop spitting on every little thing.

Again, I would go out even further on a limb to say that allegations of
election fraud are not "little things" in a democracy.

> It's not really that productive.

Well that of course depends on what your definition of "productive" is,
now doesn't it?