The legitimacy of elections

The worst possible outcome of the IRS scandal would see it growing large enough to call the legitimacy of the 2012 election into question.

Some people reading this might think it’s already reached that point.  Others would say it could never reach that point.  There is a case to be made that the American system would resist such an outcome, in a much broader sense than merely partisan Democrats in Washington and the media protecting Obama.  Among other questions that would give us all pause: what would we do?  Hold another election on short notice?  Hand the Administration over to the people who lost the last election?  Even if the worst comes to pass, there’s no practical remedy that the American political system would be able to swallow.


Once in a while, an entire government can be seen coming down in other countries, but it’s not something Americans – really, even those who most vigorously oppose Barack Obama – want to go through.  The price paid in domestic and foreign policy disruption would be far too high.

On the other hand, as evidence of IRS oppression – there’s really no better word for it – against the President’s political opponents piles up, we have reason to wonder if the outcome of the election was swayed.  The ability of the targeted groups to raise funds was compromised, and we all know the relationship between funding and political speech. There are widespread accounts of intimidation, from both the data gathered by those intrusive IRS questionnaires, and the fear of dire consequences if those questions were answered incorrectly.  And there have been complaints of confidential IRS information being handed over to partisan operations, inflicting damage on the opposing candidate and his party that would be impossible to quantify with a precise number of lost or stolen votes.

If all of this was happening under a Republican administration to “progressive” groups, you can bet there would already be widespread doubts about the legitimacy of the election.  Remember, to much of the Left and its media allies, merely asking voters to obtain a free photo ID card constitutes “voter suppression.”  The current Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, has made that argument repeatedly.  Does he not also see the political activity of the corrupt IRS as a form of voter suppression?  Both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama performed below expectations in the 2012 race, but Romney lost because a larger share of his potential voters didn’t show up at the polls.  As the scope of the IRS scandal widens, is it unreasonable to ask whether the oppression of groups that wished to organize votes for the Republican ticket played a role in that outcome?


The damage to our electoral legitimacy would not be much alleviated if we could find no connection between Obama himself and his volunteer auxiliaries in the IRS.  (He would have to be a fabulously stupid man to leave hard copies of any such coordination, or hold an explicit conversation on the topic with anyone who might later testify against him.)  Elections can be corrupted by people who are not directly linked to one of the candidates.

When various forms of vote fraud are discussed, critics of measures designed to combat it generally claim it’s not a serious problem, because no one can prove with absolute certainty that any given election was “stolen.”  In other words, the standard of proof is held to be a number of indisputably fraudulent votes that exceeds the margin of victory.  Curiously, this standard does not apply when the discussion turns to “voter suppression” among favored liberal constituencies.  In that case, even the remote possibility of inadvertently suppressing a small number of votes – by fairly and universally applying requirements that some people have difficulty meeting –  is considered completely unacceptable.

The amount of funny business necessary to question the legitimacy of an election is, therefore, highly subjective to the Left.  It all depends on whose vote is being suppressed, apparently.  And they don’t seem to like thinking of each fraudulent ballot as a legitimate vote suppressed.

Because we value political continuity and the legitimacy of government, there’s little chance that anything short of the most explicit, outrageous, documented abuse could ever threaten the outcome of a major race, once a few days have passed and ballot challenges have been settled.  There is no “rewind” button.  That’s why the legitimacy of elections must be secured in advance.  There is no way to settle serious issues afterward; even if some malefactors are found and punished, the outcome of a manipulated election remains.  Some of the more dedicated partisans might be wiling to accept personal consequences – or feel confident of their ability to escape them – when a “historic” victory is at stake.


Of course, the vast majority of Americans, regardless of their politics, want clean and fair elections.  As we’ve moved away from the model of Constitutional restraint, we have increasingly come to sanctify government power through the ritual of voting – the winners get to do just about anything they want, provided they can get legislation through Congress or make an executive order stick, and if We the People don’t like it, we can vote them out of power in the next election.  We measure “freedom” through our ability to influence those who tax and regulate us.

That’s a dangerously naive way to view the legitimacy of government, but it becomes absolutely absurd when the ruling party, or permanent bureaucracy, can use the power of a titan State to mold elections to their liking.  The really bad news is that, no matter how the current crisis shakes out, the State will retain countless instruments for controlling its own electoral input, at both the IRS and many other agencies.



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