...if we refuse to take it seriously after, when there are actual empirical ways to test for it in official results? There seems to be a kind of visceral terror among some people at the thought of raising issues that MSM-minded cult-of-civility centrists would consider too far out of bounds regardless of any rational consideration or remotely sane civic responsibility. And that seems to be the reason for a rather stark disconnect between how the issue of election fraud is treated before vs. after an election: Before an election, we receive any number of authoritative, dire warnings about Republican intent to suppress votes, deceive voters, defraud ballots, sabotage the ability of Democratic-leaning constituencies to participate, and basically do everything within their physical capacity to rig an election.
But even when these things undisputedly occur and fail to be rectified, the moment an election ends the topic is suddenly taboo: People shrink from the subject, and their reticence is reinforced by a small but incredibly obnoxious cadre of self-appointed Very Serious PeopleTM who find it intolerable to hear the results of concluded elections questioned without prompting from some political or institutional authority. This needs to change if our approach to electoral integrity is to be anything more than self-gratifying kabuki.
The dichotomy is surreal: Apocalyptic warnings and angry, self-righteous condemnations of the other side's plain agenda of subverting democratic processes, followed by sullen, silent resignation when (not if) that agenda actually materializes. Isn't this ass-backwards? Aren't we supposed to be angrier, more engaged, and more confrontational when Republicans walk right up to us and spit in our faces than when they're merely skulking around the corner looking shifty and being Up to No Good?
At least, that's my sense as an assertive citizen who cares more about common sense than what some cocktail-sipping professional commentator with a perpetual man-crush on Thomas Friedman might have to say about my credibility. The only way to have credibility in the first place is to not be like those muppets, and certainly not to admire them as models of reputable discourse. People whose idea of reality consists of nothing more than an internal Overton Window dictated by social etiquette rather than facts in context are virtually never right, and they will always end up acting like complete tools whenever an inconvenient and discourteous subject arises. We have all witnessed the following scene many times throughout the media since it became an infotainment petri dish:
Reporter: And what do you think of (insert hot-button issue) ?Of course, the standard doesn't work both ways: A conservative can be as outrageous as they please without ever worrying about being belittled, because lies, preposterous narratives, and deranged fantasies are not a challenge to the social etiquette of politics - they are, if anything, its substance in a corrupted circumstance where the very idea of reality is regarded as a hateful, menacing, and tyrannical limitation on the freedom of powerful people to behave on instinct. So the same animatronic media goofball who sputters in melodramatic bewilderment at hearing an especially "rude" guest say that 2 + 2 = 4 will put on their pensive face, periodically nod, and give all the appropriate cues of legitimacy as a more courteous guest informs him that billionaires are oppressed in America and homeless people are like Auschwitz commandants.
Liberal Guest: (Simple, incisive, fact-based statement completely dismissing the false framing of the issue without bothering to legitimize it with direct mention)
Reporter: (Aghast) But...but...you really think that? I mean, that's kind of an extreme position, isn't it?
We saw probably the worst examples that have ever existed in this country during 2003, in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, when simply referring to events as they unfolded before our eyes was treated by these people and their everyday mimics as being on the same level of 9/11 Truther conspiracy theories and tinfoil-hatted gibberish. To even use the word "lie" in opposing the invasion of Iraq during a Serious PeopleTM interview on the subject was such a faux pas that guests who crossed that threshold could expect not to be invited on that network again for years to come, if ever - and that is in the relatively few cases where opposition on any level whatsoever was considered credible and legitimate enough to air. The media had totally walled itself off from reality, and was debating how large Saddam's WMD stockpiles were, how quickly we should invade, and whether Bush's particular approach to the invasion was the best way to go about it.
Even years later, most Democrats in office, predictably, internalized the derangement and would never go beyond saying that Bush had "misled" the country into a "mistake" and criticized his murderous war of aggression as merely "incompetent foreign policy." And most people in general accepted those cues without question, even if they opposed the war on moral or practical grounds: To just outright declare the simple fact of what we were all witnessing was considered an act of jarring "insensitivity," "rudeness," and deeply-resented shattering of the social milieu. Even on a subject of such imminent import, to just baldly tell the truth was treated by many as tantamount to taking a shit in the middle of a ballroom. And since there is no delicate, courteous, or well-mannered way to say the federal government of the United States was under the occupation of murdering psychotics who were committing treason before our very eyes, the default demand was simply that the truth not be spoken at all.
The same mentality more or less applies to the legitimacy of elections, beginning from the very moment the polls close - i.e., the instant it becomes the exclusive domain of Authority rather than a complex interplay of statistical science, demographics, and variably biased interests. If Authority says the results are close, then we are given permission to look more closely at the process and pursue recounts - but even then, regardless of what is found, accusations of significant fraudulence are simply off-limits among the Very Serious PeopleTM and those who think such mental muppets are to be emulated. Minor errors, inadequate facilities, and even a few "dirty tricks" would be considered - although for the most part they would be ignored without further inquiry or action - but major fraud is totally outside the bounds of political etiquette and thus impossible for those bound by such etiquette to entertain, regardless of how odd something looks. Nothing short of the very Authority in question telling them it happened would cause them to take the possibility seriously.
The situation is even more surreal when the official result is not close, thus preventing any taxpayer-funded recount or inquiry: Campaigns would have to fund any additional measure themselves, which would make it impractical to pursue any recount wider than a few limited areas. If suspected irregularities are broader than they can afford to explore, and the few areas they can afford to recount wouldn't likely produce enough new votes for their side to swing the election, the campaign would (quite rationally) simply not pursue the matter and opt instead to keep the money for later use. Such is the hard, amoral logic of political animals, and I don't judge them for it. Since Authority has declared no official doubt about who is the victor in such cases, the chattering classes and other less-than-critical thinkers will neither make any attempt to probe deeper, nor acknowledge any such attempt by others as rational and legitimate regardless of how it is justified or what is subsequently found.
If a campaign in such a circumstance refused to concede despite an official result that is not close, and attempted to draw attention to irregularities they lacked the resources to independently explore, the overwhelmingly likely outcome is that the media would lambaste them as "sore losers" and simply ignore every point they attempt to make. No political animal would deliberately subject themselves to such a gauntlet merely for the sake of one election, and certainly not for the principle of the thing, so no such scenario would ever be challenged under the status quo. The net result is that there is a very broad domain of possible electoral fraud that would add up to the perfect crime because we consent to political taboos based on nothing more reality-driven than the sociopathic etiquette of infotainment media.
If voting machines and, more menacingly, vote counting machines can be tampered with to produce arbitrary results - a conclusion independently reached by several reputable inquiries over the past decade or so, leading (as far as I've seen) to relatively few and superficial reforms - then what would be the downside for a criminal Republican of inventing a strong margin above the threshold for automatic recounts? The opposing campaign would have to pay for their own effort to uncover fraud that might not be uncoverable without a thorough investigation beyond both their means and authority, and meanwhile they would be savaged both by media friendly to the "winner" and media in general for daring to propose something outside the parameters of etiquette. They'd become politically radioactive, very likely spend all their money without uncovering definitive proof sufficient to invoke a federal investigation, and all the while show themselves to be "unreliable" and "not a team player" to other politicians in their party.
So even having a voter-verifiable paper trail doesn't really provide any protection if the numerical scale of the fraud is sufficiently large: At what point would the candidate who has just been told by Authority that they've been crushed at the polls have a chance to find and investigate irregularities? Every moment they delay conceding would increase the peril of their future political career, and pretty soon the pundit sharks would smell blood in the water - "Is this candidate going to make a fool of himself? Oh, I can't wait!" With the media already likely gushing over the landslide victory of their opponent, even intimating, let alone outright asserting the possibility of fraud would instantly turn the tenor of coverage into something like a tank of piranhas on PCP. A paper trail doesn't mean anything if the losing candidate is highly unlikely to request a detailed recount, and no one else would know what had happened quickly enough to organize a lawsuit preventing the destruction of voting materials.
Who, then, protects us from this "perfect crime" scenario of election fraud? It certainly isn't the media, and can't be our candidates for reasons already stated. Pollsters? As we've seen repeatedly, pre-election polling has already become horribly corrupted, and producing any number of pretext-creating polls through any number of front organizations would be little more than an afterthought to actual vote-tampering. Just flood the spectrum with results within a certain desired range, and then point to the average of those "polls" as substantiating the ultimate election outcome. Granted, there are limits even to that, but it's more than enough to guarantee outcomes in situations where the Republican Party considers its core agenda and long-term plans to be on the line. Frankly, whenever that kind of high-stakes confrontation with nationwide implications occurs with the GOP, that's when the results tend to come out looking funny and defy exit polling - and as far as I know, always in their favor.
So we really should make a conscious, deliberate decision here as Democrats and as individuals: Are we going to be as serious in uncovering and confronting election fraud when it actually occurs as we are about merely condemning the GOP's overall penchant for subverting the democratic process? Do we value the opinions of amoral and a-factual Dickensian grotesques more than simple common sense, truth, and the survival of our own basic rights? Quite simply, it's no longer sufficient to rely on candidates and news organizations to perform these functions, because they either can't or won't. We have to aggressively probe every election that in any way smells the least bit off - demand that authorities prove the official results legitimate to our satisfaction, not redefine the term "legitimate" to mean that authorities have approved it. Where there is any reasonable doubt about the plausibility of an outcome, an official result is nothing more than an unsubstantiated claim until the relevant locations and aspects of a process have been verified inside and out. It's a difficult standard and we'd have to operate under a lot of ambiguity for a long time, but it's definitely better than the certainty of having no plan in place to deal with potential major fraud.