Quantum Physics in the Election Booth

Albert Einstein proposed his new theory, special relativity, in 1905 and quickly became famous. It was a strange and exotic set of propositions. The follow up general theory of relativity really shook things up. It was pretty much accepted in physics within a few years.

You might say that Einstein generated a big bang of his own. There followed an explosion of sorts. The merging of time into spacial dimensions brought forth variations. Elementary particles begat lesser particles, then sub-sub-particles. Those particles were just theoretical, explained by strange twists of quantum mechanics in which opposite, mutually exclusive, states of existence could simultaneously be true.

Some scientists felt compelled to assure the public that the wonderfully bizarre reality that operated on a sub-atomic level had no relationship to the world we experience every day. One skeptic, physicist Erwin Schrödinger, proposed a thought experiment to demonstrate the absurdity of the only-true-for-submicroscopic-reality postulate. He suggested a set up involving a Geiger counter and a radioactive substance, a bottle of arsenic, and a cat, all in a closed box.

A random subatomic event might or might not trigger the Geiger counter which might or might not break open the arsenic which might or might not kill the cat. If the prevailing new theories were right, the cat would be both dead and alive until the box was opened and the state of the cat was settled.

As scientists predicted new particles and states of reality, math began to run ahead of experimentation. Little in science is truly static. Settled fact can become open to contradiction as new evidence is uncovered. In fact, mainstream science holds statements to be meaningless unless they are both falsifiable and verifiable by some path of evidence.

The laptop computer, the cell phone, the television, the nuclear bomb all depend on absurd, largely theoretical, operations of the subatomic universe. Many of the ever new particles that scientists visualize in the complexities of their advanced mathematics can only be inferred. There is hope that, one day, advances in measurement will combine with future epiphany to provide at least some tenuous proof of what will never be seen directly.

In the meantime, the theories work. All things wonderfully electronic and modern come from the counter-intuitive, often unproven, theoretical world of exotic subatomic physics. Who needs Schrödinger’s cat when we have cable television?

I had just microwaved dinner and was watching a broadcast on the device Isaac Newton would have dismissed, when I came across a political story that reminded me of the wonderful world of unproven particle theory that nonetheless works.

It has been documented past the point of redundancy that voter fraud is a rare, rare event. It most often happens when some public official wants to declare residency in order to run for office from a pretend residence. In one case it happened when a woman seeking to hide from an abusive ex-spouse tried to disguise her residence.

What doesn’t happen is individual voters trying to influence an election by voting illegally. That is true for three main reasons.

  • It’s amazingly easy to get caught.
  • Penalties against those who are caught are extreme. Fines and prison time can haunt a citizen for a long, long time after the debt to society is paid.
  • Backroom tinkering with results is a lot safer, a lot more effective, and therefore a lot more common than any voter fraud.

There have been efforts to document voter fraud, the individual kind, not the backroom tally manipulation. In Pennsylvania, a city commissioner from Philadelphia found 700 cases of voter fraud over several years. When they were looked into, they pretty much turned out to be something else. The grand total was one.

In Colorado, the Secretary of State found 155 cases. Upon investigation, they were found to be legitimate voters. It seems the Secretary had included the names of immigrants who voted. He neglected to check, so he didn’t know they had become citizens first. It turned out that citizens can legally vote.

During the George W. Bush administration, a nationwide search for voter fraud involved a detailed combing of records for every national, state, and local election over 7 years. It took five years to pour through every vote, then follow up in a search for voter fraud. They did find a handful of double registrations and fewer than ten actual fraudulent votes. That’s nationwide over 7 years.

Around the country, voter ID laws have been carefully restrictive. Lots of minority voters and older folks and students just turned 18 don’t drive. So traditional forms of identification have been discarded. These folks are now required to have drivers licenses or their equivalent to vote. And the equivalent have been made hard to get.

The number of voting booths have been reduced in minority areas. Voting locations have been moved to places that are hard to get to. Voting times have been reduced.

A recent study confirms what is apparent to most folks who have thought about it. The idea is to keep a lot of legitimate voters from voting. The state of Texas is even arguing that it is okay to attempt to discriminate against minority voters if, in their hearts, politicians are only motivated against voters who will support Democrats.

A few observers have labeled the new tactic James Crow, esquire, or Jim Crow, Jr. or Jimmy Crow. It isn’t exactly the same as the poll taxes and literacy tests of old. The racial motivation is not always primary, but the target is largely the same.

The story in North Carolina’s Raleigh News Observer was about voter suppression, moves against voter fraud that will only keep actual voters from voting, and voter fraud itself that is pretty much nonexistent. It seems Republicans are pushing local voting boards pretty hard to keep voters from voting, even when local officials know better.

The story begins this way:

RALEIGH — One of the longstanding arguments against voter ID laws has been that there is no history of significant elections fraud.

But advocates of North Carolina’s new elections law have been making their way across the state to county elections boards to try to make the case that fraud has existed but has been inadequately investigated.

Raleigh News Observer, January 12, 2014

That’s what brought the higher mathematics of subatomic physics to mind. Illegal voters are like the newest class of particles.

Republicans are sure they exist. They simply haven’t found any way to observe them.

But in the world of voter suppression, the theory works. Yes indeed, it does work.