Voting Fraud

Suppressing the electorate or enhancing vote numbers via a fake electorate are both detrimental to the functioning of democracy. Gist and Campbell highlighted methods of voter fraud using early 20th century Louisville and Adams County, Ohio as case studies. The methods included suppression of republican and African-American votes in Louisville via false registration, police force collusion, thievery and the purchasing of votes in Adams county. The case studies of both Louisville and Adams County show the harmful effects of voter suppression and fraudulent augmentation, but which one is more harmful to democracy? It’s hard for me to determine which worse, they are both harmful to the democratic electoral process and should not be held in contention of each other. However, I do believe it is easier for states to engage in suppression rather than augmentation.  I believe this is notable in the current political climate.

Two weeks ago, we discussed how race dynamics influence elections. It was noted in one of the readings that sates with the highest preponderance of African American prisoners had the strictest felony disenfranchisement laws. This makes it clear that suppression can be hidden in legislation and the public may not even realize the influence that certain legislation has on voter turnout and election results. The issues with gerrymandering, extremely long voting lines, controversial voter ID laws, and party corruption during election of 2016 also highlighted issues of voter suppression. So, while they’re both harmful I believe suppression is easier to achieve, provides more fruitful results, and is currently more actively used in contemporary politics.

The Dictators Handbook

The dictator’s handbook provides a detailed account on how leaders seize and stay in power. Bruce Bueno describes all the underlying factors that influence an autocratic or democratic leader’s ability to maintain control of the state. He states that resource rich countries are generally the most oppressive states in the world because the leader only has to pay of the army to protect him and a small coalition that maintains control of the state resources. Wealthy, educated democracy are the least oppressive. Maintaining democratic rule directly corresponds to the leader’s ability to create effective policy that benefits the majority of her people. Governmental transparency always for the people of a democratic nation to analyze and scrutinize their leader’s abilities and oust him if they believe he doesn’t represent the majority.


Ultimately, Bueno is arguing that autocrats and democrats both are seeking the same thing, maintaining their hold on power. Bueno list three groups essential for a leaders political survival; the nominal selectorate, the real selectorate, and the winning coalition. A leaders political survival depends on his ability to balance the needs of these three groups and various factors influence how each group is treated by the leader. Autocrats, especially in resource rich countries, keep a small winning coalition and real selectorate base. The wealth is distributed only amongst those that have the power to influence the government and its leadership, since resource rich autocrats don’t rely on the people a very small number of people reap the rewards. Democracy different because democratic leaders rely on the good policy and majority approval to maintain their power. Therefore, they must distribute the wealth more uniformly and invest in education, healthcare, and infrastructure. The autocrats who lead a country that isn’t overtly rich in resources walk a thin line between keeping the public happy and maintain their hold on power. Bueno stated that no autocratic country has a university that ranks greater than 200th in the world. This is strategic because a smart citizen is a threat to the winning coalition. They must find a level of education that allows their citizens to perform their job but not question their authority. This autocrats are the most prone to citizen revolt.

Race Dynamics of American Democracy

Racial constructions played a fundamental role in the formation of American democracy. I found Olson’s section on the creation of race particularly interesting. He elaborates on how the first immigrants from the Africa and the Indies possessed most of the same rights and duties as all other Virginians.  It wasn’t until Bacons Rebellion, where poor Englishmen aligned with African indentured servants against the wealthy, that racial lines began to be drawn. The elites deliberately created ethnic tensions and strife to separate Englishmen from Africans and Indians. Thus, a system of citizenship was created based strictly of race. The elites used the subordination of non-whites as a cheap labor force and the non-elites recognized the benefits of being white and further embraced the divide, supplemented by fear that the subordinate class might become them. America then created a quasi-democracy where all men were treated equal and deserved basic rights except African-Americans who “by nature or by curse is fitted for the condition in our system of which he occupies.”  

Manza sought to find if the racial composition of state prisons systems were reflective of the states felon disenfranchisement laws. His finding resulted in an emphatic yes. His research showed the states with higher African Americans in the prison systems were the most likely to have strict felon voting restrictions. It’s not at all surprising that Maine and Vermont are the only two states that don’t restrict felon voting rights. The racial dynamics of America’s prison system heavily disenfranchise the African American community from equal representation in their votes.

Early Republic Economy

The revolutionary war had plunged the American economy into a rescission that Holton compared to the great depression of the 1930’s. The war was extremely costly and had put obvious strain between America and their much wealthier colonizer, Britain. Since Britain was Americas most extensive trading partner, it greatly hindered Americas ability to collect revenue. To alleviate the cost of the war and the hindrance of a major trading partner Americas wealthy elites began to aggressively tax their colonies, which put an incredibly strain on the working class. So much so that it created a troubling trend in American suicide rates. Houlton and Bouton both elaborate on the working classes desire to establish a federal government that could better mandate and monitor monetary policies and taxation.

The working class wanted greater circulation of fiat money, the elites wanted to keep circulation low to protect their bond. Which led to the elites heavily exploiting by the working class by seizing property or jailing them for not having the economic means to pay them back. This led James Madison to join the forefront of pushing for new economic laws that protected all citizens and lobbying for a federal government. Bouton discusses how working class farmers took matters into their own hands and took desperate measures to protect their livelihood and economic standing form exploitation by the elites. This included blocking roads, resistance of policy, and even taking up arms to protect their rural communities.

Islam and Democracy

Islam and democracy seem to be very difficult concepts to intertwine. Amir Tehari focuses on the basic incompatibilities of the two notions stating that they have fundamental differences in the origins of law. Non-secularism is a cornerstone of democracy, its a belief that the people should be ruled by the people and that each individual is equal in representation. According to Tehari, Islam is the opposite. Islam beliefs law is dictated by god and that man is incapable of decreeing and creating law. Therefore the values of democracy (fair, equal, and universal representation) are not compatible with the values of Islam. He further states that the Qur’an does not include words of origin for “government” or “politics” and that the basis of Islamic ruling has always been based of a higher power ruling system.

Professor Kendhammer points to ways that Islam and Democracy may actually be compatible. He focuses on person to person interaction and the value people hold Shaira law means to them in regards to democratic practice. The general consensus was that Shaira law provides nothing more than a moral guideline for all Muslims to follow. Its a way to prevent people from falling under influences that consider harmful or immoral and simply acts as a check to those behaviors. That being said I do not think Islam and Democracy are incompatible.

Majority Islamic states can pursue democracy as long as they are able to find a balance between church and state that doesn’t undermine the religion or marginalize minority groups. What this balance entails is unclear to me, I am not as educated as I’d like to be when it comes to religion. But if the church and the state can’t remain separated than it will definitely lead to one denomination having governmental supremacy, which goes against the core values of a democracy.

Wealth and Democracy

From an external perspective, it would make sense that wealth correlates positively with democracy. As stated in the readings from last week, simply having a 4-wheel car that can access rural areas is a huge advantage for a political party. Wealth creates opportunity, opportunity creates access, and access is a fundamental attribute to democracy. The fact that the wealthiest countries (Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, USA, Canada) also score the highest on the democratic index isn’t a matter of happenstance. Obviously, there are wealthy countries that score low on the democratic scale, such as Qatar, but that seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Poverty has been clearly linked to democratic collapse, Lipset mentioned poverty as the reason for the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy. There is also a growing concern of fascism taking hold in America, which is happening at a moment of unprecedented wealth disparity.

Wealth is clearly not the only attribute for a stable democracy. Universal literacy, free and open media, and a robust public education system are very conducive to a stable democracy. However, these things are heavily supplemented by wealth, and fair allocation of that wealth. Huntington stated that “the capacity to create public institutions is the capacity to create public interests.” That capacity can only exist if the aforementioned factors are prevalent within the system. All of those factors, I believe, are rooted in wealth. Modernization and democratization don’t correlate by chance; they augment each other and an increase in general wealth will, more than likely, lead to increase in modernization.

However, to remain stable modernization and wealth need to be working in tangent with institutionalization. Institutionalization, according to Huntington, is the ability for a countries political system to keep and sustain its values and legitimacy. A state can be well off economically but still have a disorganized political system and vice-versa. The institutionalization is there to guarantee that those who don’t get into power abuse their countries laws and policies in the pursuit of self-interest. When both institutionalization and modernization work together fluidly than the prospect of a stable democracy becomes significantly higher.

Hybrid Democracy

This week’s readings discussed how democracy and liberalism can be mutually exclusive and one doesn’t necessary coincide with the other. The liberties associated with Western democracy are the exception rather than the rule and many countries that claim to be democratic lack, what many would consider, fundamental elements for democratic rule. Way and Levitsky discuss how many incumbents in quasi-democratic countries use their powers to marginalize any competition. This includes control over state media, majorly disproportionate economic access, and undisguised bribery/coercion. They claim that the “skewed playing field” leads to a democratic hybrid regimes that allow “autocrats to retain power without sacrificing international legitimacy.” They also discussed that the sphere of influence is a key determinant to weather a country makes a successful transition to liberal democracy. Those with a closer proximity to the West had a much higher success rate than those closer to China or Russia. However, I think this may be up for discussion because many western linked South American and African countries seem to oscillate between liberal democracies and hybrid democracies.

As stated in Zakaria’s article “liberal democracy might prove not to be the destination on the democratic road but just one of the many exits.” If an incumbent can maintain power than they can maintain stability, they don’t necessarily need to transition from their hybrid model to the western model. Liberalism may almost always coincide with democracy but it doesn’t work the other way around. Autocrats who arrest opponents, muzzle dissents, and skew the election playing field can still maintain some semblance of democratic practice, thus maintaining international legitimacy. I think the illusion of procedural elections and competitiveness can be maintained if the incumbents in power can maintain the hold on state media and resource allocation, especially in countries with high poverty rates and poor education systems.

Roots of Democracy

Schmitter, Karl, and Dahl all agree that Democracy is more of a blanket statement than an empirical measurement of governance, however, they outlined some fundamental practices to help constitute their legitimacy. Democracies have evolved tremendously throughout history as outlined in Dahls piece. Dhal traces the roots of democracies to ancient city states along the Mediterranean such as Rome and Athens. Although these democratic systems lacked some of the fundamental contemporary features of democracies, such as universal suffrage, they set a basic framework for democracy to be built from. The ancient cities in the Mediterranean failed because they were unable to supersede the city-state into a national context. Democratic practices disappeared for nearly a thousand years. Dhal continues to elaborate on the creation of parliaments in Scandinavia and the continual evolution and spread of democratic practice.

Dahl underscores five essential elements of democracy: effective participation, equality in voting, access to enlightened understanding, control of agenda, and complete inclusion. Schmitter and Karl stress the same foundational aspects of democratic practice with emphasis on inclusion, autonomy, self-governance, and fair and equal elections. The idea of a democracy is arguably the best and most effective method of governance however; the idea fails to translate perfectly from theoretical from to tangible form. As Dahl highlighted the point of a democracy is to protect its citizens from despotic leadership and guarantee their right to autonomy and self-pursuit.

         Many would view the United States as the paragon of democratic practice but considering the recent election that view may begin to fluctuate. Dhal describes an autocratic ruler as someone who is a nationalistic, paranoid, self-indulged, megalomaniac, which unfortunately, sounds all too familiar. Supplemented by his refusal to disclose his tax returns and accusations of ties to a foreign power, Trumps general lack of transparency may pose a fundamental threat to our long withstanding democracy.  So, that brings me to the prompt question: Does it matter how we define democracy?

My candid answer would be I don’t know. I doubt we will ever come to an all-inclusive universal answer of what democracy is but I think the points that Schmitter, Karl, and Dahl highlighted are crucial if a state wants to be considered a democracy. The idea of a democracy is a great one but it’s a system that has numerous vulnerabilities and methods of manipulation. Because of this I am cynical towards the idea of a perfect democratic state. A democracy is the best way to mitigate people from pursuing self-interest at the cost of others but is not a perfect answer to the issue. I think the idea of a “thin democracy” isn’t an extensive enough measurement and misses some rudimentary aspects of a true democracy so I would fall more on the thick interpretation of democracy.

Post-Colonial Era Democracy

This is my first exposure to colonial and post-colonial Africa so any insight I have in regards to its democratization may be shortsighted. Democracy is the poster child of 21st century political systems, but it often falls victim to neglected complexities or manipulation by political elites. Both seem to be true in regards to post-colonial Africa.

Crowder focused on how the post-colonial powers influenced their regions through force rather than negotiation. As evident by their forcibly use of African forces in World War 1. This unchecked use of coercion, force, and violence then carried over into the period of decolonization. Colonial forces also grated huge amounts of wealth divide and exploitation the carried over into the independence period. Crowder claimed the main victim of exploit was the African farmer, who was subjected to huge amounts of taxes. African disenfranchisement continued by denial of basic legal rights. Crowder states that Africans had no right to appeal, no access to metropolitan legal institutions. Lastly, everything was supplemented by domestic economic instability. Post-colonial powers made no attempt to build a domestic economy and instead focused on exports and imports. This again carried over to when colonial powers began to transition their power. The same rampant abuse of power and creation of elites had only shifted hands.

The continuation of political manipulation in post-colonial Africa is best exemplified in Diamonds case study of Nigeria. Diamond states that “personal expectations grossly exceed available resources.” Because of this Nigeria became a nation where the political class became the ruling class. Much like contemporary Iraq, Nigeria became split among ethnic sectarian lines creating a race for state dominance.  As stated by Diamond this caused wide scale political corruption and manipulation in terms of favoritism, marginalization, theft, lying, and manipulation of electoral processes. Aristocracy thrived in the North and western educated business elites thrived in the south. The rise of socialism in the West was quickly thwarted and the class divide grew to an unsustainable level. The government inevitably collapsed and regimes become the political powerhouse for a moment.

Conclusively, hindsight is 20/20 and I don’t think it’s fair to say that fair and equal democracy was completely unobtainable. Flagrant corruption and a poorly structured framework from post-colonial set Africa up fair failure. The optimism that’s present at the end of Crowder’s piece shows statistical evidence that Africa is doomed for democratic failure. The political landscape of post-colonial Africa may have just be an ill-suited time period to establish a democracy that doesn’t exist on paper but in actual domestic evidence.