On Electoral Fraud

The articles all show the innovative, ingenious, and brutal ways electoral fraud was carried out in the late 19th century and early 20th century. As Democratic Party boss in Louisville, John Whallen masterminded the large-scale voter fraud in order to keep Democrats in power and his economic and political interests in tact. In Adams County, people from all classes bought and sold votes in municipal elections for small sums of money. The system was entrenched and hard to reform. In Campbell’s article, we can see both forms of voter fraud, adding votes and suppressing votes, in the 1905 Louisville election.

As to which form of electoral fraud is worse for democracy, actively suppressing opponent’s vote total is worse. Campbell provides a plethora of examples of the documented ways in which John Whallen went about suppressing the opposition. The most concerning of the evidence was the collusion between the political bosses and the police. On registration day and on election day itself, police officers threatened and beat would be voters and election officials. Furthermore, they abused their position as law enforcement to refuse African Americans to vote because they lived in ‘disreputable places’ and by busing in elderly voters to vote immediately at the expense of other voters who had been patiently waiting in line for hours (284). It is hard to vote if policemen harass and intimidate you while registering or waiting in line to vote.

It is important to note that as Campbell explains, Louisville is an example of how voter frauds occurs even when there is healthy competition among parties and a free press (278). Whallen and his cronies found ways to make sure that their preferred candidates won, by all means necessary, even with competition. The case study of the 1905 Louisville election and those in years previous show there are always cracks in the system that clever and corrupt men like Whallen are willing and able to exploit for their own gain.

Essentials, Influentials, and Interchangeables

What Bueno de Mesquita and Smith show in The Dictator’s Handbook is democratic leaders, as well as autocrats, are selected and held to account by the same ideas. The key difference however is the size of the leader’s ‘essentials’ and their ‘influentials’, or their key support and selectorate. Furthermore, even leaders like Kim Jong Un due not rule alone and are held to their influentials’ standard for autocratic rule.

Due to most autocratic regimes’ small influential groups, they are afforded the luxury of not having to have a robust policy platform. Instead, autocrats just have to placate and appease a very small group of elites in order to keep their job. Democrats on the other hand have a large group of ‘interchangables’ that have to be wooed by a thorough economic and political agenda. It is much harder to placate a large group of people rather than just a small group of powerful cronies. Thus, with democratic regimes, we can see their political agendas most of the time gravitating toward the center ground to appeal to as many people as possible.

To make democratic regimes more democratic, the simple answer would be to increase the number of interchangeables and the selectorate. Bueno de Mesquita and Smith use corporations as microcosm example of government throughout the book and increasing the number of shareholders definitely increases transparency of the corporations. For autocratic regimes, increasing transparency and the selectorate is key. One point Bueno de Mesquita and Smith offered was to not bailout autocrats when their economies are trashed. Bailing out bankrupt dictatorships gives money to despots to pay off their security forces and placate their cronies long enough to continue their leadership. When the money runs out, theoretically autocratic regimes have to reform and perhaps they would become more democratic.

American Democracy and the Racial State

Race and the construction of a racial state has mainly influenced the concept of citizenship in the process of democratization in the U.S. Race, as Olson points out, was a construction of white elites to prevent class war against them in 17th century Virginia. Citizenship came to be valued by the poor white men as something that could be, at any moment, taken away from them. Thus, white men came to resent and fear blacks because the blacks’ slavery could have become the white working class slavery. To poor whites, African-Americans represented everything they did not want to have happen to them.

The American experience of the construction of the “racial state” shows the lengths elites go to maintain their grip on wealth and power. Our earlier case study of Nigeria certainly has some parallels of the American example. While I would argue the Nigerian case had more to do with economics than citizenship, one can make the case that working class Nigerians were insecure about their rights of citizenship. Elites in Nigeria stirred up ethnic tensions in order to achieve higher returns at the ballot box. The stirring up of ethnic tensions was not just out of pure cynicism, but rather a calculated strategy to divide up the lower classes to prevent a class war, since there are many more lower-income people than wealthy elites. Ethnicities as well as race are both invented concepts in order to carve up and control the working classes.

The Struggle in the Early Republic

The economic situation in the early American republic was in pretty bad shape. The war of independence against Britain was destructive, as well as expensive. One of the problems of going to war with your biggest (and richer) trading partner is they control the terms of trade, thus resulting in unfavorable circumstances. The new government in Philadelphia had to generate revenue to improve the credit of the new republic, so elites and the government could borrow money.

The problem America had was how to get the cash. Bouton and Holton both explain how the state governments became more aggressive with tax collection. It was James Madison’s belief that new laws needed to be enacted to crack down on debtors, thus one of the reasons, as Holton points out, for his lobbying for a new constitution and federal government. More aggressive means to collect taxes and debts hurt the working class, since they had no money to pay the debts off. Many people had their property seized, or they were just thrown in jail. The working class debtors wanted tax and debt relief, but more specifically they wanted more fiat money in circulation. If more paper money was to be put into circulation, they could more easily pay off their debts since inflation would rise.

By contrast, the elites wanted a tight monetary policy with the money supply low. This was extremely lucrative to the speculators who owned the securities. Thus, the thousands of people who owned these debts lobbied state governments for stricter laws on taxes and debtors. Bouton and Holton both point to this as one of the primary reasons the Framers wanted a federal government; so the new, stronger central government would not cave to the masses on tax and monetary policy.

Islam and Democracy

First off, I do not think any religion is necessarily “incompatible” with democracy. When the Sunday Times article mentions that there is no word for ‘government’ or ‘state’ in the Qur’an or “democracy is based on one simple principle: equality”, arguing that Islam does not contain these things, they leave out important details. For instance, the Qur’an is detailed on inheritance and property rights for women, when the Judeo-Christian Bible is not. Furthermore, there are not going to be words like ‘government’, ‘state’, or ‘politics’ in the Qur’an because these terms are all modern conceptions, just like the terms ‘Catholic’ and ‘religion’ are all 17th and 18th century concepts. Thus I think cherry-picking information on a religion (which is usually Islam) to prove it is not democratic is fallacious. It is probably important to note, however, that as explained in Dr. Kendhammer’s chapter, Islam itself is not democratic. If somehow it were possible to create a society of the Prophet’s time, it would most likely not be classified as a democracy. But this would be impossible because the mechanisms of the modern nation state make a true emulation of the laws of the Qur’an nonexistent. Thus, with the advent of modernity, true sharia cannot work.

Dr. Kendhammer provides an excellent dichotomy between “what Islam is” and “what Muslims want”. Many in the West fear sharia and its negative influence on western liberal values, as shown by the preemptive bans on sharia by some U.S. state legislatures. Islamic legal systems in many places that have been implemented from the top-down have indeed been undemocratic, as Dr. Kendhammer points out. Much like most Americans and their distaste for an overreaching government, many Muslims resent the intrusion of government-mandated literal applications of sharia. Most seem to prefer the “spirit” of sharia as a check on the depravity of citizens. As Aliyu in one of the focus groups says, “…if there’s no discipline, no education, anything can happen” (188). Thus, many Muslims seem to want a check on the morality of the people, just like many Americans did in the lead up to Prohibition. This does not necessarily mean that Islam is inconsistent with democracy, but rather Muslims want a better-behaved and pious citizenry, which would therefore lead to a more democratic society.

Modernization and Democracy

In the consolidation of democracy, I believe wealthier societies do have an advantage in crafting and sustaining stable democracy. However, it is not just wealthier societies in general, but wealthier individuals that promote democracy. Although Lipset concludes in his piece that the data as a whole is inconclusive to say that economic prosperity is necessary for democracy’s spread and stabilization, it is indeed part of the equation for democratic culture. The most important part of this argument is the existence of a substantial private sector. Lipset refers to this part of democracy as the “mass society” and it provides an essential counterbalance to governmental institutions. Part of this “mass society” is the private sector, where there is wealth and investment that is not necessarily directly connected to the regime. When there is a larger, wealthier middle class, they tend to moderate conflict and reward pragmatic and democratic parties, as Lipset argues.

Huntington and Lipset both speak to the necessity of legitimate institutions as the primary driver of democracy. Economic development has the chance to make a society unstable, as Huntington points out. He also argues that the old American model of economic modernization without proper development of legitimate political democratic culture leads to instability and conflict. True, rapid economic growth without the proper institutional catch-up usually leads to vast inequalities, both political and economic. But I do believe that capitalism promotes democratic culture, however the wealth that is generated as a result must be invested back into society, especially in the private sector. A strong private sector promotes a strong middle class, who in turn tends to support democracy.

Hybrid Democracies and Liberal Democracies

It is easy to think from an American perspective that many of the regimes described in Levitsky and Way’s articles are democratic. Certainly they have the institutions, seemingly free and fair elections, maybe even a constitution protecting various rights, so how can they not be called democratic? But Levitsky and Way point out convincingly that the “uneven playing field” of these hybrid regimes results from discrete forms of sabotage on opposition parties and groups, such as intimidation, draining of funds, and restricted media access. The mere possibility of opposition victory, they argue, is not sufficient for democracy. Thus, I believe that it is an illusion that these regimes make progress towards democracy when there are fundamental problems like unequal access to the press and unequal access to the law for the opposition. Furthermore, these hybrid regimes are inherently contradictory and do not pass the test of scrutiny upon close evaluation to pass as a full democracy.

Fareed Zakaria makes a key distinction between “democracy” and “constitutional liberalism”. He associates the term democracy with meaning presence of multiparty elections, wide enfranchisement, and other social and political rights. On the other hand, constitutional liberalism incorporates the government’s goals like the rule of law, checks and balances, and personal liberty. Using this framework, countries described in Levitsky and Way can be considered democracies, but not liberal democracies. Singapore, for example, meets the rudimentary conditions for democracy by having elections, basic liberties, and stable institutions. However, opposition to the People’s Action Party is essentially disallowed and other political liberties are restricted. Countries like Singapore reflect more stable autocracies than liberal democracies because the lack of a true uncertainty of the election outcome and the heavy inequality of institutions and between parties.

Defining Democracy

In a certain sense, a definition of democracy is necessary to understand and classify various countries from autarchies. Other than that, the definitions of democracy should fall into a sort of umbrella category similar methods and ideas. As Dahl points out, democracy has meant different things to different people and societies throughout history. Our democracy as we know it today is a relatively modern conception. Scholars have debated and will continue to debate the precise aspects of democracy. Thus it does matter that modern democracies meet certain criteria, but it is also worth noting that no one democracy on earth is the same and many countries have different democratic practices to achieve similar ends.

Political implications of “thick” and “thin” definitions of democracy are set in institutions and outcomes. Dahl and other advocates of “thick” democracies are more concerned with the strength of democratic institutions and a longer list of requirements that lay out specific freedoms and democratic practices. For the “thin” scholars like Schmitter and Karl, argue, “democracy does not consist of a single unique set of institutions” but rather diverse practices and varied effects. Democratic outcomes are more important than means of getting there. In contrast, Dahl would say that the strength and vitality of democratic institutions are the means and the end. Further, there has to be a certain set of criteria for democracies that they all share.

I believe democratic outcomes are more important than the institutions themselves. However, that is not to say that institutions are not important, but that various forms of government and institutions around the world can be equally effective at delivering democratic outcomes. Ultimately, having an accountable, freely and fairly elected government that protects and promotes the rights of its citizens is the baseline for modern democracies.

The Trouble with Democracy

In such societies as Nigeria where the development of democracy presented a significant challenge, it is still possible to instill it. However, powerful vested interests make its consolidation difficult, but nonetheless attainable eventually. As Larry Diamond explains, elites, especially in the North, had extensive networks of patronage that had to be kept in tact in order for their wealth and prestige to remain. The main northern political party, the NPC, would fight pitched battles for maintenance of power against their southern counterparts based on the manipulation of ethnic pride and prejudice. Diamond argues these bouts for power by elites were masked by ethnic politics, but were actually class conflicts.

The main problem with democracy in developing countries, like Nigeria, was the competition for limited resources and the winner-take-all system that was the means to the end. Nigeria had no developed formal and diverse economy, which limited the amount of influence average citizens could have on officials and incentivized the corruption and brutal campaigns for power. Michael Crowder also explains how the underdeveloped and predatory economy was a direct result of the colonial experience. Early African leaders modeled their governance after the colonial governors and practiced some of the same predatory tactics like exploitative farming, ad hoc taxation, and forced labor. The proper seeds of democracy were not planted particularly well.

Despite the challenges and difficulties of the period of decolonization in Nigeria and across Africa, democracy is possible in such societies. One of the most important factors in its successful development is economic progress and the growth of a middle class. Nigeria’s middle class is much larger and more educated than in the 1960s and 1970s. Further, strong, accountable institutions are essential for confidence of citizens and effective governance. The collapse of democracy during the 1960s and 1970s across Africa was unavoidable due to weak institutions, colonial legacies, and economic underdevelopment. Once the economy comes to work for more people and institutions strengthened, democracy develops into a stronger system.