A brief guide to electoral fraud for the busy despot.
THE only poll that counts, supposedly, is election day. But for the sophisticated vote-rigger that is terrible advice. Election day is too late. If you go around beating up your opponents’ voters, stuffing ballot boxes and making up results, someone somewhere is bound to complain. All those foreign busybodies will take you to task. It enrages the crowd and it dents your reputation.
“Gerrymandering is an excellent tactic. In a parliamentary election, corral your opponents’ votes into places where they pile up uselessly, while making sure that yours are spread across plenty of marginal constituencies. If in doubt, look at how it is done in America.”
It is also unnecessary. If you set about rigging the vote well in advance (see article), you can have an election that looks all right on the outside but guarantees the result you want. And nobody will be able to object. The secret is to obey the rules—having first written them yourself.
It all starts with television, where most voters (especially the poorer and less-educated) get most of their news. Don’t clamp down completely—it makes you look weak. Tolerate small, ill-funded opposition outlets (not least so that you have an idea yourself of what is going on). But make sure that you or your allies control all the main television channels. Television news should trumpet your successes, portraying you as statesmanlike, and perhaps also enjoying manly sports and cuddly charity work.
This makes you the dominant brand in voters’ minds. Your propaganda machine should also highlight the opposition’s foreign links, making them look disloyal and alien. It should play up splits and divisions and any personal foibles (your own vices, meanwhile, must remain state secrets).
This makes the next stages easier. Gerrymandering is an excellent tactic. In a parliamentary election, corral your opponents’ votes into places where they pile up uselessly, while making sure that yours are spread across plenty of marginal constituencies. If in doubt, look at how it is done in America. Then sort out the electoral registers: you need tough registration requirements for the voters who dislike you. You can count on votes from prisoners, army conscripts and others, so make sure they are registered en masse.
The laws governing political parties are in your hands too: make them burdensome. That will sap the opposition’s energies—and if they make a single slip-up, you can always have their candidates struck from the ballot. Your own party will control a mighty bureaucratic machine and will meet the requirements easily. A sophisticated twist on this is to create your own tame opposition parties, in several flavours. They will distract attention from your real rivals.
You will have to allow some foreigners into your country on polling day. So make it easy for the right ones (your ideological soul mates and those from other autocratic countries). Nosy nit-pickers from the West can come too, but only at the last moment, so they have little time to get organised. Discredit local election-monitoring outfits as foreign-funded and partisan. Trumpet your fans’ verdict at home: it will offset the complaints from those foreigners who, your television channel can argue, are secretly bent on doing your country down.
Stuff and nonsense
Do not waste much time campaigning. Anything beyond the odd triumphant rally makes you seem like a mere politician. Instead say you are too busy minding the affairs of state—and make sure you are shown on television doing so.
On polling day hand out free food and booze in poor areas. In places that will not vote for you, have the polling stations open late and close early. If necessary, they can run out of ballot papers. Long queues are a deterrent to busy people.
As insurance, you need to be able to fiddle the results. A computerised system which is apparently secure but actually accessible is ideal. If ballot-boxes are used, make sure they can be stored overnight in a discreet location where, if all else fails, you can add and subtract votes as necessary. If you get caught, say provocateurs are trying to discredit you.
None of this helps you run the country when you win. But who said politics was easy?