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Even Counting Votes too Scientific for North Carolina

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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I don’t have time for this. I am busy. I am on deadline for a project that actually pays the money that puts the macaroni and cheese in my children’s mouths. So as much as I love this blog I don’t have time to update right now.

Except here goes.

North Carolina? You remember: the state against science regarding sea level rise? The state with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources head who doubts climate change science and believes oil is a renewable resource? The state that tried to appoint a head of early childhood education who believed the Fukushima earthquake might have been caused by ultrasonic waves from North Korea? That North Carolina?

Folks, that’s nothing. We have a new record.

The scientific method the Republican-run legislature is against now is … counting. Yep — in its desperate attempts to get rid of North Carolina’s renewable energy program, the legislature has given up the radical, liberal, lamestream, obviously subjective “science” of, um, actually counting votes. You see, when the votes were actually counted, the bill that would have removed the renewables program (and said that wind, among other things, was not renewable) died in the state house, failing to emerge from committee by an 18-13 vote.

Okay, hmm … you’re Republican legislator Mike Hager, you hate the renewables program, and your bill has just been defeated by an indisputable margin of five votes. What to do … what to do? Easy. You reintroduce the bill. And when it next comes up in committee, this time in the state senate? You have a voice vote — and have your finance committee chair, Republican Bill Rabon, refuse to count the actual votes. In a voice vote so close that both sides claim they would have won if the votes had been counted, Rabon declares that the bill has passed and runs off.

No, I wish I were, but I am not making this up. We have given up counting votes in North Carolina. The Reign of Error rules supreme here.

There’s still more committee blah blah to go through, and the whole senate, and all that kind of “I’m Just a Bill” stuff. But the facts are hideously simple. Despite the cries of Democratic state Sen. Josh Stein (“North Carolina is not a banana republic”), um … Josh? Yes it is. You can tell when a polity has become a banana republic: once it ignores the voices of the people and their representatives, it’s made the switch. And let me tell you. I’m one of the people of North Carolina, and if there’s one thing I know about the people of North Carolina it’s what our state senate just proved, scientifically or otherwise:

We. Don’t. Count.



Scott Huler About the Author: A writer who commonly explores science, culture, and the relationship between the two. Follow on Twitter @huler.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. gw123 1:05 pm 05/3/2013

    Amen. Our state is going down the tubes in a hurry due to these power hungry, irresponsible idiots in office.

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  2. 2. lexalexander 1:41 pm 05/3/2013

    When the GOP took over the legislature, I predicted that by 2016 we’d just be Mississippi with slightly more teeth. I was wrong. It’ll be sooner than that.

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  3. 3. M Tucker 1:52 pm 05/3/2013

    This is a more fundamental issue with Republicans than just opposition to science. This is about using authoritarian control to push forward their dogmatic beliefs and to rig elections. Republicans at the state and local level have changed voting laws to make it harder for citizens to cast votes and some state legislators have proposed that Senators should be appointed, avoiding the popular vote altogether. This is just another example of their fundamental desire to circumvent democracy in order to impose their beliefs.

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  4. 4. RogerTheGeek 5:08 pm 05/3/2013

    If there are any positives in the bizarre exploits of the GOP led NC General Assembly, it exposes their actions to ridicule nationally. If enough voters are embarrassed by them, perhaps there can be a change in future years. It will be difficult to do since the money people engineered a district structure that virtually assures their dominance. The general population thought they were throwing out the bums in the last elections, but they just got different bums. I caution rational people to not look at these people as buffoons. They know exactly what they are doing and it is payoff for many decades when they had no ability to change policy.
    We look at what we consider very bad policy that is not based on science, but what they look at is policy exclusive of science. Their constituency is the set of donors to their campaigns (i.e., corporations, religious wing nuts, and businessmen,) not the average NC citizens. When you look at it from that point of view, their actions are totally rational.

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  5. 5. DanielPlayford 5:21 pm 05/3/2013

    Quite often I read things which I afterwards say to myself, wow I can’t believe that people van think like that. But this is just on a different level, I’m actually stunned. Surely the public must be able to do something?

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  6. 6. Chris_Winter 7:12 pm 05/3/2013

    This does seem incredible, and marks a certain desperation. But, short of de-electing those responsible (or should I say irresponsible), there are countermeasures. I recall that Democrats in the Texas “lege” fled to Oklahoma to avoid a particularly bad vote. And later, in Wisconsin, some Democrats quit the floor and went home to stop Scott Walker from pushing some onerous legislation through.

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  7. 7. 10:08 pm 05/3/2013

    Amazing. Just when you think the republicans might come around, they do garbage like this nonsense…

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  8. 8. ant1248 10:22 pm 05/3/2013

    Ahh the voice vote. This is what they did in 86 to ban new register full autos.

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  9. 9. David Marjanović 10:54 am 05/4/2013

    …Help this European out: what is a voice vote?

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  10. 10. huler 1:21 pm 05/4/2013

    @David Marjanovic: Voice vote is just as it sounds. Committee chair calls: “Ayes? Nays?” If one side is obviously in the majority, just say the thing passed or failed, no need to count. It’s just committee, and gives a fig leaf to those who don’t wish to be on record. But when it’s close they’re supposed to count the votes. They’re SUPPOSED to, but evidently they do not always. Some Americans new to this whole “accountability” thing.

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  11. 11. jpdickey 1:26 pm 05/4/2013

    There are also politicians in other states that don’t fully understand math. Many years ago, I attended a Republican county caucus in Michigan. After a good majority voted for “favorite son” George Romney, the chairman asked for a vote on making it unanimous. Most of the people voted for the motion, but there was a clearly audible group of nays. The Chairman announced that the motion had passed, and the caucus would go on record as being unanimously in favor of George Romney. More recently, George’s son Mitt came closer to making the grade nationally.

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  12. 12. JStodola 9:41 pm 05/4/2013

    Nothing new for either party in the US to resort to this. Unfortunately, politics as usual.

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  13. 13. David_Lewis 3:12 pm 05/5/2013

    From my perspective (I live near Seattle), North Carolina’s denial of sea level rise is just that state taking care of business. The more development North Carolina can put into place in high risk coastal zones before the rest of us in the US come to our senses and modify our conception of what a “disaster” is, the better off the special interests in N.C. who profit from this will be.

    North Carolinians want the benefits of developing in high risk areas subject to increasing risk of flooding in extreme events, and due to the federal Stafford Act, the federal taxpayer is legally bound to pay when the inevitable “disaster” strikes. North Carolina developers and the state benefit when the developments are built and as they are lived in, then they benefit again when the “disaster” wipes them out, because federal funds flow in to rebuild things as they were. Some of the suckers who buy into these developments end up taking losses, but even they can protect themselves at federal taxpayer expense if they buy flood insurance, which FEMA provides no matter if it is obvious that the state authorities have been are are continuing to be reckless in exposing FEMA to risks no private insurance would allow any state to do.

    The whole point of pretending sea level is not going to rise in North Carolina is to keep this preposterous scenario going as long as they can.

    If we in the rest of the US are stupid enough to allow this to continue, we are at least as stupid as North Carolinians.

    As for Republicans diddling with votes, consider this: according to a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll, in answer to the question “In the next few years, an armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect our liberties”, 44% of Republicans “Agree”. This is what the Republican leadership is playing around with. It is not “politics as usual”.

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  14. 14. petertrast 5:43 pm 05/6/2013

    “You can tell when a polity has become a banana republic: once it ignores the voices of the people”…

    Hmm, like the NDAA or Obamacare? Thought so.

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  15. 15. huler 5:50 pm 05/6/2013

    @petertrast: I’m having a hard time seeing the correlation. Obamacare passed both houses of congress, where they counted votes rather carefully. To be sure most voters are ignorant about what the ACA actually does (and whether it’s even law, according to recent polls), but the people’s representatives’ voices were surely heard and taken into account. About NDAA I don’t even get what you’re saying. As far as I can tell you’re just complaining about policies you don’t like and trying to intimate that like the policy described in my piece they were unfairly treated by legislators. You haven’t made your point. I’m having a hard time seeing how you even tried.

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  16. 16. 7:07 pm 05/7/2013

    Of course electronic voting machines allow the engineers and programmers to rule …

    And putting paper ballots in a box is just as fraught if the returning officer rigs the ballot …

    The only fair elections are those at public meetings /caucuses conducted by open division procedure …

    For example …

    “14. The electoral procedure shall be by open division with the three candidates having the most votes elected after progressive elimination of candidates with the fewest votes each ordinary person having two votes as follows:-
    (i) the Australian Electoral Commission shall provide a Returning Officer;
    (ii) nominations will be taken at the start of the meeting;
    (iii) the meeting will twice divide into supporters of each outstanding candidate, moving apart to distance themselves from other candidates’ supporters;
    (iv) the numbers from the two divisions will be tallied;
    (v) if four or more candidates remain, the candidate with the fewest votes will be eliminated, provided that if several candidates tie for having the least votes then the Returning Officer will draw a name from a hat to eliminate;
    (vi) steps (iii) through (v) will continue until three candidates remain;
    (vii) if only three candidates stand they shall be elected without further process.”

    (from my draft Food Stamps Act 2008 I circulated some years ago.)

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  17. 17. David Marjanović 10:47 am 05/8/2013

    Voice vote is just as it sounds. Committee chair calls: “Ayes? Nays?” If one side is obviously in the majority, just say the thing passed or failed, no need to count.

    …Democracy: ur doin it rong.

    Sorry for resorting to LOLcat. I definitely can’t put into other words how shocked I am.

    Of course electronic voting machines allow the engineers and programmers to rule …

    A very important point. Keyword: Grand Theft Election ’04.

    And putting paper ballots in a box is just as fraught if the returning officer rigs the ballot …

    Not if it’s done right.

    The only fair elections are those at public meetings /caucuses conducted by open division procedure …

    LOL! Those aren’t secret, meaning they’re fully open to intimidation!

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  18. 18. 8:44 pm 05/9/2013

    To David and the other commenters above:-

    Q1. Should members of congress who vote on legislation or standing orders amendments or on adopting treaties with foreign powers or on adopting treaties being united nations sanctioned international conventions have any right to secret ballots on such matters?

    Q2. Should members of congress who vote on resolutions adopting presidential executive orders on matters of national security in in camera session have any right to secret ballots on such matters? (Secret from other members of congress?)

    Q3. Should members of congress who vote in electing the speaker or the president of the senate or in electing standing committee or select committee memberships have the right of secret ballots?


    Also, I remark not on the excellent in theory electoral procedure of the Italian federal governmental system, to which you give a link reference, but instead on the elections in Weimar Germany in 1932 and 1933. Given that the Nazis allegedly won so many seats because of huge majorities in the areas of mass unemployment, and given that on a single member electorate first past the post system allegedly the social democrats and communists by withdrawing candidates and tactical voting would have won an outright majority of seats on the published statistics, there is the question as to whether in any of the areas of massive Nazi support there was ballot box stuffing by German nationalists … some questioned whether the handing out of jackboots free to anyone pledging to vote for them was evidence of corrupt electioneering practices at the time according to some historians … I am curious not of the received view of a grandson of an Argus newspaper printer at the time in Melbourne, but the view of readers on this blog????

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  19. 19. N a g n o s t i c 9:40 pm 05/9/2013

    When the main source of money used to conduct scientific research comes from the government, we get what they pay scientists to unwittingly produce – political material to club opponents.

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  20. 20. David Marjanović 10:39 am 05/11/2013

    Should members of congress

    Oh, that’s what you mean. I thought you were talking about elections in general.

    there is the question as to whether in any of the areas of massive Nazi support there was ballot box stuffing by German nationalists …

    Probably not.
    1) Much has changed since then. In those days, people were actually nationalists, to an extent that’s hard to believe nowadays; the public education system had been drilling this into them since at least the mid-late 19th century. It is horrifying to read how the German socialists abandoned most of their convictions as soon as WWI broke out and became ardent nationalists.
    2) Mussolini had successfully convinced that the trains in Italy were now running on time. (They weren’t, but never mind.)
    3) In part because of both of the above, interwar Germany was “the republic that nobody wanted”. It was torn between Nazis, communists (who got similarly large shares of the vote each time, marched in the streets, and got into violent fights with at least the Nazis), and violently nostalgic monarchists (and similar reactionaries). Today’s consensus that “democracy is the worst of all forms of government, except for all others” didn’t exist yet (indeed, Churchill only said these words after WWII). To really drive this point home, everything that is now called “Federal” (Bundes-) was called “Imperial” (Reichs-): there was no emperor anymore, but there was an Imperial President (Reichspräsident), an Imperial Chancellor (Reichskanzler), an Imperial Parliament (Reichstag, with “day” in the sense of “conference”), and so on to the Imperial Mail (Reichspost) and the Imperial Railways (Reichsbahn).
    4) The Great Depression and the consequent inflation and unemployment were so hard that people soon felt they had already tried everything else. Indeed, one of the Nazi party ads showed a grey mass of people and the words “Our last hope – Hitler”.
    5) The Nazis didn’t “win the elections”. They got enough votes to participate in government. The trick is that the reactionary Imperial President thought that if the Nazis constantly bickered about how they’d do everything better, they should have to actually try. So, once the elections were over, he appointed Hitler to the post of Imperial Chancellor. Well, be careful what you wish for – you just might get it.

    You can probably tell that we went through this in school (in Austria) more than twice, and in quite some detail. Never forget.

    we get what they pay scientists to unwittingly produce –

    That’s what Lamar Smith (R-TX) wants: he wants only research with a predictable outcome to be funded. Basic research does not have a predictable outcome.

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  21. 21. David Marjanović 10:52 am 05/11/2013

    In those days, people were actually nationalists, to an extent that’s hard to believe nowadays

    Like… many Germans were actually traumatized by having lost WWI, they felt the silly restrictions of the Versailles treaty as personal insults, and they believed that whole peoples were their personal enemies. That last part was mutual, because the French (among others) had been educated in exactly the same way for pretty much the same time. Of course, the Nazis promised to “right” all these “wrongs” and restore national glory, strength, pride and so on.

    What I didn’t mention is that few people understood how Germany had lost WWI. After all, it hadn’t lost any big decisive battle or something. One day, the army in the trenches was just told “it’s over, come home”. What had happened is that Germany had simply run out of supplies, but few people even knew that. Naturally, conspiracy theories about how the Left had “stabbed the army in the back with a dagger” blossomed from the day the war was over. Guess what the Nazi party platform had to say about this.

    everything that is now called “Federal”

    Uh, actually, the mail and the railways aren’t called “Federal”, they’re just called “German”.

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