How To Steal an Election

There have been a number of recent attempt to steal elections. Of course not all have succeed, and probably, not all have been known. Though I don’t have much advice about how to keep your fixing from being known, I have some ideas about how you can succeed despite it being known.

First, there are some initial conditions that are very helpful in making rigging possible. They include:

  • A corrupt bureaucracy to help with the fixing. Without at least a small force dedicated to the autocrat, he or she has almost no hope of meaningfully changing the elections results. There must be a secretive and relatively powerful force, traditionally the army, who is willing to help. It is for this reason that incumbents are usually much more able to rig an election than outside candidates.
  • A world unwilling or unable to intervene on behalf of justice. Fortunately, the default mode of the international community today is non-intervention. Unless or until your rigging has resulted in the deaths of over 500 people, the rest of the world is unlikely to be terribly concerned that you’ve rigged an election. Even if your rigging results in the death of that number, mediation is much more likely than any movement of force. As such, you can expect to keep at least a little personal peace and security even if you’ve been a thoroughgoing tyrant.
  • A pacified public. This isn’t completely necessary, but that it helps can not be doubted. There are generally two way to pacify the public in your country, love or fear. Perhaps the best way to pacify though, is a little of both. That’s secret has been working solidly for Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party for years.

Now we should note that there’s more than one way to steal an election. Simply changing the results in counting can if few enough people notice. For our purposes, as was the case recently in Zimbabwe, we’ll assume that the opposition has some legitimate claim to victory.

  1. Do everything in your power to delay the announcement of final results. If you’ve not released the results a few days after the election, consider claiming that there were irregularities that merit recounting. Though the opposition may claim to know the results, make sure that you don’t let anyone in the government either agree or disagree with them. This allows you to demand a run-off or a re-vote.
  2. It’ll help to use some coercion. If the election didn’t go your way, be sure to rough up at least a few people who are responsible for this. It’s best to make sure that you can’t be directly linked to the violence, but that everyone understands that you’re responsible. This could be especially useful in turning the tide if you succeed in getting a run-off.
  3. Be sure it’s not to outrage the world that prefers to be uninvolved. They’ll probably do their best to look responsible to those concerned in their home country, but will be very reluctant to intervene. Be aware that if your violence–or other coercion methods–become too well known they may be forced to intervene. This is bad for you and uncomfortable for them.
  4. It’ll help, too, if those who might intervene fear that you’ll create greater instability if you lose. If they see you as dangerous or unstable, they’re much more likely to fear you and let you remain in power, however disastrous this is for your country or its citizens.
  5. Once the world makes clear it’s intention to look away, (re)inaugurate yourself. They’ll forget soon enough and you’ll be free to rule for however long you claim you need. Tyranny will have triumphed again.

3 responses to “How To Steal an Election”

  1. […] little outside attention, no (meaningful) outside intervention. Mr. Mugabe has thus succeeded in carrying out step three, still working on four. Also of note, Morgan Tsvangerai wrote another plea for outside help in yesterday’s […]

  2. “Oh, by the way – if Mr. Mugabe can finally make himself and his party the winner of this last “elections” after all, why not let him host the next Olympic Games? I guess such an offer would really make him reconsider and become a kinder, gentler, less brutal and more democratic person (that was part of the idea why the Games where given to Bejing, after all, wasn´t it? Worked so well with Bejing and Tibet, should not fail its result with Mr. Mugabe and Zimbabwe then, should it?). Consider this IOC, will you? No, please, I was not serious, this was just sarcasm, really!”

  3. Perhaps that should be on the list of “ways to gain the imprimatur of international legitimacy for your authoritarianism.”