Given recent troubles in Kyrgyzstan, I thought it might be time for a post I've long planned; how to steal an election! In this post I will examine the possible steps chronologically.
Lock People Up
The earliest step you can take is to find all of your opponents and simply throw them in jail. In fact, this step is so early, it's usually not even thought of as stealing an election, but instead, simply running a tyrannical dictatorship. In a 4 year cycle, you could lock people up in year 1, or 2, and nobody would be the wiser that you are doing so to steal the election; in large part, because if somebody does realize this, you simply lock them up too. China and the USSR are the two most famous countries in the past 5 decades who did this.
The mild version of the above is to invent scandals on your opponents, and send the police to charge them. You don't need to go so far as to lock them up, so long as you can smear them badly enough that they become unelectable. China and Russia both have taken to doing this in the past two decades.
Even milder than the above; if you can control the media, you can control access to public messaging. You don't need to lock up, or smear, the opposition if the opposition can not get its message out. Most people will think of Russia or Venezuela when they think of this, but in reality, every country struggles with this to some degree, as it's simple human nature to self censor what is perceived as unpopular.
This is done at the earliest part of the actual election, where you block the candidate from running for some real or fictional reason. Iran is most famous for doing this, but other countries such as Thailand have used this before as well. I even spoke about Belarus doing this not that long ago.
This is perhaps the most insidious option of them all, as, it is used to this date in modern first world democracies. Examples of this include Gerrymandering in places like North Carolina, and intentionally setting vote thresholds to (try to) exclude specific parties as is done in Israel and Turkey. Japan itself used a heavily biased system until 1993. Many former Soviet countries will often change the election system, in large part, to ensure that whatever system in use is the one that best favors the ease of re-election of the incumbent government.
This includes other methods of manipulating the vote such as implied threats. This happens on election day itself, at the time the voter casts their ballot. In the past two decades, this has mostly been associated with developing countries such as Zimbabwe and Burundi. Note that this includes voter suppression, tactics which have, some say, been tried right here in Canada. Often times, this is the "earliest" one will think when thinking of "stealing an election"
This can take many forms, from purposefully designing confusing ballots, to forcing voters to reveal their choice by making them request a special ballot, or by making the ballot design give away how the voter votes. Fascist Italy forced the voter to fold their ballot differently for a "no" vote, and in North Korea where the "no" ballots must be placed in a separate box.
The final step, and, perhaps the archetypical model for "stealing an election" is to simply not count the actual ballots, and, instead, make up a result. Belarus did this recently, but perhaps the most famous case is the Liberian election of 1927. In that election, the incumbent and winner took about 243,000 of the roughly 15,000 available voters. And no that's not a mistake on my part, the winner took over 16 times the available number of votes.
As you can see, there are many ways to steal an election, some simply being more obvious than others.
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