I’ve been watching this story for a while now, and it just keeps getting weirder and weirder. I’m not really sure what to make of it. Of course it comes from South Carolina, the state that pretty much invented weirdness in politics — from the infamous smear campaign against McCain in 2000, to introducing the phrase “hiking the Appalachian Trail” into politics — but those things actually made sense compared to this.
I’m talking, of course, about the Democratic primary for senator in South Carolina, won by Alvin Greene. You can easily be forgiven if you have no idea who Alvin Greene is. Neither do most voters in South Carolina, even though they apparently voted for him. Candidate Green is unemployed, has absolutely no political experience, attended no political events, gave no interviews, raised no money, had no staff, and didn’t run any ads. It isn’t even clear how he came up with the $10,440 required to register as a candidate, and he isn’t talking. He never filed any of the required reports with the Federal Election Commission. Not only that, but Greene was discharged “involuntarily” from the Army, and was arrested in November on a felony obscenity charge. But he won nonetheless, upsetting the expected winner, Vic Rawl, who is a state representative.
Fundamental to the senselessness of this is its meaninglessness. It isn’t like Democrat Greene has much chance to win over incumbent Senator Jim DeMint, who is a reasonably popular Republican in one of the most right-wing states. So why would it be worth any shenanigans? Suggested explanations include the idea that Greene was a Republican plant who was given the money to register. This idea has merit, given that there is strong evidence that in another race in South Carolina a candidate was a Republican plant. But given that frontrunner Rawl had virtually zero chance against DeMint, why bother?
The only explanation I can believe is that this can be blamed on faulty voting machines. Indeed, 25 precincts show that Greene received more votes than were officially cast. And tallies of absentee ballots differed wildly from tallies from the voting machines. Political statistics site 538.com has not one but two posts about how the results in this race make absolute no sense, and are likely fraudulent. South Carolina uses voting machines from ES&S, machines that have a number of widely known flaws. These machines produce no printed record, so there is no way to determine what actually happened.
Why is anyone still using these notoriously insecure and bug-ridden machines?
UPDATE: Greene gives a bizarre interview on CNN:
UPDATE 2: FiveThirtyEight.com has an article about this, that ends with the interesting line, saying about Greene “And there’s no way he can beat DeMint…unless there’s something really wrong with those South Carolina voting machines. Wouldn’t that be funny?” Yes, that would be very funny, indeed!