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How weird can politics get? Just ask South Carolina

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 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: 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!



  1. James M wrote:

    You did not mention one other key bit of info. When arrested, Alvin Greene obtained a public defender. To to that he must have executed a sworn certificate of income and assets for in S.C. an application for a public defender needs to be accompanied by a showing of need, basically a claim of indigent status.

    This does not jive with Alvin Greene’s public statements. He says he had $10,400 “saved up” to plop down on a bid for the U.S. Senate.

    One of them is a lie. Either a political lie, in that someone else paid his deposit to run. The other choice is a criminal lie, a false sworn affidavit and theft of public services.

    Sunday, June 13, 2010 at 7:30 pm | Permalink
  2. Iron Knee wrote:

    I couldn’t find any proof that he obtained a public defender, so I didn’t include that. Can you supply a link? The best I could find is this:, which isn’t as strong as your argument.

    Sunday, June 13, 2010 at 7:51 pm | Permalink
  3. Wikipedia accepts this Yahoo news article as a source that he obtained a public defender:

    All in all, a great post. It’s news like this that makes me wonder wtf is wrong with the South? Seriously. And it’s not like this is all happening in a vaccuum…why are we not hearing from the 60 percent of the voters who elected him?

    Monday, June 14, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Permalink
  4. Iron Knee wrote:

    Daniel, that article makes the point that why would someone pay the $10K, but then not have any campaigning. Maybe the idea was to use the voting machines to throw the election, and then cause problems. If so, it is working, and working very well.

    Monday, June 14, 2010 at 4:38 pm | Permalink
  5. starluna wrote:

    Statistically speaking, things like this are bound to occur. Just because it’s unlikely, doesn’t mean it’s improbably. It’s like airplane crashes. They are highly unlikely. But they do happen. Maybe just enough people voted for this unknown because he was an unknown. It fits with the anti-incumbent hypothesis that has been driving elections in some parts of the country.

    Monday, June 14, 2010 at 8:14 pm | Permalink
  6. Iron Knee wrote:

    Sorry Starluna, but in this case I have to disagree with you. It is beyond unlikely to have a candidate receive more votes than were cast. Plus if your hypothesis were true, it would also show up in the absentee ballots, which it did not. Finally, in some districts, Greene received 80% of the vote, which even popular incumbents virtually never achieve.

    Monday, June 14, 2010 at 8:49 pm | Permalink
  7. Falkelord wrote:

    Maybe he’s a corporate plant.

    Remember, they’re people now.

    Monday, June 14, 2010 at 10:21 pm | Permalink
  8. If Greene was a plant – Republican or corporate (which may as well be Republican) – then it makes sense that he would have been planted in a state where the incumbent Republican was likely to win anyway. Confused? I’ll explain.

    He’s a test.

    It’s a brilliant idea, you have to admit, but has it really been tried before? Perhaps they wanted to find out just how far they could go, but wanted nothing to lose. Getting him into the primary could have been the real goal, just to see if it could be done.

    Socio-political experiments are probably performed by the men behind the curtain much more often than any sane person would guess.

    Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 9:44 am | Permalink
  9. Iron Knee wrote:

    Your argument is interesting.

    An alternative theory is that they (the people who have the ability to manipulate vote totals) are trying to establish precedent. If they do it in this race, where there is little incentive to cheat, it can be used as evidence that surveys before an election can disagree with the actual (manipulated) results. Then, when they actually need to throw an election, they can argue against people who believe the election was thrown.

    Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 10:21 am | Permalink
  10. Hm. Could be a combination of both, I presume. If it were just a vote-manipulation experiment they sure won the lottery of candidates to try it on!

    Friday, June 18, 2010 at 9:52 am | Permalink

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  1. Political Irony › The New Greene Economy on Wednesday, July 7, 2010 at 11:00 am

    […] story of Alvin Greene just keeps getting weirder. As you (might) recall, Greene won the Democratic primary for senator in South Carolina, despite running the stealthiest […]