Monday, April 29, 2024

Five Dollars and a Pork Chop Sandwich: Vote Buying and the Corruption of Democracy

Last week, after I published a piece about voter fraud, someone shared a comment suggesting I find the book Five Dollars and a Pork Chop Sandwich: Vote Buying and the Corruption of Democracy. Intriguing title. And I was able to find it in our public library so I could peruse it.

The book is a compelling exploration of a pervasive yet often overlooked aspect of electoral politics: vote buying. The author, Dr. Mary Frances Berry, is former chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Her aim was to delve into the historical roots, contemporary manifestations, and societal implications of vote buying in democratic societies. In other words, not just U.S. messiness but in other cultures as well.

Vote buying takes many forms including cash payments and material incentives to patronage networks and political favors. Whenever there's something at stake, you can be sure someone is devising ways to nudge outcomes in a favorable direction (for them).

The book's catchy title is especially meaningful if you are familiar with the concept of "Pork" in politics. "Pork barrel" is a metaphor for the practice of government spending on local projects in exchange for political support (i.e.: votes.) It's just one of many tools (like franking and gerrymandering) that politicians and political parties use to gain an edge in the next election.

As a result, the integrity of democratic institutions has been soiled.

One of the book's strengths lies in its nuanced examination of the complex dynamics that underpin vote buying, including the role of poverty, inequality, and political disenfranchisement. Berry challenges readers to confront the ethical dilemmas and moral compromises inherent in vote buying, while also acknowledging the socioeconomic realities that drive individuals to participate in such practices.

In chapter six she notes that one of the problems is that many people don't see vote buying as a crime. The people like the bennies. Sure, blatant handing out cash for votes is recognized as unethical, but what's wrong with promising new roads, fish fries, or jobs?

Five Dollars and a Pork Chop Sandwich is intended to serve as a timely call to action, urging policymakers, civil society organizations, and citizens to address the underlying root causes of vote buying and strengthen democratic governance. And though Berry 's intentions are good--offering practical suggestions for combating vote buying, including electoral reforms, anti-corruption measures, and efforts to empower marginalized communities--I don't have any real confidence that our politicians will do anything substantial to rectify this problem. Look at the manner in which politicial parties perpetually pander to their respective constituents. Promises, promises, promises. 

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Related Links

Democracy's Achilles Heel: What Madison Right?
Ibsen's An Enemy of the People Questions the Validity of Democracy

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