The Most Rigged Election in History
There are more elections than ever before in human history, but a vast proportion of them are rigged. Which election was the worst in history?
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There are more elections than ever before in human history, but the world is becoming less democratic.
Why? Because a lot of elections around the world are rigged. But which one was the most rigged in history?
As long as there have been elections, people have tried to manipulate them. Even in Ancient Greek mythology, there is a story of a vote being held to determine who deserved the prize of inheriting Achilles’ armor. Ajax and Odysseus were the two main candidates. Odysseus won in a closely fought contest, and Ajax accused him of being a “thievish maker of votes,” a scoundrel who had rigged the election in his favor.
Why are there more elections today than in the past?
I’ve been studying election rigging for over a decade, and co-authored a book called How to Rig an Election, with Professor Nic Cheeseman. Since the end of the Cold War, it’s become an international norm to hold elections. This graph shows how, across the globe, the number of national elections per year has steadily increased, from around 25 to 30 per year in the 1940s/1950s, to around 80 per year more recently.
This sharp rise of elections corresponds with the collapse of the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, the US and USSR saw countries in the developing world as chess pieces on a global chess board. They wanted each pawn on their side. But there was always an exit option; a pawn could always defect to the rival superpower. That constrained the United States from pushing too hard for democracy. If they put too much pressure on a country to hold elections, that country might just waltz into the outstretched arms of the Soviets.
Then, when the Soviet Union collapsed and the world became unipolar (meaning there was only one superpower, namely the US), there was no longer an exit option. If you wanted to play the game of geopolitics, you needed to follow American rules. The US began to push harder for democratization in the 1990s. Increasingly, aid and alliances became contingent on letting people vote. The number of elections skyrocketed.
The rise of election rigging
But that didn’t mean that those elections would be free, fair, or competitive. In fact, the modern history of democracy is, to a large extent, defined by dictators, despots, and authoritarian populists holding elections—and then rigging them.
Election rigging is a learned skill. It’s not easy to pull off without getting caught.
The United States has mastered legal ways to manipulate elections, such as gerrymandering (in which politicians choose their voters rather than the other way around) and voter suppression (in which poor, ethnic minorities face far higher burdens to vote than affluent white people).
These are real problems with American democracy, as is the role of money in elections. (That’s why it’s utterly bizarre that Republicans have alleged vote rigging through the vote tabulation process in the 2020 elections; it’s one of the core areas of election administration that the US is actually rather good at. American elections are of worse quality than most other rich democracies, but globally, they’re far better than most).
However, throughout history, there have been some unbelievably rigged elections. These are so brazen, so absurd, that you can’t help but laugh when reading about them. I’ll highlight two honorable mentions before reaching the winner, what I believe to be the most rigged election in history.
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