Are Dumb Votes Better Than No Votes? : The Alvin Greene Phenomenon in South Carolina

Something very strange happened at the June 8th primary in South Carolina: an unemployed veteran with no political experience, no funding, no campaign signs, no website, no cellphone, no computer, who did no campaigning, who lives in his father’s basement with $114 to his name, and who is facing felony obscenity charges, beat his opponent (Vic Rawl—a judge and four-time member of the state legislature) with 60% of the vote. This man may become a United States Senator.

His name, as everyone knows by now, is Alvin Greene. Greene leaped to the forefront of public attention in the past three weeks, most notably for highly amusing, widely-circulated video interviews where he has come off as completely unprepared to run for US Senate. (In one, he nervously asks halfway through the interview, “Can we end this?”)

The backlash against the bizarre phenomenon known as Alvin Greene was swift and varied: within 24 hours of his nomination, the Associated Press reportedly asked him to relinquish the nomination that he was facing felony charges on having shown pornography to a college student, and the South Carolina Democratic Party Chair immediately .

Then there were accusations that Greene was elected through voter fraud, and that he was part of a subversive Republican ploy to throw a wrench into the Democratic machine.

Next, a South Carolina legislator questioned whether or not Greene was mentally sound. This came alongside deep suspicion at how Greene, who is unemployed, was able to pay the $10,440 filing fee to enter the primary (a fee that is higher than many other states’ fees). Greene allegedly paid the fee from a personal checking account, but refused to show documentation of the transaction.

Next, Vic Rawl, who actually did a significant amount of campaigning in the state (17,000 miles of driving door-to-door, for example), and who was feeling, understandably, that there might have been something unfair in the primary results, issued a formal protest. This past Thursday, though, the South Carolina Democratic Party’s Executive Committee rejected Rawl’s challenge, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to hold another primary (which would have been a big pain in the ass, anyways).

So what happened? No one really knows, but it looks more and more likely that voter ignorance was to blame. Most of the 100,000 people in South Carolina who voted for Alvin Greene instead of Vic Rawl knew next to nothing about either candidate. Alvin Greene’s name appeared first, had a more melodic sound than “Vic Rawl,” and was more likely to belong to an African American candidate—all of these things may have played a part in the decision-making process of uninformed voters.

This raises the issue of whether it’s appropriate to participate in politics if you don’t follow politics. In a good democracy, we want every citizen to have a say in who our legislators are, but are dumb votes better than no votes? It’s understandable that Rawl challenged the results, but the results had to stand as they were: this was the will of the people.

The lingering question in this whole mess is: What does it mean going forward? On an immediate level, the Alvin Greene phenomenon shows the consequences of uninformed voters in a state with the third highest illiteracy rate in the country. But when Greene faces off against incumbent Sen. Jim DeMint in November, does he stand a chance? Probably not, and polls show that even if Vic Rawl had won the nomination, he wouldn’t have been able to beat DeMint anyways.

But lately it seems, in the current political climate, with increasing voter anger and Tea Party anti-establishment sentiment, that anything could happen.

Let’s hope it doesn’t.

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– Hunter Stuart


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