Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

When Good Ballots Go Bad: Voting Ritual and Its Failure in US Presidential Elections
by Schmidt, Inge Brooke, Ph.D., Yale University, 2012, 140; 3525374
Abstract (Summary)

In a democratic society, voting is a pragmatic, political act that facilitates the regular transition of power. However, voting is also a fundamentally social act; it is symbolic and meaningful, and a vital institution of the civil sphere. Sociological and political science research on voting and elections has privileged the political instrumental nature of voting while typically ignoring its social aspects. This thesis remedies this gap. In it, I introduce a ritual theory of voting. I argue that voting is a ritual through which citizens define and celebrate 'the good society.' The core of this ritual is a sense of democratic purity—the notion that citizens cast their votes, and their voices are heard. This purity is the basis for post-electoral civil solidarity. More than a pragmatic device, the ballot, noticeably absent from existing research on voting and elections, is the guardian of the voter's intent and the guarantor of democratic purity. Moreover, it is a symbolic object; it denotes the 'good citizen; and its form embodies the ideals of democracy. In order to illustrate the explanatory power of a ritual theory of voting, I reconstruct two empirical cases: the contested 2000 US Presidential Election and the contemporary debates about new voting technology that emerged following the 2000 Election. The 2000 Election has been largely overlooked in the literature. As I show in this thesis, only a ritual theory of voting can explain the crisis and sense of failure present during the 2000 Election, and the surprising turn of the debate about new voting technology that followed. The failure in 2000 was neither technological nor partisan; it was ritual. The problematic butterfly ballot was polluted; it failed to actualize democratic purity. The six weeks that followed Election Day were an on-going effort to restore the ballot's symbolic authority. While the Election came to an end, the breach in the voting ritual was not mended. Democratic purity remained in question. The debates about new voting technology that emerged in the aftermath of the 2000 Election were not about technology and innovation; they were a continuing effort to 'fix Florida'—to re-purify the ballot and restore voters' trust in the voting ritual.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Alexander, Jeffrey C.
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 73/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Political science, Social structure
Keywords: Ballot, Cultural sociology, Ritual, Voting
Publication Number: 3525374
ISBN: 9781267574046
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