Call it, what, our crapshoot democracy?
The looming election - the process itself, not merely the feints and jabs of the candidates - is actually getting some mainstream media attention, as in: Ahem, voting public, excuse me, but maybe you should be aware that irresponsible self-interest has been detected in the vicinity of our polling places and some bad choices have been made lately (electronic voting is unreliable) and, well, how badly did you want your vote counted?
In September, for instance, The Washington Post sounded this subdued, hapless warning: ''Faced with a surge in voter registrations leading up to Nov. 4, election officials across the country are bracing for long lines, equipment failures and confusion over polling procedures that could cost thousands the chance to cast a ballot.''
Got that? Election Day could be chaos in many places. Election officials are bracing themselves. Crazy, untested equipment, too darn many new voters. Should the rest of us be bracing ourselves, too?
On Oct. 5, the Lakeland, Fla., Ledger put a little more urgency into a story about the state of Florida's - and the country's - election system, and even suggested that the process was being sabotaged by more than just well-intentioned, bipartisan bungling:
''Voting used to seem pretty simple,'' writes Joe Follick. ''Citizens showed up on Election Day. Candidates and political parties focused on their campaign messages. State officials urged folks to vote and tabulated the results quietly.
''But all that has changed since 2000's historic election. Now the weeks preceding an election have become critical battles with the deployment of lawyers and angry accusations of bureaucratic chicanery aimed at keeping voters away.''
Power transfer is no different in a settled democracy than anywhere else, it turns out. It's as messy, greed-driven and trouble-prone as an unregulated free market. Probably the biggest threat to fair and free elections is our faith-based belief that on this one occasion, when the stakes are highest, no one in America - no one who has power to lose - is going to cheat. This is a fool's mythology.
In point of fact, our future is up for grabs in less than a month, ladies and gentlemen. The struggle to control it is raw and primal.
Furthermore, whatever the sins of the Democrats, they are not - after eight years of George W. Bush, the cheater in chief - the minority party. That is the status of the GOP, which absolutely cannot win unless it can choke the surge of change-demanding voters who intend to cast a ballot on Nov. 4.
God knows, they have no chance of winning on the issues, the strength of the disastrous McCain-Palin ticket or even their ability to spin and lie. Their best chance to win is by keeping Democrats from voting. Consider a few of the ways they are trying to do this:
1. Use the bureaucracy of the state to kill, or at least maim, the democratic process. In Florida and other states, as the Ledger reported, something known as the ''no match, no vote'' law is being used to strike as many voters as possible from the rolls.
Where voters' registration information doesn't precisely match driver license and other information in state data bases to a T, sorry, you aren't eligible to vote. Think of it as disenfranchisement by typo. And certain ethnic groups, such as Hispanics and Asians, would likely be disproportionately affected (which is the point), because their surnames are more likely to be transposed or bungled at least once.
2. Send out bad information to target groups, such as out-of-state students. For instance, the Republican clerk of El Paso County, Colo., informed local students: ''. . . if your parents still claim you on their income tax returns, and they file that return in a state other than Colorado, you are not eligible to register to vote or vote in Colorado.''
Not only is this an outright falsehood, it's virtually the same falsehood that Republican bureaucrats tried to fob off on students in Virginia and South Carolina as well, belying their protests that this was somehow an honest mistake.
3. Spread creepy misinformation anonymously. According to the Philadelphia Daily News, fliers in black neighborhoods of Philadelphia recently showed up warning residents that undercover cops would be prowling the polling places, arresting would-be voters with so much as an unpaid traffic ticket on his or her record.
4. Balance every accusation of vote suppression with the charge that Democrats are perpetrating voter fraud with their hugely successful registration drives. Throw as many obstacles as possible into the voting process, especially in low-income, ethnic and student neighborhoods. Find as many legalistic excuses as possible to challenge voters and, win or lose the challenge, you slow the lines and cause people to leave without voting.
And of course, supplementing these and many other dirty tricks will be the X-factor, the hackability of touchscreen and other forms of electronic voting. When - or, let us pray, if - the vote confounds polls and expectations, shrug and call it closet racism.
* ROBERT KOEHLER is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist.