Interrogating the civic epistemology of American democracy: Stability and instability in the 2000 US Presidential election

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14 Scopus citations


Transitions of power are fragile, anxious moments for political systems. This paper explores how electoral machinery - the material and social technologies of casting, counting, and contesting votes - dynamically stabilizes democratic transitions. The paper analyzes the controversy surrounding the 2000 US Presidential election. For 36 days political stability in the USA hung on uncertainty over a seemingly simple matter of fact: which candidate won the most votes in the state of Florida. Interrogating the civic epistemology of US elections - the processes by which elections produce, validate, and put knowledge to use - the paper contends that electoral machinery functions to contain common uncertainties, contingencies, and conflicts that might otherwise destabilize democratic political order. The paper develops a model of electoral machinery as a loosely integrated network of sites including polling places, election administration, the courts, the media, and the American public. This network constructs credible knowledge in a distributed fashion and helps form an intermediate layer in US politics, integrating geography, state, and civil society. This network model of electoral machinery implicates both democratic theory and practical electoral reform.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)501-530
Number of pages30
JournalSocial Studies of Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Civic epistemology
  • Democracy
  • Election
  • Knowledge
  • Stability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Social Sciences(all)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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