FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

From East Germany to the Electoral College

by DAVID YEARSLEY

The American electoral system is a difficult thing to explain to Europeans with a long tradition of proportional representation. My first two-year stretch spent living in Berlin between 2003 and 2005 coincided with the endless presidential campaign that eventually concluded with George Bush’s re-election. A man in my building named Uli would often want an explanation as to what the difference between a caucus and primary was, or, more basically, why the campaigns went on for so long.

The day before that election the postman dropped off a package for us at Uli’s apartment because we weren’t home. When I stopped by that evening to pick it up, Ulrich invited me in for a glass of wine. I figured Uli wanted to talk politics I welcomed the chance to exercise it under the encouraging influence of the grape. Ulrich was raised in East Germany and he knows no English, since all he got was a dozen years of Russian required by the Soviet overseers.

Barely had the wine been poured than, Uli had gottconfronted me with the following question: “Was ist’s denn mit diesen Wahlmaennern?” which translates as, “What’s the deal with members of the Electoral College.”

I could have probably answered this question better in Swahili than German, or even English for that matter. Nonetheless, I took a big drink from my wine and gamely plunged in.

An hour-and-a-half later Ulrich remained less than fully illuminated on the subject. Aside from the thicket I was trying to hack through, there was the fact that we were well through a second bottle of south German grape juice.

By way of providing some relief for my own beleaguered mental forces, I asked Ulrich why he was so interested in the America political system. He said that the idea that someone could become leader of a democratic country with fewer votes than his opponents was a strange one to him, as was the fact that so few American’s actually voted in their own elections.

Ulrich went on to tell me about the single election he had voted on in East Germany. He had gone into a small room with a table and picked up the ballot paper on which were listed only candidates of the Socialist Party. Three observers, all employed by the secret police, were seated in the room, which had neither a booth with curtians nor a partition of any kind.  The voter was supposed to fill out the ballot at a nearby table and then deposit the ballot in the box on the observer’s table. Like all elections, this one was won by the leader of East Germany, Erich Honecker, with upwards of 95% of the vote.

In full view of the observers, Ulrich took the pencil and and cancelled out every  name on the list. Then he folded the ballot and went to the table and looked squarely at each of the observers before shoving the paper into the ballot-box.

Some months later, in 1987, two years before the Fall of the Wall, Ulrich was on a plane from Berlin to Budapest. By coincidence, the daughter of the Austrian ambassador was sitting next to him, and she told him that the flight went on to Istanbul and that there was 50/50 chance that no one would come on the plane to check for tickets or passports.

Uli stayed on the plane and no one came on to check his papers. He got off in Istanbul, where he stayed in detention for two weeks unders suspicion of being a spy. After his release he made his way to West Germany.

When Ulrich went to look up his secret police file some years after the Fall of East Germany, he found a pro forma account of his defiant non-vote.

It was getting late and time for me to go back upstairs, so I thanked Ulrich for the wine, but most of all for telling me his story. I also apologized for getting him to tell it, since I imagined he had to tell it quite often.

He shrugged and said that he hadn’t told the story in a decade.

DAVID YEARSLEY s a long-time contributor to CounterPunch and the Anderson Valley Advertiser. His latest book is Bach’s Feet. He can be reached at  dgyearsley@gmail.com

 

 

DAVID YEARSLEY is a long-time contributor to CounterPunch and the Anderson Valley Advertiser. His recording of J. S. Bach’s organ trio sonatas is available from Musica Omnia. He can be reached at  dgyearsley@gmail.com

May 05, 2016
David L. Glotzer
Welcome to Fortified Europe: the Militarization of Europe’s Borders
Adam Szetela
Beyoncé’s “Formation” and the Boutique Activism of the Left
Bruce Lerro
Lost at Sea: Left Liberals Have No Party
Paul Cochrane
Hot Air in the Saudi Desert: a Kingdom in Descent?
Brian Terrell
My Visit to a Las Vegas Jail
Judith Deutsch
The Military’s “Securitization” of Climate Change
Phyllis Bennis
Kunduz Bombing: Proof the Pentagon Should Not Be Allowed to Investigate Itself for War Crimes
Chad Nelson
When Compassion is Terrorism: Animal Rights in a Post-911 World
Dan Arel
Making Sanders’ Dream a Reality Through Political Activism
Kent Paterson
Ten Years Later: Reflections on the Legacies of Immigrant Spring
Serge Halimi
Why Firefighters are Against Free Trade
Andrew Stewart
Green Bernie or Green Party Machine?
Binoy Kampmark
Yuri Gagarin in Space: the Politics of Cosmic Discovery
Hayes Rowan
This Naming of Things
May 04, 2016
Kshama Sawant
It’s Not About Bernie: Why We Can’t Let Our Revolution Die in Philadelphia
Conn Hallinan
Baiting the Bear: Russia and NATO
Joshua Frank
Hanford’s Leaky Nuke Tanks and Sick Workers, A Never-Ending Saga
Paul Craig Roberts
TIPP: Advancing American Imperialism
Ted Rall
Hillary to Bernie Supporters: Don’t Vote for Me!
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton and Wall Street’s Neoliberal War on Latin America
Leslie Scott
The Story of Jill Stein: Putting People, Peace and the Planet Before Profits
Ann Garrison
Building the Greens Into a Mass Party: Interview with Bruce Dixon
Tom Clifford
Crying Rape: Trump’s China-Bashing
Lawrence Davidson
Getting Rid of Bad Examples: Andrew Jackson & Woodrow Wilson
Ellen Brown
Bank of North Dakota Soars Despite Oil Bust: A Blueprint for California?
Nelson Valdes
Is Fidel Castro Outside or Part of Mainstream Thinking? A Selection of Quotes
Jesse Jackson
Don’t Send Flint Down the Drain: Fix It!
Nathan Riley
Help Bernie Keep His Halo
Rivera Sun
Remembering Nonviolent History: Freedom Rides
Clancy Sigal
Rachel and the Isolationists: How Maddow Blew It
Laura Finley
Changing the Conversation About “The Woman Card”
CJ Hopkins
Coming this Summer … Revenge of the Bride of Sophie’s Choice
May 03, 2016
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Resumé: What the Record Shows
Michèle Brand – Arun Gupta
What is the “Nuit Debout”?
Chuck Churchill
The Failures of Capitalism, Donald Trump and Right Wing Terror
Dave Marsh
Bernie and the Greens
John Wight
Zionism Should be on Trial, Not Ken Livingstone
Rev. John Dear
A Dweller in Peace: the Life and Times of Daniel Berrigan
Patrick Cockburn
Saudi Arabia’s Great Leap Forward: What Would Mao Think?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Electoral Votes Matter: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders vs Donald Trump
Chris Gilbert
Venezuela Today: This Must Be Progress
Pepe Escobar
The Calm Before the Coming Global Storm
Ruth Fowler
Intersecting with the Identity Police (Or Why I Stopped Writing Op-Eds)
Victor Lasa
The Battle Rages on in Spain: the Country Prepares for Repeat Elections in June
Jack Rasmus
Is the US Economy Heading for Recession?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail