FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

From East Germany to the Electoral College

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

 

 

More articles by:

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

Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
David Yearsley
Bollocks to Brexit: the Plumber Sings
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail