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Honest Election System Needed to Defeat Ruling Elite

The decision by a majority of UK voters to reject membership in the European Union in Wednesday’s hotly-contested referendum has been a devastating defeat for the corporatist domination of the European political and economic scene. It throws the corporate duopoly in the UK into turmoil, and also has the EU bureaucrats and the banking elite in Brussels and the financial capitals of Europe in a panic, lest other countries’ voters, as in Spain and Italy, or even France and the Netherlands, decide to follow suit. (Spain has a national election tomorrow which could be heavily influenced by the British referendum outcome, since if the united left wins, it could eventually lead to Spain’s exit from the EU.)

But for the US, which is not a party to the EU, there is also a huge lesson: ‘Brexit,’ despite being opposed by the political establishment — Conservative and Labor — and by the corporate elite of London’s City, the financial capital of Europe, won this vote. And the reason the opponents of UK membership in the EU were able to win against all that powerful opposition, has, in no small part, to do with the fact that all the voting was done on paper ballots.

Compare that to the US, where voting, for the vast majority of people, is done on machines, in many cases electronic machines that leave no paper trail of individual votes, or even of vote totals per machine. We are always hearing reports of faulty — or hacked — machines that are “flipping” votes, so that someone can cast a vote for a Democratic candidate or party slate and see it switched to Republican, reports of entire tallies for a day’s voting being simply lost, machines that don’t work, forcing would be voters to wait for hours to vote on a limited number of machines that supposedly are working, limited polling places because county or city governments claim they can’s afford to buy an adequate number of machines, a shortage of paper ballots when machines fail, etc.

The list of excuses goes on and on. And why, one might ask, does America vote by electronic machines instead of on readily verifiable paper ballots? The only possible reason is pressure from the corporate media, whose sole interest in our elections is the “horse race” leading to a meaningless competition to get the results out first. Why should it matter though, if you think about it, whether we learn the results of an election an hour or two after the voting ends, or the next day, or even several days after the voting? Why, in fact, do we allow news organizations like AP or the New York Times to “call” elections based on faulty algorithms that are based on extrapolations of early counts in specific targeted voting districts?

Most recently, we witnessed the outrage of AP calling the Democratic national presidential primary for Hillary Clinton the morning that California and six other states totaling 15% of the total delegate count in the nation were holding primaries and then announcing the victory in California that evening when less than half of the votes cast had actually been counted (the rest were paper ballots — both mailed-in ones, and over a million “provisional” ballots that were given to voters who had registered close to election day, and whose registrations had not been provided in time to local voting district officials. As those votes are counted — and they are still being counted today, some two and a half weeks after the voting! — it is becoming clear that far from a rout by Hillary Clinton, the vote between Clinton and Sanders was very close, as will be the delegate count for each candidate.

A number of analysts have pointed out that there is serious evidence of vote rigging in the Democratic primary in favor of Clinton, with most of the states that she won outside of the deep South which had electronic voting machines having exit polls that showed Sanders should have won. There is no way to check those votes, however, because the machines don’t have a paper trail.

And that’s not all. The primary, like elections in prior years, has been rife with other examples of interfering with the right of Americans to cast their votes. There was massive voter suppression in New York’s Democratic primary, for example, with entire neighborhoods in Brooklyn and other jurisdictions — all of them likely to have favored Bernie Sanders — finding that their voter registration records had been wiped, making them ineligible to vote. Other venues, in New York and other states, found that people who had registered as Democrats were recorded as “independents,” making them, in closed-primary states, ineligible to vote in the primaries.

The list of such abuses and frauds goes on and on and, like the many examples of voter suppression by both Republican and Democratic governments in the past, make it clear that voting in the US is as corrupted as it is in many third-world countries where elections are understood to be only for show.

The lesson of Britain’s ‘Brexit’ referendum, like the hotly contested presidential election I witnessed and covered in Taiwan in 2004, both of which contests were conducted using paper ballots, and the latter which was subjected to a recount that returned an almost identical result after tons of paper and millions of ballots were painstakingly inspected and hand-counted all over again, is that democracy can only work if voting is scrupulously honest and absolutely verifiable. On both those counts the US fails miserably, meaning that besides all the other problems that make American democracy a joke — the grotesquely biased (and inane) media coverage, the widespread voter apathy and ignorance, a stultifying two-party political system that limits candidate choices to two virtually identical candidates and to two political positions that only differ in meaningless, but emotionally powerful ways, and a campaign-funding system that in reality is nothing but legalized bribery — American voters cannot really expect their votes to be honestly counted in the end.

If a referendum like ‘Brexit’ were to be held in a US-type electoral system, involving a major issue affecting powerful economic interests, it would have predictably failed. Of this there is little or no doubt. What in the ’60s we called “The System” would simply not have allowed opponents of EU membership to win.

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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