Scourge of US elections: Electoral College, hackable voting machines & obscure rules
Today, we could amend the words of that Biblical reference with the US presidential race underway:
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a voter in the US to know and understand the rules regulating the administration of all elections, including elections for President of the United States.”
Let’s start with the phenomenon of what is called a “minority president.” No, that is not a president who identifies as an ethnic or racial minority in the US. A minority president is one who has failed to win a plurality of the votes cast in the race for president, and yet is still able to become President of the United States. This is the exact opposite of what a true democracy would require; perhaps not even a pure democracy would entertain such a position such as the 'Office of the Presidency'. But that is an entirely different matter.
The United States has actually had several minority presidents in its history, while the 21st century began ominously enough with yet another minority President: George W. Bush, the Republican who failed to secure the most votes cast by the people [in the 2000 election, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, decided the victor of the race after moving to halt the recount process in the state of Florida].
Both the US House and the US Senate are charged with counting the Electoral College votes, and this is a process in which I have participated. The constitutionally mandated process was circumvented by the precedent-setting Bush v. Gore Supreme Court ruling that instructed future Courts not to use the decision as a precedent!
As this case aptly proved, it’s not the people who have the last word in US elections. It’s a non-democratic construct called the Electoral College that does, except in those rare instances when it doesn’t.
The Electoral College was created by the framers of the US Constitution to ensure that the votes of the plebes did not supersede the interests of the landed gentry. That’s not just my opinion. For example, according to FairVote, an organization with which I have worked in the 2000 Presidential election, a whopping 78 percent of the votes cast were rendered unimportant due to the arcane rules of the Electoral College. They estimate that in 2008, the figure still topped 70 percent.
In order to be declared the winner of the presidency, 270 Electoral College votes are required. But the process is not what could be called transparent. For example, veteran Pro Se litigator Asa Gordon has demonstrated how the Black vote in the US is rendered less relevant by the arcane apportionment rules of the Electoral College. And when the Electoral College is deadlocked, which has happened before, then the matter falls to the United States House of Representatives to decide who will be allowed to serve in the White House.
Add to the above debacles, the US Congress and the election authorities in the 50 states have authorized and encouraged the use of hackable electronic voting machines that are used for vote casting and vote tabulation. Bev Harris and her company, Black Box Voting, has accumulated horror stories surrounding the non-transparency of US elections. I have worked closely with Harris because the danger of these machines is self-evident to everyone except the officials who continue to purchase them for millions of dollars, putting millions of voters’ most precious political asset at risk.
Such a scenario is what led former President Jimmy Carter to comment he “absolutely” could not be elected today under such conditions, going so far as to characterize the United States as an oligarchy, not a democracy.
‘Hacking Democracy’ is only one of the many documentaries to expose the fallibility of the actual voting process in the US. Other documentaries focus on how private money has corrupted its election process.
In addition to the insecure hardware, I am sorry to write that the voter list is kept on an electronic device and if the voter’s name fails to appear on the list, the voter has little recourse.
In the US, votes and vote tabulation processes are done without any traceable back-up procedures. In other words, there is no paper trail - no receipt of a vote, as it were - whatsoever. In one of my Congressional elections in which the electronic voting machines “failed,” not only was I unable to obtain the election data despite a lawsuit having been filed, an expert witness for the state of Georgia testified that voters have to simply “trust” that the announced winner is the actual winner. Meanwhile, candidates have no access to the raw election data because that information is “owned” by Diebold—the company that produced the electronic voting machines and the software used by them (The documentary ‘American Blackout’ tells my own personal story with US elections). It is difficult to place trust in the US election system when we learn about the number of votes cast that go uncounted. In the 2000 Presidential election between Bush and Gore, between two million and five million Americans went to the polls and voted, yet their votes were thrown out, disqualified for any number of reasons. Half of those uncounted votes were cast by Black Americans.
Money, money, money
Add to these procedural vagaries, the influence of private money in US elections and even the pretense of holding transparent, free, and fair elections is stood completely on its head. As I wrote in a previous post, the rules have given rise to super-wealthy individuals who lurk in the shadows while becoming the power behind the public faces of candidates: Marco Rubio has Norman Braman as his closest and most important backer. Hillary Clinton has Haim Saban as one of her top donors; Sheldon Adelson is a “player” at the Presidential level in US politics. Billionaire Donald Trump self-finances his Presidential bid and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is rumored to be willing to spend one billion dollars in his still-to-be-announced independent presidential run.
The situation is so dire that one wealthy individual could legally bankroll an entire Congressional campaign and a roundtable of them could do the same with the US Presidency. So-called campaign finance reform blew the existing loopholes wide open instead of closing them. The Citizens United Supreme Court ruling stood the revered Freedom of Speech First Amendment to the US Constitution on its head by allowing a few wealthy donors to have more 'free speech' than 300 million other Americans.
The sad truth is that much of what takes place resembles a horse race, or some kind of political theater designed specifically for public consumption. Each step of the process, whether it’s the hunt for delegates in the political party primary or the hunt for Electoral College votes after nominations have taken place, the real action takes place in the darkest recesses of the system, out of view. One could go so far as to say that the real action of US “democracy” takes place in the shadows.
So, what we are witnessing for public consumption is the hunt for delegates among the presidential contenders in the Republican Party and between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party. Until February 1, everything was basically kabuki theatre, advertising in order to lure an ample audience to enhance the profits of the major television, radio broadcasters and newspaper publishers. Donald Trump made this point repeatedly just before he decided to not participate any longer in the pre-February Republican Party Primary debates. He challenged CNN to donate some of its profits from debate ad sales to veterans’ charities—which, of course, CNN refused to do.
On February 1, the first popular voting actually took place. The Iowa Caucuses kicked off the delegate hunt. The Democratic candidates are trying to garner 2,382 delegates to win the nomination; Republican candidates need 1,144. Across the state of Iowa, registered voters gathered to cast their vote for their preferred party primary candidate. Yet the rules for the caucuses are far from straightforward, as are the rules for counting of votes and assignment of delegates.
Thus, several results in the Iowa Democratic caucuses were actually decided by a coin toss; one Clinton precinct captain didn’t even live in the precinct to whose caucus he had been assigned to manage. As a result of the massive confusion as to who actually won the Iowa Caucuses, the Sanders campaign has launched a quest to get the raw vote totals—as yet unavailable from the Iowa or national Democratic Party that declared Clinton the winner.
The next vote took place in the New Hampshire primary, which is different than a caucus. And there, too, the rules change by state for which primary voters are eligible to vote.
The next round of voting will take place on what is called ‘Super Tuesday’ when a number of states allow their voters to express their presidential preferences in primaries. But, that’s only if your preferred presidential candidate has been able to secure ballot access. Not all of the candidates are able to run in all states because each state has its own requirements for gaining ballot access. This is not a problem for either the Democratic or Republican parties, but is a huge issue for other parties. Therefore, most American voters don’t even get to see the full range of candidates and political parties on their ballots!
All of this popular voting is to assign delegates to each candidate. Those delegates will represent their candidate at the political party’s nominating convention. Or at least that’s the way it’s supposed to work. And so, the candidate with the most delegates will win the party’s nomination, right? Well, not necessarily, due to something called “super delegates” who are not bound by the popular vote. So, theoretically, unless Bernie Sanders wins the popular vote by a commanding margin in the Democratic Party primary, Hillary Clinton could actually walk away with the party’s nomination, due to the power of superdelegates whose role is similar to that of the Electoral College—to make sure that the plebes don’t ever really think they are in control. However, if something like that were to occur, the credibility of the Party might take a beating.
So, there you have it. When there is no challenge to the shadow players, everything rolls just fine and the flaws in the system are not clearly evident. But, for candidates who do not have shadow blessing, the election process can become a nightmare. Imagine then, America's increasingly alienated voters trying to overcome all of the information and process hurdles.
And, by the way, not all adult citizens in the US are eligible to vote. In some states, people in the criminal justice system with felonies may forfeit their right to vote altogether. At the same time, some states require state-issued identification cards in order to vote. Even voting machines are positioned by precinct history, not by need. Thus, Blacks voting in Ohio and other places around the country waited for hours to vote while White majority precincts had no wait at all to vote.
It is little wonder, then, that so few citizens of voting age actually participate in the process. According to one study, only approximately 55 percent of the voting age population actually voted in 2012. For citizens tying to unravel all of the rules and regulations, how a candidate moves through the process to become a nominee and then incumbent is “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”
So the next time the victor of a US presidential race system says that he or she will destabilize a foreign government or wage a war against a foreign country in order to 'fight for democracy', the entire world, led most of all by the voters of the United States, should greet the news with a hearty laugh.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.