In America and elsewhere, electoral fraud isn't new nor should anyone be surprised it occurs. But as technology improves, so are better ways found to pre-arrange outcomes. It's easier than ever today so more time, effort, money and other resources are earmarked for it. The result:
Calling it corrupted and needing repair barely explains things. We have a two-party duopoly. Democrats are interchangeable with Republicans. Differences between them are minor. Not a dime's worth to matter. Both sides support corporate interests, imperial designs, aggressive wars, and the divine right of capital to exploit workers, gain new markets, control the world's resources, and rule it without challenge. Unconsidered - beneficial social change and real electoral democracy with every US citizen 18 or older eligible to vote as the Twenty Sixth Amendment allows.
Ferdinand Lundberg separated myth from reality in his critically important book titled "Cracks in the Constitution." It masterfully deconstructs what he called "no masterpiece of political architecture," no "Rock of Ages," and "the great totempole of American society" that, in fact, is deeply flawed. Duplicitous "wheeler-dealer" politicians and their cronies (what today we call "a Wall Street crowd") created it for their own self-interest with no consideration whatever for the greater good. "We the people" were nowhere in sight even in the Bill of Rights that was enacted through compromise and solely to benefit wealthy property owners who wanted its protections.
From the beginning, privilege counted most in America, and it's codified in our most sacred document. It was designed (in Michael Parenti's words to) "resist the pressure of popular tides (and protect) a rising bourgeoisie's (freedom to) invest, speculate, trade, and accumulate wealth" the same way things work today. It was so the country could be run the way politician, jurist and first Chief Supreme Court Justice, John Jay, said it should be - for and by "The people who own" it for their self-interest. And to appear nominally democratic "for the defense of the rich against the poor," according to Adam Smith.
Consider voting rights alone that are reviewed below in detail. The Constitution granted our most fundamental right - what Tom Paine called "the primary right by which all other rights are protected" - to privileged adult white male property owners only - around 15% of the population at the time. Native Americans were being exterminated. Blacks were commodities. Women were just childbearing and homemaking appendages of their husbands, and common ordinary folks were to have no say about how the country should be run.
Over time, constitutional and legislative changes as well as High Court rulings opened the process to everyone 18 or older and allowed states the right to enfranchise younger voters at their discretion. Yet today the system is deeply flawed. Large numbers of eligible voters opt out or are excluded, and a host of ways shut out poor minorities most likely to vote the "wrong" way if they're enfranchised - so they're not.
Even though the Constitution, Amendments, other laws and High Court rulings prohibit voting discrimination, violations, in fact, are common and abusive. In addition, no law ensures the universal right to vote under one uniform standard the way it is in most countries. States instead can set their own procedures and norms as long as they set don't conflict with federal laws, but this created a patchwork of 50 different systems no democracy should tolerate.
Most democracies have proportionally representative (PR) government unlike America's winner-take-all system. PR fairly represents all voters and all political parties or groups proportionally to their electoral strength. Thus if candidates from one party win 30% of the votes, they get 30% of legislative seats so that government represents all segments of society, not a privileged minority the way it works under winner-take-all. It awards 100% of power to a 50.1% majority. Effectively shuts out the other 49.9%, and ends up woefully undemocratic. Combined with a two party duopoly, the power of money, privatized electronic voting, purged unwanted voters, and various other schemes it becomes a process only despots would love and envy because they have no equivalently matching system.
The Electoral College
It's another systemic flaw, but the term isn't in the Constitution. And until the early 1800s, it wasn't in common usage to describe the way presidents and vice-presidents are elected. However, Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 states:
"Each state shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector."
Article II, Section 1, Clause 3 then explained the original way electors chose presidents and vice-presidents: "The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President....after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President." Today, of course, there's no separation between the two.
The Framers considered several options in choosing the current one, but clearly their own self-interest came first. One idea was for Congress to choose the president. Another was for state legislatures to do it, and a third was to let the people decide by popular vote. The Founders chose a fourth way - an indirect election by each state's-appointed Number of Electors. Nearly always they support voter wishes, but they're free to vote independently if they choose. In the nation's history, 157 electors did so and went against the will of the majority.
Critics cite many concerns about the Electoral College:
Much analysis went into showing how the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections were stolen. More on them below, but first some earlier examples.
One was the 1824 election known as the "Corrupt Bargain." Four major candidates were involved - all from the same Democratic-Republican party, today's Democrats:
When votes of the 24 states were tallied, no winner emerged. Jackson led with 42%. Adams trailed with 32%, and Clay and Crawford had 13% each. In the electoral count, Jackson had 99, 32 short of a majority. Adams trailed with 84, Crawford 41 and Clay 37. Under the 12th Amendment, it fell to the House to choose a winner from the top three, so in the run-up to the March inauguration day, lobbying and back room bargaining were furious. In the process, Clay won over western states for Adams even though they voted solidly for Jackson. He even got his own Kentucky home state's votes where Adams was entirely shut out.
On February 9, 1825, the House met to vote, and after a month of hard-bargaining, Adams took 13 states or the exact minimum he needed to win. Jackson got 7 and Crawford 4. The House galleries were outraged and with good reason. Deal-makers won out, not voters, and three days later Adams rewarded Clay by nominating him for Secretary of State. Jackson supporters were furious, and Clay was dogged for the rest of his life with charges of having struck a "corrupt bargain."
The 1876 election was even worse because of its fallout. Democrat Samuel Tilden got today's equivalent of two million more votes than Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. But in all presidential elections, electoral college votes are decisive. With 20 disputed votes uncounted, Tilden led 184 to 165 so a House committee got to decide. It secretly struck a deal, called the "bargain of 1877," to abandon Reconstruction and sell out freed blacks:
Another example was Lyndon Johnson's 1948 senatorial primary win - the most blatant example of electoral theft in US history according to some observers. Historian Robert Caro is one of them. He documented it in the second of his planned four-volume study of our 36th President. He noted that ballot fraud was common in parts of Texas at the time, then went into great detail to show how Johnson miraculously overcame a 20,000 vote deficit to pull out an 87 vote victory. In Caro's words: it wasn't "the only election....ever stolen, but there was never such brazen thievery." The Texas Democrat Party's executive committee upheld the win by a 29 to 28 vote, and Johnson went on to defeat his Republican rival in the general election.
But there was more. The primary result was so disputed that a Federal District Court ordered Johnson's name off the ballot pending an investigation. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, however, voided the order on a petition from Johnson's chief lawyer, Abe Fortas. In 1965 as President, Johnson rewarded Fortas by appointing him to the High Court where he served for four years, then resigned under pressure for having accepted a secret $20,000 a year retainer from a Wall Street financier in return for unspecified advice. No mention was made of how he helped launch Johnson's senatorial career that made him Majority Leader, Vice-President and then President.
Another example involved partisan gerrymandering, not outright fraud, but in the end little different. The process is a form of redistricting that goes back to Elbridge Gerry (one of the Founding Fathers) who as Massachusetts governor in 1812 signed a bill into law that redistricted the state to benefit his Democratic-Republican party, today's Democrats.
States may redistrict legislative district boundaries to reflect decennial census population changes. But individual ones have latitude under their own standards provided they comply with federal requirements. In addition, municipal governments elected on a district basis, as opposed to at large, go through the same process. Criteria may allow for compact, contiguous districts, keeping political units and communities within a single one, and not drawing boundaries for partisan advantage or incumbent protection. All too often, however, one-party dominated legislatures abuse the process, and in 2003 it happened notoriously in Texas under Tom DeLay's leadership.
As Republican Majority Leader, he engineered a virtual coup d'etat against Democrats in his home state - one of the most outlandish examples of gerrymandering ever. It gave Republicans more control. They elected additional members to Congress, and thus got a greater majority in Washington.
The essential rules are to redistrict every decade, but DeLay took advantage of Texas law that contains no prohibition against doing it mid-decade. Democrats challenged his action. Took it to the Supreme Court, and on June 28, 2006 the High Court upheld most of what he designed. It rejected Democrat's contention that the Texas plan was unconstitutional because the legislature redistricted three years after the 2000 census solely to advantage Republicans when they had a voting majority to do it.
Ahead of the Court ruling, Columbia Law School Professor Samuel Issacharoff referred to "a sense of embarrassment about what happened in American politics. The rules of decorum have fallen apart. Voters no longer choose members of the House; the people who draw the lines do," and when they rig the process democracy becomes fantasy.
That characterized the South post-Reconstruction when Jim Crow laws stripped blacks of their voting rights and gave regional Democrats decades of one-party rule. Then recall the 1960 presidential election that Kennedy won over Nixon in spite of charges of fraud and vote buying. The race was close with Kennedy getting 113,000 more votes than Nixon, and his 303 - 219 electoral vote margin masked the fact that key states like Texas, Illinois and others could have gone either way.
As mayor, Richard J. Daley controlled Chicago politics, and it was widely believed that he turned an election eve Nixon lead into a Kennedy win by holding back a large number of precinct results that coincidentally reported later at the same time for Kennedy. After his inauguration, the DOJ conducted an "inconclusive" investigation. As Attorney General, Bobby Kennedy was in charge at the time.
A Brief History of US Voting Rights
On December 12, the Supreme Court hijacked Election 2000 by deciding for George Bush after three days earlier halting the Florida recount on the spurious grounds that it violated the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause. It was the first time ever in US history that the High Court reversed a popular vote (5 - 4) to install its own preferred candidate - and the public has paid dearly ever since.
The High Court settled an election that was deeply flawed and rigged to elect George Bush. The Supreme Court then affirmed it by cutting off debate - most visibly in Florida. For its part, the media cheerled the process and wholeheartedly approved. They, too, got their man in Washington and rallied around him ever since. More on that below.
Election 2000 was rife with fraud, but its outcome hinged on how Florida went. Investigative journalist Greg Palast (and others) uncovered gross irregularities. He documented them in running reports, and published a full account in his 2002 book "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy." He got hold of two CD-ROM disks "right out of the computer offices of Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris" with an evidentiary database of electoral fraud.
In the run-up to November 2000, Harris, "in coordination with Governor Jeb Bush," ordered 57,700 mostly poor African Americans and Latinos (likely to vote Democratic) removed from voter registries for having been "identified" as ex-felons and thus ineligible to vote under state law. Palast called it as "The Great Florida Ex-Con Game" and cited the use of "scrub lists." Two of them comprised nearly 1% of Florida's electorate and almost 3% of its black voters. They were compiled by the DBT Online subsidiary of Atlanta-based Choicepoint, a company with close Republican ties - much the way Diebold is with electronic voting machines.
On close examination, extensive inaccuracies were found in its work:
Choicepoint vice-president Martin Fagan later admitted that at least 8000 names were incorrectly listed and removed from voter rolls prior to the election. He also said accuracy checks weren't conducted. That's for users, like the state of Florida, to do.
On April 17, 2000, at a special Atlanta congressional hearing, Choicepoint vice-president James Lee testified that Florida officials told DBT to purge names matching 80% of ones believed to be ineligible. Acceptable procedure allowed dropping middle initials and suffixes and adding nicknames and aliases. In addition, names could be reversed so Thomas Lee could be removed instead of Lee Thomas.
On February 16, 2001, before the US Civil Rights Commission, Choicepoint senior vice-president George Bruder testified that the company misinformed Florida Supervisors of Elections officials on the issue of race in compiling purge lists. It got Palast to conclude that "An African-American felon named John Doe might wipe out the registration of an innocent African-American Will Whiting, but not the rights of an innocent Caucasian Will Whiting."
Under orders from Jeb Bush, various other obstructive practices took place before and on election day:
The 1965 Voting Rights Act bans discriminatory practices that for decades disenfranchised blacks and other minorities. It prohibits states from imposing any "voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure (that may) deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color." It established various federal oversight procedures for enforcement, but for Election 2000 it hardly mattered. In Florida, abuses were brazen, but Democrats ducked the issue. They ceded the state and election to George Bush even though their candidate Gore won, and by a comfortable margin.
On January 6, 2001, a joint session of Congress convened to count the Electoral College votes. In a final humiliation and despite 20 Democrat congressmen objecting, no party senator joined their colleagues to adjourn the session and have it reconvene for separate House and Senate votes as required by an 1887 law. With the Senate divided 50 - 50, Democrats controlled the body since Vice-President Gore had the deciding vote. Even he refused to intervene, but it wasn't surprising. On December 13, 2000, he conceded the election, the day after the Supreme Court awarded it to George Bush.
As bad as 2000 was, Election 2004 was worse because technology smoothed the way with electronic ease. Following the 2000 election, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) passed in 2002 as the first ever comprehensive electoral law designed to facilitate fraud. Hailed as a major advance, it, in fact, corrupts the process because of how it's abused. It ushered in the age of privatized voting - on touchtone electronic machines owned, programmed, operated and controlled by giant corporations with close Republican ties. Today, over 80% of all votes are cast and counted this way. Most states require no verifiable paper receipts, so it's easy to manipulate pre-arranged outcomes, and not just for president.
A record 16.8 million new voters registered for Election 2004 - most according to surveys for Kerry making him a heavy favorite when George Bush's approval rating hovered around 40%, and most voters believed the country was headed in the wrong direction. At the time, Zogby International reported that no president since Harry Truman won a second term with a below-50% rating. Yet (officially) Bush got 11.6 million more votes than in 2000 and beat Kerry by a comfortable three million margin. It was much closer in the Electoral College (286 - 251), and again Florida (and Ohio) made the difference.
As in 2000, extensive fraud explained things with Greg Palast again doing first-rate investigative work. So did activist, media critic and Professor of Media Ecology Mark Crispin Miller in his superb book "Fooled Again: The Real Case for Electoral Reform." In 2007, it came out in paperback with 100 new pages for added insight into our electoral problems:
Post-election, Kerry told Miller he knew that Republicans stole the election and denied him the presidency. He then claimed he never said it, putting him strongly in the business as usual camp with electoral and other progressive reforms off the table. Miller called his response "an irrational refusal to confront, or even to perceive, a clear and present danger to American democracy." Like Gore in 2000, he quit without a fight but didn't wait as long to do it. He conceded on November 3, less than 24 hours after the previous day's election.
Sourcewatch.org documented a sampling of some "deeply troubling" 2004 practices:
Palast also reported that a US Census voter turnout announcement (seven months after the election) confirmed (in a footnote) that 3.4 million fewer votes were cast than the "official" Clerk of the House of Representatives tally - telling evidence of voter disenfranchisement.
Sourcewatch.org further reported:
These and other practices were rampant in Ohio, Florida and around the country in key battleground and other states:
It showed democracy in America is pure fantasy, but you'd never know it from major media reports and too many others from sources that should know better.
On all vital topics, major media sources produce a daily flow of disinformation masquerading as real news. It's their role as "Guardians of Power" the way Davids Cromwell and Edwards explained in their powerful critique of professional journalism. They and others show that the media are in crisis, and a free and open society is at risk. Trivia substitutes for substance and fiction for fact. News is carefully filtered, dissent suppressed, and supporting the powerful undermines the public interest.
As a result, wars of aggression are called liberating ones. Civil liberties are denied for our own good. Patriotism means supporting lawless governments, and electoral politics are just kabuki theater and horse race journalism. It shows up noticeably in presidential years as spectacle when saturation coverage goes round the clock. Horse race trivia substitutes for real information, and undisguised partisanship favors Republicans over Democrats mostly getting short shrift or attacked. No wonder the public is uninformed and half of eligible voters opt out. Why bother when their issues go addressed. Cases in point: Elections 2000 and 2004.
In the run-up to Election 2000, it was painful following the one-sided coverage for George Bush - especially on television and right-wing talk radio. But that paled compared to the unprecedented post-election partisanship to halt the Florida recount, ignore the popular will, support an electoral power grab, and back the illegitimacy of an unelected president. Working journalists became tools of power, apologists for their actions, and co-conspiratorially responsible for the outcome.
They cheerled the dismantling of democracy. Supported George Bush's illegitimacy, and editorialized like The New Times about his "unusual gracious(ness)" post-election, his "hopeful (offer) of conciliation (and) Despite the bitterness of the last five weeks, and indeed the last year, Americans are ready to turn the page. George Walker Bush....must lead the way." The Washington Post noted that "Mr. Bush achieved his narrow victory in part by putting a softer face on his party - by his promise to be a uniter....We congratulate him on his 'victory.' "
Post-election, a consortium of large US news organizations (including The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and others) enlisted the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago to conduct a Florida Ballot Project comprehensive review of all machine-uncounted ballots in Florida, including "undervotes" and "overvotes (175,000 in total)." The former were ballots initially registering no vote while the latter were marked ballots for Bush or Gore with the candidate's name also written in or circled.
On November 12, 2001 (10 months after Bush took office), they released NORC's results in an attempt to suppress the truth and boost the administration's legitimacy. Unsurprisingly, they showed that Bush would have won (Florida) by 493 votes even without the High Court's intervention. They also claimed he'd have had a 225 vote margin if recounts in four disputed counties had been completed. The New York Times hailed the result as proof that the "Justices Did Not Cast the Deciding Vote," and the other consortium members went along. But it was false, and they knew it.
Their own study showed that if all Florida "undervotes" and "overvotes" had been counted and added to the final tally, Gore would have won. This was so explosive that a New York Times journalist on the project reportedly told a colleague they'll be "major trouble for the Bush presidency if this ever gets out." But it didn't because consortium member managements quashed it under heavy Bush administration pressure.
Yet not entirely. The NYT went both ways on November 12, but buried the bad news on a back page most readers never saw. Reporters Ford Fessenden and John Broder wrote: "A comprehensive review of the uncounted Florida ballots reveals that George W. Bush would have won even if the United States Supreme Court had allowed the statewide manual recount....to go forward." Then further down they said: examination of all rejected ballots "found that Mr. Gore might have won if the courts had ordered a full statewide recount." The Times also reported that Bush netted about 290 votes from illegally cast absentee ballots, and the consortium estimated that various disparities cost Gore tens of thousands of Florida votes compared to Bush's narrow 537 victory margin. Nonetheless, they acquiesced to his power grab and share major responsibility for its fallout.
And it continued during the 2004 campaign, most notably in collaboration with the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Despite their unfounded accusations about John Kerry, the media jumped on them. They left military records and eyewitness accounts unexamined that would have exposed them, and took the lead in spreading spurious disinformation a little checking would have debunked.
Back in 2000 as well as 2004, they also downplayed Bush's Air National Guard record. His admission of abusing alcohol until age 40. Allegations of drug abuse. His explosive temper, and his unimpressive Yale and Harvard Business School records.
Also his dismal business performance, yet he made a fortune nonetheless. Oil exploration company Arbusto lost money but got millions from family-connected investors to keep it afloat. Then Spectrum 7 Energy bought Arbusto in 1984. In 1986, it was failing when oil prices collapsed. Harken Energy bought out Bush's equity in exchange for company stock. A 1991 SEC document suggested he violated federal securities law at least four times by selling Harken stock while serving as a director. But GHW Bush was president. The case was quietly dropped, and the media never bothered to expose the kind of shenanigans they'd have jumped on against Democrats.
Nor in 2004 to highlight Bush's early administration years that coincided with the biggest corporate scandals and bankruptcies since Teapot Dome in the 1920s. It's no wonder that author Kevin Phillips expressed fears in his new book, "Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism." He's worried that we may be on the edge of the abyss because of "three profligate decades," an orgy of excess under GW Bush, and though he's not prone to predicting, he leans heavily on an unpleasant outcome. But you'd never know it from the way media touts protect Republicans, including the worst of the current incumbent's record.
Well into Election 2008, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting notes that the same 2000/2004 script is in play in its May/June and July/August issues. They feature stories about "The Press Corps' Unshakeable Crush on McCain" and "Obama's Elitism." Here's a sampling of what Professor Henry Higgins called "(quotes) that would make (an honest observer) blush."
At the start of his campaign, "whispers about his religious beliefs," questions about his patriotism, and "Is he one of us" came up. Then there were days of controversy over Rev. Wright and whether Obama still belonged to his church. Back in 2000, it was Gore the exaggerator v. Bush the uniter and compassionate conservative. In 2004, it was Kerry's "flip-flops," his "distorted" war record, stiffness, unlikability and inability to "connect" with voters.
Now it's Obama the elitist or snob with AP reporter Ron Fournier warning that he had "better watch his step (since he's) bordering on arrogance (and) can be a little too cocky for his own good." He and his wife "ooze entitlement."
Sum it up and there's no surprise about the media's one-sided loyalty. Their bias for Republicans over Democrats, and their willingness to shape stories for their own self-interest. Regardless of the campaign's outcome, reporting is deplorable because of today's professional journalism. Media giants are dominant. Bottom-line considerations are primary, and what passes for news, information and campaign coverage is shaped by commercial considerations. Republicans are seen as more accommodative so full-court press coverage backs them. But if elections aren't legitimate and working journalists aren't for truth, what good are they? As "Guardians of Power" not much.
Democracy in America is pure fantasy. Electoral fraud is Exhibit A. Reviving the republic starts off with reforming how we elect public officials. Short of that, darker days are ahead. Lots of ideas are around, and here's a few:
These and other reforms will go a long way toward fixing a broken system. Rigged for the powerful, and returning the most fundamental of all democratic rights to the people - where it belongs. Short of that, darker times are ahead, as if they're not bad enough already.
Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.
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Baltimore News Network, Inc., sponsor of this web site, is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed in stories posted on this web site are the authors' own.This story was published on September 15, 2008.