Report — From the November 2012 issue
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Report — From the November 2012 issue
In the weeks following the South Carolina spectacle, the press engaged in round after round of analytic Twister, avoiding the most obvious question: Had another extremist just gained federal office on the basis of a rigged election? Their silence, however, was nothing unusual.
In his 2011 paper “To the American Media: Time to Face the Reality of Election Rigging,” Jonathan Simon accuses the press of maintaining a Mafia-style omertà on the subject. “The gruesome truth,” he writes, “is that American elections can be rigged, and are being rigged, because the American media treats election rigging as something that—all evidence notwithstanding—could never happen here.”
Few people know this better than NYU professor Mark Crispin Miller, whose books Fooled Again and Loser Take All document a wide assortment of G.O.P. vote-stealing tricks in every major election from 2000 to 2006. When the books were published, he told me, “I got no interviews and almost no reviews, despite the wealth of evidence I’d gathered. The corporate media was silent. But the left-wing press was hostile.”
Indeed, his colleagues on the left seem most reluctant of anyone to grapple with the concept of large-scale election tampering. “I know Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Rachel Maddow,” Miller says. “I’ve tried for years to get them to concede that possibility, but they won’t do even that. There’s clearly a profound unease at work. They just can’t go there.”
Why? No doubt the fear of being branded a conspiracy theorist inhibits many—that term having long served as a cudgel to suppress discussion of all sorts of crimes against democracy. As Miller puts it, “There is no more exquisite method of silencing dissent, or shutting down inconvenient inquiry, than to charge someone with conspiracy theory.”
Like their counterparts in the media, Democrats in office today appear unwilling to defend what matters most. They stand in complicit silence as improbable results are spat from the innards of unaccountable voting machines.
“For Democratic legislators and candidates, openly questioning the integrity of American democracy feels like committing political suicide,” says Ben Ptashnik. A former Vermont state senator, Ptashnik ran for office in 1996 specifically to spearhead the state’s Clean Elections Act—whose provisions were largely struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court nearly a decade after its passage. Ptashnik believes that election rigging remains an untouchable phenomenon in American politics. “Very few leaders are willing to fight it, which is probably why Kerry backed off in 2004. But the evidence is piling up. Democrats have to get their heads out of the sand and realize we’re looking at our worst nightmare: Karl Rove’s projected forty-year G.O.P. dynasty.”
Ptashnik speaks with particular bluntness about the state of American democracy. “Today, Karl Rove and the Koch brothers are pushing a corporatist, anti-union agenda,” he says, “cynically allying with anti-immigrant nativists and Christian fundamentalists.” He compares the situation to that of Germany during the 1930s, when anticommunism drove industrialists and much of the working class into the arms of fascism.
It is Germany, however, that has now become the standard-bearer for clean elections. In 2009, that nation’s constitutional court upheld the basic principle of the public nature of democratic elections. By ruling that the vote count must be something the public can authenticate—and without any specialized expertise—the decision directly challenged the use of computers in elections.
Ireland followed suit in June 2012, sending all its electronic voting machines to the scrap heap. Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan called the computerized voting system a poorly conceived, scandalous waste of money and said he was “glad to bring this sorry episode to a conclusion on behalf of the taxpayer.”
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