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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 9/17/16

Strike the Vote

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Such a consistent push for election integrity from the ground up might make the left attractive to many more voters, who might then give a listen to some of its other positions.

Nor should the left dismiss the issue of voter identification. It has certainly been used perniciously to disenfranchise minority voters, and it's true that the incidence of the wrong person showing up to vote is miniscule, and should become even more irrelevant, given the opportunities for wholesale vote fraud offered by electronic systems. But there have been significant cases of fraud with absentee ballots. One of the more egregious was the Republican tactic of hiring "ballot brokers" in Florida who bought signed, blank ballots from voters. Though nobody talks about it, this had an effect on the notorious 2000 election. New tactics in this vein may become easier to employ as mail-in voting spreads, and the prospect of internet voting rears its alluring head. There's no reason for the left to ignore such problems.

In-person voting, like the hand-counted paper ballot, is one of the gold standards of a trustworthy electoral process. I know three states (OR, WA, CO) already have all-mail elections, and I know people in the comfortable 20% who usually vote may find it unfathomable that a lot of people in, let's say, the bottom 50% would sell their signature (written or digital), and betray their civic duty to choose the lesser evil for themselves. But the latter folks have a different conception of what they owe the polity in which they labor.

The real bar against such fraud is that it is, as of now, more visible, more labor-intensive, and less easily scalable than the computerized vote-shifting strategies we've been talking about. But internet voting technologies, which will inevitably be proposed by some Google-oid company, may change that calculation. Leftists should push for in-person voting. Issues of accessibility and convenience for working people and seniors can be addressed by insisting on extended voting days and numerous well-situated voting sites. Issues of identity verification can be addressed by insisting on procedures for instant, automatic registration by the DMV, Social Security, banks, and other agencies, for grandfathering seniors who have a voting history and are known personally to election workers, etc. Call the right's bluff on identity verification: Are you trying to ensure honest elections, or restricted elections? But don't dismiss a problem that may be small now, but may well come back to bite everyone.

As I said, every left demonstration during the election should include demands for an overhaul of the election process, and an appeal for a boycott of the presidential vote. Where there are hundreds demonstrating, there should be scores with signs proclaiming their intention not to vote for president. Signatures should be collected on a boycott pledge, over a list of demands for reforming elections. There should be "Don't vote! I didn't." demonstrators at every polling place explaining the rationale.

Voting in the present system is like sitting down at a poker table where you have no reasonable assurance that there are 52 cards in the deck, and where you do know that the dealer is going to count the chips and allocate them to the players behind a screen. Sitting at that table is not a sign of how much you treasure your money/vote, but of how willing you are to waste it. The only thing you achieve at that table is to give credibility to a game that has none. And the only reason you would sit at that table, knowing all this, is because you want to believe in its credibility, too. As in all confidence games, it's the mark's own credulity that gets him taken.

And if the dealer is spending as much money and energy as the plutocracy does to get you to sit at that table, it must be because the plutocracy really does need that sanction of credibility from you. That is what they are paying for. That, therefore, is the one power you have in the electoral system. And the most effective way to use it in the current system is to withhold it. Under present conditions, withholding one's vote is the one thing one can do -- with one's vote, within electoral politics -- that would not waste the vote, and that could make a significant difference.

Sure, in the small frame, each party would prefer that only its supporters vote. But regarding the system that both parties protect, those who say: "Your presence at the polls is what they fear most," have it backwards. It is our absence, en masse, from the polls that the ruling plutocracy fears most. They fear their inability to plausibly claim that they rule with the consent of the governed. They fear that the system they build and sustain will be recognized as undemocratic by its own citizenry. What's going to shake the system more: If Jill Stein gets 8% of the vote in a few states, or if the percentage of voters drops to 35% or 25% nationally, rather than the 50-60% it is now? With images on television of voters around the country signing a boycott pledge? I think Joel Hirschhorn got it exactly right when he said that "The whole world would interpret that as the rejection by Americans of their political system. It would be an incredible historic shock having the potential to remove the legitimacy and credibility of the current two-party duopoly. Our corrupt, delusional democracy would have received a bullet."

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Former college professor, native and denizen of New York City. Blogging at, from a left-socialist perspective. Also publishing on Counterpunch, The Greanville Post, Medium, Dandelion Salad, and other sites around the net. (more...)

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