I know something else is possible, because I've seen it. In 2006, I sat in a classroom polling station in Ramallah, and watched the vote count for the Palestinian elections. The poll worker, a teacher at the school, opened the ballot boxes in front of representatives of every party, showing every person each hand-marked ballot. If there was an incorrectly or ambiguously marked ballot, everyone saw it, and all the party representatives gave their opinion about how to count it. If there had been disagreement about how to count a ballot, it would have been set aside. There was agreement about every one. It took as much time as it took. They weren't doing it for Rachel. At the end of this process, the result was posted on the door of the classroom for everybody to see. There was no doubt about the outcome. In the midst of this process, the woman sitting next to me, representing the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said to me something like: "You must think we are so backward here, counting votes one by one like this. I'm sure you have a more advanced system in America." From the hole I was crawling into in my mind, I replied: "I've sat through two presidential elections in the United States in the past six years, and I still don't know who actually won them. I know, without a doubt, who won here. Please understand, it is I who is learning from you."
The two lessons learned (besides the one about how our government has no lessons about democracy to export to anybody, and, oh yeah, the one about "the only democracy in the Middle East") were: 1) You can have a trustworthy democratic election if you want to, and 2) The simpler the better. The hand-marked paper ballot, hand-counted in the polling station, is the gold standard for a democratic election. If you want transparency and trust, leave the video screen for the Pokemon hunt. If the votes are not counted on the spot, in front of observers from the candidates and the public, with the result immediately displayed, it's a good bet there's a scam in progress.
To put it another way, for the left: The citizen's vote is the political equivalent of the worker's labor-power, and, in the capitalist context, it should be given only in exchange for a deal that's acceptable. It won't be completely just, but it can be fair enough. You can work with dignity and integrity under capitalism, before you demand to take over the means of production, as long as you get a decent wage. But not for a penny a day, and not if you know you might get cheated out of even that. Such insulting conditions call for an exercise of the one economic power you have as a worker: a strike. Similarly, a citizen can vote with integrity in any election, even when no candidate is the one s/he really prefers, as long as s/he has a reasonable certainty that his/her vote will be counted for whom it was cast. But without that minimal assurance--well, to wax poetic: There is some sh*t one should not eat.
Call it a Vote Strike. Boycott the vote.
Another version of this essay can be read here.
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