The decision by a majority of UK voters to reject membership in the European Union in Wednesday’s hotly-contested referendum has been a devastating defeat for the corporatist domination of the European political and economic scene. It throws the corporate duopoly in the UK into turmoil, and also has the EU bureaucrats and the banking elite in Brussels and the financial capitals of Europe in a panic, lest other countries’ voters, as in Spain and Italy, or even France and the Netherlands, decide to follow suit. (Spain had a national election Sunday which left the country in limbo, with no party gaining a majority, and with the new Unity Podemos left coalition in a position to rival the old pro-capitalist Socialists for leadership on the left which could ultimately lead to a departure of Spain from the EU.)
But for the US, which is not a party to the EU, there is also a huge lesson: ‘Brexit,’ despite being opposed by the political establishment — Conservative and Labor — and by the corporate elite of London’s City, the financial capital of Europe, won this vote. And the reason the opponents of UK membership in the EU were able to win against all that powerful opposition, has, in no small part, to do with the fact that all the voting was done on paper ballots.
Compare that to the US, where voting, for the vast majority of people, is done on machines, in many cases electronic machines that leave no paper trail of individual votes, or even of vote totals per machine. We are always hearing reports of faulty — or hacked — machines that are “flipping” votes, so that someone can cast a vote for a Democratic candidate or party slate and see it switched to Republican, reports of entire tallies for a day’s voting being simply lost, machines that don’t work, forcing would be voters to wait for hours to vote on a limited number of machines that supposedly are working, limited polling places because county or city governments claim they can’t afford to buy an adequate number of machines, a shortage of paper ballots when machines fail, etc.
The list of excuses goes on and on. And why, one might ask, does America vote by electronic machines instead of on readily verifiable paper ballots? The only possible official reason for doing our voting in a way that is costlier, more complicated for voters, and less reliable and trustworthy into the bargain has to be pressure from the corporate media, whose sole interest in our elections is the “horse race” leading to a meaningless competition to get the results out first. Why should it matter though, how fast results are available? If you think about it, whether we learn the results of an election an hour or two after the voting ends, or the next day, or even several days after the voting, so what? Why, in fact, do we allow news organizations like AP or the New York Times to “call” elections based on faulty algorithms that make extrapolations of early counts in specific targeted voting districts based upon prior years’ experience?
Most recently, we witnessed the outrage of AP calling the Democratic national presidential primary for Hillary Clinton the morning that California and six other states totaling 15% of the total delegate count in the nation were holding primaries. Then AP and the rest of the corporate media prematurely announced the victory in California that evening when less than half of the votes cast had actually been counted (the rest were paper ballots — both mailed-in ones, and over a million “provisional” ballots that were given to voters who had registered close to election day, and whose registrations had not been provided in time to local voting district officials. As those votes are finally hand counted — and they are still being counted today, some two and a half weeks after the voting! — it is becoming clear that far from being a rout by Hillary Clinton, the vote between Clinton and Sanders in California was very close, as will be the delegate count for each of the two candidates. (For the entire one-year Sanders campaign, the corporate media insisted that he “could not win,” though clearly had a few states gone slightly different, he could have.)
A number of analysts have pointed out that there is serious evidence of vote rigging in the Democratic primary in favor of Clinton, with most of the states that she won outside of the deep South which had electronic voting machines having exit polls that showed Sanders should have won. Exit polling, unlike pre-ballot polling, is usually quite an accurate predictor of final outcome, but there is no way to check those votes, because the machines don’t have a paper trail.
And that’s not all. This latest primary season, like elections in prior years, has been rife with other examples of interfering with the right of Americans to cast their votes. There was massive voter suppression in New York’s Democratic primary, for example, with entire neighborhoods in Brooklyn and other jurisdictions — all of them likely to have favored Bernie Sanders — finding that their voter registration records had been wiped, making them ineligible to vote. Other venues, in New York and other states, found that people who had registered as Democrats were recorded as “independents,” making them, in closed-primary states, ineligible to vote in the primaries. In California, the Secretary of State instructed voting district officials not to tell independent voters how to request a Democratic Party primary ballot that would include the presidential choice, causing many to either vote on a ballot with no presidential choice, or, if they were smart enough to ask, to fill out a provisional ballot–one reason there are so many of those still being counted.
The list of such abuses and frauds goes on and on and, like the many examples of voter suppression by both Republican and Democratic governments in the past, make it clear that voting in the US is as corrupted as it is in many third-world countries where elections are understood to be only for show.
The lesson of Britain’s ‘Brexit’ referendum, like the hotly contested presidential election I witnessed and covered in Taiwan in 2004, both of which contests were conducted using paper ballots, and the latter which was subjected to a recount that returned an almost identical result after tons of paper and millions of ballots were painstakingly inspected and hand-counted all over again, is that democracy can only work if voting is scrupulously honest and absolutely verifiable. On both those counts the US fails miserably, meaning that besides all the other problems that make American democracy a joke — the grotesquely biased (and inane) media coverage, the widespread voter apathy and ignorance, a stultifying two-party political system that limits candidate choices to two virtually identical candidates and to two political positions that only differ in meaningless, but emotionally powerful ways, and a campaign-funding system that in reality is nothing but legalized bribery — American voters cannot really expect their votes to be honestly counted in the end.
If a referendum like ‘Brexit’ were to be held in a US-type electoral system, involving a major issue affecting powerful economic interests, it would predictably fail. Of this there is little or no doubt. What in the ’60s we called “The System” will simply not allowed opponents of major corporate interests to win.
The difference is, to steal an election that uses electronic voting machines, you just need a good hacker. To steal an election that uses paper ballots, you need people with wheelbarrows.