Stolen Vote, Wasted Votes

Against the Current, No. 90, January/ February 2001

The Editors

WAS THIS A stolen election?  Absolutely: not once, not twice, but at least three times.  Did the actual outcome matter?  Yes and no. Did our side—the side for independent politics—make long-term gains?  Maybe.  We’ll touch on these questions, and one more: In the end, whose votes were wasted?

To state the main point first: There is a deep and underreported anger among millions of people, especially the African American community.  The election fraud tears a gaping hole in the supposedly sacred “free and fair” electoral system in this country, and the best efforts of the media and the leadership of both capitalist parties to promote “reconciliation” and legitimacy for the George W. Bush presidency are not going to make that outrage disappear.

The election was stolen in advance, first, by what is now universally recognized as the obscene costs of campaigning and the domination of both bourgeois parties by corporate lobbies.  It was stolen—and worse than stolen, sterilized—by the cynical exclusion of the main third-party candidates from the mind-numbing disinfomercials known as Presidential Debates.  It may well be that the exclusion of Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan helped the Republicans (who succeeded in keeping Buchanan invisible) more than the Democrats, and it serves the Donkeys right.

It was stolen, second, by depriving tens of thousands of people in Florida, overwhelmingly African American males, of the right to vote because they have—or were listed as possibly having!!—served time for “felony” criminal convictions, mostly non-violent drug use. It was stolen because hundreds of Florida’s motor-voter registrations, largely in minority communities, somehow never made it onto the voter rolls.

And just coincidentally, it seems that police roadblocks on Election Day stopped a lot of Black motorists heading for the polls—besides DWB, apparently there’s another crime of VWB, Voting While Black.  Some details of the theft of Africa American votes in particular are discussed elsewhere in this issue (see Malik Miah’s Race and Class column), and more are pouring out in various print and electronic media.

Finally, of course, the election was stolen in the vote count, where the machines in the counties with heavy Black populations malfunctioned, and in the bare-knuckle post-post-election mess of litigation.  (True confession: We loved every last minute of it.) It was like a horribly boring eighteen-month football game that had suddenly gone into a thrilling overtime—except the Bush Republicans were bound to win, not only because they controlled the referee (Florida Secretary of State Harris) but because the Florida State legislature and the right-wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court unplugged the instant-replay machine.

To be clear, we have no doubt that the Democrats, if they had their hands on these crucial levers, would have employed the same dirty methods—just as the Republicans were planning to scream foul if their man had won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College.  The fact remains, known to everyone, that those who were defrauded in these multifarious ways of their voting rights were disproportionately Black, and that the great majority of them intended to vote for Al Gore.

We leave aside here the question of whether voting for Gore and the Democrats represents the real interests of African American, working class and poor people—an issue of ongoing debate in these pages and elsewhere.  The point right now is that they were cheated by an Electoral College system, designed in the 1780s by slaveholders to preserve the power of slave states; by the electoral machinery of Florida, a state run by a Bush brother who abolished state affirmative programs by executive decree; and by a Supreme Court which through most of U.S. history protected wealth, privilege and entrenched power from the democratic wishes of the population.

Of all the sleazoid post-election manipulations, the final U.S. Supreme Court ruling, stopping the recount on grounds of “equal protection” of Florida voters, was the ultimate howler.  As if the massive machine undercounts in Miami-Dade and West Palm Beach didn’t violate “equal protection”! And just to clinch the point, the Court made clear that its “equal protection” ruling applied only to this election, not to protecting voters in elections in general (that would be judicial activism, god forbid).

Never forget: This is the same Court, by the same 5-4 vote, which this past June overturned a Texas court’s last-minute stay of execution for Shaka Sankofa/Gary Graham, allowing George Bush’s death machine to murder this man whose innocence was clearly proven.  Let us hope—it’s one of the few good things that might come from this tawdriest of elections—that the Supreme Court does in fact lose much of its legitimacy from exposing what it actually is, a court dominated by right-wing thugs in judges’ robes.

Speaking of “every vote counts, and count every vote”—how many votes cast for Ralph Nader were never counted?  Given the time-honored all-American tradition of dumping votes for independent, radical or socialist candidates into the garbage, and what we now know to be the sheer slothfulness of the counting mechanisms, the Nader vote may actually have been substantially higher than the officially counted 2.7 million, which itself was more than enough to earn Nader the top spot on the Democratic establishment’s Hate List.

But let us gracefully concede (in order not to prolong the nation’s agony) that Nader regrettably fell short of the five percent threshold to secure matching federal funds for future Green presidential campaigns.  Had the Gush-Bore race had not been so close, causing Nader’s support to shrink to its hard core, that five percent would have been within reach.

What Ralph Nader Accomplished

Nonetheless, those who worked for Nader should stand proud, and folks who are serious about democratic rights should be thanking Ralph Nader, not vilifying him. It was an unexpected achievement that Nader’s 95,000 Florida’s votes, along with other factors of course, helped create the razor-thin margin that brought about the exposure of the rot and the racism throughout that state’s election infrastructure.  In that regard alone, the Nader contribution to democratic debate is considerable.

But the Nader campaign accomplished more—a big down payment on constructing a movement that will do electoral politics in a different way, one that responds to the struggles and the needs of oppressed people, of labor and of the social movements in this country.  The next installments are even more formidable, and include (at least) the following challenges:

  • The divided Green forces (the Association of State Green Parties and the Green Party USA) will need to forge an ongoing alliance if not organic unity.
  • Democratic structures must be organized, from local to county to state to national levels, not only to give the Greens a grassroots presence but to protect the electoral organization from hostile raiders (just imagine, for example, the potential havoc from a Buchanan-like wrecking operation that might be launched by the likes of a Lenora Fulani).
  • The movement must find some kind of organic alliance with at least a fraction of the labor movement, possibly through a formal working relationship with the Labor Party (at least by turning the small Labor for Nader initiative into an ongoing project).
  • Most important of all, no movement for authentic independent politics in this country can hope to go anyplace if its voting base, and activist core, remain overwhelmingly white.  Unless the movement becomes a genuine multiracial force, it will not appear serious in the eyes of African American or other minority communities—nor, for that matter, will white working people view it as a potential winning proposition.

This election, despite its vacuity, showed the Black community to be the Democratic Party’s most loyal and energetic voting base. Both during and after the election, they rallied to the cause of Al Gore in a way that Gore never has, and never will, rally to theirs.  (He even forced Jesse Jackson to cut short the mobilizations in Florida against the stolen vote.)

Several important intellectual-activist figures such as Manning Marable and Cornel West were open in defending Ralph Nader as a legitimate choice for African American voters—as, of course, was Ron Daniels, who stood up for principle with his own presidential campaign in 1992, when prospects for independent politics seemed at their most bleak.

But the entire established civil rights leadership stood firm in its loyalty to the Democratic Party and the Clinton-Gore-Lieberman Democratic Leadership Council.  Let’s be clear: These forces in the Black leadership, like the AFL-CIO bureaucracy, will never break from the Democratic Party unless and until the Democrats become unelectable on the basis of the right-wing economic programs that the DLC stole from the Republicans.

Part of the task of a progressive third-party movement in this country is precisely to make these forces’ game of supporting the Democratic Party, as that party moves ever rightward, as much a losing one in electoral terms as it already is in social terms.

In that regard, we have a few questions to pose to the Democrats’ loyal liberal voters.  What if your leadership fought on issues that really matter with the same tooth-and-claw, desperate partisan fervor that they tried to save Al Gore’s presidency?  What if the Democrats had fought that hard to stop Reagan’s wars in Central America, to save labor’s vanishing right to organize, to end the insane “war on drugs,” the death penalty and the ravaging of legal due process, the destruction of welfare and the criminalizing of young people?

What if capital’s right to squeeze the highest profit and lowest wages on the globe (aka Free Trade) weren’t so much more important than human beings’ right to live in decency and dignity?  Will the Democrats use their strength in the Senate to block reactionary judicial appointments?  (Fat bipartisan chance.) And what have the Clinton Democrats done for the planet lately, aside from wrecking the Hague summit by insisting that the United States should get to keep spewing a quarter of global industry’s greenhouse gases because “hey, we got trees”?

Whose Wasted Votes?

Finally, there remains the question: Who wasted their votes?  Let’s emphasize that we are NOT speaking here of the tens of millions of people who can feel their votes were cast productively, because they liked what Al Gore or George Bush or Ralph Nader or another candidate had to say, and voted accordingly.

That’s democracy, at least electoral democracy.  Those who were cheated of the opportunity to vote for Al Gore are justifiably outraged—and we can all sympathize with those few thousand West Palm Beach voters who voted unintentionally for Pat Buchanan and wasted their votes by accident.

But tragically, there were also perhaps a few million people who were not cheated, not disenfranchised, but blackmailed into voluntarily throwing away their votes: those who agreed with the message of Ralph Nader, but who voted for Al Gore, because they were stampeded by liberal-Democratic fearmongering.

Those who say they agreed with Nader about the two rotten parties, but who voted for Gore, could have put the Greens well over that five percent threshold to become a more significant factor in the future.  Instead they have Bush, and a Nader-Green movement still at square one-and-a-half.

That is the beauty of the American two-party system, which serves corporate capital so well by convincing people they have no power and no choices.  Very well: Political activists must never blame the people.  The job ahead for the movement is to build, and grow, so that next time more people will exercise the courage of their convictions.

ATC 90, January-April 2001