ballot box on us stamp

Ballot Box on US stamp. Credit: Creative Commons/Serjmooradian.

What do Belgrade, Manila, and Kiev have in common? In all three capitals, among others, people took to the streets in large numbers to protest — and overthrow — a regime that sought to hold onto its power through voter fraud.

It should be obvious why we are mentioning it: because no American can rest assured that the vote he or she cast this week will be counted. There were various types of fraud in both the national elections of 2000 and 2004, that we know of, and various types of underhandedness have already been practiced recently, mostly in the form of disenfranchising specific populations — remind you of the poll tax laws of a bygone era? Today, unfortunately, fraud is exceedingly easy to do and exceedingly hard to detect. And, we must add, hard to arouse a reaction to even when it is detected: at least one person who was directed by his employer to come up with code that would ‘flip’ results from the winning to the losing candidate has come clean about it in public and in detail. But nothing has been done to prevent another go round; and it’s an open secret that the son of one of the two Presidential candidates (no names, please) owns substantial stock in the company that produces the voting machines!

In the long term, America will have to jettison the archaic Electoral College system, and let the people vote. She will have to lose the computers and go back to paper balloting, as is done, for example, in Germany. All the latter requires is a little patience: what’s the big deal if you can’t read who won in the morning paper? In the long term, she will have to replace the polarized, combative, winner-take-all electoral culture and get back to a system that looks more like a decision-making process than a race (not to mention a fight).

And in the short term? In the short term we will have to be very alert, and probably very brave. If we suspect foul play it will not do to remain silent, as we have done in the past; this has to be the last straw if it is not to be the last gasp of our faltering democracy. But neither will it do to explode in unstructured rage. We should be studying what happened in Kiev, Belgrade, and Manila — what worked and what didn’t — and be ready to non-cooperate, even when it hurts, undertaking all necessary nonviolent actions to get back control of a system that’s fundamental to any democracy.

Occupy showed that large numbers of people can in fact mobilize quickly, almost spontaneously, in the face of an outrage (or a crisis: in some cases they’re doing better right now for hurricane victims than FEMA). Let’s get ready to take that spontaneous energy and harness it for the long haul. Let’s show that, to paraphrase Gandhi, it’s not just generals who know how to strategize, to be flexible in the face of apparent setbacks, and keep going until we win what in this case would be a victory for everyone: honest elections.

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