Don’t Count on It

New Hampshire "voting irregularities" just the tip of a rotten iceberg

As the dust settles, stirs and settles again in the quadrennial puppet show that is billed as “democracy” in the US, new questions—surprise!—are being raised about the accuracy and validity of vote counts in the New Hampshire primaries.

An electorate shocked to its senses—-well, okay, not exactly-—by the 2000 debacle is understandably jittery about how and by whom their votes are counted, though in truth most seem to have given it little thought before or since. But the problem is far deeper than which corporate lobbyist-in-training gets the nod to take on her or his counterpart from other industries’ lobbyists-in-training. It is even deeper than the notion of democracy itself, as sweeping and grandiose as that sounds. A nation so caught up in its own ‘destiny,’ its sense of itself so distorted and self-aggrandizing, can hardly look closely at the building blocks of its alleged ‘greatness’ for fear of confronting the Big Lie of American exceptionalism.

True, the votes in New Hampshire and elsewhere should be accurately counted; there is no excuse for not doing so in a nation which touts its role as the greatest democracy on earth. Suffrage is one of the most elemental components of democracy. Forget for a moment-—just for a moment—-whether the results have any meaning or bearing on the lives of the mass of people. The very least an electorate can expect is that its vote reflects their actual actions in the voting booth.

Much has been made of the discrepancies between handcounted paper ballots and machine counts on optical scanners in the New Hampshire voting. This is, of course, crucial, and should be investigated. But logic blunts the charge absent a control: the two sets of data are measuring different phenomena. It is improbable that a candidate’s share of the vote in a certain group of towns would match that in another group. Why would Clinton or Obama have the same exact support in Goffstown that each had in Portsmouth, for example? Still, the widely varying results merit, at the very least, a thorough review.

Of greater concern in this as in every other election is whether there is a discrepancy between raw exit poll data and reported results. One of the greatest and most cynical assaults on US democracy waged by the blowhard lawyers and lackeys of the GOP in 2000 was the charge, which mostly stuck, that exit polls aren’t reliable. In fact, and in the world at large, they are considered to be more reliable than actual results. I should say reported results: there are no actual results, keeping in mind Stalin’s famous caveat about power resting with those who count the votes, not cast them.

The OCSE, the Carter Center and other world groups consider exit polling data to be the only real check on whether a country is running free and fair elections. Despite the perverse and twisted reasoning of the red-faced James Baker et al (remember that image?—still wakes me up in a cold sweat occasionally), the logic is fairly straightforward. Predictive polling and exit polling are completely different tasks, and it is silly-—not to mention cynical and dangerous—-to conflate the two. In the one instance, the task is inherently pure speculation on an action that has yet to be taken-—even the respondent can’t say with complete certainty whether the response is true or not. Exit polling, on the other hand, is sampling the results of an event that just happened. Absent some mass hypnosis or incredibly complex psy-op campaign, skewing the results on a broad scale is nearly impossible.

But of course, the pundits and the politicians and the pollsters know all this, and have for a very long time. Down to the local city councilor, election officials have long dealt with a substandard and wildly inaccurate patchwork of systems based on what the local authority can afford, and who gets what contract for what technology in what district. Punchcard machines jamming and kicking out ballots were so commonplace that up to 10% of cards went uncounted on a regular basis. The dirty little secret is that US elections suck, pure and simple. Many americans were outraged when international monitors offered to observe the 2004 elections, and when Carter bluntly stated that his organization couldn’t participate because voting in the US didn’t rise to its minimum standards: centralized counting authority with uniform standards, etc.

The real crime is that US voters are led to believe—-and gladly do so-—that their system is not only the best in the world but is above reproach. Such asinine and self-delusional fantasies help to shore up a whole host of other crimes, as delusions of grandeur tend to do. Manifest Destiny made it okay to slaughter indigenous people from coast to coast, just as taming a new continent justified the enslavement of Africans. Saving The World for Democracy made the firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo, and the nuking of Nagasaki and Hiroshima into historical footnotes for generations of students. Our moral superiority over the Soviets not only justified, but necessitated, the militarization of global jihad, not to mention the creeping, nearly complete and unprecedented tyranny of the Military Industrial Complex. And so on. Why would voting be any different when cooked up in this same self-righteous stew?

Of course, it doesn’t fool all Americans. In fact, most are so fed up with the system, or so alienated by it, that they steadfastly decline to vote. The façade of democracy has produced a system utterly unresponsive to the people’s needs. How else could it sustain the insatiable appetite for war, the limitless spending on arms and killing machines, and the subsequent strangling of any local government’s ability to meet people’s most basic infrastructure needs? A potential voting friend, neither active nor particularly motivated politically, put it in surprisingly succinct and stark terms: “I hate to sound like a skeptic, but I don’t hold out much hope for any change. By the time they get to Washington, they’re all so beholden to the people who paid for their campaigns that they have to spend their whole time in office returning the favor.”

American bravado about its democracy is especially galling in the face of most of its own history. Democrats’ timidity in the 2000 sham may stem from its guilt over its own complicity in the deliberate suppression of suffrage. American Apartheid, after all, was the exclusive province of the Democratic Party for nearly a hundred years. I’m reminded of a somewhat sick joke my dad used to tell from the days of the poll tax and the literacy test. An elderly Black gentleman in Birmingham decides to try his hand at voting, only to be rigorously tested on his reading skills by the local thug, no doubt a Democrat. When he read everything in due course, frustrated officials pulled out a copy of The Polish Bugle. They snickered among themselves until the old man said he could read that too. Stunned, the Good Old Boys asked carefully what the headline said. “Ain’t no n***** gonna vote this year in Alabama!” was the would-be voter’s retort. Ah, democracy.

Naturally, the struggle for universal suffrage played an important role in trying to hold American feet to the fire, so to speak. The struggle to hold the society accountable for its racism is ongoing. Every expansion of suffrage in human history has marked a milestone toward the promise of increased freedom and human dignity, and each has come in the face of huge opposition from the elites. But the sad and simple fact is that universal suffrage no longer scares those elites—they have mastered the game. And as Burke said, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. The focus of the struggle is ever-shifting: new battles loom, and we Ewoks must constantly invent new tools with which to fight the Empire. And until Americans realize that we are not special, or different than other people in the world, our government will, beyond our control, the focus of evil in the modern world, to quote another Servant of Empire. Telling the truth is not cynicism, though I’m sure to be accused of it. True cynicism is the forced collective belief that votes have been counted when they haven’t, and that results matter when they don’t.

Writer, singer, linguist and activist Daniel Patrick Welch lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts, with his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde. Together they run The Greenhouse School. Read other articles by Daniel Patrick, or visit Daniel Patrick's website.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Ron Horn said on January 12th, 2008 at 12:28pm #

    With all the endless analysis by media “experts”, I haven’t seen or heard anyone even mentioning two possible distortions of the result in New Hampshire and one underlying motivation. Being a socialist I don’t follow capitalist elections at all closely, so I may have unreliable information. But my understanding is that the Republican controllers want Hillary to win because they feel that she is very beatable. I have read somewhere that 85% of the votes were counted using voting machines made by the right wing connected Diebold Corporation. I also heard somewhere that this state has an open primary which allows people to vote in any party’s primary election. Given that the Republican count was lower than usual, it is quite possible that a cross-over vote by Rupublicans was orchestrated to favor Hillary.

  2. Myles Hoenig said on January 12th, 2008 at 2:12pm #

    I agree that HRC is probably the easiest to beat and is also the closest the D’s have to a Republican running. But the R had their own primary which was contested and quite heated. I can see an occasional R thinking about derailing the other party’ nomination process but I can’t accept it on a wholesale level.
    I’m waiting to hear the results of Kucinich’s recount. Before speculating on whether Diebold knew to switch the program to benefit their p0ssible choice- Hillary, let’s see what the end result is, not speculating on a variety of good sounding conspiracy theories. (Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of it being a fixed election and hope shit does hit the fan with it later.)
    A smoking gun would be great.

  3. Max Shields said on January 12th, 2008 at 2:35pm #

    Perhaps the interesting question is why Hillary would be the easier one to beat. Obama seems to be the Republican’s (at least the neo-cons, and some socially conservative) choice for next president given they don’t think they have a chance at the White House.

    I think the Republicans (not the Party, per se) are quite pleased with the “leading” Democratic choices. We get absolutely no real change and people like Lieberman are right in the mix of Washington power elite.

    So, who really cares about the polls in NH? Certainly, honsest polling systems are important, but the results are meaningless.

  4. Hue Longer said on January 12th, 2008 at 3:02pm #

    I pointed this out on another thread…

    The morning following HC’s victory, Democracy Now had two media expert morons on her show who sounded like they were on Ecstasy as they described the win and how it could have happened. No one mentioned fixes or even the word, discrepancy.

    The funniest part was Amy’s beaming smile coming through the speakers as she said, “Clinton won despite being behind in every major public opinion poll taken since her third-place finish in the Iowa Caucus last week…THE POLLS WERE WRONG” (As I pulled the transcript to cut and paste, I laughed again…”The Polls were wrong” was either not included or was removed).

  5. Marie Nadine said on January 13th, 2008 at 1:40am #

    Greetings and Sak Pase?

    I seriously think and believe strongly that there was some behind the scene shady stuff that happened with the primaries in New Hampshire. The first hints of problems or back door dealings came from the anchors on MSNBC’s Morning Joe’s show. He claimed to have done some checking and found that most of the people attending a HRC (Hillary Rodham Clinton) event were from Massachusets according to the tags on their vehicles! The anchors expressed disbelief and surprise and both Tim Russert and Joe Scarborough had expressions of shock and gave each other strange looks. I wondered if the looks were meant to convey a sense that HRC’s did not have as much support in New Hampshire and her campaign had to import folks to come rally for her from Mass. But now I realize that they were in fact saying quietly that there was something fishy.

    In addition, while all of the HRC workers and close allies or surrogates were preparing for a loss her closest adviser (who was interviewed on MSNBC) maintained that HRC had told them that she felt confident of a win because she “connected with voters!). This is almost the exact same scenario that happened during the 2000 s/elections when Florida was contested and shrub told his father to wait ‘coz he was sure of a win (primarily because his brother was running the state!). Moreover, HRC has clearly adopted some of Karl Rove’s tactics.

    This mimicking or perhaps style of wrecking the opponent was first mentioned when she began to adopt a really ugly stance against Barack Obama. I would not be surprised in the least if she was not helped by folks in high offices (mainly the Republicans) who need to keep a centrist around to justify their abuses (domestic terror etc…) and “clean up” the evidence of their theft (trillion dollars for the wars at home and abroad as well). The position of president or head dictator at the US white house is seen as an ascending one whereby white Anglos and Catholics have been the first to hold. However, we are still waiting for the Jewish president, the homosexual or bi-sexual one and of course a white woman. And then its on to the other colors including the Brown hispanics and the Asians and then on to the blacks. Obama is a dream. Unfortunately, because of hip hop and sports black men have put a torn in this mandate and their popularity in those areanas (including the movies) may have translated into votes). Unfortunately, the powers that be are reluctant to trust that role to them at this time.

    Other proof that the Clintons are capable of stealing an election are found in racists comments that they have made against Obama and other candidates during times of stress. In addition while most folks seem to remember the Clinton years as benovelant and happy. To the contrary. These folks are the descendants of the overseer class who basically controlled industries that employed large numbers of working poor whites. This includes the army and the various other blue collar jobs that they take on when they are not away at war. Such jobs include but are not limited to the police force, firefighting, construction and so forth. HRC fully intends to do what the Republicans could not do in good conscience ( for fear of alienating their base) which is to re-instate the draft. The US forces are stretched and resources are dwindling. They are overstretched in Iraq with close to 169, 000 personel serving there alone and with the numbers in Afghanistan they cannot keep pace.

    Since World War II US hegemony has come as a result ot its military forces. In fact, Us nuclear prowess is the sole reason why it is feared by other nations states. And without the military to carry out its aggression abroad (and even within the US during supposed times of unrest e.g.; Hurricane Katrina or LA riots) it could not maintain its reputation and hold course of big brother (invader) around the globe. HRC’s foreign policy is an exact replica of the Bushes in fact, hers may be even more deadly because it will come with the liberal cons who will strive to show that it is to the best interest of the colored folks that they accept US aggression. So China, Korea, Iran and Sudan better watch out.

    As a 2nd generation transnational Haitian black woman of African descent I know first hand the treachery of the Clintons. I recall well how it was rumored by “trash” publications that Bill Clinton had fathered a half black son during his various extra marital affairs. I was not surprised. I was even less surprised to learn how his policies had in fact created the wet foot/dry foot mandate that allows Cubans into the US if they make it to shore while not providing Haitians and other nationals with the same rights and privileges. In fact, Bill Clinton forced Jean Bertrand Aristide to practically hand over Ayiti/Haiti to him and his administration on a silver platter during back door bargaining that allowed JBA to return home. The various policies of the Clinton’s during their era set the stage for the current administration.

    Let us not forget that Clinton is a Southern white from the overseer class who whipped black folks into shape and continue to do so with their kkklandestine activities in our educational and other institutions. I was not surprised when Al Gore did not fight more strongly for the vote. I was living in South Florida at the time and I realized that the folks who had been disenfranchised in West Palm Beach and various districts in Miami were primarily Haitians, some working poor African Americans and other Anglo (West Indian) blacks as well as older (Jewish) white people. He really in essence did not want to open the door fully for these folks who had been waiting for full emancipation. In fact, his lack of effort on our behalf felt like he had slammed the door in our faces. There were promises made during the Clinton administration but they were not kept at all.

    One other thing that the Clinton’s did during their last administration which make me feel that they are apt to steal and lie just like the Republicans is the way that they almost destroyed the welfare system. HRC is a traditional white in the sense that she goes with the flow and adopts the rhetoric and beliefs of the folks in power. She emphasized studies about folks on welfare which stated that these conditions persisted for generations. I expected more from her than pure acceptance of these kinds of misconceptions that are based on racist stereotypes and class biases. Her mentor Marian Wright Adelman and her husband spoke out against these cutbacks that forced millions of children and families into poverty but they went on to save their skins.

    I can go on about the abuses of the Clintons and their back handed handiworks. However, I feel that I have stated my case. They are capable of stealing an elections and I believe that they may have done so in this case. Unfortunately, Obama is willing to be their victim. They have used a usual suspect kind of scenario, in this case they let us blame it on the poor and/or older working class white women. Too bad that this society has no way for us to test this out in the open.

    Best regards.

  6. New Hampshire: U.S. Elections Still in SNAFU Mode « Project for the Old American Century blog said on January 15th, 2008 at 5:28pm #

    [...] Daniel Patrick Welch has a solid perspective: “The OCSE, the Carter Center and other world groups consider exit polling data to be the only real check on whether a country is running free and fair elections. … Absent some mass hypnosis or incredibly complex psy-op campaign, skewing the results on a broad scale is nearly impossible. [...]