By Payam Sharifi
An oft repeated phrase you hear every election cycle is that “this is (one of) the most important elections in our lifetime”. This is usually said within the context of competing and (supposedly) incommensurable policy positions, during a (supposedly) rare moment of crisis that will transform American policy at home and abroad for at least four years. Yet this phrase has, much to my surprise, not been said once by anyone in the media or among the social media groups that celebrate either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Instead, it is characterized as a historical moment where the threat of a neo-fascism in the form of Donald J. Trump must be stopped.
Never mind that the Democratic opponent, Secretary Hillary Clinton, happens to be most distrusted presidential candidate in recorded election history alongside Mr. Trump. Never mind that (according to many left wing academic, scholars, and writers) the neoliberal policy positions that Secretary Clinton espouses are often seen as giving rise to fascist or neo-fascist characters like Mr. Trump. There’s the rub: we don’t have a choice. The real transformative figure of our time, Bernie Sanders, lost to Hillary Clinton. Indeed, the media sees it as it is: a contest between two historically awful candidates. So instead, appeals are made to the candidate’s gender or projection instead of their transformative potential.
The lacuna that nobody has bothered to fill, given these particular rhetorical flourishes from the media: why these appeals rather than others? It cannot just be that they’re both untrustworthy, corrupt candidates, can it? Perhaps it can, but this lacuna I plan to fill here. In thinking about setting the stage for uncovering the reason for the media’s approach, it has become apparent to me that Bernie Sanders holds the key. Indeed, what happened to Senator Sanders during the democratic primary election cycle has been kept hush hush…even by the Senator himself. Recent events surrounding both presidential candidates (surrounding the notion of “Rigged Elections”) helps us to understand where we are, and where we’re going.
It all started just a few days before the Democratic National Convention. Wikileaks dumped a large quantity of emails from the Democratic National Convention that showed their bias against Senator Sanders, and support for Hillary Clinton, throughout the nominating process. In one particular way it can be said that the DNC “rigged” the election against Bernie. At this point this is undeniable. The political revolutionary who wanted to transform society had it stolen in an embarrassingly corrupt manner. What came afterwards holds the key to understanding American politics right now. The Clinton campaign went on the offensive and accused Russia of manipulating the election in favor of Donald Trump. The ruling elite and the media they own went to work for their Chosen One. Unsubstantiated claims, and the wildest conspiracy theories, flew across the airwaves and internet in trying to tie Russia to the hack. Two days afterwards the Washington Post reported, certainly on behalf of Hillary Clinton, that our elections (in particular our electronic voting machines) in November may also be hacked.
The idea was to tie Donald Trump to the Kremlin instead of the focus properly being on the rigged election. In one of history’s ironies, the supposed “liberal” candidate was red baiting the reactionary fascist (Then again as a former Goldwater Girl, and now a Goldwater Granny, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise). So Donald being Donald decides to one up Secretary Clinton, as he often tries to do. Less than a week later Trump declares that the election in November will be rigged. Rigged at the ballot box, mind you, in much the same way the Clinton campaign accuses Russia of potentially attempting in November.
The difference in the media reaction could not be starker. The media was more than happy to pass along a red-baiting conspiracy theory from the Clinton campaign (and pass it along as if the FBI made the accusation, even before an investigation was to take place by said FBI). We can suspect as much because Secretary Clinton’s antipathy towards Russia is well documented, both from her time as secretary of state and with comments from her and Putin. As the NYTimes reports, “Mr. Putin’s relationship with Mrs. Clinton has been tense at least since 2011, when, as secretary of state, she accused him of rigging an election and he accused her of meddling in Russian politics.” The notion that a domestic actor could influence an election, however, was a step too far for both the Clinton campaign and the corporate media. Among the many other statements made by The Donald in the past week or so, this accusation was seen as both ridiculous, and threatening the integrity of the election process in the minds of voters. Barack Obama gave the most bewildered reaction to it, and recoils at the question even being asked of him (this despite over 200 election irregularities documented by the Obama campaign in 2008).
This incident is another reminder of what has flipped this election: the democrats are talking about American Exceptionalism, while the republicans (or at least Donald Trump and his supporters) are talking of an America that has lost its way, and can only achieve glory again through a Trump presidency. The script has been flipped between the political parties. This takes us to understanding what has changed this election from other ones in the eyes of observers. Those who historically have belonged to the Democratic Party have always believed, to some extent, that we can do better than we have been when it comes to social or economic justice. This goes for the corporate democrats as well, many of whom are part of the media. The same nationalistic fervor that Trump has awoken has in part awoken the ruling elite. That is, it has awoken them to the discontent with the status quo, and to the feelings of racism among some of the white working class.
More importantly as it relates to the notion of rigged elections, it exposes to the media that Trump may be right after all if they were to dig further: that we have enemies, and they are inside the gates. This thought is discomforting as it goes beyond the traditional democrat vs republican dichotomy the media is so used to delegating, and gets at the heart of their beliefs about creating a better society. The fact that it comes out of Trump’s mouth makes it all the more discomforting. The picture Hillary paints of rigged elections on the other hand is simpler: we love globalization, we love all people and all faiths. Unless of course they try to mess with us: then they are our enemies, and we bomb them. Hence their reaction to the notion that Russia could rig the elections. But that someone within the United States would commit fraud against its own people? Impossible! Trump the Billionaire has gone too far with his assertion that the ballots will be rigged. Humorously, the Huffington Post on August 8th came out with an article highlighting a tweetstorm from a Philly election official trying to debunk Trump’s notion of “Rigged Elections”. I say humorously because the official in question tweeted that could not verify whether the votes counted by the electronic voting machines were fraud-proof.
So I take as a key example, and which will lead to the substance of the Ballot Bandit in the title, an article that came out this morning on Politico on rigged ballot machines. To their credit, some in the media decided to think more of The Donald’s claim and did some investigating. They joined Princeton Professor Andrew Appel in discovering the vulnerabilities of our electronic voting machines. In fact what Appel demonstrated to them is not new. Professor Bob Fitrakis has long argued, along with many others, that our electronic voting machines are run by private, partisan, for profit industries whose software you aren’t allowed to inspect and have no paper trail. Hence they are prone to either hacking or “secret” software patches by the companies themselves just before an election. A one Clinton Curtis, former computer programmer, once testified in front of Congress that he hacked voting machines in the year 2000 on behalf of someone who was at the time Speaker of the House of Florida, Tom Feeney.
Yet the narrative they push is the one Hillary Clinton pushed rather than the one the Billionaire pushed: how possible is it for our elections to get hacked by actors overseas? Not once throughout the article do they ask the question of whether actors within the United States could taint our elections, the very thing that gives us a right to be called a democratic country. In fact, in their opportunity to mention Trumps comment (the raison d’etre for the article being written to begin with) on rigged elections, they remarked that his statement isn’t helpful in reducing chaos in a truly rigged election by foreign hackers. So I ask again: why this appeal (to foreign hackers) rather than to fraud at home? What happened to a political revolutionary named Bernie Sanders may provide that answer.
A curious development occurred in every democratic primary for president: Bernie Sanders almost always did worse in the official election result than he did in the exit polling (24/26 primaries). (Just as a brief introduction, our own state department routinely checks for election integrity in elections overseas by looking at exit polls. If they find that the votes have gone outside the margin of error, the state department concludes that fraud must have occurred.) In addition, Bernie always seemed to do worse when the vote was counted in larger metropolitan areas. For example: he won the majority of counties in New York State, but once the ballots in New York City were counted he lost by a good margin. These differences could not be accounted for by demographics. Throughout the democratic primary there had also been countless documented cases of voter suppression through missing registrations, registrations flipped to a different party (many of these elections were closed primaries), or other problems like how they were registered (whether as a mail in ballot, or registered to vote at the polls…in California for example some who were registered to vote at the polls discovered that for some reason they were registered as mail in ballot when arriving at the polls to vote). To be clear, this is much worse than anything that happened in the 2008 democratic primary between Clinton and Obama.
In most cases (except for those who had registrations flipped to a different party) these voters were given something called Provisional Ballots, or as Investigative Journalist Greg Palast likes to call them, Placebo Ballots. They give you the assurance that you voted, but after you leave the likelihood is that your ballot will be trashed. Some states dramatically reduced the number of polling places and caused lines of 4+ hours, which benefited the candidate who had the most mail in votes. Arizona, for example, was called for Hillary Clinton before the polling stations closed. The exit poll there was off from the recorded vote by 26%, well outside the margin of error. In 11 of 26 primaries, Sanders’ exit poll share exceeded the margin of error – a 1 in 77 billion probability (please note the Stanford paper in the next paragraph). Many people who rooted for Bernie Sanders noticed these discrepancies and openly talked about them. Many to this day will never vote for Hillary Clinton because they accuse her or her agents of doing the unthinkable: stealing our votes.
At least two papers have been released on the subject of the 2016 democratic primary. One is a paper from Stanford, noting the improbability that Sanders lost without fraud, and the other is a 100 page report that came out by Election Justice USA, an election integrity activist group. The latter is a comprehensive report on every problem that occurred, and conservatively estimates that 184 of the delegates that went to Hillary Clinton should have went to Bernie Sanders. As my former professor Randall Wray cheekily notes:
The Democrats were able to stamp out democracy—at least within their own party’s primary. This rigging of the primary was largely open, as the Dems embraced the notion that party insiders should have a quarter of the vote, awarded to Hillary by virtue of her birthright. But that did not give her sufficient advantage against Democracy to overcome the widespread dislike and distrust of her, so they rigged the vote over the remaining three-quarters. The DNC wasn’t sure she could actually get a quarter of the vote on her own—and they were almost certainly right. She barely squeaked by in what must be among the most rigged national elections America has ever seen. Tricky Dick Nixon must be beaming from above (or below).
Much more has been written on the democratic primary election, but these will suffice to note the problems that occurred.
The point is that Donald J. Trump had been reaching out to Bernie or Bust voters for a reason. He and his crew had been keeping an eye on the Sanders campaign, and knew that it was stolen from him without actually ever referring to the rigged ballot boxes (but did mention the “rigged” election via the DNC’s favoritism shown towards Hillary Clinton). Why in fact did it take Trump so long to mention them? It’s because, as Greg Palast has long noted, suppressing voters has (since at least the year 2000) been primarily a part of the republican playbook. From Voter ID laws to stripping minority voters from the registration rolls, even today republican secretaries of state throughout the nation are working their hardest to ensure voters cannot vote. Insiders have surely mentioned to Trump that this will benefit him come November, just as it will benefit republicans throughout the country in down-ballot elections. With the exception of voter ID laws, republicans had largely gotten away with it without any media scrutiny whatsoever. If we look at exit polling and check to see how they differ from the recorded vote we find, according to statistician Richard Charnin, that from 1988-2008 that the majority of state elections for president (232 out of 274) skewed away from the exit poll, many times outside the margin of error, towards the Republican candidate.
So why did Donald Trump feel the need to talk about the rigged election if Republicans are doing the rigging? It wasn’t just his ego responding to Hillary Clinton’s own assertion that Russia will rig the elections in November (on his behalf). What follows is a little bit muddier, but it can be said that for the first time the electronic voting machine companies have already found their candidate in a democrat, Hillary Clinton. How do we know this? We now know that Bernie Sanders had his votes stripped, at the least, with the evidence from 24 out of 26 vote counts deviating away from the exit poll towards Hillary Clinton. Yet this isn’t a smoking gun (depending on one’s perspective…personally I’d say a 1 in 77 billion chance of one’s vote share exceeding the margin of error to be a smoking fire). So is this deviation from stripped voting, or were there perhaps some flipped votes as well? Recall that there isn’t a single reason for anyone to trust the electronic voting machines, as demonstrated to Politico by Professor Appel. While not quite THE smoking gun, some evidence we have is from Guccifer 2.0, the same actor who supposedly gave Wikileaks the DNC hacked emails. Earlier in July he or she released information about donors to the Clinton Foundation, and in those list of donors we see two of the three electronic voting companies (Dominion Voting and H.I.G. Capital (i.e. Hart Intercivic)).
This was, of course, not reported in the mainstream media. Nor were the many election irregularities that we saw in the democratic primary beyond the initial moment some of it occurred (like the closed polling stations). Many Bernie Sanders supporters, including many of the delegates who attended the Democratic National Convention, made their thoughts known on this through the many loud boos at the convention, which the DNC subsequently squashed to a large extent. The media continues to pretend that it isn’t hearing anything, and for many Bernie voters the rigged primary election at the ballot boxes has served as a rude awakening. The story of Hillary Clinton the Ballot Bandit has yet to be told to the public.
Which has made the tale of rigged elections from Donald Trump all the more remarkable. Greg Palast has himself warned Hillary Clinton through interviews that she may get her just desserts, as she will be going up against a Republican machine that regularly strips the democratic voting rolls (in particular minorities). But Mr. Palast’s investigative work is on vote stripping and the millionaires who work behind the scenes to get the candidates they want, and not vote flipping per say. His book his hence aptly titled Billionaires and Ballot Bandits. But in this case we’ve got a Billionaire in the election who isn’t the best Ballot Bandit in the race. That distinction belongs to Hillary Clinton. So I take us back to my former Professor’s article, where he asks “Trumpbuster: Who you gonna call?” He phrases the question as a choice between Jill Stein and Hillary Clinton to take down Trump. He rightly concludes that it’s neither. Just like Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and the corporate media that supports her, see the problem not in the structures and policies that govern the social provisioning process. Rather, it’s always the fault of some group of people, individual persons, or particular countries. In Trumps case the fault goes to the Mexicans and the Muslims, among many others that reside in the United States. For Hillary Clinton the problems lie with Russia, Syria, Iran, and the republicans, among others. In support of Clinton’s assertion, just the other day (08/05) Politico came out with another front page article declaring the danger of an “October Surprise” from Russia that will influence the election chances of Hillary Clinton.
The truth is that Clinton isn’t trying to reach out to Sanders supporters, and offers nothing in the form of changing our social and political culture. She receives (much) more money from big banks and hedge funds than does the republican in the race, and actively tries to reach out to disaffected Republicans than to the progressive constituency in her own party. The corporate media knows this all too well, and just like Hillary Clinton doesn’t pretend to characterize this race as one between competing policy visions. You’re either with Her at Her Coronation, or with the Fascist.
The media has made Trump out to be the enemy, but as both Sanders and Trump make clear in their own ways, sometimes you’ve got to look inside your own borders. The Tales of Rigged Elections from the Billionaire, the Ballot Bandit, and of the Political Revolutionary give us all the information we need on the consequences this supposed democratic nation pays when Fraud is ignored. And since it pertains to our very identity as a democracy, this isn’t just any kind of fraud. This is a systemic fraud that decides how we provision goods and services among all social classes within the United States for years if not decades to come. In failing to pronounce this election as “one of the most important of our generation”, the corporate media has in effect proven that it (in many ways) in fact had been one while the Political Revolutionary was still in the race. It was one that would have changed the power relations they had become all too comfortable with. And if the media and the ruling class that guides their reporting aren’t careful, the political revolution of a Bernie Sanders won’t be the only kind of revolution that they, and the rest of us, will have to deal with. We may very well have our own “Orange” Revolution, a revolution that takes Trump as its ideological hero even in his absence.
 The title of this article is, in part, taken from Palast’s investigative book Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps