"Never again!" says the slogan in an email I received from an activist friend. "Never again will we allow a stolen election in the USA!"
But how are we going to stop it?
The major American political parties have an answer - it's already working for them in the Ukraine - but it's very much a sword that can cut two ways.
Interestingly, it was first used in the US.
On December 4, 2000, in time to change the outcome of the Electoral College vote, Greg Palast published an article in Salon.com, made into a BBC television documentary shortly thereafter, that laid out solid evidence of massive electoral fraud in Florida, perpetrated against the majority-Democratic-voting African American community by Katherine Harris and Jeb Bush. Without this fraud, Gore would have easily carried the state.
Even more glaring, a consortium of news organizations found and reported on the front page of The New York Times (and other papers) on 12 September 2001, that in Florida "...a statewide recount -- could have produced enough votes to tilt the election his [Gore's] way, no matter what standard was chosen to judge voter intent." (The Times apparently chose to bury this fact - that Gore actually won the 2000 election - in the 15th paragraph and behind a misleading headline because the nation had been attacked on 9/11 the day before.)
Not only was the election of 2000 stolen by the Bush brothers, but it was proven by the later statewide recount that - even after Jeb's knocking thousands of African Americans off the rolls - Gore still would have won Florida had all the votes been counted.
This was outrageous news, enough to bring people into the streets. And there were demonstrations - loud and angry ones. But they were round-the-clock in front of Al Gore's VP residence in Washington DC (shouting with bullhorns "Get out of Dick Cheney's house!"), outside (and often within) vote-counting headquarters' in Florida, and entirely composed of Republicans.
Where were the protesting Democrats? Other than those in a few of Florida's African American communities and the Congressional Black Caucus, they were largely invisible. If Democrats and progressives had taken to the streets in mass numbers nationwide that November and December, it's entirely probable that the Supreme Court would have backed off and allowed a statewide recount to continue, and Al Gore would have been president for the past four years, instead of George W. Bush.
Ironically, the Democratic Party knows how to highlight election fraud and start national movements to bring down administrations that try to steal elections. A Party-affiliated group has helped do it four times in the past four years.
But not in Ohio, Florida, or anywhere else in the USA.
Instead, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (Madeleine K. Albright, Chairman) has joined up with a similar organization affiliated with the Republican Party (the International Republican Institute - John McCain, Chairman), other NGOs, and US government agencies to support the use of exit polls and statistical analyses to challenge national elections in Ukraine, Serbia, Belarus, and the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
In three of those four nations they succeeded in not only mounting a national challenge, but in reversing the outcomes of elections.
The election reversals were accomplished by funding local groups - most made up of a core of activists and college students - who worked to topple regimes that had rigged their own re-elections.
As Ian Traynor - one of the finest investigative reporters working in the world today - notes in a 26 November 2004 article in The Guardian titled "US Campaign Behind the Turmoil in Kiev," "the campaign is an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding and mass marketing that, in four countries in four years, has been used to try to salvage rigged elections and topple unsavory regimes."
The campaign to unseat corrupt regimes is funded by groups affiliated with both the Democratic and Republican parties, Traynor notes, as well as the US State Department, the US Agency for International Development, and non-governmental organizations including George Soros's Open Society Institute and the late Eleanor Roosevelt's organization Freedom House (a group whose board of directors is now chaired by the notorious former CIA director R. James Woolsey).
Woolsey's participation aside, Traynor's report implies that this coalition of political, governmental, and philanthropic groups is more interested in promoting the will of the local people than in propping up regimes friendly to the US. One of the four candidates they've supported in the past four years was even openly anti-US (Kostunica in Serbia). The common denominator among the nations targeted is that in all four there was widespread evidence the regimes in power were planning to steal the elections.
One of the keys to making the program work is tight organization and planning before the election begins. The resistance movement is carefully branded with a single-phrase slogan such as "He's Finished" or "High Time," and an uncomplicated logo is designed - like the fist used in Serbia or the ticking clock used in Ukraine - that's easily reproduced on posters and stencil-spray-painted in public places.
On Election Day, Traynor reports, the apparatus springs into action. Their main tool is a nationwide set of exit polls along with election observers supplied by credible organizations like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE - which monitored the 2004 US elections and raised questions about non-transparent electronic voting machines). The exit poll results are released to the public before the official results, putting the regime in power in the difficult position of being reactive rather than proactive in declaring victory.
Because in each of these nations the media - radio, TV, and newspapers - are either controlled by, beholden to, or owned by supporters of the regime in power, the disparity between the exit polls and the official election result is trumpeted through non-traditional media like the internet, local activist groups, and mass rallies, until a critical mass is achieved, forcing the mainstream (regime-friendly) media to cover the story.
At the same time, nations who claim the ideal of free, fair, and transparent elections are encouraged to speak out, further inflaming the issue. This is no accident, of course - Traynor reports that the US government itself invested over $44 million in challenging the results of the Serbian election, and is estimated to have put $14 million into supporting groups challenging the recent Ukrainian election.
Thus, we have the irony of US Secretary of State Colin Powell saying of the Ukrainian election: "We have been following developments very closely and are deeply disturbed by the extensive and credible reports of fraud in the election. ... We call for a full review of the conduct of the election and the tallying of election results."
In many ways, such campaigns are exactly what Republicans did in 2000, when they organized an airlift of aides from Tom DeLay's office in Washington DC to riot in the Florida offices where votes were being recounted. That Ukraine-like guerilla theater led to national media coverage and the intervention of the US Supreme Court. The theater of protest - most Americans thought the angry people banging on the vote-counting windows were Floridians and didn't realize most had been flown in from Washington DC - became its own story and helped forge public pressure to shut down the Gore campaign's attempt to determine the real Florida count. It was also so effective at grabbing the headlines that it eclipsed the Greg Palast's scoop showing criminal and widespread disenfranchisement of African Americans in Florida.
Here we are again, in 2004, with another dubious election.
And, although evidence of fraud and vote rigging in the 2004 US election is mounting today, there was no widespread mobilization like the ones we encouraged in other nations or saw in Florida in 2000. Thus, it's extremely unlikely national institutions like the mainstream media, Congress, or the Supreme Court will seriously challenge or even expose to the general public the many deficiencies of this election.
Because the Democratic party and progressive activists failed to plan a PR response to election-rigging in Florida and Ohio (among other states), such efforts (and some damning and shocking new
revelations) are now being carried in "new media" like the internet by folks like Bev Harris, Greg Palast, and Bob Fitrakis, and in foreign media like New Zealand's "The Scoop", and the BBC.
Many Democrats and progressives believe now is the time for national advocacy groups to organize an effort similar to the one our nation has been promulgating in the former Soviet states and the Republicans used in Florida in 2000. The blueprint is laid out in Ian Traynor's article in The Guardian at www.guardian.co.uk/ukraine/story/0,15569,1360236,00.html, and the template is both simple, straightforward, and already demonstrated to work.
The next national elections will be held in the United States in 2006, and there's a lesson for us in the 1972 midterm elections.
Although Richard Nixon won a landslide re-election that year, carrying every state except Massachusetts, he was out of office within 18 months because the House and Senate were in Democratic hands and Senator Sam Irvin was able to proceed with an investigation of Nixon's crimes while in office. Opposition control of Congress is about the only way to hold a president accountable: Republican control of Congress led to the impeachments of Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. (And when a President appoints his own attorney as the nation's head prosecutor - Attorney General - it becomes virtually impossible to prosecute the President outside of the House or Senate.)
Thus, the first key to returning America to multiparty rule and re-opening the political process will be in electing progressive Democrats (and Independents like Vermont's Bernie Sanders) to the US House and Senate in 2006.
But first we must prepare to take on a Republican machine that has already corrupted the electoral process in the past three elections, and knows how to "pull a Ukraine" in any state at any time with single a phone call to Jim Baker or Tom DeLay.
In a preemptory move, Republicans are now calling for an end to exit polls in the USA because, as RNC Chairman and former Enron lobbyist Ed Gillespie noted on November 4th, "In 2000 the exit data was wrong on Election Day, in 2002 the exit returns were wrong on Election Day, and in 2004, the exit data were wrong on Election Day - all three times, by the way, in a way that skewed against Republicans and had a dispiriting effect on Republican voters across the country."
Each of those three "skewed" elections was an opportunity for national mobilization.
In 2000 it could have been to highlight the removal from voting rolls in Florida of tens of thousands of African American Democrats. The 2002 election could have revealed the "trade secret" software running non-paper-trail voting machines in Georgia that defied the polls and threw out Max Cleland (helping establish Republican control of the Senate in 2002). And the 2004 election could have again raised questions about voting machines, Florida purge rolls moving to other states, dirty tricks (phone calls to registered Democrats telling them their polling places had changed, etc.), and, as Fitrakis has documented, disclosed patterns of precinct and machine placements in Ohio (and other states) that caused thousands - perhaps hundreds of thousands - of Ohio Kerry voters to give up and leave 10+ hour lines because they had to go to work or pick kids up from school.
Some will suggest this is a dangerous strategy because Republicans will simply organize their own exit polls, PR machine, and national mobilization. To them, I'd point out that this is already happening.
Republicans are getting ready, and have known since 2000 how well this can work in America. Without a countervailing grass-roots but national response, we'll continue to move toward a Stalinist type of state, with single-party rule, "purges" of the intelligence and law enforcement communities, increasing limits on civil liberties, and widespread cynicism about politics leading to increasing nonparticipation in the process.
As generations of activists have taught us, we can't wait around
for politicians to fix a corrupted political system. It's going to take - as the Ukrainians are now showing us - involved and active citizens to make this happen, and that requires an organizational framework to cut through the political and media fog.
And now is the time to begin.
Thom Hartmann (thom at thomhartmann.com) is a Project Censored Award-winning best-selling author and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk show. www.thomhartmann.com His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights," "We The People: A Call To Take Back America," and "What Would Jefferson Do?: A Return To Democracy."