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What Constitutes A Stolen Election? < DIALECTICAL MARXISM: The Writings of Bertell Ollman What Constitutes A Stolen Election?

By Bertell Ollman

To the question "A Stolen Election?" (The Nation, Nov. 29)—and after offering different interpretations for some of the evidence collected by those who answer "yes"— David Corn, the political correspondent of the magazine, replies with a resounding "maybe" (while directing most of his doubts and sarcasms at the "conspiracy theorists"). Could the two sides in this dispute be using different definitions? Stealing an election, after all, is not the same as robbing a bank. Nor is the kind of evidence that allows us to claim that one has taken place the same as making this claim for the other—unless we catch the winning candidate piling boxes of unopened ballots into his pick-up truck (or plane). Stealing an election is more like fixing a deck of cards, where one player is guaranteed to come out on top.

As regards the recent presidential election, then, we must ask —1) whether the process of voting, including the machines and methods used and the conditions that applied, lacked the transparency needed for everyone to see and to understand what was going on; 2) whether checking the result to ensure that votes were attributed to the right party and that all were counted and counted correctly was often impossible; 3) whether large numbers of voters from groups likely to vote for the losing candidate experienced great difficulty in registering or voting, either at the poll or by absentee or provisional ballot; 4) whether most of the ADMITTED incidents of blocked or lost or changed or added votes favored the winning candidate; 5) whether key people in positions to create these "problems"—such as the Republican owner of the company producing most of the electronic voting machines, the Republican Secretaries of State of Florida and Ohio, and President (sic) Bush himself—had said or done things earlier which showed that they could not be trusted; 6) whether these and similar problems surfaced in 2000, and, if so, whether the declared winners in that election—in the White House, in Congress and in the states—acted to obstruct the kind of reforms that would have done away with such problems in this one; and 7) whether the Zogby exit poll and the Harris last minute voting poll, both of which were accurate within 1/2 point in the 2000 election and which don't suffer from any of the problems that plague our national electoral system, were more credible in giving Kerry a sizeable victory than the "official" count that differed from their figures by over 5% (well over the margin of error for polls of this sort).

Now, think—Venezuela. If the answers to all these questions were "yes" for Venezuela, which recently held a hotly contested election, would any of us have difficulty concluding that the "fix was in" and that their election was stolen? Well, it didn't happen in Venezuela, where all the electronic votes left a paper trail (it was possible and easy), but it did happen here. All these things happened here. So how can Corn suggest that the various, numerous, deep-reaching, widespread and almost entirely Bush-serving problems that bedeviled the Nov. 2nd election were due to "minor slip-ups and routine political chicanery"? Only because he thinks stealing an election is like robbing a bank and not like fixing a deck of cards.

It is important, therefore, that we don't focus in a single-minded way on the details of this past election, as revealing as many of them are (and, no doubt, will continue to be) because they often allow for other interpretations and it is unlikely that we will ever know most of what happened. But that shouldn't keep us from insisting loudly, and again—on the basis of the kind of evidence that applies to elections and not bank robberies—that this was a stolen election. Remember, the more widely this view (this accurate view) gets accepted and repeated, the less legitimacy Bush will have as president and the more difficulty he will have in getting people to cooperate with his policies, both at home and abroad. Sovereign power has always required a minimal degree of popular acceptance that is based on reason and not force to be effective, and in democracies that has come largely from democratic elections in which people freely choose their leader. But can anyone who learns what really happened in our presidential election do anything but laugh (or cry) on hearing that the goal of U.S. foreign policy is to promote democracy? And just let Bush try to draft American youth who think he stole the election to fight in his next war.

Furthermore, if we accept that Bush stole the election, that also means that "value voters" did not determine its outcome, but that the massive turnout of youth and minorities did—in which case, the pressure that many Democrats and some others feel to adopt a more value oriented politics would be replaced by a pressure to adopt programs that better serve the interests of these, often first-time voters.

What I am proposing is that the Left, progressives of all kinds and degrees, take advantage of Bush's more or less open theft of the election (of the advantage they have taken of us) to pursue a politics of delegitimation, which starts with not being afraid to apply the proper name to what happened (THEFT) and to say who did it (BUSH and the REPUBLICANS). While many on the Left may need to be convinced, our government is well aware of the power that comes with legitimacy and of the role that democratic elections play in providing it, or it would not have devoted as much effort and fortune in trying to stage such elections in Afghanistan and Iraq. Unfortunately, the Administration also seems to believe that sham democratic elections can have the same effect as real ones. Why else would they have tried to pull the same shoddy trick twice right here in the U.S., and the second time more brazenly than the first? But maybe, just maybe, there are a growing number of Americans who don't like being treated like multiply-abused Afghani tribesmen and are ready to let our own President Karzai know what they think about his theft of OUR election.

In forging a politics of delegitimation—not so incidentally—we shouldn't expect much help from Kerry and the other leaders of the Democratic Party. Recall the heart-rending scene in Michael Moore's movie "9/11", where several black members of Congress tried to get at least one Democratic senator to sign a letter calling for a debate on the 2000 election. Without success. That Democratic Party leaders, then and now, conceded so quickly only shows that they care more about legitimating the current governmental system and maintaining social stability than they do about the declared interests of their voters and the principles of democracy. And, if we need a slogan to help power our new movement, how about—"One, Two, Many Ukraines"? This is the message that The Nation's political correspondent should be conveying to his readers.