Democracy is the Cure to U.S. Elections

by Pete Karman
January, 2001

One of Ronald Reagan's favorite jokes was about a little kid madly digging through a pile of manure because “there must be a pony down here somewhere.”

The pony, if there is to be one, from our reeking presidential election is a renewed popular fight for democracy sparked by the fraud in Florida and given impetus by the gallant campaign of Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke and the Green party.

Let's start out with the obvious. The whole world knows that that election was stolen. But the robbery didn't just happen at the creaking and discriminatory polls on November 7, or during the slick and nasty GOP post election blitz that rolled over the characteristically wimpish Gore Democrats, or with a wink and a nod from five reactionary Supreme Court Justices. The theft was also in the shameful agreement by corporate Republicans and Democrats long before the election to, as usual, keep this country's political options as narrow and meaningless as possible. This, with the aid of the corporate media, was what we got.

The American voter was robbed of any serious consideration of real issues or honest alternatives to know-nothing Bush or know-it-all Gore and their overlapping corporate patrons. Instead, they were served up three billion dollars worth of mindless blather barely disguised as democratic discourse. Rarely, if ever, had more been spent for less. Depending upon the strategic value of their states, voters either had to suffer countless instantly forgettable campaign commercials or wonder if there was a national election happening at all.

Those who dared consider anything more substantial, like Nader-LaDuke and the Greens, were branded spoilers and troublemakers. The election became the equivalent of building a giant supermarket just to sell two pre-packaged turkeys, one without a head and the other missing his giblets.

Then, in Florida on election night, that supermarket was hit by a hurricane. All the displays and decorations blew away, leaving the two turkeys and those who trussed and dressed them naked amid the wreckage. Americans learned that, hey, their votes really didn't count for very much, that the electoral system was decrepit when it wasn't corrupt, and that the real decisions about who ran the country didn't come from public ballots but rather from private deals.

Caught in the open with their chicanery hanging out, the media and the politicos made the best of their embarrassment. Defensively, they favorably compared America's system to those of tin pot regimes where the votes were transported by tanks rather than Ryder rental trucks. Understandably, they avoided any such comparison to democratic first world countries.

Consider our next door neighbors. Canada called a national election right in the middle of our endless campaign. Canadians had a choice of five major parties and several smaller ones from left to right. They got to watch lively televised debates that included all comers. The parties did their politicking and the citizens voted with no further adieu. The ballots were counted on election night and everyone went to sleep. They woke to find the incumbent party still in charge and that the big loser was a rightwing party that shot itself in the foot by merely hinting that it might weaken or, God forbid, try to Americanize Canada's beloved single payer health care system (the other parties were busy promising to grant it much needed budget increases). The whole process from start to finish took 35 days and cost less than Al Gore's wardrobe advisor or George Bush's tab for take out.

How dare they?

Of course, Americans would never stand for that kind of wild-eyed extremism. Thirty five days, indeed. The 2004 U.S. presidential election started even before the 2000 one was over. Let's figure $10 billion this time around. Our elections have become permanent because they are good business, you know.

Or maybe you don't. What the mainstream media carefully omitted from the mind-numbing coverage of the mess in Florida was that billions of bucks in corporate welfare were riding on whether Bush or Gore gained the oval office. The fats cats that poured all that money into the campaign did it not only to improve their already happy lot generically, but to gain specific favors and deals from their candidate of choice. Bush, who won with the fewest votes, is tied to Southwest financial interests and big oil, while Gore, who lost with the most votes, was the favorite of the Wall Street bond traders and California computer titans. Who do you think paid for all those zillion dollar-an-hour lawyers arrayed from Tallahassee to Capital Hill?

It's true that, amid all this electoral extravaganza of empty excess, the Green Party and the Nader-LaDuke candidacy here in Connecticut and nationwide did not fare quite as well as they had hoped when it came to sheer numbers. Just under three million Americans voted Green, 64,000 of them here in the Nutmeg state, for 2.7 percent of the total vote. Not bad at all for a bottoms-up political movement that offers its constituency not tax breaks or star wars, but only the satisfaction that comes from making an full-hearted effort at civic virtue.

Still, it could have been better. By any reckoning, the Green vote should have been twice the size it was. The powerful, fear-inducing anti-Nader propaganda effort by nominally liberally Democrats had its effect. Voters were scared off from the Greens even in states where Democrats were expected to--and did--coast to overwhelming victories.

Nevertheless, with its grassroots organization and bottoms-up approach to democracy, the Green Party is uniquely able to provide a home not just for those who voted for Nader-LaDuke, but also for those who meant to but decided instead to vote “strategically.” Citizens riled by the electoral sham, as well as those concerned with basic Green issues like the environment and health care, will be looking for clean alternatives. It's up to the Green Party to supply them.

A likely starting point should be a major effort to push IRV, or Instant Runoff Voting. The measure would ensure that any candidate running for state office would win by a simple majority by allowing voters to rank their preferences for all the candidates for a given office. Candidates with the fewest votes would be automatically eliminated and their totals transferred to the voters' next choices. If such a system had been in place on November 7, additional millions of citizens could have voted for Ralph Nader or other third party candidates without the fear that they were “wasting their vote” or helping the candidate they least preferred.

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