Democracy is a strange animal. People, sometimes hopelessly ill-informed, are asked to vote every now and again (but not too often). They could easily vote on every initiative with the power of the Internet, but that would clearly not work. For one thing, Capital Punishment would be back on the books in record time! So, the powers that be, in their wisdom, are careful to limit the slightly unpredictable act of voting, and putting at risk the jobs, livelihood and power of a deserving set of public servants (or ‘fatheads’, you choose). To do this, there is manipulation, fake news, ‘Russian’ bots, lies, distractions, calls to patriotism, racism and, in many cases, the withdrawal of the public’s most basic right – to participate.
From El Confidencial comes an essay on some of the tricks:
‘...in the 2004 presidential elections in Ukraine, a large number of voters went to the polls in the hope of overthrowing President Viktor Yanukovych. Upon arrival at the polling stations, opposition supporters were given ballots and pens to mark the appropriate box. They then went home with the peace of mind that they had done their democratic duty. But four minutes later, the ballots were blank. The pens they had been given had ink that disappeared, so their votes were null and void.
The Ukraine anecdote is not an isolated case. In the 1998 St. Petersburg mayoral elections, the government sought to neutralize an opposition figure whose popularity was worrying. His name was Oleg Sergeyev. To confuse the electorate, they found both a pensioner and a tram driver who were also called Oleg Sergeyev. There were no photographs on the ballots, so citizens did not know who the "real" one was. With so much of the vote split, all three Olegs ended up losing...’.
The Brexit case is also a tonic. First, we know that the Brexiteers spent vastly over budget, we also know of hugely wealthy people spending millions in support of the proposal, we are familiar with Cambridge Analytica and its tactics and we also aware of the political lies and manipulations (the NHS bus for example) during the campaign. Furthermore, we know that a large number of Britons, those who would most be affected by a successful Brexit, were either not allowed (‘the fifteen year rule’) or not able, due to various considerations, to vote at all.
In the USA, ex-felons are generally not allowed to vote, neither those currently in jail. An article in The New York Times quotes an estimate that ‘...6.1 million Americans had been barred from voting because of felony disenfranchisement laws...’ adding that ‘...experts say that disparities in sentencing can make felony voting laws inherently discriminatory against minorities and people with low incomes...’. In the UK, prisoners can’t vote (The Guardian here), in the rest of the EU and certainly Spain, they generally can (El Mundo here).
In Catalonia, the *banned* ballot boxes and papers of last October’s independence referendum were smuggled in to the 2,315 polling stations by local people (El País here and BBC News here). That’s some dedication!
Things at a local level, where one might expect a level playing field, are just as bad.
In our local elections here in Spain (May 26th next year, put a note in your diary), besides Spaniards registered on the local padrón and over 18 years of age, most foreign nationals can vote and some can even appear on a political papeleta, a list. Other foreign nationals can’t (and this may well include the British as April 1st is – appropriately – the first day of a new reality following on from the Brexit). But even if you can vote in village life, the ‘Families’ will control how you and your cousins will cast your lot. The same candidates may buy votes (particularly from Eastern Europeans on the padrón) for a few hundred euros each and an overseen postal vote (Mojácar famously went from 1% in the national elections to over 18% in the 2011 local elections). Remember, in local elections, the voters generally know the candidates and rarely choose 'policy' or even party over friendship and accommodation.
Lastly, and returning to the USA, Truthout has a title to worry about: ‘You Know Election Systems are in trouble when it takes an 11-year-old ten minutes to Change the Results’. Mind you, she had a laptop (and a lollipop).
Today, there are more elections than ever before, but, paradoxically, the world is becoming increasingly undemocratic. After all, there’s not much point in calling an election unless you expect to win, and now there are all sorts of fresh ways to help you.