The chaos in Iowa’s Democratic primary is nothing new.
Pure incompetence—along with election manipulation and theft—have been with us since the birth of the Republic.
But since Florida 2000, bitterly contested ballots with immense long-term impacts have launched the nation as a whole into a toxic limbo that could easily contribute to a Trump victory this fall.
There is an antidote: hand-marked and hand-counted paper ballots. Now they can even come with computerized backup that can make the vote casting and counting process safe, secure and transparent.
But in Iowa 2020, we see the consequences of doing otherwise.
The Democratic Party is again paying the price. It has indisputably shown the world it is incompetent and unable to run a critical election being watched everywhere in real time by a deeply polarized public.
Has this election been stolen? It’s unclear, but the party’s corporate wing, which controls the voting apparatus, has made no secret of its fear and loathing for Bernie Sanders and his populist social democracy.
A product of the 1960s New Left, Bernie Sanders has forged alliances with new generations of activists pushing for social justice, a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, abolition of student debt, free higher education, a more just immigration policy, racial justice and a challenge to empire. This all clearly frightens the corrupt Democratic Party apparatus with its deep corporate loyalties.
Thus, it’s become a widespread article of grassroots faith that some mainstream Democrats might well prefer a second term for Donald Trump over a first for Sanders … or any other social democrat like him.
Is that what’s happening in Iowa? There’s no clear answer, but it’s worth noting that above all, a chaos-prone system like the one absurdly installed for this year’s primaries serves those who installed it. If you anticipate an unwelcome outcome—like a Sanders victory—make the table easy to overturn.
Three such elections have given us the presidencies of George W. Bush and Donald Trump.
In Florida 2000, absurdly designed butterfly ballots confused and misled thousands of voters. Faulty ballots that resulted in indecipherable “hanging chads” caused chaos and delay. Malfunctioning machines in Volusia and other counties bounced around 20,000 votes like a pinball. Desperate recount attempts were assaulted by a rightist “Brooks Brothers” mob that allowed a Supreme Court intervention and put George W. Bush in the White House.
In 2002, a GOP Congress responded with the Help America Vote Act, earmarking billions of dollars to spread easily hackable electronic machines virtually everywhere. Bob Ney, the Ohio congressman who shaped the bill, later went to prison for corruption (related to a separate issue).
In 2004, scores of those machines malfunctioned throughout Ohio (and the nation) yielding untraceable results. In afflicted precincts, voters waited up to 11 hours to cast ballots that were impossible to recount. At 12:20 am, preliminary vote counts showed John Kerry winning Ohio (and thus the presidency) by 4.2 percent, more than 200,000 votes. But a “glitch” in the computerized process—which was controlled under a no-bid contract by a GOP computer firm linked to the Bush family—blacked out the vote count until 2 am, after which Kerry lost by 2.5 percent, giving Bush a second term. One key southwestern county called a homeland security alert (although the federal Homeland Security Agency knew nothing about it), confiscated the ballots and did an “irregular” tabulation. Academic researchers labeled Ohio’s “Red Shift” a “virtual statistical impossibility.”
In 2016, Democratic primaries in California, New York, and elsewhere disenfranchised tens of thousands of Sanders supporters. In Iowa, Nevada and elsewhere, chaotic caucuses yielded dubious results.
Failures in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and other key swing states then raised serious questions about the alleged Trump victory. In Michigan, which Trump officially carried by 10,000 votes, interminable lines at afflicted precincts disenfranchised countless Black voters.
In Detroit, Flint, and other heavily Democratic areas, some 70,000 “beheaded” ballots showed no choice for president. But Hillary Clinton refused to sign off on a court-approved recount.
Stripped Wisconsin registration rolls combined with uncertified software gave Trump a victory the Democrats also refused to challenge.
In Pennsylvania (with a Democrat governor) massive irregularities challenged by the Green Party were ignored by the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
Now, in Iowa 2020, the regular Democrats have proved one thing: whatever their motivation, they can’t seem to run a fair election. Whether they deliberately created chaos and confusion to suppress a Sandernista victory will be debated for decades.
Thankfully, we do now have computerized technology to print a ballot in multiple languages, allow it to be easily hand-marked and inserted, then create an electronic ballot image. The images can be reliably counted within minutes after the polls close. The original paper ballots are preserved for possible recounting.
Such machines are ready, reliable and cheap. Throughout the U.S. the obsolete monsters mandated by the Help America Vote Act in 2002 are being replaced. But countless precincts are still opting for far more expensive electronic ballot marking devices that can be hacked and manipulated. Why?
As we head toward another Armageddon election, with scant pushback from the Democrats, we face reruns of Florida 2000, Ohio 2004, Michigan/Wisconsin/Pennsylvania 2016, and more.
As the DNC has added billionaire Michael Bloomberg to its upcoming debate with little show of public support, its attitude toward grassroots candidacies like Sanders’s is even more widely questioned. NBC’s Chuck Todd (as seen personally by Bob Fitrakis) has said the only beneficiary of this debacle may be the DNC’s apparently favored corporate candidate Joe Biden.
This computerized debacle also deepens concerns about the DNC’s apparent digital incompetence in the face of the extremely sophisticated, hugely funded online campaign already underway from Trump and his high-tech backers.
Iowa 2020 is the ultimate early warning: We can do better. With Donald Trump ready for another apocalyptic term, our survival depends on it.
Attorney Bob Fitrakis is a professor of political science at Columbus State Community College and an election protection investigator. He edits www.freepress.org, where his Fitrakis Files appear, along with numerous books co-written with Harvey Wasserman.
Harvey Wasserman’s The People’s Spiral of US History: From Gigonsaseh to Solartopia to Life after Trump has just been published. He hosts “California Solartopia” at KPFK-Pacifica in Los Angeles and the “Green Power & Wellness Show” on the Progressive Radio Network.