There are many myths surrounding the recent U.S. presidential election. The most famous myth was that Obama relied on the grassroots to finance his campaign. It is only partly true. Obama’s party did receive many small checks worth $20, $30, or $50 from his loyal supporters. But big corporations (including Wall Street banks) contributed the most to Obama’s campaign kitty. He also benefited from "bundling" – the practice of a supporter packaging checks from other donors. In the end, Obama gathered more donations than his main rival.
There are Filipino commentators who insist that America’s voting machines prevented bad elements from changing the election results. Maybe. But in Nassau County of New York, 85 percent of the ballot-marking devices were found to be defective. In San Francisco, supervisors wanted to change the voting machines used in the local polls because they were substandard. Those who casted their votes early were shocked to discover that their votes for Obama went to John Mccain in West Virgina and Texas.
Disenfranchisement of voters seems to be the most popular form of election fraud in the U.S. A few weeks before election day, McCain accused an advocacy group of committing "one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country." Voters can be targeted for disenfranchisement by partisan groups. This practice is known as ‘voter caging.” In 2000 thousands of Florida voters were purged from voter rolls which guaranteed the victory of George Bush.
Minority groups have always been discriminated during elections. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, only propertied classes were given the right to vote. When all adult citizens were finally allowed to vote, politicians complained that there is widespread cheating in African-American villages. They exaggerated cases of fraud in these communities to prevent the counting of votes of the minorities. These forms of discrimination are still visible today. According to IssueLab, “an estimated 5 million people were ineligible to vote in the November election, including nearly 4 million who reside in the 35 states that still prohibit some combination of persons on probation, parole, and/or people who have completed their sentence from voting.” Malas mo na lang kung palagi kang kaaway ng batas.
For instance, George Washington won a contest for the Virginia House of Burgesses after buying gallons of liquor for voters. Lyndon Johnson cheated to win during his first election to the Senate in 1948. His victory margin of 87 votes was achieved through ballot fraud.
The notorious Richard Daley, former Chicago Mayor, was able to develop an effective voting machine which could tamper election results. In 1960 Illinois was won by John F. Kennedy because Daley rigged the election in Chicago. The turnout in the city was almost 90 percent. But the Republicans also rigged the results in nearby DuPage Country where voter turnout was an impressive 93 percent. Still, there has been no recent case which surpassed New York City’s 135 percent turnout in 1844.
Here are two cases which are eerily familiar to Filipinos: An FBI agent discovered that "names and addresses of ‘voters’ (in Gary, Indiana) turned out to be vacant lots where there had never been a house, or the house had been torn down years before the ‘person’ was registered." In 2004 the Milwaukee Police Department found out that 5,217 "students" were registered as voters in a college dormitory that only houses 2,600 students.
Our praise for the clean, swift, and impressive American electoral system must be tempered by acknowledging that we are not adequately informed about the flaws which infect the voting culture in America. We should not stop the search for appropriate election practices which suit the needs of the Philippines. We should reconsider our blind faith on the kind of electoral democracy which we inherited from our former colonial master. We should not always worship American politicians and their political practices. We should be critical, judgmental, harsh. In many ways, Filipino politicians are not the worst of their kind in this world.