“It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything”.
(An apocryphal statement attributed to Joseph Stalin by his personal secretary, Boris Bazhanov)
Election stealing or rigging involves the act of dishonestly organising an election in order to achieve a specific and desired result. It represents electoral fraud at the most optimum level because it involves procedures and practices that are improper, as well as pernicious, and aimed solely to influence the final election results. A poorly informed and essentially naive electorate, in addition to weak democratic institutions such as an executive-dominated legislature, political parties that are constituted in the main with jobbers, and a non-independent election umpire, not free from government influence and interference, are unable to prevent rigged elections by a predatory government.
Naturally, there are various ways that elections can be rigged and of these, ten will be specifically highlighted here. First, is that of Voter Discrimination, Suppression and Disenfranchisement. This strategy is deliberately designed to influence election results by discouraging and preventing individuals or specific groups from voting. It is achieved either through legal and illegal means via laws, administrative regulations involving impractical rules and other obstructive tactics to prevent citizens from registering to vote. We also find victims of this strategy being hindered from accessing their birth records, other documents of identification and are thus unable to complete the registration process. Others are disenfranchised “accidentally,” but conveniently, by removing them from the electoral roll.
Second, is the practice of Demographic Manipulation. This is when immigration is used as a tool to effectively manipulate and change the electoral demography. Here, citizenship is given to immigrants from neighbouring countries to allow them to participate in voter registration and voting. Third, is Disinformation, involving lies and deliberately misleading the electorate with dire warnings, as well as threats, insisting that if it refused to vote in a specific way, its position and future will be severely endangered. A corollary to Disinformation is to either studiously avoid educating the electorate or miseducating it. This is achieved by refusing to place before voters realistic options, each with plusses and minuses, costs and other negatives, for them to fully understand and make informed decisions. An ill-informed electorate, exploited by disingenuous politicians is a recipe for disaster, in which the future of the people, generations yet unborn, as well as the fate of an entire nation is decided by a single election in a binary “yes” or “no” vote.
Fourth on the list of the election rigging rule-book is Vote Buying, which is implemented in several ways. Chief of these requires the exchange of money, goods, a job, services and sundry favours in exchange for votes. Some favours may include free raffle tickets for gifts to be won such as washing-machines, flat-screen televisions, cookers, microwaves, trips, flight tickets and gift certificates. Voters are bribed with these items in exchange for their votes which are meant to determine a particular electoral outcome. Unfortunately, Vote Buying is targeted at voters who generally exist below the poverty line – in other words, the under-class – or who possess limited political knowledge of the issues involved and are often politically illiterate and gullible. Such voters are easily susceptible to deceptions and bribes.
Skewed Campaign Funding To Educate Voters is the fifth tool used in mainly Third World countries to manipulate voting patterns. For example, if funds assigned for voter education are not equitably and fairly distributed, if at all, and are managed solely by one interested player to the effective exclusion of the others, undoubtedly this will influence the electoral outcome in favour of the player hogging the funds. The sixth example of election rigging involves Stealing Important Documents during the election, such as registration lists of voters, ballot papers, ballot boxes and the practice of Ballot Stuffing. The latter occurs when unscrupulous electoral officials submit multiple ballots in which just one ballot for each voter was allowed. In addition, such officials are known to steal and destroy valid ballot papers and ballot boxes, which do not favour those masterminding the rigging of the election, and replacing them with pre-prepared ones in favour of their paymasters. Other cheating methods involve taking electoral documents into personal and private custody, and conveying ballot boxes outside officially designated areas in order to tamper with them.
Allied to all the above is the seventh infraction, which is Misrecording Votes. This is achieved by tampering with voting machines and other electronic equipment to alter the total number of votes in favour of a predetermined result. Another effective ploy which is the eighth, is to use Non-independent Electoral Officers, swear them to secrecy and mandate them not to announce and publicly list the results at each polling station immediately the votes are counted. These undisclosed, and therefore secret, results are then transmitted through a chain which go eventually to the returning officers and finally to the Chief Electoral Officer who tallies and announces the total results for the entire country. By refusing to disclose results at each polling station to voters, election observers and the media, this immediately creates the opportunity for fraud to be perpetrated by partisan and corrupt returning officers, especially if they are responsible only to the government. Such compromised appointees can, through incorrect and fraudulent vote counting, change the election results to a preconceived end. Therefore, by the time the figures reach the end of the chain, it is a case of “mission accomplished” and ”case closed”. Transparency at all stages of the election process enables the electorate to have faith in the integrity of the election, particularly when it sees the publicised results at each and every polling station authentically incorporated into the final tally and total results for the whole country.
Cooking Results comes fast on the heels of Non-independent Electoral Officers, and clocks in at number nine. In this instance, the electoral officials are ordered to announce whatever results they are told. In doing this, they ignore the entire process of counting votes. Indicative of this fraud is when the lowest turnout of voters is perceived to have taken place in an electoral district where the campaign and the voters were most militant, yet the voter returns are poor! In this instance, one does not need to be an election forensic expert to recognise that the results for such an electoral district were “cooked”.
The tenth method used by fake democrats to steal an election is to put into place mechanisms to ensure that their favourable election results remain. This is achieved by employing the use of legislative majorities to dismiss allegations of fraud and to certify the vote. To this end, ballot boxes which negate the so-called winner may be destroyed.
Further more, to make it extremely difficult for the election results to be challenged, they make no provision for an Election Petition Tribunal. Election observers, whether local, regional or international are also cynically manipulated to provide the stamp of electoral legitimacy. But then these observers, no matter how efficient or vigilant, are in no position to detect certain types of rigging, such as the manipulated software of voting machines, ballot stuffing, misrecording votes and cooking results, or psychological profiling, as well as the use of “dark money” in the election.
Other ways of stealing elections are nonetheless worth mentioning here. For example, there is gerrymandering, whereby electoral boundaries and districts are distorted and demographic clustering is introduced. Another is impersonation, with the dead “voting”. Yet another involves the attempt to collude with a hostile nation to influence and win an election. While attempts at collusion may not amount to being a crime, they gravely question the loyalty and commitment to the nation, and indeed the patriotism and fitness to office of those politicians guilty of this.
Stealing an election involves a great deal of preparatory work, of which a good portion occurs long before polling day. Successful rigging enables perpetrators to win, and they often get away scot free without seeming to lose legitimacy. However, a free, fair and honestly won election (or referendum for that matter) strengthens the democratic legitimacy of a political option which is problematic. It also discourages the government from deviating from the people’s will. A key aside here, and which needs to be emphasised, is that in most democracies, unlike in a general election, it is the norm in a referendum for non-voters (or the undecided) to count as a vote in favour of the status quo.
Clearly, any election or referendum is disastrous, when voters are improperly educated or mis-educated, and as such do not fully understand the consequences that may result from their voting decision. Moreover, wherever there is the lack of people’s access to developing a culture of democratic citizenship and recognising the function of civil society, there will be a huge lacuna which predatory politicians will easily fill. In failing democracies, often with a largely naive electorate, there is urgent need to recruit, train and broaden leadership via the choice of visionary, patriotic, and competent leaders, as most of those in the old guard are inept, corrupt and jaded. When political leaders abuse their trusted power for personal gain they lose all claims to legitimacy. Rigging an election challenges and imperils democratic consolidation, and in the end bestows illegitimacy on the entire political system and the government.
* The writer lives in Lagos, Nigeria