Public Comment

What Bernie should have done

By Harry Brill
Friday June 17, 2016 - 05:54:00 PM

Ahead of a meeting with Clinton, Sanders called for a "Fundamental Transformation of the Democratic Party" In brief, he recommended electoral reforms that would facilitate the ability of citizens to register to vote. He also demanded the end of the superdelegate system. 

But to stand a chance of reforming the Democratic Party and Democratic based public agencies in California would also require a fundamental transformation in how Bernie would attempt to achieve his aims. Like many of you who are reading this commentary I have enormous respect for Bernie and for what he has accomplished by advocating a progressive agenda. However, his campaign has suffered from a serious omission. Since about 2 1/2 million ballots have not been counted in California, Bernie should not have conceded the vote to Hillary. In fact, he should have encouraged his supporters to protest this blatant violation of democratic principles. 

Many of the uncounted votes have been cast by independents, who tend to favor Bernie. So at the very least, he would have gained more delegates. In fact, it is also possible that he would have won California. But by not demanding that all these votes be counted as cast, Bernie let democracy slip through his fingers. 

It is widely known now that there has been considerable fraud involved in counting the ballots. Among the revelations, poll workers in one California district were instructed, in effect, to lie by placing perfectly solid ballots in a in a separate box that are characterized as provisional ballots. Although in theory these ballots would be counted once their legitimacy is verified, in reality they often are ignored. Moreover, voters who live in communities with high percentages of racial and ethnic minorities have the highest rate of rejection of legitimate ballots. According to one investigation, "The California primary wasn't an election. It was a coup featuring shady and downright illegal tactics usually associated with dictatorship states". Incredibly, the serious problem of discarding legitimate votes was uncovered not only in California but in other states as well, including Arizona and New York. Clearly, democracy is taking a back seat; in fact, way back. 

Had the Bernie Campaign shouted loud and clear about the widespread fraud in counting ballots at the expense of his campaign, and had demanded that immediate corrective steps be taken, it could have had a significant impact. The stability of our political system depends in part on the illusion of being a democratic society. Also, the establishment wants to avoid the risk that its opponents would seriously attempt to build a mass based third party alternative. So Bernie and his supporters have some leverage in defending democracy. 

Because California's Secretary of State, Alex Padilla, is in charge of overseeing federal and state elections, his legal obligation is to insure that every vote is counted as cast. But he has not lived up to his obligations. As a result, activist lawyers have sued to avoid the disenfranchisement of thousands of voters, most of whom support Bernie Sanders for president. 

But neither law suits nor expressions of disappointment are enough. Certainly the energy to organize a mass response is there. Bernie could have ignited that response by encouraging mass demonstrations and marches . I certainly realize that this is not what presidential candidates normally do. But unfortunately, nothing short of pursuing a militant program would work. Although Bernie's campaign vigorously advocates many progressive programs such as single payer and affordable housing, it is pie in the sky to think that these can be achieved without addressing the establishment's severe and relentless assault on democracy.  

A couple dozen progressive organizations are meeting in Chicago. Called the People's Summit, they will attempt to plan the political road ahead. I hope that the issue of democracy will be among their central concerns as it was in the civil rights and the labor movement before then. None of the major programs that will improve our quality of life can be achieved without building a genuinely democratic society. Otherwise, we're just blowing in the wind.