• Sarah Chayes

The Fix


In a half-asleep fog Tuesday morning, I switched on the news to find out what had happened in Iowa. That certainly woke me up. Results were delayed, I was hearing. There was some problem with an app. The backup phone line rang busy all night.


Pundits were discussing the mystery shrouding this app, designed by a company appropriately named Shadow Inc. They were discussing the folly of using untried technology in a high-stakes race.


Their voices fading, my mind leaped to Honduras.


During the 2017 presidential election in that notoriously undemocratic and corrupt country, a “computer glitch” mysteriously interrupted reports of the results. The opposition candidate had posted an “irreversible” lead. When the counting resumed more than 24 hours later, everything changed. The incumbent drew steadily ahead. The problem, said the chief magistrate of the country’s electoral tribunal, was “not critical.” The system was “now functioning properly.” The accuracy of the count was not in doubt.


“We hit a stumbling block on the back end of the reporting of the data,” echoed Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Tony Price, not quite twenty-four hours after caucusing concluded Monday night. “But the one thing I want you to know: we know this data is accurate.”


Before Honduras, there was Nigeria, in 2015: again, an unexpected delay cropped up as results were being reported.


Six years before that (all this just in my own experience), it was the disastrous Afghan presidential election, whose outcome was finally negotiated between then-Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry and a petulant President Hamid Karzai in long walks around the palace rose garden in Kabul.


Elections, I learned then, are not stolen at the ballot box. Retail cheating does not reverse the course of events. Elections are stolen long before polling day – in the writing of the rules. Elections are stolen after the ballots have been cast – in the counting.


The Democratic Party seems to have learned all these lessons from developing world kleptocracies. And amazingly, it seems to be deploying them against its own people.


For example:

  • The rules for translating Iowa caucus-goers’ votes into the number of delegates won by each candidate produced nonsensical outcomes.

  • The criteria for debate eligibility have been changed midstream.

  • Some members of the Democratic National Committee have reportedly floated the idea of allowing unelected super-delegates to participate in the first round of convention balloting -- reversing rules debated and passed in the wake of the 2016 contentious nomination fight and general election upset.

  • And Shadow Inc., purveyor of the failed Iowa app, turns out to be run by former Obama and Clinton staffers. Its investors include one of the same wealthy donors who financed a barrage of anti-Sanders attack ads.

Democratic Party officials can cry “conspiracy theory” all they want. This pattern has aroused deep doubts in this time of doubts.


“But it’s nothing compared to what the Republicans have done,” I can hear the retort. “What with gerrymandering and McConnell shutting down the Senate and Trump’s abominations.” The same argument was made when news broke that Hunter Biden had served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company owned by a notoriously corrupt oligarch while his father was vice president and point-man on Ukraine. The Bidens’ wrongdoing just did not compare to Trump’s, defenders insisted, and bore no resemblance to the accusations Trump and his surrogates were making.

That is a dangerous argument. If the Democratic Party just assumes, yet again, that faced with a choice between an ignoble and corrupt Trump and an opposition that is only somewhat less so, voters will hold their noses and choose the latter, it has learned nothing.

The party that is running on a platform of integrity cannot be just a lighter shade of grey. It must hold to its stated principles. It must know right from wrong.


Or we are lost. All of us.

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© 2018 by Sarah Chayes