It is with no sense of irony that one notes Hillary Clinton is projected to have lost the US Presidential election with the exact same share of the vote relative to Donald Trump (52% to 48%) by which the “Leave” campaign in the UK won the Brexit debate in a simple yes/no referendum.Those on both sides of the argument, on both sides of Atlantic, must surely stop for a moment to recognise the ridiculousness of this. Pretending that the old rules and conventions by which our democracies operate are fit for purpose is a delusion. We would do well to standardise internationally, to reduce the incidence of voter fraud, and to guarantee a free and fair democracy, but more importantly to rebuild institutional trust in society. Our electoral systems above reproach, however unpalatable the results they then produce.As Donald Trump himself repeatedly argued throughout the 2016 US presidential election, the vote itself was “rigged”. Many now might ask what he meant by this.

Electoral Fraud

The one and only category of electoral “rigging” that Donald Trump highlighted in his campaign for the Presidency was the spectre of voter fraud. Voting in multiple places, voting under multiple names, voting with an assumed identity and voting as a dead person. The New York Times has written at length about how charges of voter fraud have become an election strategy. The reality is that in a nation like America, there are very few suspected incidences of voter fraud (<0.1% of all votes cast), and even fewer confirmed cases.

So what other kinds of rigging exist that Donald Trump might (not) have been referring to?

Contain The Vote

Whilst Democrats worked to Get Out The Vote, Republicans did their best to contain it.

  • They purged voter rolls to restrict the franchise only to people likely to vote for them. To Ohio Republicans this meant removing people more likely to live in urban areas and Republican methodology nationality disproportionately targets those with names more likely to be found amongst minority-ethnic groups.
  • Voting boundaries were gerrymandered to maximise numbers of elected Republican representatives and to concentrate the votes of Democrats in single constituencies.
  • Attempts were made to restrict early voting. The thinking behind this one goes something like this… elections take place on work-days. Working-class people have (traditionally) been more likely to vote Democrat than Republican. Working-class people are more unlikely to be able to take time off work to vote. If these people can be prevented voting early, then maybe they won’t vote at all.
  • Republicans tried to restrict the late-opening of polls. In Missouri, they accused Democrats of trying to ‘steal the election’ when lawyers for Gore won the right to keep polls open late in 2000. Even this electoral cycle, before it looked like victory was a dead-cert, Donald Trump sued in Nevada in a remarkably similar case.

I am always amused by attempts to restrict franchise, namely because it is oft-conducted by those politicians who claim to support democracy and national values above all else. Surely those who believe in the legitimacy of democracy ought to at least support extending the vote to all citizens of age in a country. The very process of needing to register to vote serves to reduce participation in democracy, and those serious about a well-represented nation would do well to follow the lead of countries such as Chile, Denmark and Finland, where voter-registration is automatic and universal.

Information Operations

Vis-a-vis an election, what forms might InfoOps, or Active Measures, take?

  • Last-minute/eleventh-hour disinformation designed to put voters off before fact-checking services and news media have time to respond.
  • Leaks of internal documents: certainly we saw plenty of this in the 2016 US presidential election. The creation of false-flag document dump website DCLeaks by Russian intelligence services was perhaps the most glaring and forward of all state-sponsored attempts to interfere in American democracy ever. Whilst America has historically been guilty of meddling with the democratic process in other countries abroad, it has rarely itself been subject to such attack. Actions that undermine the political stability of the nation home to the world’s most powerful military should concern all peace-loving people.

Who might conduct information operations?

  1. The politically motivated: just about anybody who wishes to influence the outcome of an election. The campaigns themselves, supporters, foreign powers, corporate interests… pretty much any stakeholder out there. Most notably in this last election was the spectre of Russian activity. The overt hacking of the DNC, DNCC, NATO, and just about anybody who could have baring or relevance on the election led to the issue being dragged to the forefront of public debate. More than intelligence-gathering (as all nations surely do), these hacks were used to produce information that was tactically leaked to impact the electorate.
  2. The financially motivated: anybody looking to make a quick buck from the opportunity provided by something as emotionally-charged as an election. Money-making operators from around the world have realised that an election means a vast swathe of people motivated to share damn-near anything that fits a pre-conceived agenda (whether it be total bullshit or not).

Barriers to Entry

So you’ve gerrymandered constituency-boundaries. You’ve purged voter rolls. You’ve spread disinformation, distorted the facts, destroyed trust in the media, and drowned out facts with fluff. But there’s still a risk that some populist challenger might come up and ‘steal’ the election from you after all your hard work. What barriers to entry can you throw up to prevent such an upset?

Continuing with the theme of using the United States as a case study, for a long-time Democrats and Republicans alike relied on the presence of big money in politics to secure their respective establishments against insurgents. In the US this is not something that necessarily advantages the Democrats over the Republicans, or vice-versa, but it does serve to establish phenomenally high barriers to entry that any would-be challenger party and politician would face, should they dare run against them.

That the only ‘outsider’ to be elected to the United States Presidency in modern history is billionaire Donald Trump should tell you all you need to know about equality of opportunity in a system where political spending is nearly unregulated. That the independent mayor of New York was billionaire Michael Bloomberg reinforces this point. That the most-successful third-party challenger for the Presidency since the start of the 20th-century was billionaire Ross Perot, who claimed 19% of the vote in 1992, makes the case again. The impact of big money in politics is to exclude startup voices from the conversation. It acts as the means by which InfoOps might be conducted, and the requirement of fundraising is a distraction to the development of policy and strategy. This is to say nothing of its corrupting effect on politicians themselves.