Last week Geraint Thomas won his first Tour de France for Team Sky relegating his team mate (and favourite), Chris Froome, to a (relatively) unusual third position. From the winner’s podium he declared it was all down to hard-word, that there was no hint of drug use or cheating, important in a sport that had been haunted by the use of drugs to enhance performance. The Lance Armstrong affair still casts a long shadow over endurance cycling.
Of course, when it was established beyond doubt that Armstrong had cheated, all of his victories were stripped from him. The same goes for other sports. The 4X400 Meter relay in the 2000 Sydney Olympicsis a case in point. In the race we saw on TV the US won and received gold. Four years later the medals were stripped when the IAF stated that Jermone Young was not eligible to run in Sydney due to use of performance enhancers. This was challenged and though the resulting back and forth wasn’t fixed until 2012 when Team USA was disqualified, Nigeria were finally granted the gold medal permanently.
Russia was banned as a country from participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics for cheating, though individuals were allowed to compete under the Olympic Rings of the IOC flag.
The jury is still out as to whether Qatar will retain the 2022 FIFA World Cupwhere the whiff of corruption has hung around like a bad cloud.
In business, cheats, when exposed, are often dealt short-shrift. Famous casualties like David Tovarhave resigned, others have even been sacked, when they are found to have lied their way into a position, usually by exaggerating, or making up, qualifications.
Cheats, as the old adage says, never prosper.
That is true, except where it matters most, in the arena which can have the biggest impacts on our lives: politics.
I’m not talking about the made up BS about electoral fraud. The Voter Suppression and ID laws being used by the right-wing in the US and now the UK to suppress the poorest in society from voting. All in the name of stopping the (non-existent) crime of voter fraud.
I am not even talking about First Passed the Post which allows politicians to rule over us like kings or queens with 40% (or less) of the popular vote.
No, I am talking about stealing elections. Whole ones. We have mechanisms for dealing with corrupt individuals. In the US the power to impeach officials can and has been used, usually sparingly. The threat of impeachment led to Richard Nixon’s resignation. The crime of “High-Crimes and Misdemeanors” is broad, but has the power of the US Constitution to back it up.
In the UK there is the Representation of the People Act. The last person to be removed from office was an old acquaintance of mine from my student politics days: Phil Woolas. Phil was the New Labour MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth who put out incendiary leaflets aimed at stoking up the “angry white vote” by unlawfully linking his chief opponent to Muslim extremists. He was thrown out of office.
But what about when the cheating isn’t individual, but is something more insidious? What about when the cheating steals a country?
The official Vote Leave Campaign that won the 2016 Brexit vote has been shown to have broken the law. They have been fined the greatest amount that the Electoral Commission (the independent arbitrator of elections in the United Kingdom) and several people have been referred to the police. The Leave campaign has been proven to have cheated, and this is before there is any talk of Russian interference. They overspent by hundreds of thousands of pounds in a very, very tight election. Money that was funneled into Facebook Advertising.
Yet, despite this, the mechanism for annulling the vote or holding another is unclear. If the result is subjected to a court challenge then the executive can be held to account, but I am not sure that the court can over turn the legislation passed by Parliament as a result of that referendum. There is no clear recourse. But, at least in Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 there is legislation to invoke.
Not so the US election. While an individual can be subject to impeachment under the US constitution, there seems to be no provision for an election to be declared void. If collusion or illegality is proven then Trump could be impeached, but that would leave us with President Pence, who benefitted from said collusion too. If both are impeached, then President Ryan rules, then President Orrin Hatch. Ditto.
Unlike sports and business, there is no mechanism for a US Presidential election result to be overturned. Once certified, even if illegality was proven, the real winner cannot be given the prize.
We have 18th Century systems in a 21st Century world.
In this era of Facebook and Twitter, of Google Advertising and AI, the methods for manipulating elections are way, way ahead of the methods for controlling them. The checks and balances of our “modern” democracies are not up to the job of policing our electoral systems from such abuse. In a democratic system such results are catastrophic because the fraud is found after the event. Electoral victories, even those fraudulently obtained, will have been given the veneer of the “will of the people”, and if proven to be falsified, cannot easily be undone to a satisfying result. Nigeria finally got their gold medal and place in history in 2012, but, in the event that the 2016 vote was proven to be rigged, there is no methodology for over-turning that vote and making Hillary Clinton president.
The votes have been counted and certified. The oaths taken. The ships have sailed. As we see with the Brexit result, cheats may prosper after all.