You may have heard about it or not, but if not I can tell you: Alexander Van der Bellen won the Austrian presidency.
It was tight. On Sunday night Norbert Hofer, the nationalist with the friendly face, was in front with 52%, but at that time none of the absentee ballots had been counted. We thankfully don’t use voting machines and we count manually. In order to avoid 20 hour counting marathons with all their potential for human error, absentee ballots are counted the day after.
Normally this does not matter. It may shift a seat in a general election, but it hardly makes a difference.
Not so this time. Results of absentee ballots have a strong bias towards progressive. It’s a result of the distribution of voters who use absentee voting. They tend to be from the cities, younger and better educated, more open to change. Obviously that does not correlate well with people who vote for closed borders, hate against muslims and traditional values of the past.
Everybody knew that Alexander Van der Bellen, the former head of the Green Party, would get a mighty boost from absentee ballots, but would it suffice? Sunday night the projections were for 50.0% vs 50.0%, with an overhang of arond 3000 votes for Van der Bellen. With more than four million voters and a margin of deviation of 0.7% nobody knew.
The next afternoon, half an hour before the official result was presented, Norbert Hofer conceded defeat via Facebook. A single district was missing, that’s what was delaying the official result, but at that time it was clear the he would miss presidency by around 30.000 votes.
What did Hofer’s party? Well, they did what they always do. It was hard to attack the counting committees because they had had seats in all of them, but declaring the election invalid was not even the goal. Obviously they were mostly interested in creating a myth, something along the lines of the old Stab-in-the-back myth.
Knowing that the bias of absentee votes would not be in their favor, they already began to declare “doubts” about the absentee voting system weeks before the election. Thus when defeat came, their followers were already primed and “knew” that victory “had been taken” from them and how.
The party itself called for moderation, but they also played with ambiguities. For instance they always said they would still consider an appeal, but they wouldn’t go for it when the irregularities were not massive enough to change the result. On the other hand they didn’t find major irregularities either.
In some districts the counting of absentee ballots had begun too early, but their results were not off the trend.
One district had counted correctly but reported wrong results for the turnout of voters. But then, 145% having voted is obviously wrong and when sums and checksums of votes are correct, there is no problem either. It’s just the usual small percentage of human errors. It’s exactly what the voting system’s builtin checks are designed to capture and what capture they did.
Years ago I’ve worked as election supervisor in a polling station for a few elections. It’s a stressful job. You sleep bad for fear of being late at the polling station. Before the first voters are admitted at 7:00, you must already have counted the number of ballot papers. In the evening, after the election and after having counted the votes, you will have to count again what’s left. Woe to the supervisor when the numbers don’t sum up. It’s an example for one of the numerous small checks.
That’s the whole character of our election system. It is well designed, robust, tried and tested. Therefore, from my long experience with elections I strongly reject the possibility of fraud. It would be easier with voting machines, but our manual system involves much too many people. This is a rich country with a long history of democratic elections. No chaos can be exploited and no violent riots, as they so often plague elections in young democracies.
And again: functionaries of Hofer’s Freedom Party were present everywhere and in all phases. They’ve verified and signed the whole process.
Knowing all that and knowing that everybody else should also know it, I’ve spent some time looking at the comments on Hofer’s Facebook page. Oh my! The party’s strategy of whispered doubt and murmured speculation had yielded fruit.
This is a dangerous thing, because it tries to compensate for loss of an election by de-legitimizing the whole democratic system. Some idiots even called for violence and others posted Van der Bellen’s private address. #notinmyname and #notmypresident were the hash tags.
But then, that’s Jörg Haider’s party, the party still playing with oblique Nazi references, the party that attracts neo-Nazis like flies are attracted by rotten flesh.