The year I was eligible to vote for the first time, I announced to my parents that I would tell the communist officials at the voting place that I know it is all a sham. This is what eighteen-year-olds do, they announce their bravery, while the elders look at them with fear and pride. When I left the house that day, I carried myself with certainty and resolve suitable for someone who was about to change the world.
Everyone knew that elections in communist Poland were elections in name only, because no one was ever elected.
First, the purpose of elections was to construct the illusion of the government’s legitimacy, and not to offer a choice on the ballot. Even when other approved political groups existed, the ballot contained only names endorsed by the ruling communist party. Applications for independent candidacy were always rejected. In some cases, independent candidates were in fact trusted communist sympathizers whose role was, specifically, to suggest the existence of options, when in fact every candidate on the ballot was an appointee.
Second, turnout figures were manipulated by the “right” (conveniently established) to “stand for someone else.” Voters could vote on behalf of their family members, and in some cases also on behalf of their neighbors. This practice introduced an easy way for the communist party to tally the “votes” of those who chose to stay home on election day.
Third, voting protocols and records were manipulated and falsified and even redacted when results revealed that the number of eligible voters was lower than the number of those who had voted. Corrections were made, not to present the accurate numbers, but to produce results in which the number of those who had voted would turn out to be close to 95% of those eligible to vote.
Fourth, in rural places, voting days were often designated as festivities that included parades in folk costumes and music bands. Boy scouts and girl scouts were appointed to guard voting places, to deliver the familial touch and stand for their own future. To elevate the general mood, stores were suddenly supplied with sought-after items, and early voters were greeted with flowers.
Fifth, the communist regime ensured that citizens were coerced into voting either in places of their employment, or by “soft threats” of “consequences” advertised in political posters. Those threats were never specific, but were understood to be disfavor for nominations, promotions, or bonuses.
As an eighteen-year-old high school student, I was aware of how elections in communist Poland were “unreal and not-real,” as I called them, and I was determined to voice my opinion. I entered the voting place located in my former elementary school, took the ballot, and proceeded to cast it, but the ballot didn’t fit into the narrow slot of the box. The ballot didn’t fit, because my hands shook uncontrollably. My hands shook uncontrollably, because I was about to lecture the communist officials. I turned the ballot a couple of times, but it still didn’t fit.
My embarrassment rose when I realized that the communist officials, all five of them, sitting behind the table on the other side on the box looked at me in silence. When I finally decided to fold the ballot in half and push it through the slot, one of the officials addressed another: Can someone tell this young lady that she is making it very difficult on us, because we will have to unfold it. More work for us. What if everyone folded their ballot. Can you imagine? That was the first time someone had talked about me in the third person in my presence. I unfolded the ballot and it slid inside the box with no difficulty.
I looked at the official who had spoken, and he laughed. His laugh reverberated through my body like a sharp wave. I left without saying anything, angry and humiliated. This is how the ruling communist party operated, I thought on my way home. They turn us into objects of their conversations while excluding us at the same time.