7.14.2006

jellyfish

I've been so busy at work today, and now it's mid-afternoon and I haven't blogged. I'll take the easy way out: I'll let Greg Palast blog for me.
Why Democrats Don't Count
Lessons from the Un-Gore of Mexico
by Greg Palast

The Exit polls said he won, but the "official" tally took his victory away. His supporters found they were scrubbed off voter rolls. Violence and intimidation kept even more of his voters away from the polls. Hundreds of thousands of ballots supposedly showed no choice for president -- like ballots with hanging chads.

And the officials in charge of this suspect election refused to re-count those votes in public. Everyone knew full well a fair count would certainly change the outcome.

You've heard this story before: Gore 2000. Kerry 2004.

But Lopez Obrador 2006 is made out of very different stuff than the scarecrow candidates who, oddly, call themselves "Democrats."

For six years now, I've had this crazy fantasy in my head. In it, an election is stolen and the guy who's declared the loser stands up in front of the White House and says three magic words: "Count the votes."

This past Saturday, my dream came true. Unfortunately, it was in Spanish -- but I'll take what I can get. There was Andreas Manuel Lopez Obrador, presidential challenger, standing in the "Zocalo" -- the square in front of Mexico's White House, telling the ruling clique inside, "Count the votes!"

Most important, his simple demand was echoed by half a million pissed-off, activated voters chanting with him, "Vota por vota!" -- vote by vote.

And you know what? I think they are going to have to listen. I suspect that the rulers of Mexico, a vicious, puffed-up, arrogant elite, may well have to count those votes. But, for that to happen, someone had to ask them to do it -- in no uncertain terms.

Traveling the USA, I'm asked again and again 'Why don't Democrats stand up when their elections are stolen?'

The answer: for the same reason jellyfish don't stand up... they're invertebrates.

I'm beginning to find that answer a bit too glib (though darn funny). Because it's not about electoral cojones; it's about a devotion to democracy deep in the bone. Yet weirdly, candidates that call themselves "Democrats" seem kind of, well, indifferent to democracy.

Why? Elections are the radical tool of the working class -- the great leveler of the powerless against the too-powerful. But the candidates themselves, both Republican and Democrat, tend to come from the privileged and pampered class. Votes are just the surfboards on which their ambitions ride.

Right now in Mexico's capitol, nearly a million ballots sit in tied bundles uncounted. That's four times the "official" margin of victory of the ruling party over Lopez Obrador. Supposedly, they're "votos nulos" -- null votes, unreadable. But, not surprisingly, when a few packets were opened, the majority of these supposedly unreadable votes were Lopez Obrador's.

If you think that's a Mexican game, think again. Because that's exactly what happened in Florida and Ohio.

In Florida, 179,855 ballots supposedly showed no vote for President. A closer look by the US Civil Rights Commission statisticians showed that 54% of those Florida "votos nulos" were cast by African-Americans. Did Black folk forget to vote for President, couldn't make up their minds or, as one TV network implied, were too dumb to figure out the ballot? Not at all. Machines can't count some ballots. But people can. For example, several voters wrote in, "Al Gore," which the machines rejected as his name was already printed on the ballot. The write-in could fool a machine but a human has no problem figuring out that voter's intent.

The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago reviewed all 179,855 "uncountable" votes and found the majority attempted to choose Gore. And they would have been counted -- but Florida's Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, ordered a halt.

So Bush was elected not by counting the votes but by preventing their count. And he was reelected the same way in 2004 when a quarter million votes were nullified in Ohio.

But why fixate on Florida and Ohio? Here's a nasty little fact about voting in the Land of the Free not reported in your newspapers: 3,600,380 ballots were cast in the November 2004 presidential election that were never counted. In 2000, the uncounted ballots totaled just under two million.

And where were the Democrats? In 2004, behind the huge jump in uncounted votes was a mass challenge campaign aimed at poor, Black and Hispanic voters by the Republican Party -- pushing these voters, mostly Democrats, to "provisional ballots." They could have been counted, if someone had fought for it. Hundreds of lawyers were on stand-by but the head of the biggest legal team told me in confidence -- and in frustration -- that the Kerry campaign told them to stand down.

Recently, Al Gore was asked if the election of 2000 was stolen. "There may come a time when I speak on that, but it's not now," said the beta dog. (I suspect that if Al Gore were found bleeding in an alley, he'd answer the question, Who shot you? with "There may come a time when I speak on that...").

Lopez Obrador is of a different breed. At the rally last Saturday in Mexico City, he played video and audio tapes of the evidence of fraud on a screen eighty feet tall. Imagine if Gore had projected the "scrub sheets" of purged Black voters on a ten-story-high screen in front of the White House.

Lopez Obrador put political force behind his legal demands by calling on voters from every state in Mexico to march to the capital. Two million are expected to arrive this Sunday. The result: the word among the political classes is that the election may be annulled. Even the conservative Financial Times has warned Mexico's elite not to "fool itself" by ignoring the demand for a full vote count.

North-of-the-Border Democrats just don't get it. The Republican Party is pushing "provisional" ballots, pushing voter ID requirements, compiling secret challenge lists, scrubbing voter registries and selling us vote-nullifying ballot boxes: they get it completely. The GOP knows the key to their electoral domination is not in winning over their opponents' votes, but in not counting them.

The un-Gore of Mexico City has a lesson for the Blue-party gringos. Either the Democrats demand that all votes count, or the Democrats will count for nothing.

16 comments:

James said...

BTW, you get home ok today, with all the Go adventures?

L-girl said...

BTW, you get home ok today, with all the Go adventures?

Thanks for asking. :)

I'm lucky - I get a cab home, courtesy of the law firm. It's a long-time perk of legal support staff everywhere: cabs home at night.

And because of Allan's bizarre hours, he drives.

So we both avoided the insanity.

My supervisor lives near Burlington. She was going to hang out downtown w/ some friends, waiting for traffic to dissipate, then share a cab home.

MSS said...

Pallast's reporting on the US elections was pretty good. But he does not know Mexico. I hardly know where to start. Might as well start at the beginning. The portion that forms the hyperlink in the post says that the exit polls showed López Obrador ("AMLO") had won. It is one of those statements that is literally true, in that some polls showed him ahead. About half showed him ahead, about half showed Calderon ahead.

None of these were released on election night because there was no consensus, and hardly any had it outside the margin of error (those that did had it as Calderon).

I have covered this at Fruits and Votes so I am not going to elaborate here. But just beacuse Pallast says this is Florida all over again does not make it so. In fact, Mexico's campaigns and elections are a good deal more honestly administered than those of the USA!

Mexico also has a very impartial court of last appeal on elections--separate from the regular courts. It will review the charges and order a recount if it believes it is justified.

From what I have seen, the charges are pretty flimsy.

L-girl said...

But just beacuse Pallast says this is Florida all over again does not make it so.

I don't think that's what he's saying at all. I don't think he's claiming to know much about Mexico.

M@ said...

The main point of the article, though, is that in a democracy, every vote has to be counted, or the vote is illegitimate; and while the Mexicans understand this and are rallying behind this idea, in the USA, it was conveniently forgotten in the name of "unity" and "moving on" and such.

I think it's an important point, and it leads me to ask, why wasn't "count every vote" the first and last thing that every Democratic candidate and talking head demanded in the month after the election? A simple, straightforward point that is easy to say on CNN, and hard to dodge. If it didn't actually represent democracy, fairness, and legality, I'd think Karl Rove came up with it.

I guess what people have to realise (and not just in the USA) that disenfranchising one person, or (in a more practical sense) one group of people, disenfranchises every person who voted.

L-girl said...

The main point of the article, though, is that in a democracy, every vote has to be counted, or the vote is illegitimate; and while the Mexicans understand this and are rallying behind this idea, in the USA, it was conveniently forgotten in the name of "unity" and "moving on" and such.

Thanks, Matt. That was indeed the point of the essay, and I was too tired to restate it.

Your question is a very good one. Frankly, I'm amazed at how many liberal Americans are willing to get behind whoever the Dems are running and forget this basic and unforgiveable lapse. It's as if everyone has agreed to pretend the system's not broken.

redsock said...

Well, as I recall, there were Dems saying count every vote. A couple, anyway. And various media people and their on-cable guests said it too.

The Bush Camp's response (James Baker was the front man) was the votes have already been counted, and they've been counted again. We don't need to count them a third time. Why don't you just accept that you lost? (Cut to camera shot of a wingnut holding a "Sore Loserman" sign.)

Of course, this was a complete lie (thousands of votes hadn't even been looked at, let alone counted once) -- and the Repubs knew it (they had several lawsuits ready to file if democracy prevailed) -- but it was a quick soundbite also.

And the media liked that one better.

L-girl said...

Well, as I recall, there were Dems saying count every vote. A couple, anyway. And various media people and their on-cable guests said it too.

If you're remembering the Democrats in a positive light, I will absolutely defer to it, since you cut them even less slack than I do (i.e., none).

I might be confusing 2000 and 2004.

The Republican-controlled media definitely had a lot to do with it. This reminds me, everyone who hasn't seen Robert Greenwald's movie Unprecedented should do so.

M@ said...

Again, I don't blame the cheated for the cheating. And we've gone over on this very blog the media's role in the crime.

But if two million Americans had stood on Capitol Hill and said "Vote by vote, poll by poll", and if the Democratic candidate had refused to give any position but "I will concede when I have lost, and I have not lost before all the votes have been counted", or words to that effect -- I think that might have had more effect.

Instead, what I saw (and I was viewing from far, far away, and my perceptions may well be different, or wrong) was equivocation, talking about systems, side issues (hanging chads! etc)... what if Gore had said "count every vote" every third sentence? That would surely have had an effect.

How Katherine Harris lives with herself I don't know.

L-girl said...

But if two million Americans had stood on Capitol Hill and said "Vote by vote, poll by poll", and if the Democratic candidate had refused to give any position but "I will concede when I have lost, and I have not lost before all the votes have been counted", or words to that effect -- I think that might have had more effect.

I agree with you. You're absolutely right.

My only caveat is that too many Americans didn't know what had actually happened, because of the media. But several million did.
Many complained (shouted, stamped, screamed) to their elected officials, who did nothing.

How Katherine Harris lives with herself I don't know.

Add her name to the long list of people who apparently have no conscience to keep them up at night.

M@ said...

My only caveat is that too many Americans didn't know what had actually happened, because of the media. But several million did.
Many complained (shouted, stamped, screamed) to their elected officials, who did nothing.


I guess that's what makes this kind of thing so frustrating. I know that there are many -- millions -- of good citizens in the USA who were informed, who saw through the BS, who acted in every way a citizen could, and for what? It's enough to break your heart.

So in the end, what do you do? You can only conclude that the system is fundamentally and, for the time being, irrevocably broken, and one would best get the hell outta dodge.

And then, uh, start a blog... :)

L-girl said...

I guess that's what makes this kind of thing so frustrating. I know that there are many -- millions -- of good citizens in the USA who were informed, who saw through the BS, who acted in every way a citizen could, and for what? It's enough to break your heart.

That describes my experience exactly. I found it too frustrating to live with anymore. And I was heartsick over it.

You can only conclude that the system is fundamentally and, for the time being, irrevocably broken, and one would best get the hell outta dodge.

And then, uh, start a blog... :)


Et voila. :)

I personally think that "the time being" is a long, long time, too. I think the country would have to disintegrate and be remade before it could be fixed. And that's almost more terrible to contemplate than it limping along the way it is.

M@ said...

That describes my experience exactly. I found it too frustrating to live with anymore. And I was heartsick over it.

It was through reading this blog and talking to other ex-pats (and, hopefully, soon-to-be-ex-pats) that I started to figure this out. As a Canadian, the coffee-maker talk at the office tends to boil down to shaking one's head and saying "how could they let this happen? why didn't someone do something?" The last couple of years have been distressingly instructive.

(And I return to my original point: this post, the article by Palast, was the first time I felt hope, the first time I felt like there was some way out.)

I think the country would have to disintegrate and be remade before it could be fixed. And that's almost more terrible to contemplate than it limping along the way it is.

Absolutely. Goes a long way in explaining why people would rather just move on instead of saying "what exactly happened in Ohio? How can we stop this?" I hope there's another way out -- I don't see it, but I hope it's there.

MSS said...

Pallast's piece that was quoted here at wmtc is almost identical to the transcript of a documentary that I saw last week on Democracy Now (via Link TV). And Pallast, in the TV piece, sure did convey the impression that this Mexican case was essentially the same as Florida: A pro-business candidate stealing an election from the popular choice.

All I wanted to point out here was that Pallast grossly exaggerates the similarities. The US 2000 election was indeed stolen. The evidence that something like the same has just happened in Mexico is very flimsy.

By the way, a poll yesterday in Reforma (one of the leading Mexican papers) shows that 37% of Mexicans want a full recount--pretty much the same percentage that voted for AMLO.

Not that the decision to have, or not have, a recount should be (or will be) made by opinion polls, but this does not support the notion that "Mexcans... are rallying behind the idea" of a recount, as one comment above suggested.

L-girl said...

All I wanted to point out here was that Pallast grossly exaggerates the similarities. The US 2000 election was indeed stolen. The evidence that something like the same has just happened in Mexico is very flimsy.

That's cool. I appreciate it. You obviously know a lot about elections worldwide, so your perspective is very valuable.

I, in turn, was just pointing out that the Mexican election wasn't Pallast's central point in this essay (not in a documentary that I didn't see), nor my reason for posting this essay, nor the central point of the comment you refer to.

L-girl said...

As a Canadian, the coffee-maker talk at the office tends to boil down to shaking one's head and saying "how could they let this happen? why didn't someone do something?" The last couple of years have been distressingly instructive.

This comes up regularly on this blog. People from outside the US don't realize how completely unresponsive the US govt is to the will of the people.

I hope there's another way out -- I don't see it, but I hope it's there.

Me too, me too. I keep hoping that my vision and my imagination are too limited, and there's more reason to hope than I can see. I want so much to be wrong.