Words of caution from the election monitor par excellence —

Still Seeking a Fair Florida Vote

By Jimmy Carter

Monday, September 27, 2004; Page A19

After the debacle in Florida four years ago, former president Gerald Ford and I were asked to lead a blue-ribbon commission to recommend changes in the American rlectoral process. After months of concerted effort by a dedicated and bipartisan group of experts, we presented unanimous recommendations to the president and Congress. The government responded with the Help America Vote Act of October 2002. Unfortunately, however, many of the act’s key provisions have not been implemented because of inadequate funding or political disputes.

The disturbing fact is that a repetition of the problems of 2000 now seems likely, even as many other nations are conducting elections that are internationally certified to be transparent, honest and fair.

The Carter Center has monitored more than 50 elections, all of them held under contentious, troubled or dangerous conditions. When I describe these activities, either in the United States or in foreign forums, the almost inevitable questions are: “Why don’t you observe the election in Florida?” and “How do you explain the serious problems with elections there?”

The answer to the first question is that we can monitor only about five elections each year, and meeting crucial needs in other nations is our top priority. (Our most recent ones were in Venezuela and Indonesia, and the next will be in Mozambique.) A partial answer to the other question is that some basic international requirements for a fair election are missing in Florida.

The most significant of these requirements are:

• A nonpartisan electoral commission or a trusted and nonpartisan official who will be responsible for organizing and conducting the electoral process before, during and after the actual voting takes place. Although rarely perfect in their objectivity, such top administrators are at least subject to public scrutiny and responsible for the integrity of their decisions. Florida voting officials have proved to be highly partisan, brazenly violating a basic need for an unbiased and universally trusted authority to manage all elements of the electoral process.

• Uniformity in voting procedures, so that all citizens, regardless of their social or financial status, have equal assurance that their votes are cast in the same way and will be tabulated with equal accuracy. Modern technology is already in use that makes electronic voting possible, with accurate and almost immediate tabulation and with paper ballot printouts so all voters can have confidence in the integrity of the process. There is no reason these proven techniques, used overseas and in some U.S. states, could not be used in Florida.

It was obvious that in 2000 these basic standards were not met in Florida, and there are disturbing signs that once again, as we prepare for a presidential election, some of the state’s leading officials hold strong political biases that prevent necessary reforms.

Four years ago, the top election official, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, was also the co-chair of the Bush-Cheney state campaign committee. The same strong bias has become evident in her successor, Glenda Hood, who was a highly partisan elector for George W. Bush in 2000. Several thousand ballots of African Americans were thrown out on technicalities in 2000, and a fumbling attempt has been made recently to disqualify 22,000 African Americans (likely Democrats), but only 61 Hispanics (likely Republicans), as alleged felons.

The top election official has also played a leading role in qualifying Ralph Nader as a candidate, knowing that two-thirds of his votes in the previous election came at the expense of Al Gore. She ordered Nader’s name be included on absentee ballots even before the state Supreme Court ruled on the controversial issue.

Florida’s governor, Jeb Bush, naturally a strong supporter of his brother, has taken no steps to correct these departures from principles of fair and equal treatment or to prevent them in the future.

It is unconscionable to perpetuate fraudulent or biased electoral practices in any nation. It is especially objectionable among us Americans, who have prided ourselves on setting a global example for pure democracy. With reforms unlikely at this late stage of the election, perhaps the only recourse will be to focus maximum public scrutiny on the suspicious process in Florida.

Taking the “high road” with the Republicans —

You just have to see it (and here’s a bit of useful explication on the GOP’s increasingly repulsive and widespread efforts to simply scare voters into voting for Bush)

Not that I’m paranoid or anything —

And at least one of you will be sure to let me know that I am, but what are the chances that CBS got duped into accepting forged documents on Bush’s guard service precisely so that they would be completely discredited/discouraged from running this far more important and credible story on the administration’s being duped by forged documents on Hussein’s fictional attempts to buy yellow cake uranium from Niger, a story that has much darker and more far-reaching implications?

Settling for proportional voting in Iraq —

As Josh Marshall points out, Rumsfeld’s new plan for elections in Iraq has a precedent in the Supreme Court’s Florida decision.

Does Not Compute —

Try to square this with the happy talk coming from Bush and Allawi (the latter of whom went on Newshour and said, of course among other things, that (a) the press is focusing on negatives in Iraq and (b) if Hussein were still in power, there would have been more terrorist attacks on US soil, by now, a claim that even Colin Powell can’t bring himself to support): “Less than four months before planned national elections in Iraq, attacks against U.S. troops, Iraqi security forces and private contractors number in the dozens each day and have spread to parts of the country that had been relatively peaceful, according to statistics compiled by a private security firm working for the U.S. government.” (In the process of trying to keep the regain the upper hand, the US is presently killing more Iraqi civilians than the insurgents are.)

Googlebombing —I comb Google News regularly, and am always startled by how many – as Josh Marshall puts it – “fringy right-wing nutball sites” appear as newslistings. The apparent explanation: Googlebombing by fringy right-wing nutballs.

Why can’t HE say that? —

It’s kind of a problem when a journalist does a better job of explaining John Kerry’s positionon Iraq than John Kerry does than John Kerry does.

This will probably surprise you —

A Boston Globe analysis finds that both presidential candidates engage in exaggeration and cherry-picking… “But Bush appears to be the worse offender this year, in terms of the number of misleading claims and the consistency of their appearance in his stump speech. A review of Bush’s public statements in recent days reveals a number of areas where he is repeatedly using exaggerated claims and incomplete statistics, in an apparent attempt to fit his campaign themes.”

Another language threatened —

The last woman proficient in Nushu died last week (thanks for the heads-up, JC):

Yang Huanyi, China’s last woman proficient in the mysterious Nushu language, died at her home last week. She was thought to be 98. Yang learned possibly the world’s only female-specific language from seven sworn sisters as a girl. Nushu characters are structured by four kinds of strokes, including dots, horizontals, verticals and arcs. Linguists believe her death marks the end of a 400-year-old tradition in which women shared their innermost feelings through codes incomprehensible to men.

Here’s a story from earlier this year (“Each word is like a flower,” Hu Cui Cui, aged 12), and some info on Nushu.

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