Friday, July 14, 2006
Lessons from the Un-Gore of Mexico
[Watch "Florida con Salsa," Palast's 15-minute investigative report from Mexico City for Democracy Now!]
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 Andres 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, "Voto por voto!" -- 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.
Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller, "ARMED MADHOUSE: Who's Afraid of Osama Wolf?, China Floats Bush Sinks, the Scheme to Steal '08, No Child's Behind Left and other Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War." Go to www.GregPalast.com.
Palast's report, "Florida con Salsa? Vote Fraud in Mexico" was filmed and produced by Rick Rowley and Jacquie Soohen (Big Noise Films). Matt Pascarella, in Mexico, contributed to this investigation.
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