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Mexico 2006: Florida all over again?

Posted in the database on Saturday, July 08th, 2006 @ 11:47:44 MST (1585 views)
by Eliza Barclay    Salon.com  

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A supporter of Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (left) and a man wearing a mask of presidential candidate Felipe Calderon celebrate in the streets in Mexico City on July 6, 2006.Photos by Reuters/Daniel Aguilar and AP/Gregory Bull

Members of Mexico's losing leftist party are invoking America's recent electoral scandals to convince the world that last Sunday's presidential election was fixed.

"Ciberfraude," or cyberfraud, is not a word in the average Mexican's vocabulary. But most Mexicans have heard of the extraordinary electoral debacle that befell their neighbors to the north in 2000, and Martí Batres, the head of the Democratic Revolutionary Party's Mexico City chapter, was going to capitalize on that knowledge. At a press conference Friday afternoon at PRD headquarters, the close advisor to Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the leftist politician who lost an exceedingly close election here this week, nodded to an aide to turn on his laptop. "And now I'm going to show you a video," he told the roomful of reporters.

The lights went out, and on a pull-down screen, computer programmer Clinton Curtis explained in English to an American audience how he had allegedly been hired by Tom Feeney, speaker of Florida's House of Representatives and a Republican, to create a computer code that fixed that state's vote in favor of George W. Bush six years ago. Batres, or someone on YouTube, had added Spanish subtitles to the 3 and a half minute clip. "This video shows that cyberfraud is possible," Batres insisted when the lights came up. "There may have been a source code used to manipulate our elections just as with the Florida elections in 2000."

Rumors of fraud were swirling in Mexico's streets, on TV and on blogs long before Thursday's official count confirmed that Felipe Calderon of the conservative PAN party had beaten Lopez Obrador of PRD by .58 percent, a difference of just 236,000 votes out of 42 million cast. "A black hand was at work, I believe," says Jorge Ortiz, a taxi driver who voted for Lopez Obrador. "The numbers just don't make sense."

Some of the rumors were reminiscent of the bad old days when the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, ran Mexico without challenge and elections were rife with fraud and ballots were burned in bonfires. There were tales of 3 million votes missing from the preliminary tally issued early in the week, which had Calderon winning by more than a million votes. There were allegations of vote buying and ballots buried in a Mexico City garbage dump.

But the fraud claims made at the PRD press conference were decidedly 21st century and very American. Batres, head of the PRD's Mexico City chapter, detailed several instances where the votes reported by the government's preliminary tabulation system, called the PREP, did not match the actual voting record, always to the deficit of Lopez Obrador and the benefit of Calderon, in one case by as many as 3,828 votes.

According to Batres, the inconsistencies cannot be chalked up to human error or deliberate destroying of paper votes, but to conspiracy, to a source code like the one Clinton Curtis claimed to have designed in Florida that systematically moved votes from the PRD to the PAN.

"In many different states around the country, we have seen what we believe to be cybernetic manipulation," Batres insisted. "We are going to enlist the help of information crime experts to look for a code inside the [electronic tabulation] system and then we need a recount, vote by vote."

Batres did not specify whether the PRD believes the entire election was manipulated or if the numbers were tweaked for only a select number of polling sites. The party will make a formal presentation to the Federal Electoral Tribunal contesting the validity of the election as soon as Saturday morning. As of Friday night, the party had not yet announced which tack it would take, but there were three likely scenarios.

1. The PRD could claim that certain polling sites were manipulated and call for the reopening of the ballot boxes at those sites for a vote-by-vote count.

2. The PRD could claim that the entire election should be annulled because cyberfraud was widespread and affected every polling site.

3. The PRD could claim that the entire election should be annulled because of cyberfraud and because of other factors.

Chief among those "other factors" is the annulment of more than 904,000 votes, 2.16 percent of all votes cast. While discussion of cyberfraud sounds as much Ohio 2004 as Florida 2000, it's annulment that really inspires a Tallahassee flashback.

Explains University of Texas political science professor Kenneth Greene, who has been in Mexico as an observer, "This election had the 'overvote' factor, similar to the butterfly ballot issue in Florida where people punched more than one option. Here people sometimes marked more than one box and so the IFE didn't know who to count it for and annulled it."

The Federal Electoral Institute, known by its acronym IFE, is controlled by appointees from Calderon's party, PAN, just as the chief vote-counter in Florida, Katharine Harris, was a member of George W. Bush's party. In fact in Mexico, the IFE has even tighter control than Harris had six years ago. "It's parallel to what happened in Palm Beach except that in Mexico only the IFE can count the votes, unlike in Florida where the lawyers and the party members got involved with counting."

Once Lopez Obrador presents his formal complaint, he may not have any better luck. The Federal Electoral Tribunal, which will review the complaint, contains no PRD affiliates.

PRD officials are unlikely, therefore, to persuade anyone in power of their arguments. They seem confident, however, that they can convince the public that something untoward happened in this election. Expert observers are skeptical.

Victor Manuel Alarcón, head of the sociology department at the Metropolitan Autonomous University-Iztapalapa, says the errors were likely human, a common occurrence with any non-digital voting system. "A lot of the people tallying the votes were poorly educated -- remember this country is poor -- so it's very possible the discrepancies between the PREP and the official count were their fault, not the result of fraud."

Despite a history of vote fraud, it's also difficult to reconcile the claims of manipulation with Mexico's revamped electoral institutions and voting procedures. While Mexico's electoral system has remained technologically simple, with voters using fat black crayons and paper instead of touch screens, it is also one of the most expensive and labor-intensive in the world. The government spent $1.2 billion this year in part to ensure that no polling site would have more than 300 voters assigned to it. In the 1990s, procedures were changed so that no party officials would work at polling sites. Parties are allowed to have representatives observing the procedures, but the sites themselves must be manned by ordinary citizens to create accountability.

According to Ulises Beltran, a professor of political science at CIDE, a leading graduate research institution in Mexico City, organized fraud is virtually impossible in contemporary Mexican elections because of all the safeguards. "To find enough evidence of fraud for Lopez Obrador to win," explains Beltran, "there would have to be 50,000 citizens involved with the conspiracy. The small size of our polling sites and the large number of citizens working in them should really prevent it."

Still, no matter how plausible or implausible the PRD's case turns out to be -- and enlisting the questionable Clinton Curtis on their behalf is hardly convincing -- 65 percent of the public voted for someone besides the election's declared winner. Some, at least, are likely to remain dubious about Calderon's victory. Cuahtemoc Cardenas, the founder of the PRD, who could make a much more compelling case that he was robbed of the presidency in the controversial election of 1988, argues that all questions must be answered for the sake of Mexico. "Without even being at fault," wrote Cardenas in a Friday editorial, "those who resist and oppose the clearing up of doubts awake unnecessary suspicions."

___________________________

Mexico and Florida have more in common than heat

by Greg Palast
The Guardian

There is evidence that left-leaning voters have been scrubbed from key electoral lists in Latin America

There's something rotten in Mexico. And it smells like Florida. The ruling party, the Washington-friendly National Action Party (Pan), proclaimed yesterday their victory in the presidential race, albeit tortilla thin, was Mexico's first "clean" election. But that requires we close our eyes to some very dodgy doings in the vote count that are far too reminiscent of the games played in Florida in 2000 by the Bush family. And indeed, evidence suggests that Team Bush had a hand in what may be another presidential election heist.

Just before the 2000 balloting in Florida, I reported in the Guardian that its governor, Jeb Bush, had ordered the removal of tens of thousands of black citizens from the state's voter rolls. He called them "felons", but our investigation discovered their only crime was Voting While Black. And that little scrub of the voter rolls gave the White House to his brother George.

Jeb's winning scrub list was the creation of a private firm, ChoicePoint of Alpharetta, Georgia. Now, it seems, ChoicePoint is back in the voter list business - in Mexico - at the direction of the Bush government. Months ago, I got my hands on a copy of a memo from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, marked "secret", regarding a contract for "intelligence collection of foreign counter-terrorism investigations".

Given that the memo was dated September 17 2001, a week after the attack on the World Trade Centre, hunting for terrorists seemed like a heck of a good idea. But oddly, while all 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf, the contract was for obtaining the voter files of Venezuela, Brazil ... and Mexico.

What those Latin American countries have in common, besides a lack of terrorists, is either a left-leaning president or a left candidate for president ahead in the opinion polls, leaders of the floodtide of Bush-hostile Latin leaders. It seems that the Bush government feared the leftist surge was up against the US's southern border.

As we found in Florida in 2000, my investigations team on the ground in Mexico City this week found voters in poor neighbourhoods, the left's turf, complaining that their names were "disappeared" from the voter rolls. ChoicePoint can't know what use the Bush crew makes of its lists. But erased registrations require us to ask, before this vote is certified, was there a purge as there was in Florida?

Notably, ruling party operatives carried registration lists normally in the hands of elections officials only. (In Venezuela in 2004, during the special election to recall President Hugo Chavez, I saw his opponents consulting laptops with voter lists. Were these the purloined FBI files? The Chavez government suspects so but, victorious, won't press the case.)

There's more that the Mexico vote has in common with Florida besides the heat. The ruling party's hand-picked electoral commission counted a mere 402,000 votes more for their candidate, Felipe Calderón, over challenger Andrés Manuel López Obrador. That's noteworthy in light of the surprise showing of candidate Señor Blank-o (the 827,000 ballots supposedly left "blank").

We've seen Mr Blank-o do well before - in Florida in 2000 when Florida's secretary of state (who was also co-chair of the Bush campaign) announced that 179,000 ballots showed no vote for the president. The machines couldn't read these ballots with "hanging chads" and other technical problems. Humans can read these ballots with ease, but the hand-count was blocked by Bush's conflicted official.

And so it is in Mexico. The Calderón "victory" is based on a gross addition of tabulation sheets. His party, the Pan, and its election officials are refusing López Obrador's call for a hand recount of each ballot which would be sure to fill in those blanks.

Blank ballots are rarely random. In Florida in 2000, 88% of the supposedly blank ballots came from African-American voting districts - that is, they were cast by Democratic voters. In Mexico, the supposed empty or unreadable ballots come from the poorer districts where the challenger's Party of the Democratic Revolution (PDR) is strongest.

There's an echo of the US non-count in the south-of-the-border tally. It's called "negative drop-off". In a surprising number of districts in Mexico, the federal electoral commission logged lots of negative drop-off: more votes for lower offices than for president. Did López Obrador supporters, en masse, forget to punch in their choice?

There are signs of Washington's meddling in its neighbour's election. The International Republican Institute, an arm of Bush's party apparatus funded by the US government, admits to providing tactical training for Pan. Did Pan also make use of the purloined citizen files? (US contractor ChoicePoint, its Mexican agents facing arrest for taking the data, denied wrongdoing and vowed to destroy its copies of the lists. But what of Mr Bush's copy?)

Mexico's Bush-backed ruling party claims it has conducted Mexico's first truly honest election, though it refuses to re-count the ballots or explain the purge of voters. Has the Pan and its ally in Washington served democracy in this election, or merely Florida con salsa?

· Greg Palast is the author of Armed Madhouse: Who's Afraid of Osama Wolf? China Floats Bush Sinks, the Scheme to Steal '08 and other Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War gregpalast.com

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The Democrats must now say "We Do Not Concede" in the U.S. as it's being said in Mexico

by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman
The Free Press

Lopez Obrador is saying in Mexico what the Democratic Party should have been saying in the United States since November 2000: WE DO NOT CONCEDE. And no Democrat should ever again be nominated for any public office without first pledging to guarantee a full and thorough recount, as is being attempted in Mexico.

We do not yet know the final official outcome of the Mexican presidential election. We do know the vote casting and counting have been plagued with some of the same kinds of intimidation, theft, fraud and electronic manipulation that have become the staples of Rove-run elections here in the United States.

The Mexican outcome is hugely important for a wide range of reasons. The Mexican presidency in the hands of a leftist like Lopez Obrador would have a major effect on the immigration issue currently being used by the Bush/Rove Republicans to whip up racist division and diversion. A leftist victory would also underscore the sea change in Latin American politics being led by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and other populists rising from the southern grassroots.

The pattern in the Mexican election is all too familiar to those of us who've seen GOP thefts in Ohio 2004 and elsewhere. The left/liberal candidate is ahead in the polls going into the election. But at the last minute, there's a shift. The exit polls still show the left/liberal victory. But somehow there are "computer glitches" and other "problems" that miraculously shift the final vote to the right, as with George W. Bush in the 2000 and 2004 elections, both of which were decided by fraud, theft and manipulation.

Mexico would seem to be headed down the same dismal path, with one world-class difference: THE LEFT ACTUALLY STOOD UP!

Smelling a familiar rat, Lopez Obrador has challenged the vote, and demanded every single ballot cast be counted by hand. It's all about that old thing called democracy.

Contrast that with the devastating concession by Francine Busby in the recent race for the seat of disgraced San Diego Congressman Duke Cunningham.

In classic form, Busby was ahead in the polls going into the final days. There was a typical right wing hysteria over a comment Busby made, for which she lamely apologized.

Then, on election day, the now-familiar miraculous computer glitches and ballot problems surfaced, along with the expected intimidation and confusion so thorougly perfected by the Bush/Rove GOP. When the official vote counts were made, Busby had allegedly lost.

But as has been reported by Brad Friedman of BradBlog and now by others, uncounted ballots and other irregularities have put the true outcome in doubt. Had this been Mexico, the left would have stood and fought.

But what did Busby do? She meekly conceded. All those who worked for her and counted on her were left high and dry....except now they are fighting back. Thanks to a strong grassroots response, that election may not be over, despite the initial Democratic concession.

To all this we can only say: NEVER AGAIN! We have seen presidential elections stolen in Ohio and Florida; Senate races stolen in Georgia, Minnesota and Colorado; a statewide referendum stolen in Ohio, and a special Congressional race in Ohio which remains under a serious cloud.

At this point, there seems no barrier to the Republicans doing this again and again. Our democracy cannot survive the GOP making a mockery of those who come out to vote, and whose right to do so is being increasingly challenged by a party greedy for absolute power. But stopping this requires that the losing candidate STAND UP!

We need to take this message from Mexico: No Democrat can ever be nominated without making a firm, inescapable pledge to NOT CONCEDE until every last vote is hand counted and every electronic voting machine thoroughly dismantled, byte by byte, to root out fraud and manipulation. Ultimately, with no apparent way to fully secure electronic voting machines, there is no alternative to the universal use of hand-counted paper ballots. As Rev. Jesse Jackson has put it, we cannot have public elections held on privately-owned machines.

Anyone with any illusions about what is being done to our electoral system by Team Bush/Rove needs to stand Mexico 2006 next to Ohio 2004 and Florida 2000. Like Lopez Obrador, we cannot accept candidates who will not actually stand and fight for all votes to be cast and counted. No Democrat should be allowed to accept any nomination for any elected position without first taking this pledge:

"UNTIL THE VERY LAST VOTE IS HAND-COUNTED, WE WILL NOT CONCEDE!!"

Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-editors, with Steve Rosenfeld, of WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO?, upcoming from the New Press. Their SUPERPOWER OF PEACE is available at http://www.freepress.org/.

_____________________________

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