What the U.S. media won't learn from the Mexican presidential election
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
by Steve Rosenfeld, executive producer of RadioNation with Laura Flanders
The world's model democracy - and its major media outlets - can learn
a few things from the presidential election just south of the border.
While the Mexican presidential election is racing to a dramatic finale,
the first and most important lesson is the election is not over until
ALL the ballots are counted.
This is not trivial. Thursday's New York Times and Wall
Street Journal both neglected to mention that an estimated
2.5 million ballots were not counted in the preliminary results that
followed Sunday's vote.
(Even the conservative Washington Times reported the uncounted
ballots on its website late Wednesday).
In Ohio in 2004, there are still 128,967 uncounted ballots. These
include nearly 100,000 machine-rejected ballots, meaning that people
but their choice was not read by the voting machines. (Of these,
more than 82,000 were on paper ballots, which could have been examined).
There also were 35,000 disqualified provisional ballots, which were
given to people who were not on voter rolls (due to registration
computer data-entry errors or voter purges).
Clearly, all Ohioans - like all Mexicans – who voted deserve to have
their vote counted. In Ohio in 2004, George W. Bush won by 118,775
votes, according to the certified result. Those results did not reflect
an estimated 116,000 voters who were not accommodated on Election
Day, because of long lines and voting machine shortages, and Bush’s
came after a controversial recount that only looked at 3 percent
of the state’s ballots.
But that's the rub. Elections can be messy while the media wants to
be quick and clear. The U.S. press - with both presidential elections
- looked at the early returns and declared an early winner. In both
cases, any investigation of vote count fraud - or padding results to
benefit one candidate - is dismissed as a tedious detail. Indeed, the
race to report the winner first tramples on the journalistic principle
of being accurate and the democratic principle of having every vote
count and be counted.
Is there a reason why editors can't learn to wait until the votes
are counted and certified? In the recent special congressional election
in California's 50th district, where substantial election problems
were documented - starting with poll workers taking home electronic
voting machines in violation of security rules - the press seems
to accept that Republican Brian Bilbray won, even though the election
results still have not been certified.
In San Diego last month, in Ohio in 2004, and now in Mexico, arriving
at a fair count becomes bogged down in partisan sniping, with the
loudest side accusing the other of whining, being sore losers and
not conceding "for the good of the country."
But at least Mexico, as opposed to the U.S., has a non-partisan federal
agency overseeing the counting that commands some public respect.
While Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute is not above charges of
partisan tinkering in its presidential elections, it still is an
institution worth emulating in the states, especially with the recent
nationwide shift to electronic voting machines. Currently in America,
often partisan officials at county boards of election oversee the
vote counts. Moreover, the latest twist is these boards increasingly
are relying on the voting machine manufacturers to conduct the count,
because the new software is proprietary. Impartiality is not built
into our system.
What snapshot does the Mexican presidential election offer the United
States? If we look in the mirror, we would see a national press corps
that wants elections to be over before all the votes are counted;
and we would see a system where partisan and private officials increasingly
are counting the votes - the most public of public responsibilities.
Is that any way to run a democracy?
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Steve Rosenfeld is executive producer of RadioNation with Laura Flanders,
heard on Air America Radio and community public radio stations. He is
co-author, with Robert Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman, of What happened
in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election,
to be published by The New Press this fall.