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'Stealing elections' here and there

December 18, 2000
By Bukka Rennie

There are two ways to steal elections. "Padding" involves illegal additions to the legitimate electoral lists by means of subterfuge, deception and collusion with members of the electoral commissions or authorities.

"De-padding" (my own word) involves illegal subtractions or conspiracy to disqualify legitimate, properly-registered voters which, in certain circumstances, may be tantamount to the disenfranchisement of whole sections of communities.

In T&T's 2000 election the former was largely the case relative to the marginal seats. In the US Presidential elections, the latter was the case relative to the Florida vote. And that is not to say there were not instances where both approaches to stealing elections were simultaneously utilised.

Take the case of Florida. And, dear readers, if you happen to be faint-hearted, you probably should not read on. There has been a wall of silence internationally about the realities of the Florida vote. Thanks most of all to Al Gore who won the Presidency and chose to lose it rather than break down the wall of silence.
We say, Good riddance, to him!

The information that is before us (and for this we must thank our friends in the USA who are neither stifled nor stymied by pro-establishment bulwarking) indicates that Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, brother of the now President-elect, George W Bush, had passed legislation geared to deter affirmative action policies favourable to African-Americans. Most of the other states had done the very opposite, so Jeb Bush and the State of Florida came to be targeted by the NAACP and its special voter registration programme.

Clearly, African-Americans needed to strengthen their political presence and franchise in Florida. In the massive registration that followed, 893,000 African-Americans were registered. It meant a significant increase in the electorate, and 40 per cent of these were, in fact, new voters from communities of poor and black people who traditionally do not vote for the Republicans.

Given the new configuration, there was no way the Democrats could lose Florida. Officials in the Florida State government which include, beside Jeb Bush, one Katherine Harris, Secretary of that State and co-campaign manager for Bush therein, came up with a basic four-point programme to guarantee that the Republicans would win Florida. That programme was as follows:

An obscure 19th century Florida law still on the statute books which automatically removed the "franchise for life" from all people who were found guilty of offences labelled as "felonies" was brought by Ms Harris to bear on the situation. A list of some 700,000 such felons was posted thereby disenfranchising about one third of the poor and the blacks in Florida. Even ex-convicts whose franchise had been restored suddenly found themselves once again disenfranchised.

On polling day, poll workers were ordered to be very "strict" and "tough" in challenging voter qualifications, obviously to counteract the massive registration that had been accomplished by the NAACP. Translators were denied to foreign-language speakers such as Haitians on polling day. This led to added confusion and spoiled ballots.

Thousands of African-American voters with registration cards were questioned by poll workers then placed in special "problem lines" and forgotten. The vast majority left without casting their ballots as all kinds of deliberate obfuscation were raised to frustrate them. The four-point programme worked like a charm.

The Washington Post newspaper estimates one out of every five votes in the Afro-American community of Jacksonville, Durval County, Florida, was spoilt and that some 27,000 black votes were "thrown out". The Miami Herald, likewise, reports that, without all such official machinations and deliberate obfuscation, Al Gore would have won Florida by approximately 23,000 votes.

Al Gore and company know this but their policy was geared to keep their legal challenges limited to nonsense like the layout of the ballot paper and the claim that many of the Buchanan votes were, in fact, his etc, rather than raise the spectre of institutional racism in the electoral process. It was white establishment solidarity that prevailed at all cost. Hurrah for democracy, white American style!

So what is different in T&T? Absolutely nothing! It is likewise the bulwark of blind solidarity at the expense of common decency, integrity, morality and the rule of law. This is a first-past-the-post system, so whoever wins the most seats takes control of the Government and does exactly as they please, including breaking laws of the land and totally disregarding social convention.

In 1995, the UNC did not clearly win but, due to a much-contrived alliance, arrived at a slight majority to gain power. Then, with the resources available, it induced two people to cross the floor to gain a much more workable scenario.

Once that was achieved, the incumbent then proceeded to neutralise or destroy all possible sources of dissent in this plural society while extending his ethnic nationalist solidarity, and broadening alliances with chosen individuals and groups from the other side of the divide.

That, plus the vastness of state resources, provided the incumbents with the comfort zone to ride roughshod over all and sundry, to bulldoze, brow-beat and compromise numerous officials of the civil bureaucracy, to threaten to push the legitimate opposition into the sea, to dispense State contracts without regard for the rule of law as it relates to tendering procedures, and with the intention to fatten friends and relatives and, most of all, to politicise even the extending and development of social amenities such as roads and water at the expense of the regulations under the Regional Corporations Act.

Then claim to the electorate that "performance", purely cosmetic and superficial, is more important than "integrity". This has been, by far, the most lawless and dangerous government that has ever stalked this land.

And when we came to the 2000 election, the habitual lawlessness extended into the vote padding issue. In order to guarantee victory for the incumbents, the marginal seats were targeted for padding, that is, the transfer of voters from strongholds.

People have actually been arrested and are presently before the courts. Significantly, they are all represented by high-price lawyers who refuse to name the person or persons who have retained them.

New, first-time voters from the UNC strongholds were registered in bulk in marginal areas. In one case, some 200 nursing recruits turned up for duty on their first day of work and were duly made to register in one marginal constituency.

The allegations are too numerous to mention. However, every attempt to get the Elections and Boundaries Commission, before polling day, to provide the nation with guarantees that the electoral lists from 1995 to 2000 were clean, that everyone listed was properly and duly registered as prescribed by law, met with stoic silence. Eventually, one EBC official had the audacity to declare everyone on the list had the right to vote, without qualifying what the process of legal registration required.

That statement from the EBC official may have provided the vote padders with the comfort they required to "go brave". That same individual indicated we will all be laughing at this "padding" issue after polling day. Well, December 11 came and went and nobody is laughing.

The end result, sooner or later, one can be certain, will be a commission of enquiry into the affairs of the EBC. Whereas in the USA an NGO, utilising the Freedom of Information Act, has taken upon itself the civic duty to count every single ballot in Florida manually, even if it takes years, in order to declare the true winner in the name of democracy, despite the fact that this shall be of no effect, nothing of the kind will happen in T&T.

There is no legal framework to commandeer the ballot boxes and poll cards from Tunapuna, San Fernando West, St Joseph etc, to recount independently and to double-check poll cards to determine legitimacy of registration. Boasts by the UNC about having obtained the largest amount of votes ever in history, remain idle outside of such a thorough exercise.

You see, we in this country are only playing at "democracy" like little children playing "dolly house". Everybody on the side of the rule of law must stand to be counted. Anything else is being irresponsible.

BBC: Florida's black voters protest Jan 11, 2001
BBC: Black votes in Florida investigated Jan 11, 2001

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