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Ticos Criticize U.S. Election System

FAMED Mexican author Carlos Fuentes has said thatsince the upcoming U.S. election will affect the rest of theworld, the rest of the world should participate. Fuenteswas hardly advocating international suffrage; instead hewas calling on international voices.Arecent informal survey reveals that Costa Ricans, whotypically take pride in their own democratic system, are concernedabout next Tuesday’s presidential elections and highlycritical of the electoral process in the United States.Calling it everything from “the most undemocraticdemocracy” and “a lie” to “discriminatory,” Costa Ricanstudents, professors, analysts and artists interviewed byThe Tico Times asked how, after the debacle of 2000, U.S.citizens could continue under the same system.“THE last election misled us all. The process permitsa lot of irregularities. They have tried to improve it, nevertheless,the same process continues,” said Roberto de laOsa, director of international relations at UniversidadNacional (UNA) in Heredia. “I would expect more from amodern nation like the United States.”For those who live in a nation where citizens are automaticallyregistered to vote when they turn 18 and receiveofficial identification cards, the absurd nature of the U.S.electoral system begins with the fact that voters must register to participate.“It seems to me the most undemocraticsystem in the world. It is extremelyexclusive. It’s a system that allows a lot ofpolitical influence and pressure,” saidVictor Artavia, 22, a University of CostaRica (UCR) history student involved instudent government.IN recent months, U.S. voter registrationhas reached the highest levels manystates have seen in 20 years. According toreports by United Press International(UPI), Republican Party campaign officialssaid they have signed up more than 3million new GOP voters. Democrats saidthey have exceeded that number, but didnot provide statistics.From American Indians to Muslims,grassroots efforts to get everyone registeredto vote have taken hold. But still, thesystem has a history of discrimination,particularly against blacks and Latinos,according to political analyst LuisGuillermo Solís, director of UCR’s politicalscience graduate program.Reuters news service reported lastmonth that in Baltimore in 2002 and inGeorgia last year, black voters were sentfliers saying anyone who had not paidtheir utility bills, had outstanding parkingtickets, or were behind in their rent wouldbe arrested at polling stations.THE U.S. Commission on CivilRights found that in Florida in 2000,where President George W. Bush won byonly 537 votes, black voters were 10 timesmore likely than non-black voters to havetheir ballots rejected and were sometimesprevented from voting because theirnames were erroneously purged from registrationlists, Reuters reported.In addition, the New York Timesreported that a firm hired by theRepublican National Committee to registervoters, systematically tore up registrationsby Democrats. Republicans claimDemocrats do the same thing.The fact that registration takes placeon a state rather than a national level iscause for further concern, according toLuis Antonio Sobrado, a magistrate ofCosta Rica’s Supreme Elections Tribunal(TSE), which oversees elections here.Hours and locations of polling places,order of names on the ballot and type ofvoting process are determined on a locallevel and elections are overseen by civiliansin the United States. Registrationpractices vary by state as well, Sobradopointed out.“In our past, when wedid not have a centralizedsystem, it resulted in corruptpractices,” he added.ALLEGATIONS ofa corrupt election resultedin Costa Rica’s civilwar and ultimately led tothe creation of the TSE in1949.“The formation of theSupreme ElectionsTribunal was a reaction to the civil war.The country will never return to that system,”Sobrado said.The federalist nature of the UnitedStates also gives rise to what is perhaps thegreatest anomaly to Costa Ricans polled –the U.S. Electoral College. Sobrado calledthe system an anachronism.UCR communications student KatzyO’Neal agreed.“It is a democracy in quotation marks,but really it is a lie, they have proved thatBush did not win the vote of the people,”she said.Many U.S. political experts agree theelimination of the Electoral College isnearly impossible. To do so would requirethe approval of both the House ofRepresentatives and the Senate and 38 ofthe 50 states. Because the smallest states,which are the majority, would lose some oftheir power without the Electoral College,this will likely never happen, according tothe U.S. Department of State.SOME U.S. analysts say that the electoralsystem within the United Stateswould have been more challenged after2000 had the country’s attention not beenconsumed by the terrorist attacks of Sept.11, 2001.Voters in the state of Colorado are alsovoting on Tuesday on an amendment tosplit their nine Electoral College votesamong the candidates – nearly unheard ofin the system. If this makes any differencein the election, some believe this couldcause challenges of unconstitutionality.AS long as the Electoral Collegeremains, what could help build trust andconfidence in the U.S. elections, withinand outside the United States, is if the U.S.government welcomed election observers,like elections inMexico andVenezuela, CostaRican politicalanalysts said.“The UnitedStates requiresnational certificationfor drugs.They require certificationforfood products.But they don’trequire any sortof national certification of elections,” saidde la Osa. “They should be scrutinizingthemselves more, and they should inviteinternational ob-servers, to help strengthenthe impression of transparency.”The Bush administration has invitedthe Organization for Security andCooperation in Europe to observe the election,according to the Associated Presswire service. That group plans to send 100observers. In addition, the JusticeDepartment is sending more than 1,000federal poll watchers on Election Day.However, access to polls by electionobservers also varies by state.Magistrate Sobrado said Puerto Ricohas invited Costa Ricans to observe itselections.“What happened in Florida was awake-up call. It should call the attention ofNorth American people that they need toreflect,” he added.WITH the latest polls showing only aslight margin between U.S. PresidentGeorge W. Bush and his Democratic contenderSen. John Kerry, and the electionjust days away, some Costa Ricans areconcerned about a repeat of 2000.“Fraud has already been committed, andit will probably happen again,” said artistRenee, who uses only his first name.“I hope that the voters there, the youngpeople, realize that their votes, their elections,their system, is going to affect theentire world,” said 22-year-old UCR studentSamanta Solorio.Republican’s Abroad Costa Rica is hostingan election night party, starting at 7 p.m.Tuesday at a member’s residence in Escazú.For more information call 203-3267.


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