In the six years since I first began investigating the burglary ring we call "elections" in America, a new voting reform industry has grown up. Paper ballots, we're told, will save our democracy.
Well, forget it. Over the weekend, Mexico's ruling party showed how you can rustle an election even with the entire population using the world's easiest paper ballot.
On Saturday, Mexico's electoral tribunal, known as the "TRIFE" (pronounced "tree-fay") ordered a re-count of the ballots from the suspect July 2 presidential vote. Well, not quite a recount as in "count all the ballots" — but a review of just 9 percent of the nation's 130,000 precincts.
The "9 percent solution" was the TRIFE's ham-fisted attempt to chill out the hundreds of thousands of supporters of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador who had gathered in the capital. Lopez Obrador, the Leftist challenger known by his initials AMLO, supposedly lost the presidential vote by just one-half of 1 percent of the vote.
I say "supposedly" lost because, while George W. Bush congratulated his buddy Felipe Calderon on his victory, the evidence I saw on the ground in Mexico City fairly shrieks that the real winner was challenger AMLO.
First: The exit poll of 80,000 voters by the Instituto de Mercadotecnia y Opinion showed that AMLO bested Calderon by 35.1 percent to 34.0 percent.
Second: The precinct-by-precinct returns were quite otherworldly. Here's the conundrum: The nation's tens of thousands of polling stations report to the capital in random order after the polls close. Therefore, statistically, you'd expect the results to remain roughly unchanged as vote totals come in.
As expected, AMLO was ahead of the right-wing candidate Calderon all night by an unchanging margin — until after midnight. Suddenly, precincts began reporting wins for Calderon of five to one, then 10 to one, then, as polling nearly ended, of 100 to one.
Professor Victor Romero of Mexico's National University concluded that the reported results must have been a "miracle." As he put it, a "religious event," but a statistical impossibility. There were two explanations, said the professor: Either the Lord was fixing the outcome, or operatives of the ruling party were cranking in a massive number of ballots when they realized their man was about to lose.
How could they do it? In Mexico, there is no real ballot security. In areas without reliable opposition observers (about a third of the nation), anyone can stuff ballots into the loosely guarded cardboard boxes. (AMLO showed a tape of one of these ballot-stuffing operations caught in the act.)
It's also absurdly easy to remove paper ballots, disqualify them or simply mark them "nulo" ("null" — unreadable).
The TRIFE rejected AMLO's request to review those precincts that reported the miracle numbers. Nor would the tribunal open and count the nearly 1 million "null" votes — allegedly "uncountable" votes that totaled four times Calderon's putative plurality.
Mexico's paper ballot, I would note, is the model of clarity — with large images of each party that need only be crossed through. The ruling party would have us believe that a million voters waited in line, took a ballot, made no mark, then deliberately folded the ballot and placed it in the ballot box, pretending they'd voted. Indeed, the few boxes re-counted showed the "null" ballots marked for AMLO. The tribunal chose to check no further.
The only precincts the TRIFE ordered re-counted are those in which the arithmetic is off. They refuse even to investigate those precincts where ballot boxes were found in city dumps.
There are other "miracles" which the TRIFE chose to ignore: a weirdly low turnout of only 44 percent in the state where Lopez Obrador is most popular, Guerrero (Acapulco), compared to turnouts of over 60 percent elsewhere. The votes didn't vanish, the ruling party explained, rather the challenger's supporters, confident of victory, did not bother to vote.
In other words, despite the right to paper ballots, the election was fiddled, finagled and fixed.
"Null" votes, not voters, have chosen Mexico's president. The only other nation I know of with such a poisonously high percentage of "null" votes is the United States.
And just as in Mexico, so it was north of the Rio Grande in 2000 and 2004. Ballot spoilage, not computer manipulation, stole Ohio and Florida in those elections — and will steal Colorado and New Mexico in the 2008 election.
Greg Palast is a columnist for Britain's Guardian newspapers and the author of 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.