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What Brazil Can Teach The USA: Fair Presidential Elections

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Brazil is ready to lead the United States into the 21st century. After all, they have many useful things to teach us, including how to dance samba, how to increase energy independence with flex-fuel cars, and how to count votes correctly in presidential elections.

Incumbent Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was reelected to a second term on Sunday in a landslide victory. With 99% of all ballots counted, Lula took 61% of the vote, while challenger Geraldo Alckmin had 39%. Those totals were reassuringly close to various national polls taken just before the election, which by all accounts was a fair and smooth process.

This contrasts with the electoral errors and fraud that took place in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections in the United States. The hijinks that occurred in Florida in 2000 were first uncovered by journalist Greg Palast (see his book "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy"), who also reported on alleged problems in Ohio. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. claimed that Republicans prevented more than 350,000 voters in Ohio from casting ballots or having their votes counted, which he exhaustively investigated in his article "Was The 2004 Election Stolen?" in the June 15, 2006 issue of "Rolling Stone".

Brazil's accurate vote tallying does not necessarily mean that the best man won, however. There is widespread dissatisfaction with Lula, whose administration and party have been plagued by corruption, nepotism, and vote-buying scandals. Most recently, Lula backers were caught in a hotel room with stacks of cash trying to purchase information damaging to Alckmin's party. It has not been proven that Lula himself knew about or participated in the illegal activities, but he has lost the trust of many Brazilians.

Despite the charges, Lula rode to victory in part with the unflagging support of Brazil's poor majority. His "Bolsa Familia" program reaches more than 11 million families of extremely low income with small monthly cash payments for each child who regularly attends school and has health checkups and vaccinations. It is the largest "conditional cash transfer" program in the developing world, according to the World Bank, and it has been highly popular in Brazil. It is also the only tangible benefit many dirt-poor families have ever received from the Brazilian government. Why wouldn't they vote for Lula?

Interestingly, Brazil ran an all-electronic election (the country first tested electronic voting in 1996), and uses machines made by Diebold Procomp, the Brazilian subsidiary of Diebold Inc., which has close ties to the Republican party and has installed over 130,000 electronic voting stations in the U.S.

Diebold's U.S. machines have been criticized for not providing paper receipts of votes and thus a paper trail to verify the machine's tally. In Brazil, voters also do not receive a receipt reflecting their choices. Each machine does provide a "ballot box bulletin" that is a printout of the machine's overall votes, according to the Associated Press. Many Brazilians are also complaining about the lack of individual voter receipts, yet the AP quotes Diebold spokesman Michael Jacobsen as saying "The more you introduce paper into a voting system the more you introduce the possibility of fraud." One wonders if he has ever pondered the words "hacking" and "recount."

Then there is the view of Bob Fitrakis of commondreams.org, who writes, "Wherever Diebold and ES&S (Election Systems & Software) go, irregularities and Republican upsets follow."

Let us hope that Diebold's machines function properly in our upcoming elections in the U.S., with no partisan mischief. And that we can follow Brazil's example of accurate vote counting.