by Marty Logan
MONTREAL, Oct 7 (IPS) - Add the names of some of the most honoured ''brains'' in the United States to the rock & rollers and billionaires who have launched tours designed to beat President George W. Bush in November's election.
The scientists who include five Nobel Prize winners have assembled under the banner Scientists and Engineers for Change, ''to ensure that public policy issues affected by science and technology are widely discussed, and to mobilise the nation's scientists and engineers to participate in the political process,'' according to a news release.
Their lecture tour of 10 states where the race between the Republican Party's Bush and Democrat Senator John Kerry is tightest began last week, just days before Bruce Springsteen launched an all-star team of new and old musicians on a series of concerts in some of the same states.
By all accounts the race ahead of the Nov. 2 vote is too close to call in about a dozen key states like Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.
The scientists set off on tour about the time that billionaire George Soros announced he will pump more money (for a total of 18 million dollars) into defeating Bush, and himself depart on a speaking tour of ''battleground'' states in the final weeks of the campaign.
This week, Michael Moore's Cannes Film Festival prize-winning, anti-Bush documentary 'Fahrenheit 9/11' was released for home rental, adding another spoke to the wheel of the growing, rolling anti-Bush bandwagon.
But does it all matter? Or will this election see a repeat of the irregularities that occurred in Florida four years ago, but on a larger scale in numerous states?
Spoiled ballots, names incorrectly taken off voting lists and other events in Florida meant that ''widespread voter disenfranchisement -- not the dead-heat contest -- was the extraordinary feature,'' according to a 2001 report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
Political scientist Robert C. Smith doubts that deceit will determine the outcome next month, but says his students buy into the notion that even the U.S. presidential election can be ''bought.''
''There's a widespread belief among young people and among African- Americans of all ages that Bush is not going to lose the election, that his (people) are not going to let him lose in Florida, for example. And so it really does not matter whether you vote or not,'' says Smith, a professor at San Francisco State University in California.
''And I don't think that's accurate, and I try to discourage that kind of thinking,'' he adds in an interview. ''People also were very confused about the electoral college (where, actually, the votes are cast for president, by the 'electors' chosen on voting day) and how a person who lost there could actually win; and the Supreme Court's decision (about Florida last time) is actually inexplicable to some.''
''I think (all) that has led to a kind of cynicism, an increased cynicism, just about the process -- not about the candidates or the issues -- the process of counting votes'' for example, says Smith.
Last week former Democratic president Jimmy Carter, now head of the Carter Centre international human rights body, wrote that Florida still lacked key mechanisms to ensure a fair vote.
Most significantly missing: ''a non-partisan electoral commission or a trusted and nonpartisan official who will be responsible for organising and conducting the electoral process before, during and after the actual voting takes place,'' said Carter in the Washington Post.
Also lacking in Florida, he claimed, is ''uniformity in voting procedures, so that all citizens, regardless of their social or financial status, have equal assurance that their votes are cast in the same way and will be tabulated with equal accuracy.''
''With reforms unlikely at this late stage of the election, perhaps the only recourse will be to focus maximum public scrutiny on the suspicious process in Florida,'' added Carter, whose group has monitored more than 50 elections worldwide but will not oversee November's vote there.
One organisation that will be monitoring the U.S. polls is the office for democratic institutions and human rights of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Europe, which was invited by the Bush administration to witness the vote.
After a pre-election mission to the United States in September it noted ''concerns expressed with regard to the right to vote, and the possibility that this right may not be evenly applied or protected throughout the country.''
Among the issues the office raised were the growing use of electronic voting machines, many of which do not allow for a manual audit and recount, and inconsistencies in the workings of a new 'provisional ballot' designed for people whose names are not on a voters' list.
The office also said it received submissions about declining voter participation resulting from ''inaccurate voter registers, purges of the register intended to remove ex-felons in some states, which may also de-register persons with no criminal record, inaccurate voter information and cases of voter intimidation.''
Smith believes extra scrutiny of this election by U.S. and other bodies makes it unlikely that what he calls ''mishaps'' will occur this year on as large a scale as in 2000.
''I know the Democratic Party and the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) plan in various parts of the country to field a very large number of poll watchers and lawyers, so if anything is observed untoward, they plan to go directly to Federal Court,'' says the professor.
In Ohio state voters will see monitors inside and outside of every polling station, says Dan Kozminski of the Citizen's Alliance for Secure Elections (CASE).
His group lobbied hard so that no county in the northern state would adopt electronic voting machines that do not leave a paper trail. CASE succeeded, so in November all counties will use a previous voting method, mostly punch cards or optical scanners (which detect the mark made on a ballot with pen or pencil).
''We're very pleased with that, but it's only part of the battle,'' Kozminski told IPS. CASE is now opposing rules that prevented potential voters from registering unless they submitted their form on paper of a particular weight.
Another regulation would reject provisional ballots issued to a voter in a precinct that was not their ''home'' precinct. CASE says this rule violates federal law; the dispute will be heard in court next week.
''There are all kind of attempts to suppress the vote,'' says Kozminski. ''I am truly truly truly disappointed with a lot of our election officials...who have not taken their jobs seriously enough and don't realise that voting is the bedrock of our democracy.''
''I for one would question their motives,'' he adds. ''The question is: are people going to feel that it's not worthwhile voting?'' Kozminski suggests, optimistically, ''there will be a lot more watchful eyes out there (this year) and I think that's going to hearten some people.'' (END/2004)Posted by jmellicant at October 8, 2004 11:24 PM