Carter fears Florida poll will be flawed


28 September, 2004

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former President Jimmy Carter, who has monitored elections throughout the developing world, has predicted the U.S. presidential vote in Florida will be as flawed as the 2000 poll there.

Writing a commentary in The Washington Post, Carter said some basic international requirements for a fair election on November 2 in Florida were still missing.

"The disturbing fact is that a repetition of the problems of 2000 now seems likely, even as many other nations are conducting elections that are internationally certified to be transparent, honest and fair," said Carter, whose Atlanta-based Carter Centre has monitored more than 50 elections worldwide.

President George W. Bush's victory in the 2000 vote hinged on a recount of votes in Florida, where his brother Jeb Bush is governor. The U.S. Supreme Court 5-4 ruling stopped the recounts, effectively giving Bush the presidency over Democrat Al Gore.

After the election controversy, Carter and former President Gerald Ford led a commission and recommended changes in the American electoral process.

But Carter said many of the recommendations were not implemented due to inadequate funding and political disputes.

Listing problem areas likely in this year's vote, Carter said there needed to be nonpartisan electoral officials and a uniformity in voting procedures, regardless of voters' social or financial status.

Four years ago, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris was also the co-chair of Bush's state campaign committee and her successor, Glenda Hood, was showing the "same strong bias," said Carter.

Several thousand ballots of blacks were thrown out on technical grounds in 2000 and a "fumbling attempt" had been made recently to disqualify 22,000 blacks -- likely Democrats -- but only 61 Hispanics who were probably Republicans, as alleged felons, he added.

"Florida's governor, Jeb Bush, naturally a strong supporter of his brother, has taken no steps to correct these departures from principles of fair and equal treatment or to prevent th em in the future," Carter wrote on Monday.

"It is unconscionable to perpetuate fraudulent or biased electoral practices in any nation. It is especially objectionable among us Americans, who have prided ourselves on setting a global example for pure democracy."

With the election little more than a month away, he said reforms were unlikely at this late stage and the only recourse would be to maximum public scrutiny on the "suspicious process in Florida."