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Did the Iraq elections meet American standards?

By Lee R. Shelton IV
web posted February 7, 2005

An Iraqi woman holds up her hand, and shows a purple finger, indicating she has just voted, as she leaves a polling station in the centre of Az Zubayr, IraqThe purple ink on the fingertips of Iraqi voters had barely begun to dry before the War Party claimed victory. With a 60 per cent turnout and less than 50 deaths, election day in Iraq was, by neoconservative standards, a veritable cake walk. Terrorists were given the finger, so to speak, and Bush's war earned justification despite the absence of WMD. What a glorious day for democracy!

But was this electoral exercise truly something to be happy about? Was the Bush Doctrine vindicated? The entire country was under martial law. Everything was shut down while the polls were open. Heavily armed American soldiers patrolled neighborhoods in armored vehicles, announcing through loudspeakers that Iraqis would be doing themselves a favor by voting. There were reports of Iraqis being threatened with a cut in food rations if they failed to perform their civic duty. Perhaps the greatest concern of all, however, is that this election took place under occupation, and many Iraqis probably saw voting as the quickest way to send foreign troops packing.

Let's pretend for a moment that none of that matters and just focus on the election itself. Using the political process here in the U.S. as a reference, can we accept the legitimacy of the election results in Iraq?

For example, are we sure that all Iraqi candidates followed the proper campaign finance guidelines? What a shame it would be to discover that foreign money had been used to somehow influence the elections.

Were all campaign fund-raising events conducted in a lawful manner? How do we know that mosques weren't being used to hold political rallies? How can we be certain that candidates didn't receive large soft-money contributions from tax-exempt, non-profit organizations?

While we're on the subject, what assurance do we have that voters weren't contributing more than the government-approved amount to their respective political parties? Were all of their donations reported to the appropriate government agency using the appropriate forms?

Did the candidates jump through all the necessary hoops to gain ballot access? Were the requirements determined region by region, or were there uniform national guidelines to follow?

What about the debate process? Did we see to it that the televised debates excluded all opposing viewpoints except for those of the two major party candidates?

On election day, were illegal immigrants prevented from voting? Security has been a problem over there, so how do we know that foreign citizens didn't slip across the border to vote?

What about the influence of dangerous political speech? Were there enough officers on duty to keep people from distributing campaign literature within 100 feet of polling places?

And what precautions were taken to prevent the kind of post-election courtroom battles we are accustomed to seeing in our own country? Did the 18,000 or so Iraqi candidates have their lawyers standing by to ensure that any recount would be fair and that no voter would be disenfranchised?

These are reasonable concerns. After all, how can any election be considered fair if the proper rules and regulations are not in place? If America is to be the standard by which all others are measured, then the people of Iraq can never expect to enjoy the fruits of liberty until they have the same restrictions on freedom that we have in this country.

Lee R. Shelton IV is founder and editor of the government watchdog site EverVigilant.net. He resides with his wife in Minneapolis, Minn., and can be reached at lee@evervigilant.net.

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