1 Aug 2013

It’s a stitch up! Ballot box blues

It is a familiar cry at any vote: it’s been rigged! As accusations of farce are thrown at Zimbabwe’s contest, Channel 4 News looks at a few of the more audacious election heists in recent history.

Zimbabwe's opposition has made claims of vote rigging in the election

Opposition leaders say Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party has rigged the country’s elections, an allegation strongly denied by the regime (although activists and international observers have made accusations of electoral fraud after every election in Zimbabwe since 1990).

Channel 4 News dives into the murky history of vote-rigging.

Liberia 1927

The 1927 presidential elections in Liberia made it into the 1982 Guiness Book of Records as being the most fraudulent ever reported in world history.

President Charles King of the True Whig Party was re-elected for a third term with a solid 234,000 votes cast in his favour, against 9,000 votes for his opponent, Thomas J Faulkner, of the People’s Party.

The problem was Liberia only had 15,000 registered voters at the time.

International observers and Liberian newspapers documented widespread fraud, including officials of Mr King’s party allowing members and activists to vote over and over again. Mr King’s party was also subject to claims of intimidating indigenous Liberians to vote for him.

The scale of the fraud drew attention his administration, which was later found to be conscripting indigenous Liberians into forced labour gangs, forcing them to do public work projects without paying them. King resigned as president in 1930.

Nigeria 2007

International election observer Andy Bruce, executive director of Electoral Reform International Services, said that Nigeria‘s general elections in 2007 were “the worst ever seen”. It was a widely repeated consensus.

There were reports that voter registration lists were made up, and included names such as Nelson Mandela, Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali.

There was further evidence of ballot box stuffing, buying and selling of votes, and officials from the People’s Democratic Party pre-thumbprinting papers, along with several polling stations with turnout of more than 100 per cent.

Not to mention the thugs who stormed polling stations and threatened staff before proceeding to stuff boxes themselves.

According to a report into the election, an EU Election Observation Mission said at the Enugu South polling station, in the state of Enugu, that they saw that “behind the building many people were tearing ballot papers from the pad, thumbprinting and signing them, then putting them all into a ballot box.”

At another station, the report said: “When one person wanted to vote for PPA [Progressive People’s Alliance], some party agents yelled ‘no!'”

The election saw Umaru Yar’Adua win the election for the ruling People’s Democratic Party with 24.6 million votes, or 70 per cent, over his closest challenger, Muhammadu Buhari, who won 6.6 million votes.

Vietnam 1955

The State of Vietnam Referendum of 1955 also earns a place in a list of famously rigged elections.

Vietnam was split between the Communist North and the Capitalist South after the 1954 Geneva Conference, but the nation wanted to come back together.

The solution? A referendum, pitting the former emperor Bao Dai against the prime minister Ngo Dinh Diem, who proposed a republic.

Bao Dai was a treacherous, slovenly womaniser, according to his US-backed opponent, Ngo Dinh Diem, who received plentiful sums of money from his American allies to produce campaign advertisements saying so.

The Americans were so interested in what was going on that at the time of the election, the CIA came up with a suggestion: the vote would be determined with two ballots, one for each candidate. Diem’s would be red – the colour of good luck. Bao’s was green – associated with bad fortune.

The results produced impossible statistics, with more people voting in Saigon than registered voters, and people in rural areas supporting Diem despite warlords preventing voting from taking place in many of the regions.

Diem claimed victory with 98.2 per cent of the vote. Using the referendum as justification, Diem proclaimed the Republic of Vietnam.

Haiti 1962

Another leader to hold the dubious honor of staging one of the most rigged elections in history is François Duvalier, the former president of Haiti who had trained as a doctor, earning himself the nickname “Papa Doc”.

Elected president in 1957, he was keen to project himself as a simple country doctor, rather than as a dictator who had won the presidency in a contest rigged by the Haitian army.

International pressure on Duvalier to hold public elections grew, and by 1962, a year before his term was due to end, he agreed to hold a presidential election.

He had altered ballots to have his name at the top, and when the contest was called, he had won more than 1.3 million votes. Number of votes for his opponents? Zero.

He declared after the results: “I accept the people’s will. As a revolutionary, I have no right to disregard the will of the people.”

It still wasn’t enough, however – two years later he declared himself president for life.

America 2000

But no list of controversial election results would be complete without reference to the Bush Gore debacle of 2000.

The presidential election, held in November 2000, pitted Republican George W Bush, son of the former president, George Bush, and brother of Jeb, governor of Texas, against the Democrat Al Gore.

Results depended on Florida, where the margin was sufficiently narrow to trigger a recount. A number of recounts took place – manually, handcounted results, which narrow Bush’s lead over Gore, and machine counts, which gave Bush the advantage. Eventually, after much toing and froing between the courts and counts, the Supreme Court decided in December to end the recounts, effectively granting Bush the victory.

However, according to the OSCE election assessment mission report, “shortcomings in Florida during 2000 included problems with voting equipment used by some counties resulting in a high rate of invalid ballots”.

The mission added that there were inaccuracies in the voter register, discrepancies in regulations for overseas voting, and inadequate training of election staff.

“Serious allegations were also made that some of these shortcomings, in particular the wholesale disenfranchisement of felons and inaccurate maintenance of the felons list, had a disproportionate impace on minority voters, particularly African Americans,” the report added.

African Americans had usually voted for the Democrats; a report by the US Commission on Civil Rights the following year found that black people in Florida were nearly 10 times as likely as whites to have had their ballots rejected.

George W Bush was declared winner.