Of Our Elections
UN Should Keep Out
Of Our Elections
Several members of Congress, including some who represent parts of Queens, have called for the United Nations to supervise the upcoming presidential elections in November. The contention is that the Republican Party "stole" the 2000 presidential election and nationwide UN supervision is necessary to ensure that the 2004 presidential race stays on the up-and-up.
We’d like to think that it was sour grapes on the part of the Florida Democrat who first brought up the subject and misguided but genuine concern for the electoral system by which this country is governed on the part of the other Congressmembers who went along with the idea when it was first proposed in July. It certainly can’t have been clear thinking that led 13 members of the House of Representatives to sign a letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan asking for the UN to send supposedly unbiased workers to watch while American voters go to the polls on November 2.
Among its several duties, the United Nations does, indeed, try to maintain the integrity and honesty of elections in many countries. For the most part, these are nations fairly recently out from under colonial or totalitarian sway or in which the concept of representative democracy has only recently been introduced. Elections in such countries benefit from independent observers who ensure that all enfranchised citizens are free to vote and that the vote count is honest and above board.
Here in the United States, however, we have a long tradition of duly electing the persons who govern us. Yes, some elections had shady elements. It is said, for example, that the 1960 presidential election was won with the votes of people reposing in Chicago cemeteries. The 2000 presidential election made the state of Florida a laughingstock because of bits of paper confetti. It is results that count, however, and in both cases, the result was that a duly elected president took office and life went on. A week plus a few days more than 30 years ago, a president resigned. In that case, too, a successor took over and the government—and the nation—continued to function. No riots ensued, no buildings were burned and the work of the government and the nation went on without interruption. By contrast, in many other places, whether UN inspectors are present or not, election results are measured not by a voting tally, but by a body count. Many "peaceful" elections nevertheless can make only dubious claims to legitimacy; in the last Iraqi presidential elections under Saddam Hussein, for example, Hussein won 100 percent of the popular vote for a very simple reason—anyone who voted against the dictator knew they faced certain death, no doubt preceded by unspeakable torture. It might have been a "peaceful" election, but by no stretch of anyone’s imagination could it be called in any way legitimate.
If the UN inspectors want to observe American elections to learn how a democracy ensures the legitimate and peaceful succession of one president for another, well and good. Our electoral process, like our educational system, is open to all who wish to learn. But if they think their presence is necessary to keep our elections honest, they are sadly mistaken. Since George Washington first took the oath of office in 1789, we have showed the world how a democracy elects its leaders. We have more to teach any UN inspectors than they do to teach us.