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Continued: Recounts are a pain, but let's be grateful we have them here

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Last update: December 1, 2010 - 8:27 PM

Ballot counting began Monday, marred by violence, at least one hostage-taking and claims of voter fraud.

Minnesota's gubernatorial recount? Hardly. This was in Haiti, a country whose citizens would be forgiven for not prioritizing a trip to the polls.

You're forgiven, too, if you missed this week's news that Haiti, population 9.7 million, is in the middle of a crucial election to pick a successor to President Rene Preval. How could anything compete with WikiLeaks and TSA booty-scanning?

Besides, most Minnesotans are still getting our heads around the reality of more than 200,000 dead and 1 million displaced after last January's 7.0-magnitude earthquake just west of Port-au-Prince. Then came a hurricane, and flooding, followed by a cholera outbreak.

As of Monday, 1,603 Haitians were dead from cholera, which is spread by contaminated water and poor hygiene, and nearly 30,000 had been hospitalized, according to the World Health Organization.

And yet, as many as 4 million Haitians went to the polls Sunday, choosing hopefully from among 19 candidates for president -- somebody to lead the country out of its desperate morass -- and another 100 lawmakers nationwide. The vote is being monitored by United Nations peacekeepers. Results are expected Dec. 7.

So like us, they wait. Unlike us, they deserve a gold medal for any ounce of patience they can muster.

International observers are downplaying voting subterfuge, but evidence suggests real roadblocks to this cherished right. An Associated Press report described "rampant disorganization" that prevented many Haitians from getting to their polling places. Others got to the polls but found no record of their names. Two deaths, so far, have been attributed to voting violence, as has one brief hostage-taking of an election monitor. A photograph from the village of Grande Riu Du Nord exposes ballots strewn and burning on the ground.

Our Minnesota recount? Rather a walk in the park by comparison.

"It's not that there aren't problems, and our system could work better, but we do have a process for settling these things," said Joe Peschek, political science chairman of the Hamline University College of Liberal Arts, and an expert in presidential politics and campaigns. "It can be a bit slow and methodical, but it is quite a contrast [to Haiti]."

Yes, we have headaches, like Republican Party Chairman Tony "when-in-doubt-challenge-it" Sutton, who is hinting at a desperate post-recount lawsuit. Yes, the bucket-load of "frivolous" challenges, mostly from the Tom Emmer team, have added a full day or more of extra work for re-counters. I feel for them and wouldn't want their job.

But their steadiness in the face of scrutiny is a reminder of what things look like when the democratic system works, something we can't be reminded of enough.

"In Minnesota, we're known for being procedurally clean," Peschek said. "Partisanship has been growing in recent years but, overall, we have a system designed to deal with eventualities, like a very close governor's race. All indications are that the local elections officials are doing their job. They're being overseen by representatives of both camps who are issuing challenges that are their right. Emmer is behind, so you can understand why he'd be challenging. I wish it were faster, but this is the way we do it."

Eric James hopes that, one day, it's the way Haitians can do it, too. James, director of program development and emergencies at the Minneapolis-based American Refugee Committee (www.arcrelief.org), has traveled three times to Haiti since the earthquake and plans to return this month to continue work clearing rubble, constructing temporary houses, creating clean water systems and setting up child-friendly places.

"Baby steps," he said. And that crucial step to the polls, even when threatened.

"People are very resilient there," James said, adding that he was not surprised to hear that so many citizens had flocked to the polls. "Their spirit and ability to bounce back and roll with the punches is quite remarkable."

Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350 gail.rosenblum@startribune.com

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