Non-Governmental Process for the Community of Democracies
North American Regional Workshop
At American University, Washington, DC
January 26, 2005
THE NORTH AMERICAN PERSPECTIVE:
Democracy Deficits at Home and Abroad
Conference Sponsored By:
Center for Democracy and Election Management, American University
Council for a Community of Democracies (US)
Center for American Progress (US)
Democracy Coalition Project (US)
Elections Canada (Ottawa)
Rights and Democracy/Droits et Democratie (Montreal)
Alianza Civica (Mexico)
Goals of the Workshop:
The North American Workshop was organized into four panels - one panel for each of the three countries of North America (Mexico, Canada, and the United States), and the fourth to summarize the proposals and offer ideas to strengthen democracy world-wide.
Each of the country panels was to examine the democratic performance of their home country with reference to three criteria: democratic engagement (elections, participation), inclusion (minority rights), and transparency (of governance and enforcement against corruption). The fourth panel was to discuss its recommendations in light of the critique of each country panel with respect to these criteria.
Background & Initiation:
As was pointed out at the European Regional Workshop in October, 2004, North America was the only region that had not yet planned a Regional Workshop as part of the non-governmental process in preparation of the Community of Democracies Ministerial meeting in April 2005. The Council for a Community of Democracies (CCD) undertook to rectify this situation and approached CCD's Board member, Dr. Robert Pastor of American University, head of AU's Center for Democracy and Election Management (CDEM), who offered to host the conference at American University and take the lead in organizing it on a very tight time schedule with the support of CCD, the Center for American Progress and the Democracy Coalition Project. This group organized the event, enlisted high-level panelists to lead the discussion at the workshop and with their Canadian and Mexican co-sponsors convened the meeting. The Workshop was able to build on the published results of a conference on "North American Elections and Democracy: What Can We Learn From Our Neighbors?", which was held in November 2003 at AU. The Workshop's participants were given copies of the Election Law Journal (Summer 2004), which published the twenty-one papers revised after the conference. For a link to that volume and the work of AU's Center for Democracy and Election Management, see: www.american.edu/ia/cdem/
Welcome and Introductions
For American University: Dr. William LeoGrande, Dean, School of Public Affairs
For the Nongovernmental Process: Richard C. Rowson, President, Council for a Community of Democracies
For the Community of Democracies: Hon. Andres Bianchi, Ambassador of Chile to the United States
Panel I: Evaluating Canada
Chair: Ms. Lea Newfarmer, Project Assistant for Non-Governmental Process of the Community of Democracies
Ms. Maureen McTeer, Professor of Law, University of Ottawa; Visiting Professor and Senior Fellow, Center for North American Studies, American University
Dr. William Cross, Carleton University and Mt. Allison University in New Brunswick
Dr. Louis Massicotte, Professor, University of Montreal
Panel II: Evaluating the United States
Chair: Chellie Pingree, President, Common Cause
Nkechi Talifa, Esq. Senior Policy Analyst, The Open Society Institute
Mark Schmitt, The Open Society Institute
Robert Pastor, Director, Center for Democracy and Election Management and Center for North American Studies, American University
Luncheon Address: "The State of Freedom in Mexico, the U.S., and Canada:
Freedom House's Perspective"
Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director, Freedom House
Panel III: Evaluating Mexico
Chair: Dr. Gisèle Yasmeen, Senior Director of National and International Research and Policy Development, Elections Canada
Jacqueline Peschard, former Counsellor, Federal Election Institute; Fellow, Wilson Center
Silvia Alonso, Alianza Civica
Carlos Heredia, Advisor for International Affairs to Governor Lazaro Cardenas of Michoacan
Panel IV: Summary and Next Steps on Democracy Deficits at Home and Abroad
Morton Halperin, Director of US Advocacy, Open Society Institute
Joe Clark, former Prime Minister of Canada; Distinguished Statesman in Residence and Senior Fellow, Center for North American Studies, American University
Carlos Heredia, Advisor to Governor Lazaro Cardenas of Michoacan
Robert A. Pastor, American University
Nancy Boswell, Managing Director in U.S., Transparency International (inv)
Richard C. Rowson, President, Council for a Community of Democracies
Dr. Miguel Carter, Assistant Professor, School of International Service
A sign of a vibrant democracy is the intensity of the criticism. Sometimes, that can be confused with the seriousness of the problem. In North America, two countries are long-standing and deeply consolidated democracies and the third, Mexico, has undergone in the last decade a remarkable transformation toward democracy. The participants in the conference were all determined to use their voices to improve their systems; that is the strength of democracy. If the judgments of the quality of democracy or of its flaws seem extreme, that is because they are the voices of advocates not of dispassionate scholars. We do not view the three governments' democracies as threatened in large part because their citizens are deeply engaged in addressing the problems at stake.
Key Issues Discussed: Recommendations & Comments:
- Some of the participants argued that the criminal justice system discriminates against minorities thereby undermining equal treatment under the law. Furthermore, in Mexico, the criminal justice system has been inadequate to the task of prosecuting a drug oligarchy, which in many communities has become "the law," replacing the national system of law and justice.
In the U.S., some of the participants argued that the criminal justice system victimizes Black and Latino Americans and other minority groups through the biased enforcement of criminal laws. After fifty years of civil rights progress, the uneven application of the laws could undermine that progress. For instance the benefit of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination in employment and 1965 Voting Rights Act have been undermined for minority groups due to the disproportionably high rates of incarceration, which deprives 1.4 million Black men of the right to vote due to felony disenfranchisement laws. Some feel that minority groups are victimized by: disproportionate targeting and unfair treatment by some police and other front-line law enforcement officials; racially skewed charging and plea bargaining by some prosecutors; discriminatory sentencing practices; and by the failure of some judges, elected officials and other criminal justice policy makers to redress these inequities. Presently, African American men in the U.S. are incarcerated for crimes at a rate five times higher than Blacks under apartheid South Africa. This sends an unfair signal as the majority of crimes are not committed by minorities and most minorities are not criminals. Yet the unequal targeting and treatment of minorities at every stage of the criminal justice progress - from arrest to sentencing - reinforces the perception of inequality.
In Mexico, entire states are under the sway of drug lords who carry on their drug-trafficking with impunity and gain public support by running health clinics, schools, and job training programs, funded by their illicit operations. Many of these activities have replaced the normal functions of the state and its legal governing structure.
- Discussion at the workshop about the respective election systems in North America indicated that each faces a set of daunting challenges.
The principle of one person-one vote is undermined by the Electoral College system in the United States. As occurred in 2000, the winner of the presidency can lose the nation-wide popular vote, but still win the office because of a system which gives disproportionate power to states with lower population. The highly decentralized election system in the U.S. often impedes the development of fair and uniform national electoral standards. Also, while the United States has sent observers to monitor elections throughout the world, most states and counties in the United States do not permit qualified election observers unrestricted access to election sites.
Common Cause, a nonprofit "watchdog" organization in the U.S., evaluated these conditions and received over 200,000 complaints of voter fraud during the last U.S. Presidential election. These were believed to represent only the "tip of the iceberg". A study undertaken by American University's Center for Democracy and Election Management, on the quality of the election systems used by North American countries, ranked the U.S. third behind Canada and Mexico. Among recommendations for reform of the U.S. system, were the following:
- switch to a nonpartisan election management system, including an independent electoral commission
- establish inter-operable, integrated, and interactive state-wide electronic registration lists
- hire and train more election workers
- use electronic machines with a voter verifiable ballot and a code that is transparent and certified by nonpartisan election authorities
- standardize "provisional voter" procedures in all states
- finance civic education ($232 million more spent abroad than at home)
- abolish the "18th century" Electoral College system so all votes count equally
- grant Washington, D.C. residents full voting representation in Congress
- provide open access by observers to all polling stations as other countries do
With respect to Mexico, a number of reform proposals were put forward including: the need for second generation electoral reforms to reach the state level; greater regulation of pre-campaign party finances and advertising in the media; centralizing the electoral calendar; and permitting the re-election of officeholders to increase the levels of accountability.
The study concluded with a question: What are the reasons for this poor U.S. standing, re