Trust but Verify

Are we hopelessly naive and old-fashioned to expect votes to be counted? That seems to be the attitude of the corporate news media, which have largely ignored questions raised about the Nov. 2 general election.

When John Kerry conceded on Nov. 3, he promised that the Ohio vote would be counted, but he and the corporate press seemed more interested in putting "closure" on the election. For sure, Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, the state's top election official who happened to be a co-chairman of the Bush/Cheney campaign, was in no hurry to finish the count of 155,000 provisional ballots and review more than 90,000 "spoiled" ballots, which might narrow George Bush's 136,000 lead to the point where it might get interesting again.

The Democrats let the Greens and Libertarians take the initiative in demanding a recount and challenging Blackwell's status as an impartial election arbiter on Nov. 11. Green candidate David Cobb and Libertarian Michael Badnarik scraped together $150,000 to cover the costs of recounts in all 88 counties. Meanwhile Kerry prepared to shuffle back to the Senate with $15 million in leftover campaign funds.

Finally, on Nov. 22, the Ohio Democratic Party announced that the Kerry/Edwards campaign was joining the recount. "As Senator Kerry stated in his concession speech in Boston, we do not necessarily expect the results of the election to change, however, we believe it necessary to make sure everyone's vote is counted fairly and accurately," Ohio Democratic Chairman Dennis White said. He called for witnesses, volunteers and donations. But the Dems declined to join in the Green/Libertarian lawsuit in federal court seeking a "full, hand recount" to be completed before the Electoral College meets Dec. 13.

Blackwell apparently does not intend to certify the count before the Dec. 6 deadline The Greens/Libs are concerned that will not give them time for a recount before the Electoral College meets to select Bush. The election is not official until Congress actually receives the Electoral College votes on Jan. 6, but then Congress would have to decide which slate of electoral votes to accept. In other words, the minions of Tom DeLay and Bill Frist would decide what was fair.

Dr. Steven Freeman of the University of Pennsylvania examined the controversial exit polls that predicted Kerry would win Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. He found the poll data was fundamentally sound. But in all three states the actual vote counts were skewed in Bush's favor. Freeman put the odds of that happening as 1 in 250 million. [See page 19.]

Nobody seems to want to talk about the possibility that election fraud occurred, but Bob Harris put it in context at bobharris.com, "We already know that allies of this twice-unelected president in Florida and Ohio screwed with the voter rolls, screwed with people's ability to vote, and are working right this very minute to continue distorting the vote, right before our eyes. Is screwing with the votes on election day somehow qualitatively different?

"No one should need reminding that Karl Rove has always broken any rule necessary to win at all costs, and that there have been no costs for cheating since this administration took office. Someone near the top of this administration has already committed treason by leaking Valerie Plame's name to the press, and received nothing but protection ever since.

"And let's not forget that this very same band of merry men conspired for over a year to lie their way into an illegal war and generate rationalizations for torture, indefinite detention and even disappearances -- a series of high crimes against the constitution, existing law and humanity which makes electoral tinkering seem tame by comparison.

"I mean, what sort of behavior is necessary to start suspecting the beneficiaries of the obvious rigging in their favor? Does Karl Rove have to come to the house personally and start humping the furniture?"

VerifiedVoting.org notes that only six of 88 Ohio counties used touch-screen voting, which leave no paper trail. But 13 counties used optical-scan voting, which leaves paper ballots, and the rest used punch cards. Contrary to popular belief, Diebold e-vote machines were not used in the Ohio election.

As Ronald Reagan used to say, "trust but verify." And election officials who ordered e-vote machines without the means to print paper receipts to verify results should not be surprised if their professions of good faith are met with skepticism.

What's Next?

The knee-jerk reaction after the election was for the corporate press, which had played a key role in undermining Kerry's bona fides, to examine ways the Democrats could become more like the Republicans. This ignored that the GOP won by appealing to their bases in the suburbs and rural areas and getting them out to vote to overcome Democratic strongholds in the cities.

The Democrats had America Coming Together and America Votes coalitions as well as other grassroots groups such as Moveon.org and Progressive Majority working to get out the vote in the field. In Ohio they exceeded their goals in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland); Franklin County (Columbus) and Hamilton County (Cincinnati). Under the old conventional wisdom that would have meant a Democratic victory, Matt Bai wrote in the 11/21/04 New York Times Sunday Magazine. But, Republicans had their own "quiet but ruthlessly efficient turnout machine" with local party organizations, gun clubs and churches in the rapidly growing suburban counties as well as rural counties to get out the conservative vote for Bush.

But Kerry won in Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and 15 other states where there also are churches and gun clubs, plus the District of Columbia. If Ohio had enough voting booths so that working people didn't have to stand in line for hours waiting to cast their ballots, perhaps Kerry would be picking his Cabinet.

Democrats must reclaim the good name of liberalism to become competitive in the suburbs and rural areas, particularly in the South and the Midwest, once again. But solid majorities still agree with them on liberal economic issues such as the need for fundamental reform of health care, enforcement of labor and environmental standards in trade accords, protecting Social Security and making universal health care and energy independence priorities over deficit reduction.

MoveOn.org, for example, enlisted 70,000 volunteers, including 34,000 to work in swing states. They contacted 700,000 voters on election day and exceeded their goals in every respect except for one, said Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn PAC. But they built a terrific network of volunteers, he said in a Nov. 21 conference call to meetups around the country, "and we will keep building on your success."

The meetups called for MoveOn to help develop a clear progressive message, push for media reform, organize progressives, transform the Democratic Party, build progressive institutions and promote congressional candidates for 2006.

Pariser closed with a quote from Thomas Jefferson, writing in 1798 amid the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts and threats of war with France: "A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in the meantime we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt. ... If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake." -- JMC

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