was in Washington last week, covering a story in congress,
when a friend invited me to a panel discussion in the basement
of the Capitol building. I agreed before he told me what
the subject was. Boy was I bummed when I found out. The
title on the e-circular:
went wrong in Ohio? A Harper’s magazine forum
on voting irregularities in the 2004 election.”
Christ, not that, I thought. Like a lot of people in this
country (and like most all of my colleagues in the journalism
world), my instinctual reaction to the Ohio electoral-mess
story has always been one of revulsion and irritation. Almost
on principle I had refused even to look at any of the news
stories surrounding the Ohio vote; there is a part of me
that did not want to be associated with any sore-loser hysteria
of the political margins, and in particular with this story,
the great conspiratorial Snuffleupagus of the defeated left.
had always seemed to me that I understood the psychology
of the Ohio story without having to examine the facts involved.
I thought the story appealed most directly to a group of
people who were still reeling after 2000, an election which
George W. Bush not only lost according to the popular vote,
but plainly stole in the electoral college. The evidence
for this theft has been there for everyone to see for five
years now; few serious thinkers even dispute the matter
anymore, just as few Democrats would even bother denying
now that John Kennedy stole the 1960 election.
Bush remains president. And not only has he remained president,
he hasn’t even had the decency to act embarrassed about
it. He’s remained president right out in the open, in front
of our faces, like he’s proud of that shit.
a certain segment of the population, this state of affairs
must have been psychologically unacceptable. Somewhere deep
inside they must have been clinging to the absurd notion
that if the president is caught stealing an election, he
is to be automatically removed from office, and perhaps
even jailed. And so they nursed this notion in their breasts
through 2000, and then — just like that, like the hansom
magically appearing at Cinderella’s door — the Ohio story
fell in their laps. Ohio, it always seemed to me, was a
wish their hearts made.
in itself didn’t make the Ohio story illegitimate. Weirdly,
however, it did make it something I wanted to avoid precisely
because I disliked George Bush. On some level I suspected
that the more publicity the Ohio mess got, the more discredited
Bush’s political opponents would be in the end. The media,
I knew, would dismiss the Ohio story in exactly the casually
vicious manner described above — as hysteria, as the delusional
work of professional conspiracy theorists, as the behavior
of sore losers unable to accept George Bush’s clear popular
last part, incidentally, was the formulation most journalists
used when picking their official excuse for ignoring the
‘04 Ohio story. Because Bush really did win the popular
vote, they argued, there was no point in investigating a
possible electoral fraud in Ohio, because no one had really
been cheated out of office.
idea allowed the media to simply sidestep the entire issue,
and escape having to make a pronouncement about the legitimacy
of the Ohio elections — something they seemed hell
bent on avoiding.
instance, even when they had a completely plausible excuse
to at least investigate the Ohio charges on their own —
after Michigan congressman John Conyers issued a lengthy
report detailing the Ohio indiscretions — the big dailies
still almost completely blew the case off. The New York
Times mentioned the Conyers report only in the context
of a 391-word A16 item in January about John Kerry endorsing
the election results (“Election Results to Be Certified,
With Little Fuss From Kerry,” 1/16/05). That piece ended
with a quote from a spokesman for Dennis Hastert, who dismissed
the Conyers report as the work of the “loony left.”
can only speak for myself, but I think that as a result
of all of this, I was inclined to dismiss as a waste of
time any discussion of what happened in Ohio. The story
wasn’t going anywhere. Even if there was evidence of wrongdoing,
how could it possibly be more incontrovertible than the
evidence in Florida? And given that nothing happened when
Bush stole the election in front of the entire world in
Florida, why bother making a fuss now in Ohio — especially
since John Kerry was clearly less of a victim than Al Gore?
I don’t think that way anymore. After attending this panel,
and speaking to the congressmen involved in the preparation
of the Conyers report (in particular Sherrod Brown of Ohio,
a former Ohio secretary of state) I’m convinced that Ohio,
if anything, was a far more brazen and frightening subversion
of democracy than Florida. And since my fellow journalists
seem intent on ignoring the matter, I’m going to keep returning
to it in this space, until I can find some friends in the
business who will be willing to pick it up with me.
the thing about Ohio. Until you really look at it, you won’t
understand its significance, which is this: the techniques
used in this particular theft have the capacity to alter
elections not by dozens or hundreds or even thousands of
votes, but by tens of thousands.
if we ignore this now, we’re putting proven methods for
easily ripping off major elections in the hands of the same
party that had no qualms whatsoever about lying its way
into a war in Iraq. In the hands of a merely corrupt political
party, a bad election or two would be no big deal. But these
clowns we have in power now imagine themselves to be revolutionaries,
and their psychology is a lot like that of the leadership
of Enron, pre-meltdown — with each passing day that they
get away with it, they become more convinced by a delusion
people who have followed this story before know the basic
facts already, but for those who ignored Ohio until now,
here’s a very brief greatest hits of Ohio irregularities:
As was the case in Florida, the secretary of state (Kenneth
Blackwell, in Ohio), who is in charge of elections, was
also the co-chair of the state’s Bush-Cheney campaign.
In a technique reminiscent of the semantic gymnastics of
pre-Civil Rights Act election officials, Blackwell replaced
the word “jurisdiction” with “precinct” in an electoral
directive that would ultimately result in perhaps tens of
thousands of provisional ballots — votes cast mainly by
low-income residents — being disallowed.
Blackwell initially rejected thousands of voter registrations
because they were printed on paper that — believe it or
not — was, according to him, the wrong weight.
In conservative, Bush-friendly Miami county, voter turnout
was an Uzbekistan-esque 98.55 percent.
In Warren county, election officials locked down the administration
building and prevented reporters from observing the ballot
counting, citing a “terrorist threat” (described as being
a “10” on a scale of 1 to 10) that had been reported to
them by the FBI. The FBI made no such report. Recounts conducted
during this lockdown resulted in increased votes for Bush.
In Franklin county, 4,258 votes were cast for Bush in a
precinct where there were only 800 registered voters.