Is Our Electoral System in Danger?

Much has been written about the 2004 presidential election, and questions have abounded about whether or not the election was stolen. The issue is far from settled, though not so much talked about now. But what reawakened my interest was a recent article posted online by Rolling Stone Magazine: “Was the 2004 Election Stolen?” by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. It’s a long article, and heavily annotated, but it’s well worth reading. If even a fraction of the allegations about voter fraud in the state of Ohio (the state I grew up in) are true, then the implications are staggering.

I won’t try to summarize the many points, but here are a few quotes:

The reports were especially disturbing in Ohio, the critical battleground state that clinched Bush’s victory in the electoral college. Officials there purged tens of thousands of eligible voters from the rolls, neglected to process registration cards generated by Democratic voter drives, shortchanged Democratic precincts when they allocated voting machines and illegally derailed a recount that could have given Kerry the presidency…. In Warren County, GOP election officials even invented a nonexistent terrorist threat to bar the media from monitoring the official vote count….

In what may be the single most astounding fact from the election, one in every four Ohio citizens who registered to vote in 2004 showed up at the polls only to discover that they were not listed on the rolls….

”Ohio was as dirty an election as America has ever seen,” Lou Harris, the father of modern political polling, told me. ”You look at the turnout and votes in individual precincts, compared to the historic patterns in those counties, and you can tell where the discrepancies are. They stand out like a sore thumb….”

…In the battle for Ohio, Republicans had a distinct advantage: The man in charge of the counting was Kenneth Blackwell, the co-chair of President Bush’s re-election committee. As Ohio’s secretary of state, Blackwell had broad powers to interpret and implement state and federal election laws — setting standards for everything from the processing of voter registration to the conduct of official recounts. And as Bush’s re-election chair in Ohio, he had a powerful motivation to rig the rules for his candidate. Blackwell, in fact, served as the ”principal electoral system adviser” for Bush during the 2000 recount in Florida, where he witnessed firsthand the success of his counterpart Katherine Harris, the Florida secretary of state who co-chaired Bush’s campaign there.

My sister, living in Ohio, remarked: “Ohio Republicans as a whole have put on an amazing display of corruption for the past year or more…” while another Ohio-dwelling friend said, “From where I sit…Ken Blackwell is the Darth Vader of Ohio politics…. How #$@&ing long can we waste our energy on the bullcrap issues and ignore the fundamental disintegration of our physical, cultural, intellectual, and spiritual infrastructure?”

You must of course draw your own conclusions. I personally am convinced that there was more than enough chicanery in the Ohio elections alone to account for the outcome of the 2004 election. Regular readers know well enough by now what I think about the current administration. But more important even than the consequences we face down the road from current policy is the risk of losing our democratic process altogether from rigged elections.

I’ll just end by quoting Robert Kennedy’s closing paragraphs:

If the last two elections have taught us anything, it is this: The single greatest threat to our democracy is the insecurity of our voting system. If people lose faith that their votes are accurately and faithfully recorded, they will abandon the ballot box. Nothing less is at stake here than the entire idea of a government by the people.

Voting, as Thomas Paine said, ”is the right upon which all other rights depend.” Unless we ensure that right, everything else we hold dear is in jeopardy.

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  1. tsmacro
    | Reply

    After the last couple of elections it’s my opinion we’d be better off without the electoral college for presidential elections. I’m sorry but why do we need a “middleman” between me and my vote for president? I think it should be one vote one person, just total ’em up and declare a winner, it shouldn’t make any difference what state my vote comes from in a national election. If that’s the way it was don’t we would’ve had a different president in 2000. And if the votes had just fallen a little differently in Ohio in ’04 once again we would’ve had a president that had fewer popular votes than the winner for the second election in a row. Although I’m not Mr. Bush’s biggest fan these days I was actually somewhat relieved that the candidate with the most popular votes did win the last election even though it was him. Of course by the looks of what you posted above it seems there was definitely the potential for some vote manipulation in Ohio, the state that did end up tipping the balance last time. Since I haven’t seen any evidence that shows that it actually happened I’m not going to condemn the republican dirty tricks committee (yet *L*) but just the fact there was the appearance that such corruption was possible is bad enough. I mean come on the people in these positions have to know that everything they do is going to be looked at with a fine tooth comb so it’s in their best interest to make sure everything is run cleaner than squeaky clean, otherwise we end up with the kind of garbage that’s being tossed around now and the average voter just gets that much more disillusioned.

  2. Jeffrey A. Carver
    | Reply

    Actually, I think the evidence of abuse in Ohio is clear. I know someone at Kenyon, where the lines for polls were hours long, because oddly there weren’t enough voting machines, etc.

    The fact that the head of elections in Ohio was also the co-chair of the Bush campaign in Ohio is mind-boggling on the face of it (although exactly the same was true in Florida in 2000). I guess that’s not illegal, though I can’t imagine why not.

    Regarding the electoral college, I’m inclined to agree with you, though I can’t claim to be familiar with all the arguments.

  3. Charlza
    | Reply

    Addmitedly, I wasn’t fully awake when I read this and thought it said US Electrical System in Danger.

    I’ve gone back and forth with the electoral college. Like you, I don’t really know or understand many of the arguments involved, but a very basic part of me thinks it shouldn’t be there. A vote should be more closely tied to the so called ‘will of the people’ that I keep hearing a certain someone declaring. Not that I like the man, but that’s a story for another time.

  4. Jeffrey A. Carver
    | Reply

    >> thought it said US Electrical System in Danger.

    My first good laugh of the day. Thanks!

  5. Jeffrey A. Carver
    | Reply

    (And I also was not fully awake when I saw your comment, and I thought, “Charlize Theron posted to my blog?”)

  6. substandardTim
    | Reply

    im not in the mood for another political debate just yet but yeah i thought it said electrical system at first too.

  7. Jeffrey A. Carver
    | Reply

    Well, I’m glad I was able to bring a certain degree of unity to the assembled crowd. 🙂

  8. Jose
    | Reply

    It’s a bit silly that we live in an age when individuals can make highly financial transactions worth hundreds of millions of dollars over the internet but voting is so riddled with fraud.

    You americans have, in my opinion, the best democracy on paper. Unfortunately there’s too much at stake and too many people involved for it to remain uncorrupted.

    Why should people involved in a political party have a position of authority in the electoral process? Isn’t that a bit like a bank letting its customers count their own money?

  9. Jeffrey A. Carver
    | Reply

    I couldn’t agree more, Jose.

Post your comment before you lose your train of thought. (Mine already left the station.)