Facing Reality on Ohio

Some bloggers are willing to suspend all critical thought to accept any theory that Ohio was stolen, regardless of the validity of the argument and regardless of what the actual evidence shows. Russell Shaw discusses this at Huffington Post with a quote from Tom Hayden:

And to the bloggers, I say stick to standards of evidence that will convince the mainstream voters. Sometimes we stray from what we know, and what can be proven to the public, into the world of, well, conjecture. We cannot fight against a faith-based crusade with one that sometimes appears to be fantasy-based. We cannot fight the conservative model with a conspiracy model. The facts are staggering enough to cause deep public questioning and, in time, a radical public awakening. We should see ourselves as the questioning conscience of the nation, the prod to deeper digging by the media, the force that pushes politicians to address all the “inconvenient truths”, every last one of them.

Many of the claims of fraud have been refuted by liberals including Mother Jones, Salon, The Nation, and Jimmy Carter. There are real problems which need to be addressed, but screaming “Ohio was stolen” based upon poor evidence makes reform less likely. Accepting every claim of fraud creates multiple problems:

  • Some charges appear valid while some do not. Accepting all, even those with flimsy evidence, makes objective observers less likely to believe any of the charges
  • Concentrating on the belief that votes were “stolen” after the vote distracts from the real problem of Republicans stacking the system in their favor by various methods of voter suppression which reduce Democratic votes.
  • The belief that one’s vote will not be counted results in some Democrats being reluctant to campaign or vote, unintentionally helping the Republican voter suppression efforts.
  • Denial of the fact that Republicans won partially due to mobilizing voters such as residents of the exburbs and the religious right keeps Democrats from responding to these challenges
  • Promoting the weaker arguments undermines the claim of Democrats to be the “reality based” community on issues such as Iraq, national security, intelligent design, and stem cell research.
  • Claims based uoon theft of the 2004 election will appeal to Democrats but turn off Republicans. Bipartisan support is needed to achieve change. Fair minded independents are Republicans who desire honest elections are more likely to support change if this is argued baaed upon the principles of fairness and not disputing the 2004 election
  • For Kerry supporters this creates the additional problem of John Kerry being unfairly attacked for failing to fight a stolen election. If no evidence which would hold up in court of theft could be established to date, it was certainly not possible for Kerry to prove theft in the narrow window between election day and the counting of the electoral votes

In a democracy it is essential that all parties accept the result of elections as valid. The fact that, under the current system, it is not possible to verify the results to everyone’s satisfaction is sufficient to argue for changes in the voting machines, including a paper trail. Going beyond this and claiming fraud which cannot be proven acts to undermine the argument.

This issue gained more publicity after Robert Kennedy, Jr. wrote an article for Rolling Stone on election reform which was ultimatley a great disappointment due to promoting many weak and previously disputed arguments along with real arguments for election reform. My previous posts related to to this article are below the fold.

Update: It should be made clear that Hayden was not writing specifically about the voter fraud issue in the post which Shaw was quoting. Hayden’s quote is applicable to the topic of credibility, but Shaw’s post is misleading in suggesting that Hayden is weighing in on this specific issue.

Some relevant posts elsewhere are mentioned in the blog posts reprinted below. One good review, which I linked to in an update to my June 3 post is at Election Law. The post does a good job of differentiating between valid arguments for election reform and refuting Kennedy’s weaker claims and Kennedy’s conclusion that the election was stolen. This post was quoted several times in the discussion of the Shaw post at DU.

Brad Blog Reports Kennedy to Question 2004 Election in Rolling Stone Article

Posted by Ron Chusid
May 31st, 2006 @ 2:29 pm

Brad Blog reports that Bobby Kennedy, Jr. has an article in Rolling Stone to be released later this week questioning the results of the Ohio vote in the 2004 election. According to Brad Blog:

The article — headlined on the cover as “Did Bush Steal the 2004 Election?: How 350,000 Votes Disappeared in Ohio” — has been several months in development and will contend that a concerted effort was undertaken by high-level Republican officials to steal the Election in Ohio — and thus the country — in 2004!

Kennedy told The BRAD BLOG this morning that “the best evidence says the Republicans succeeded” in their plan.

He writes in the 10-page long article, and confirmed to us today, that evidence shows Ohio Sec. of State J. Kenneth Blackwell was “certainly in on” the scheme, and there are indications that the effort went all the way up to the White House.

Assuming Brad Blog’s report is accurate, and assuming that Kennedy presents convincing evidence to support this article, this could have a major impact on how the 2004 election is perceived beyond the blogosphere.

Kennedy Made The Cover of the Rolling Stone, and Flopped

Posted by Ron Chusid
June 3rd, 2006 @ 11:55 am

I eagerly anticipated Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Rolling Stone article examining questions of election fraud in Ohio. While such stories have been common in the blogosphere ever since the election, they have been virtually ignored by the mainstream media. I noted that “assuming that Kennedy presents convincing evidence to support this article, this could have a major impact on how the 2004 election is perceived beyond the blogosphere.”

The reaction to Kennedy’s article was justifiably under whelming. Those bloggers who have been immersed in this story saw this as justification for their theories, but for most readers the article was an embarrassment which will likely do far more harm than good to the cause of election reform. The Left Coaster found it “troubling that a half hour after this story is online, not one of the A-list center-left blogs is even posting on it.” There is good reason many liberal bloggers chose to ignore this article. We cannot claim to be the “reality based community” while supporting arguments which are far weaker than those made to claim the existence of WMD in Iraq.

Rather than coming up with anything new, Kennedy rehashed arguments which have been thoroughly refuted by those of all political persuasions. Rather than lending any credence to these arguments, Kennedy’s sloppy research and misstatements of the facts have seriously harmed his own credibility, placing him more in the category of questionably reliable writers such as Mark Crispin Miller. While there were clearly problems in Ohio which should be addressed, careful analysis of these factors by many parties have showed that these did not affect anywhere near as many votes as Kennedy claims. As the Democratic Party’s report found, “Despite the problems on Election Day, there is no evidence from our survey that John Kerry won the state of Ohio.”

There are far to many errors in Kennedy’s article to review in a blog post. Those who have examined the election with an open mind, as opposed to based upon hopes for the Kerry victory we wish had occurred, are already familiar with this information. For others, fortunately Salon has already performed an excellent act of fact checking on Kennedy’s article.

By presenting such a weak and easily disputable case Kennedy sets back the cause of achieving more transparent and fair elections. It is a shame that Kennedy didn’t take the approach that John Kerry wisely has. It is time to face the fact that the 2004 election is history and George W. Bush was the winner. By all means continue to investigate, but claims of a stolen election carry an extremely high burden of proof and claims of fraud should not be made until such proof is well established.

As long as any efforts at election reform are based upon changing the results of the 2004 election half of the country will be immediately suspicious and discount any arguments for reform. However, if problems such as those which did occur in Ohio and elsewhere (including areas which voted Democratic) are criticized based upon the principle of fair and transparent elections we have hopes of receiving the support of a solid majority. In a democracy it is urgent that all accept the legitimacy of election results. Unfortunately, while it can not be definitely proven that the election was stolen from John Kerry, it also cannot be proven to everyone’s satisfaction that George Bush legitimately won. This in itself is good reason to search for ways to conduct elections better.

Update: The Salon article is also mentioned at Hulabaloo with a suggestion that “either a substantive counter-response or an admission of error on Kennedy’s part really is appropriate.” This would be interesting but this also should not be confused as a disagreement between Kennedy and one Salon writer. Similar criticism of the arguments Kennedy made have been made by others in the liberal media since the election, including the Washington Monthly, Mother Jones, The Nation, and NPR. Democratic pollster Mark Blumenthal (aka The Mystery Pollster) has also debunked the exit poll arguments. However as the Salon article most directly relates to Kennedy’s article a response from Kennedy to these arguments would be a good place to start. If Kennedy cannot refute these arguments it would be helpful to the cause of election reform if Kennedy limited his charges to the problems which really can be demonstrated to exist. We should demand election reform not only because of Democratic questions as to whether Ohio was stolen by Republicans but also due to Republican beliefs that Wisconsin was stolen by Democrats, and the very real possibility that another Kennedy benefited from a stolen election in Illinois in 1960. The problem remains one of a poorly run election system which leaves far too much room to question the results.

Update 2: There’s another good analysis of the article at a non-partisan site, Election Law.

Update 3: The Carpetbagger Report is “suspicious of the argument because I’m not sure it holds up to close scrutiny.” He writes:

I’ve read the article, and the accompanying 74 footnotes, and I remain a skeptic. Some of Kennedy’s sources are a little shaky, and his over-reliance on voter exit polls brings his conclusions into question. Kennedy makes an excellent and persuasive case that Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell (R) played fast and loose with the rules, and arbitrarily pushed voting standards that contributed to statewide irregularities, but one dubious state official does not a stolen election make.

The Kennedy Debate Continues

Posted by Ron Chusid
June 5th, 2006 @ 10:20 pm

As anticpated, Robert Kennedy’s Rolling Stone article continues to create discussion in the blogosphere. Salon presents a reply from Kennedy to Manjoo’s article, along with a response from Manjoo. This was an obvious article for Salon with Manjoo having written the first and one of the most comprehensive evaluations of Kennedy’s article. (Of course Manjoo had an easy time of this since Kennedy presented arguments Manjoo had written on soon after the election.) A discussion between Kennedy and Manjoo is of value, but it should be remembered that this is not a simply a dispute between the two. Manjoo’s objections are shared by many, including many liberals, and the real question is whether Kennedy proved his case.

The biggest dissapointment in Kennedy’s article is that it stressed the exit polls so heavily, with many feeling that the exit polls fail to provide any evidence of fraud. The Mystery Pollster, who has already written extensively on this, responds more specifically to Kennedy’s use of the exit polls.

The biggest disappointment is that these serious discussions come from Democratic sites. Republican blogs generally offer only close minded attacks and offer little of value to the discussion. As long as election reform remains a Democratic issue there is no chance of achieving change. We need the support of independents and Republicans who also desire fair and transparent elections. This will not occur as long as the stress of articles such as Kennedy’s is on unprovable assertions that there is evidence that fraud changed the result of the election. As Kennedy failed to present evidence of fraud of this magnitude, and not all questionable acts are limited to Republicans, it would have been far more valuable if Kennedy had discussed problems with elections for which there is good evidence. If the result of an election cannot be determined with certainty this is in itself a problem and there is no need to attempt to show that this actually changed the result.

Besides being counterproductive, basing an article on election reform on claims of a stolen election creates discomfort in much of the liberal blogosphere. Liberals pride themselves on being the “reality-based” community. Liberals have the clear claim to having reality on their side on multiple issues, including WMD, Iraq’s lack of a pre-war lconnection to al Qaeda, evolution, global warming, and support for stem cell research. Regardless of whether fraud occured, unless more convincing evidence can be obtained of fraud, much of the liberal blogosphere will also ignore this issue (but hopefully not go to the lengths of one prominent site in banning those who maintain fraud occured).

Update: Salon also has a separate article on the controversy to answer their critics. They include comments from many blogs and defend Manjoo against several of the attacks on his article (which have become unnecessarily personal):

He has approached his stories on the massive problems with voting in this country in the same way, with an open mind. He investigated the many different allegations used to charge that President Bush “stole” the state of Ohio in 2004 and found all of them wanting. But in every piece, including his Kennedy article, he’s also made it plain that probably legal but unethical methods were used in Ohio and elsewhere to suppress voter turnout and discourage people from voting, and that those tactics are America’s shame. It’s clear, however, that a divide has opened on the left between those who want to label the 2004 election intentionally “stolen” by the GOP, and those who think unproven charges of theft — and they remain unproven, even after Kennedy’s ambitious piece — undermine efforts to work on the very real, documented problems in our voting system. They include the lack of safeguards for electronic voting, the too-frequent disparities in resources between rich and poor (and white and nonwhite) precincts, and the ethically challenged behavior of too many voting officials, from the infamous Katherine Harris of Florida to Kenneth Blackwell of Ohio, to people whose names we don’t know but who make decisions regularly that suppress voter participation.

Salon will continue to try to get to the bottom of charges of election theft in Ohio, but we don’t think the available facts prove the election was stolen. We also think unproven claims of theft weaken Democrats’ credibility and keep them from the work needed to build an electoral majority, as well as to reform the broken voting system that is at least one obstacle to that majority. While the blog posts below display a range of opinion about whether Kennedy or Manjoo makes the most effective case, they also show an increasing weariness of battles about the “theft” claim, when both sides agree there were serious problems in Ohio. As Chris Bowers of MyDD puts it, “Simply rehashing these old arguments is not going to get us very far in creating the sort of electoral reform we need … From what I can tell, there are only two things that will allow us to move forward with unity and hope. First, we need a lot more on the ground activism to try and retake control of our electoral infrastructure. Second, we need a national agenda for election reform that people on all sides of this issue can get behind.”

Dayton Daily News Debunks 2004 Election Myths

Posted by Ron Chusid
June 10th, 2006 @ 2:10 pm

Myths of fraud in the 2004 Ohio election have been repeated so frequently by portions (and fortuantely a minority) of the left wing blogosphere so frequently that some accept them as truth without evaluation. The controversy increased with Robert Kennedy’s article in Rolling Stone (discussed here and here). The Dayton Daily News, being near the heart of the controversy, evaluated several of the claims. My first question on reading this was whether the paper had a bias. Maybe they do. In 2004 they endorsed John Kerry–placing them in a distinct minority among Ohio newspaper which supported Bush by an eleven to four margin. They also supported Gore over Bush in 2000. A copy of their endorsement for John Kerry is available in the Kerry Reference Library.

The Dayton Daily News has run an editorial entitled Robert Kennedy Jr. fails to carry Ohio for John Kerry. Here’s their analysis of some of the claims:

RFK Jr. says: “The worst theft in Ohio may have quietly taken place in rural counties. An examination of election data suggests widespread fraud — and even good old-fashioned stuffing of ballot boxes — in 12 sparsely populated counties scattered across southern and western Ohio: Auglaize, Brown, Butler, Clermont, Darke, Highland, Mercer, Miami, Putnam, Shelby, Van Wert and Warren. … John Kerry’s numbers were suspiciously low in each of the 12 — and George Bush’s were unusually high.

“Take the case of Ellen Connally, a Democrat who lost her race for chief justice of the state Supreme Court. … Kerry should have drawn far more votes than Connally — a liberal black judge who supports gay rights and campaigned on a shoestring budget. …

“Yet in these 12 off-the-radar counties, Connally somehow managed to outperform the best-funded Democrat in history, thumping Kerry by a grand total of 19,621 votes (or) 10 percent.

“(Congressman Dennis) Kucinich … (says) ‘Down-ticket candidates shouldn’t outperform presidential candidates like that. That just doesn’t happen. The question is: Where did the votes for Kerry go?’ …

“The … likely explanation is that they were fraudulently shifted to Bush. …

“Says (one analyst), ‘By itself, without anything else, what happened in these 12 counties turns Ohio into a Kerry state. To me, this provides every indication of fraud.”

The truth is: There’s a simple, innocent explanation:

In judicial races in Ohio, including Supreme Court races, the ballot does not mention a candidate’s party. That’s an ideal situation for a Democrat in Republican territory in a low-profile race. Ms. Connally simply got the votes of people who didn’t know that she is a Democrat.

(Moreover, the article doesn’t mention a central fact: Votes are counted at the county level, where election boards have equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. A multicounty conspiracy would be remarkable.)
Warren County in spotlight

RFK Jr. says: “The most transparently crooked incident took place in Warren County. (Officials devised) a way to count the vote in secret. Immediately after the polls closed, … GOP officials — citing the FBI — declared that the county was facing a terrorist threat that ranked 10 on a scale of … 10. The county administration building was hastily locked down.”

The truth is: Well, that was certainly bizarre. The distrust is entirely appropriate. But it turns out that a Kerry campaign representative was present for the vote count and saw nothing suspicious. And the election board has as many Democrats as Republicans. They reported nothing hinky in the counting.

And the event was reported immediately, resulting in much attention for Warren County, even nationally. And, later, a (public) recount found nothing unusual in sampled precincts.

Bush vs. marriage ban

RFK Jr. says: “Ohio… had an initiative on the ballot… to outlaw gay marriage. Statewide, the measure proved far more popular than Bush, besting (him) by 470,000 votes. But in six of the 12 suspect counties (mentioned above) — as well as in six other small counties in central Ohio — Bush out-polled the ban … by 16,132. To trust the official tally, in other words, you must believe that thousands of rural Ohioans voted for both Bush and gay marriage.”

The truth is: Nothing of the sort. In 11 of the 12 counties the article names, more people voted in the presidential contest than on the gay-marriage issue. Therefore, President Bush got more votes than the ban. This is not rocket science. Sen. Kerry also got more votes than opposition to the ban. (The numbers are at the secretary of state’s Web site.)

As for the fact that the gay marriage ban got more votes statewide than President Bush: elementary. A lot of Kerry people in the cities (including blacks) supported the ban.

Much of the Rolling Stone article is about Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell. It says he did a lot of things to decrease turnout, such as insisting (briefly) that registration cards must be on paper of a certain thickness. But, as the article notes, Mr. Blackwell lost some battles in court. The article insists that he nevertheless sowed confusion and kept some people from voting for fear they’d be hassled.

But his impact must have been minimal. After all, the election had an amazing million more voters than in 2000. Mr. Kennedy’s article doesn’t mention that.

The Kennedy piece, like the one in Harper’s, makes charge after charge after charge. They shouldn’t all be rejected out of hand. Clearly, something went wrong in counties where people had to stand in line to vote for hours.

Again, though, decisions about distribution of voting machines were made by evenly divided election boards. Republicans alone can’t be blamed.

Among the 350,000 people Rolling Stone says were “prevented” from voting by Republicans, 174,000 were allegedly discouraged by long lines. The other main impediments were errors made by voting machines and avoidable errors made during registration. All are attributed to Republicans.

If these numbers were derived with the same sophistication used to analyze the judicial race and the gay-rights issue, they aren’t worth much.

Kennedy Pursuing Litigation Over Charges of Election Fraud

Posted by Ron Chusid
June 19th, 2006 @ 7:28 pm

The last couple of days there’s been a lot of talk around the blogosphere regarding interviews in which Robert Kennedy, Jr. has indicated he plans litigation surrounding the accusations of fraud in the 2004 election. For example, here is an interview with PR Week:

PRWeek: Is there a next step?
Kennedy: I’ve been meeting with attorneys… to devise a litigation strategy. And I would say that very soon we’ll be announcing lawsuits against some of the individuals and companies involved.

PRWeek: Who exactly would that litigation be targeting?
Kennedy: I wouldn’t say, right now.

Kennedy’s article in Rolling Stone attracted considerable interest but on its own failed to live up to the hype of demonstrating that the election was stolen from John Kerry. (Discussion here, here, and here). Litigation presents a new ball game in which arguments based upon speculation and wishful thinking have no place. This is where Kennedy will succeed or fail. If Kennedy can provide actual evidence that laws were broken then his Rolling Stone article will be seen as simply an opening statement to the public before actually presenting the real evidence. It will be interesting to watch and see both who he targets and the nature of the evidence provided.

Robert Kennedy, Jr. Featured in NY Times

Posted by Ron Chusid
June 25th, 2006 @ 2:07 am

Kennedy

The New York Times has a lengthy article on Robert Kennedy, Jr. The article includes his work as an environmental lawyer. The Rolling Stone article, and reaction to the article, is also reported (without any attempt to judge its validity).

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2 Comments

  1. 1
    Anonymous says:

    Excellent and thoughtful commentary. Conspiracy theories are essentially intellectual copouts. Let’s deal with real issues.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Thank you, annonymous commenter.

    It is unfortunate here that the “conspiracy theories” actually act to prevent the real problems from being taken seriously by many. Unfortunately those who push for solutions to the real issues are lumped with the conspiracy theorists and both the real compliants and the tin foil hat arguments are ignored by many people.

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