U.S. ELECTION: Democracy in Question

Inter Press Service News Agency


Democracy in Question

John Zogby, president of the polling firm Zogby International, told IPS he has been calling it “the Armageddon election” for about a year. Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader believes the Republican Party was able to “steal it before election day.”

STOCKHOLM, Sweeden, November 18, 2004 (IPS) – John Zogby, president of the polling firm Zogby International, told IPS he has been calling it “the Armageddon election” for about a year. Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader believes the Republican Party was able to “steal it before election day.”

Facts suggest something went very wrong on Nov. 2.

Speculation focuses upon a number of questions — purposeful miscounts, anomalies surrounding electronic voting (e-voting) machines, particularly the optical scan types; and numerous reports of voting “irregularities” in heavily Democratic areas.

“What they ‘do’ is minorities,” Nader said, highlighting the thrust of Republican efforts, “and make sure that there aren’t enough voting machines for the minority areas. They have to wait in line … for hours, and most of them don’t. There are all kinds of ways, and that’s why I was quoted as saying, “this election was hijacked from A to Z,” Nader told IPS.

Zogby was concerned about the difference between some of the exit polls (surveys of individuals who have just cast ballots) and the official vote counts. “We’re talking about the Free World here,” he pointedly noted.

On Nov. 10, University of Pennsylvania Professor Steven F Freeman, whose expertise includes “research methods,” compiled an analysis entitled ‘The Unexplained Exit Poll Discrepancy’. The document was prepared in view of the unusually large differences between what exit polls had predicted and the recorded vote tallies.

His findings suggest Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry should have received far more votes than he did.

In three of the key battleground states — Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania — Freeman’s analysis states the odds of Kerry receiving the percentage of votes recorded, given the exit poll findings, were less than three in one thousand, per state.

Freeman also determined that the odds of any two of these states simultaneously reaching their stated vote tallies were “on the order of one-in-a-million,” and the odds of all three states arriving at the vote counts they did “are 250 million to one.”

“Something is definitely wrong,” said Zogby.

Highlighting both the expected accuracy of exit polls and the significant disparity that Kerry’s defeat illustrated, Republican consultant, commentator and Fox-TV News regular Dick Morris wrote an article, ‘Those Faulty Exit Polls Were Sabotage’, suggesting a pollster conspiracy to swing the election for Kerry.

In doing so he, perhaps inadvertently, provided ammunition for arguments from the opposite side — that the exit polls were correct but the final results were fudged. “Exit polls are almost never wrong,” argued Morris, and in 10 of the 11 key states they had predicted significantly fewer votes for Republican President George W Bush than he was eventually credited with.

In New Hampshire, Bush tallied a surprising 9.5 percent more votes than predicted, the most significant difference in any of the key states.

Morris observed that outside the United States, exit polls are often used to provide a check on official vote counts, in his words, “to foreclose the possibility of finagling with the returns.”

Among the most cited exit polls were those conducted by Mitofsky International, whose founder, Warren Mitofsky, is widely credited with having invented exit polling. Zogby, whose firm was not among those that provided network TV coverage of the Nov. 2 election, described the possibility of either incompetence or fraud causing the controversial deviation as “impossible.”

According to Zogby, it would have required “wrong sampling in wrong areas throughout the country,” or the purposeful manipulation of data to obtain exit poll results so significantly different from the official totals. He viewed neither as a possibility.

When asked what exactly had happened then, Zogby replied, “a problem, but I don’t know where it is … something’s wrong here, though.”

On Nov. 5, Nader requested a hand recount of New Hampshire ballots, subsequently telling IPS he had “reports of irregularities there, and we have the cooperation of the state government … the state attorney-general and secretary of state.”

Nader also said his headquarters had been flooded with requests for assistance from a number of states.

On Thursday, five of the 11 New Hampshire voting wards where Nader requested a recount will undertake new tallies. According to his staff, all 11 wards had their votes counted with optical scan machines, primarily the AccuVote models made by Diebold.

“If there are irregularities, it may have broader applications in other states,” Nader said, adding that the current recount — a 45,000-vote sample — is expected to be completed within a week.

Allegations regarding optical scan machines’ potentially allowing the manipulation of Florida’s vote have been widely reported. In Ohio, the Green and Libertarian parties are pursuing a recount, numerous instances of voting irregularities having been reported there.

“As far as I’m concerned, this election was clearly stolen. What they did in Ohio was systematically deny thousands of African Americans, and other suspected Democrats, the vote,” charged progressive author, commentator and activist Harvey Wasserman of Franklin County, Ohio.

“It was like Mississippi in the fifties, and it was deliberate … had there been enough (voting) machines, and had people equal access to the polls with a reliable vote count, there is no doubt that John Kerry would have carried Ohio,” he told IPS.

The Nov. 14 ‘Cleveland Plain Dealer’, one of the country’s top 50 broadsheets, reported a Nov. 13 voter hearing where: “For three hours, burdened voters, one after another, offered sworn testimony about election day voter suppression and irregularities that they believe are threatening democracy.”

“People are deeply concerned that this is the end of American democracy, that we cannot get a fair election,” Wasserman said, poignantly adding, “there was no question of apathy in this election — we had more volunteers than could be used … thousands and thousands of grass-roots volunteers.”

If Kerry had taken Ohio, he would have taken the presidency.

“In the end, what Nader is doing in New Hampshire is the best answer. And if there’s a recount in Ohio,” that is also important, said Charles Franklin, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist who specialises in statistical methods, elections and public opinion.

Somewhat concerned about the possible manipulation of e-voting machines, Franklin was more concerned over “the ordinary administration of elections,” citing the simple logistical problems that had plagued voters.

He pointedly noted that the last two presidential elections highlighted “how the decisions of local people (officials) … can have a considerable influence over who gets to vote, what rules govern.”

When asked if he was aware of any parallels to the present election, Zogby replied, “I’m certainly aware of the election of 1960.”

“It’s been discussed, overtly, the roll that Richard Daley, and the roll that Lyndon Johnson played, separately,” Zogby said, referring to an episode where the John F Kennedy campaign had supposedly asked, “How many votes do you have?”, the reply allegedly being, “How many votes do you need?”

Of course, such examples also serve to highlight the influence “local people” can exert on an election’s outcome.

In the end, many people speculated that the 1960 incidents were not part of a grand conspiracy per se, but the cumulative effects of the actions of a number of individuals who shared a similar perspective, acted semi-independently, and did whatever it took to win.

Political “dirty tricks” culminated in the Watergate scandal, forcing then President Richard Nixon (1969-1974) to resign, ushering in a long era without similar illicit activity, until questions raised by the election of 2000.

With American democracy, until now, providing an effective model for many, as Zogby said, “we’re talking about the Free World here.”

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