Slow-Rolling Democracy in Ohio
George W. Bush’s political allies appear to be slow-rolling a requested recount in Ohio, leaving so little time that even if widespread voting fraud is discovered, the finding will come too late to derail Bush’s second term.
Though balloting occurred on Nov. 2, more than a month ago, Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell still hasn’t certified an official vote, a move now expected on Monday, Dec. 6. Since Blackwell also has battled requests from third-party candidates for an expedited recount, a review of Ohio’s vote now won’t begin until Dec. 13, at the earliest, according to Blackwell’s office. [See Boston Globe, Dec. 1, 2004]
But the Dec. 13 date is the same day the electors of the Electoral College meet to formally select the President of the United States. So even if the recount uncovers enough fraud to reveal John Kerry as the rightful winner in Ohio, it would be too late to change that outcome.
Meanwhile, as Ohio’s official foot-dragging has gone on, Bush’s election-night lead has continued to shrink with the counting of overseas and provisional ballots. The Associated Press reported on Dec. 3 that its vote tally of Ohio’s 88 counties showed Kerry narrowing Bush’s lead to 119,000 votes from about 136,000 votes, leaving Bush with a 2 percent lead.
But Kerry also might stand to gain a substantial number of votes from a recount that would examine ballots thrown out by antiquated punch-card voting machines. They are used mostly in poor areas, especially African-American neighborhoods that are Democratic strongholds. Other voters, believing that Ohio’s electronic systems were susceptible to vote rigging, have sought audits to check for tampering.
Instead of embracing these examinations to resolve voter doubts, however, Secretary of State Blackwell and other Bush allies in Ohio have resisted the demands. Now, the clock is running out for any meaningful review. [Citizens demanding a full recount in Ohio scheduled a rally for Dec. 4 in the capital of Columbus Other protests are being organized in the days leading up to the Electoral College meetings on Dec. 13.]
In some ways, the United States is witnessing a repeat of Election 2000 where Bush first frustrated Al Gore’s demands for recounts in Florida and then had five Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court block a recount ordered by the state Supreme Court. Finally, the five Republican justices in Washington required that a reorganized Florida recount be conducted in two hours, a clearly impossible task that handed the presidency to George W. Bush.
Placing national unity as a priority over democracy, the U.S. news media stepped in after Election 2000 to sweep away any lingering doubts about Bush’s legitimacy. The unity message was that the United States needed to put the contentious election in the past, even though Bush was the first popular-vote loser in more than a century to move into the White House.
This protection of Bush’s fragile legitimacy gained even greater momentum after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The “united-we-stand” sentiment put the New York Times and other leading news organizations in a particular quandary in November 2001 when they completed an unofficial recount of Florida’s votes.
The recount discovered that if all legally cast votes had been counted, Al Gore would have won Florida regardless of what standard of “chad” was used. In other words, Gore was the rightfully elected President of the United States, not Bush.
To avert the predictable conservative outrage over the recount findings, the major national news outlets simply buried the “Gore-won” lead. Instead, they topped their stories with a bogus analysis that a recount would have left Bush as the rightful winner.
The analysis assumed, falsely, that so-called “overvotes,” where voters checked a candidate and wrote in the name, would not have been included in the recount. But the news organizations were erroneous in this assumption because the judge handling the Florida recount had ordered those votes tallied and almost certainly would have added them to the state’s total, since they were clearly legal under Florida law. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “So Bush Did Steal the White House.”]
Now, with Team Bush running out the clock in Ohio, one has to wonder what contortions the mainstream news media would put itself through if a belated recount – after Bush’s election is formalized – shows that Kerry should have won Ohio and thus the White House.
Robert Parry, who broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek, has written a new book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq. It can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It’s also available at Amazon.com.