The decision of US Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, to sign on to the objection raised Thursday by US Rep. John Conyers Jr. and other House Democrats to the counting of Ohio’s electoral votes from the 2004 presidential election sent a powerful signal that at least some — though certainly not most — Washington Democrats are listening to the grassroots of the party.
The challenge to the Ohio count, while it was based on legitimate concerns about voter disenfranchisement before, during and after the November 2 election, never had a chance to block the ultimate assignment of that state’s electoral votes to President Bush. After a short debate, Republican majorities in the House and Senate were always expected to dismiss any objections and assure that President Bush would have a second term. And they moved quickly on Thursday to do precisely that–with the support of most Democrats. The vote in the House was 267 to 31 to reject the challenge; in the Senate only Boxer voted in favor, with 74 other Senators voting against.
But the lodging of a formal objection, and the debates in the House and Senate that followed it, focused attention on the mess that Ohio officials made of the presidential election in that state — and on the lingering questions about the extent to which the problems were intentionally created in order to make it harder for supporters of Democrat John Kerry, particularly those in predominantly minority, urban and low-income precincts, to cast their ballots on November 2.
It also gave activist Democrats and their allies on the left a measure of the extent to which the party that relies so heavily on the votes of African Americans and Latinos will take seriously questions about minority-voter disenfranchisement, flawed voting systems and the partisan mess that local and state election officials frequently make of vote counting and recounting in states across this country.
After two months of work by Greens, Libertarians and groups such as Progressive Democrats of America–which highlighted flaws in the practices and procedures of Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell–there was little question that a legitimate case had been made for challenging Ohio’s electoral votes during what is usually a perfunctory post-election review by Congress. US Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, did precisely that with his remarkably detailed and well-reasoned report, “Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio.”
That report, which was circulated to members of Congress on Wednesday in anticipation of Thursday’s formal review of the Electoral College results, bluntly stated that, “We have found numerous, serious irregularities in the Ohio presidential election, which resulted in a significant disenfranchisement of voters. Cumulatively, these irregularities, which affected hundreds of thousands of votes and voters in Ohio, raise grave doubts regarding whether it can be said that Ohio electors selected on December 13, 2004, were chosen in a manner that conforms to Ohio law, let alone federal requirements and constitutional standards.”