American elections never play out perfectly. But the dramatic imperfections in the 2004 presidential election in Ohio, as detailed in a new report (see below) circulated by Representative John Conyers Jr., D-Michigan, deserve a more serious response than they received from the majority of Congressional Democrats. When Ohioans began to raise concerns about troublesome irregularities in the approach of Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell — a Bush campaign apparatchik — to conducting the November 2 election and counting the votes in the contest that ultimately decided the race between Bush and Democrat John Kerry, they initially got more encouragement from Greens and Libertarians than from national Democrats. But Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, took the complaints seriously enough to go to Ohio. There, he and minority staffers for the Judiciary Committee conducted hearings and investigations that cut through the hyperbole and got down to two basic conclusions: first, voting and vote counting procedures in Ohio were so flawed that they created circumstances where citizens were disenfranchised and, second, that legitimate questions about the problems with the Ohio election had not been resolved at the point when the state’s electoral votes were cast for Bush. Accordingly, Conyers has announced that he will object to the certification of the results from Ohio when Congress is scheduled to review and approve Electoral College votes this afternoon.

Conyers has found a handful of allies among House Democrats in recent days, mostly members of the Congressional Black Caucus. But as today approached, he had received little encouragement from Democrats in the Senate. (The staff of California Senator Barbara Boxer says she is “considering” going along with Conyers, and Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold is reportedly doing the same. But neither had signed on as of this morning.) Barring a last-minute show of solidarity by Boxer, Feingold or another senator, the failure of Senate Democrats to side with Conyers appeared likely to block his formal objection, as federal rules require that a challenge to the counting of electoral votes from a particular state must be backed by at least one member of both the House and the Senate. Conyers, who has served four decades in Congress and been a central player in every major voting rights debate since the 1960s, wrote last week to all 100 senators asking that they sign on to his objection. Yet, even when he distributed materials itemizing and analyzing what he described as “the many irregularities we have come across as part of our hearings and investigation into the Ohio presidential election,” he received no response from most. It was an eerie echo of what happened in 2001 when members of the Congressional Black Caucus tried to object to the certification of electoral votes from Florida only to be ruled out of order because no senator had backed their complaint. The scene of African-American members being gaveled into silence was one of the most powerful and poignant moments in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9-11, and it was impossible to imagine that it would ever be repeated. Yet, as the moment of truth approached this year, Conyers, the senior African-American in Congress, was forced to plead for an opportunity “to debate and highlight the problems in Ohio which disenfranchised innumerable voters.”

It is important to note the language Conyers has used. He was not calling for overturning the election of President Bush. Rather, he was suggesting that, based on the evidence of voter disenfranchisement, flawed or corrupted voting machinery, and inappropriate procedures for counting and recounting votes in Ohio, it was inappropriate for Congress simply to rubber stamp the decisions of Secretary of State Blackwell and other officials in Ohio to award the state’s electoral votes to Bush. Ultimately, that objection has little chance to get beyond the debating stage, as both the Senate and the House would have to agree to the objection in order to block the counting of Ohio’s electoral votes — and that is not going to happen in either of those Republican-controlled chambers. But Conyers is right to argue that a formal objection needs to be made, and that objection should be broadly supported by Democrats — and, frankly, honest Republicans — in both the House and the Senate. That it has not received that broad support is a sad statement about the seriousness with which most Democrats take their party’s pledge to “count all the votes this time” — and about the prospects for reform of erratic, unequal and unreliable voting systems that, as Conyers and his aides have ably illustrated, are prone to abuses that undermine democracy.

THE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY ON THE CONYERS REPORT–PRESERVING DEMOCRACY– WHAT WENT WRONG IN OHIO–FOLLOWS:

We have found numerous, serious election irregularities in the Ohio presidential election, which resulted in a significant disenfranchisement of voters. Cumulatively, these irregularities, which affected hundreds of thousand of votes and voters in Ohio, raise grave doubts regarding whether it can be said the Ohio electors selected on December 13, 2004, were chosen in a manner that conforms to Ohio law, let alone federal requirements and constitutional standards.

This report, therefore, makes three recommendations: (1) consistent with the requirements of the United States Constitution concerning the counting of electoral votes by Congress and Federal law implementing these requirements, there are ample grounds for challenging the electors from the State of Ohio; (2) Congress should engage in further hearings into the widespread irregularities reported in Ohio; we believe the problems are serious enough to warrant the appointment of a joint select Committee of the House and Senate to investigate and report back to the Members; and (3) Congress needs to enact election reform to restore our people’s trust in our democracy. These changes should include putting in place more specific federal protections for federal elections, particularly in the areas of audit capability for electronic voting machines and casting and counting of provisional ballots, as well as other needed changes to federal and state election laws.

With regards to our factual finding, in brief, we find that there were massive and unprecedented voter irregularities and anomalies in Ohio. In many cases these irregularities were caused by intentional misconduct and illegal behavior, much of it involving Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, the co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio.

First, in the run up to election day, the following actions by Mr. Blackwell, the Republican Party and election officials disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Ohio citizens, predominantly minority and Democratic voters:

The misallocation of voting machines led to unprecedented long lines that disenfranchised scores, if not hundreds of thousands, of predominantly minority and Democratic voters. This was illustrated by the fact that the Washington Post reported that in Franklin County, “27 of the 30 wards with the most machines per registered voter showed majorities for Bush. At the other end of the spectrum, six of the seven wards with the fewest machines delivered large margins for Kerry.” (See Powell and Slevin, supra). Among other things, the conscious failure to provide sufficient voting machinery violates the Ohio Revised Code which requires the Boards of Elections to “provide adequate facilities at each polling place for conducting the election.”Mr. Blackwell’s decision to restrict provisional ballots resulted in the disenfranchisement of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of voters, again predominantly minority and Democratic voters. Mr. Blackwell’s decision departed from past Ohio law on provisional ballots, and there is no evidence that a broader construction would have led to any significant disruption at the polling places, and did not do so in other states.Mr. Blackwell’s widely reviled decision to reject voter registration applications based on paper weight may have resulted in thousands of new voters not being registered in time for the 2004 election.The Ohio Republican Party’s decision to engage in preelection “caging” tactics, selectively targeting 35,000 predominantly minority voters for intimidation had a negative impact on voter turnout. The Third Circuit found these activities to be illegal and in direct violation of consent decrees barring the Republican Party from targeting minority voters for poll challenges.The Ohio Republican Party’s decision to utilize thousands of partisan challengers concentrated in minority and Democratic areas likely disenfranchised tens of thousands of legal voters, who were not only intimidated, but became discouraged by the long lines. Shockingly, these disruptions were publicly predicted and acknowledged by Republican officials: Mark Weaver, a lawyer for the Ohio Republican Party, admitted the challenges “can’t help but create chaos, longer lines and frustration.”Mr. Blackwell’s decision to prevent voters who requested absentee ballots but did not receive them on a timely basis from being able to receive provisional ballots likely disenfranchised thousands, if not tens of thousands, of voters, particularly seniors. A federal court found Mr. Blackwell’s order to be illegal and in violation of HAVA.

Second, on election day, there were numerous unexplained anomalies and irregularities involving hundreds of thousands of votes that have yet to be accounted for:

There were widespread instances of intimidation and misinformation in violation of the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, Equal Protection, Due Process and the Ohio Right to Vote. Mr. Blackwell’s apparent failure to institute a single investigation into these many serious allegations represents a violation of his statutory duty under Ohio law to investigate election irregularities.We learned of improper purging and other registration errors by election officials that likely disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters statewide. The Greater Cleveland Voter Registration Coalition projects that in Cuyahoga County alone over 10,000 Ohio citizens lost their right to vote as a result of official registration errors.There were 93,000 spoiled ballots where no vote was cast for president, the vast majority of which have yet to be inspected. The problem was particularly acute in two precincts in Montgomery County which had an undervote rate of over 25 percent each – accounting for nearly 6,000 voters who stood in line to vote, but purportedly declined to vote for president.There were numerous, significant unexplained irregularities in other counties throughout the state: (i) in Mahoning county at least 25 electronic machines transferred an unknown number of Kerry votes to the Bush column; (ii) Warren County locked out public observers from vote counting citing an FBI warning about a potential terrorist threat, yet the FBI states that it issued no such warning; (iii) the voting records of Perry county show significantly more votes than voters in some precincts, significantly less ballots than voters in other precincts, and voters casting more than one ballot; (iv) in Butler county a down ballot and underfunded Democratic State Supreme Court candidate implausibly received more votes than the best funded Democratic Presidential candidate in history; (v) in Cuyahoga county, poll worker error may have led to little known third party candidates receiving twenty times more votes than such candidates had ever received in otherwise reliably Democratic leaning areas; (vi) in Miami county, voter turnout was an improbable and highly suspect 98.55 percent, and after 100 percent of the precincts were reported, an additional 19,000 extra votes were recorded for President Bush.

Third, in the post-election period we learned of numerous irregularities in tallying provisional ballots and conducting and completing the recount that disenfanchised thousands of voters and call the entire recount procedure into question (as of this date the recount is still not complete):

Mr. Blackwell’s failure to articulate clear and consistent standards for the counting of provisional ballots resulted in the loss of thousands of predominantly minority votes. In Cuyahoga County alone, the lack of guidance and the ultimate narrow and arbitrary review standards significantly contributed to the fact that 8,099 out of 24,472 provisional ballots were ruled invalid, the highest proportion in the state.Mr. Blackwell’s failure to issue specific standards for the recount contributed to a lack of uniformity in violation of both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clauses. We found innumerable irregularities in the recount in violation of Ohio law, including (i) counties which did not randomly select the precinct samples; (ii) counties which did not conduct a full hand court after the 3% hand and machine counts did not match; (iii) counties which allowed for irregular marking of ballots and failed to secure and store ballots and machinery; and (iv) counties which prevented witnesses for candidates from observing the various aspects of the recount.The voting computer company Triad has essentially admitted that it engaged in a course of behavior during the recount in numerous counties to provide “cheat sheets” to those counting the ballots. The cheat sheets informed election officials how many votes they should find for each candidate, and how many over and under votes they should calculate to match the machine count. In that way, they could avoid doing a full county-wide hand recount mandated by state law.

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John Nichols’ book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, has just been released by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, “This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president.” Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, “The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton’s no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting).”

Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and by clicking here.

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