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.”