08 August 2005

Highly Irregular

The Ohio election story is going to come back

By Matt Taibbi

I was in Washington last week, covering a story in Congress, when a friend invited me to a panel discussion in the basement of the Capitol building. I agreed before he told me what the subject was. Boy was I bummed when I saw the title on the e-circular:

What went wrong in Ohio? A Harper's Magazine Forum on Voting Irregularities in the 2004 Election.

Oh, Christ, not that, I thought. Like a lot of people in this country (and like most all of my colleagues in the journalism world), my instinctual reaction to the Ohio electoral-mess story has always been one of revulsion and irritation. Almost on principle I had refused even to look at any of the news stories surrounding the Ohio vote; there is a part of me that did not want to be associated with any sore-loser hysteria of the political margins, and in particular with this story, the great conspiratorial Snuffleupagus of the defeated left.

It had always seemed to me that I understood the psychology of the Ohio story without having to examine the facts involved. I thought the story appealed most directly to a group of people who were still reeling after 2000, an election which George W. Bush not only lost according to the popular vote, but plainly stole in the electoral college. The evidence for this theft has been there for everyone to see for five years now; ...

Yet, Bush remains president. And not only has he remained president, he hasn't even had the decency to act embarrassed about it. He's remained president right out in the open, in front of our faces, like he's proud of that shit.

For a certain segment of the population, this state of affairs must have been psychologically unacceptable. Somewhere deep inside, they must have been clinging to the absurd notion that if the president is caught stealing an election, he is to be automatically removed from office, and perhaps even jailed. And so they nursed this notion in their breasts through 2000, and then—just like that, like the hansom magically appearing at Cinderella's door—the Ohio story fell in their laps. Ohio, it always seemed to me, was a wish their hearts made.

That in itself didn't make the Ohio story illegitimate. It did, however, make it something I wanted to avoid precisely because I disliked George Bush. On some level I suspected that the more publicity the Ohio mess got, the more discredited Bush's political opponents would be in the end. The media, I knew, would dismiss the Ohio story in exactly the casually vicious manner described above—as hysteria, as the delusional work of professional conspiracy theorists, as the behavior of sore losers unable to accept George Bush's clear popular victory.

[...] Even when they had a completely plausible excuse to at least investigate the Ohio charges on their own—after Michigan congressman John Conyers issued a lengthy report detailing the Ohio indiscretions —the big dailies still blew off the case. The New York Times mentioned the Conyers report only in the context of a 381-word page A16 item in January about John Kerry endorsing the election results ("Election Results to Be Certified, With Little Fuss From Kerry," 1/16/05). That piece ended with a quote by Dennis Hastert, who dismissed the Conyers report as the work of the "loony left."

I can only speak for myself, but I think that as a result of all of this, I was inclined to dismiss as a waste of time any discussion of what happened in Ohio. The story wasn't going anywhere. Even if there was evidence of wrongdoing, how could it possibly be more incontrovertible than the evidence in Florida? And given that nothing happened when Bush stole the election in front of the entire world in Florida, why bother making a fuss now in Ohio—especially since John Kerry was clearly many millions of votes less of a victim than Al Gore?

Well, I don't think that way anymore. After attending this panel, and speaking to the congressmen involved in the preparation of the Conyers report (in particular Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a former Ohio secretary of state) I'm convinced that Ohio was a far more brazen and frightening subversion of democracy than Florida.

Here's the thing about Ohio. Until you really look at it, you won't understand its significance, which is this: the techniques used in this particular theft have the capacity to alter elections not by dozens or hundreds or even thousands of votes, but by tens of thousands.


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