Friday, June 02, 2006

Rolling Stone Allege Bush Stole 2004 Election

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in Rolling Stone magazine alleges that George W. Bush stole the 2004 election.

It's a loooong story, (possibly about 30 pages of standard A4 though I don't know how many pages it took up in the print version of the magazine), filled with statistics and analysis, focussed on anomalies in the key state of Ohio.

The gist of the allegations are that the Republican Party orchestrated a campaign to
  • purge thousands of Democrat-leaning eligible voters from the electoral rolls
  • block the processing of registrations generated by Democratic voter drives
  • provide too few voting machines to Democrat-leaning districts and more than enough to Republican areas, leading to longer waiting times for mainly Democratic voters
  • illegally fix a recount that could have given Kerry the presidency
  • illegally alter paper and electronic ballots, switching votes for Kerry to favour Bush
  • intimidate and aggressively challenge the right of Democratic voters to vote, at the polling stations on election day
  • illegally destroy "provisional ballots" of Democratic voters
"A review of the available data reveals that in Ohio alone, at least 357,000 voters, the overwhelming majority of them Democratic, were prevented from casting ballots or did not have their votes counted in 2004(12) -- more than enough to shift the results of an election decided by 118,601 votes.(13) (See Ohio's Missing Votes) In what may be the single most astounding fact from the election, one in every four Ohio citizens who registered to vote in 2004 showed up at the polls only to discover that they were not listed on the rolls, thanks to GOP efforts to stem the unprecedented flood of Democrats eager to cast ballots.(14) And that doesn't even take into account the troubling evidence of outright fraud, which indicates that upwards of 80,000 votes for Kerry were counted instead for Bush. That alone is a swing of more than 160,000 votes -- enough to have put John Kerry in the White House."

The key figure behind all this was supposedly Kenneth Blackwell, the co-chair of President Bush's re-election committee and also, as Ohio Secretary of State, the man in charge of counting the votes in Ohio. The sheer scale of the alleged fraud, the numbers of people supposedly involved in achieving it and the hundreds of thousands of Ohio voters apparently affected make it pretty unlikely that it could be covered up. Indeed Rep. John Conyers of Michigan and Democratic Members and Staff of the House Judiciary Committee published a report on some of the anomalies in Ohio in January 2005 (edited and released as a book in the Spring of 2005) but as far as I'm aware it did not lead to any further action legal or otherwise in pursuit of alleged perpetrators of fraud.

It's impossible to comment on the credibility of the story without studying it in depth but it would be interesting to find out if the learned folks at E-Voting News and Analysis, from the Experts have been looking any further into the allegations now they have re-surfaced. The key thing for me is that it cannot be right for a partisian official to be in charge of the voting. Even if Mr Blackwell or his counterpart in Florida in 2000, Katharine Harris, didn't break any rules they would not be doing their jobs as top officials in Bush's election campaigns if they didn't push the rules to their limits in order to favour their own candidate. It just does not make any sense for folks, Republican or Democrat, with divided loyalties - ensuring the voting is fair and ensuring their boy wins - to be in charge of the voting process that decides who wins.

Update: Farhad Manjoo at Salon, who has been writing about the problems with electronic voting machines for a couple of years, says Kennedy's article is "is filled with distortions and blatant omissions" and that no, Bush didn't "steal" the 2004 election.

"Whatever his aim, RFK Jr. does not appear intent on fixing the problem. He's more content to take us through a hit parade of the most popular, and the most dismissible, theories purporting to show that John Kerry won Ohio, theories that have been swirling about the blogosphere ever since the race was called. I scoured his Rolling Stone article for some novel story or statistic or theory that would prove, finally, that George W. Bush was not the true victor. But nothing here is new...

If you do read Kennedy's article, be prepared to machete your way through numerous errors of interpretation and his deliberate omission of key bits of data. The first salient omission comes in paragraph 5, when Kennedy writes, "In what may be the single most astounding fact from the election, one in every four Ohio citizens who registered to vote in 2004 showed up at the polls only to discover that they were not listed on the rolls, thanks to GOP efforts to stem the unprecedented flood of Democrats eager to cast ballots." To back up that assertion, Kennedy cites "Democracy at Risk," the report the Democrats released last June.

That report does indeed point out that many people -- 26 percent -- who first registered in 2004 did not find their names on the voter rolls at polling places. What Kennedy doesn't say, though, is that the same study found no significant difference in the share of Kerry voters and Bush voters who came to the polls and didn't find their names listed...

Such techniques are evident throughout Kennedy's article. He presents a barrage of seemingly important, apparently damning data to show that Kerry won the race. It's only when you dig into his claims that you see what thin ice he's on."

Further update (20-6-06): Majoo and Kennedy have had a follow-up discussion on Salon. They both agree that the system is in urgent need of reform but disagree about the extent of the real problems in Ohio in 2004 and therefore what the starting point of the reform should be.
Salon has been widely criticised and lauded in the blogosphere for publishing Majoo's article and have responded to the criticism here.

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