The Painful Truth

The latest to jump on the Bush stole the election conspiracy bandwagon is former Senator and short-lived Democratic presidential candidate Carole Mosley Braun. She says that she will encourage Freedom of Information filings, ballot recounts, and voting rights lawsuits to uncover Bush's alleged election theft. Braun's a bit late. The Green Party, libertarians and assorted grassroots voting watchdog groups have barged ahead and held public hearings on alleged voting machinations, and launched a campaign to raise the $114,000 it costs to conduct a recount in Ohio.

Since the election, I've received batches of frantic and angry emails, phone calls, and letters finger pointing Republicans for propagating skewed exit polls, stealing or undercounting ballots in black neighborhoods, removing voting places from heavily Democratic precincts, harassing and intimidating black voters, and tampering with electronic voting machines.

But election theft allegations dodge the painful truth that Bush did not steal the election. The national exit polls that predicted a Kerry win were dead wrong in part because of faulty methodology, and in part because they failed to gauge the volatility of voter attitudes. The national polls could only make a fail-safe prediction of a Kerry or Bush win if they literally polled every voter. But than they would not be polls, but voter head counts, and that is an impossibility to make. An examination of 51 separate state exit polls, and they were more accurate reflections of voter attitudes and preferences than national exit polls, found that Kerry's vote totals were far less than those projected by the national polls.

While there was confusion over voting procedures at some precincts that appeared to be heavily Democratic, small armies of paid and volunteer Democratic poll watchers, and attorneys stood by to spot irregularities and to handle problems if they occurred. Some Democratic officials have complained of minor glitches in some places. However, they have yet to file a formal complaint alleging black voter intimidation in Ohio or Florida, or any other state. Kerry campaign officials in Ohio have publicly said that they have found no evidence of deliberate fraud or tampering in the voting, and that's certainly not for lack of looking for voting hijinks.

There is also the suspect voter flip to Bush in some Florida counties that are top heavy with registered Democrats. But eight of the ten suspect counties are in Northern Florida, a region so conservative that it has been branded the "Redneck Riviera." While many of the white voters in these counties are nominal Democrats, they are anti-gun control, anti-abortion, and gay rights, and ideologically in lockstep with Bush Republicans. In national elections, they have repeatedly crossed over and voted for Republicans. Republican strategists banked that white conservative Democrats in that part of Florida would trump the groundswell of black support that Kerry was expected to get in Southern Florida. They were right.

By far, the biggest fear of Bush watchers was that the electronic voting machines could and would be rigged to tilt the vote total to Bush. The fear deepened when Wally O'Dell, the chair of Diebold, a major manufacturer of electronic voting machines, shot off his mouth some months before the election and promised to deliver Ohio to Bush. This was bluster and company puffery, and hardly could be taken as a statement of fact. (Nebraska based ES&S is a bigger maker of computerized electronic machines than Diebold). Ohio officials sniffing the potential of another Florida vote nightmare, backed off from full use of the machines. In any case, the overwhelming majority of Ohio voters didn't cast their votes via electronic ballots, but by using the old, and outdated punch cards.

In Florida only half of the ballots were cast by electronic vote machines, the other half were cast on optically scanned ballots. No major discrepancies were found in the final Kerry and Bush vote totals in the states that relied the heaviest on electronic voting machines and the exit poll predictions. That was the conclusion of the non-partisan Cal Tech-MIT Voting Technology Project. It detailed and debunked the rigged electronic machine claim, as well as the other election conspiracy claims.

Democrats, progressives, and civil rights groups were impassioned in their effort to do whatever it took to beat Bush. They energized and mobilized scores of young and minority voters to cast ballots for the first time. They succeeded in electing hundreds of gay, black, Latino, women, and progressive Democrats to municipal and state offices nationally. These are significant accomplishments that will pay big political dividends in future elections. But Republicans were just as impassioned in their effort to do whatever it took to insure Bush's re-election. That passion plus a better game plan, and the organization on the ground to carry it out proved the crucial difference.

Chalking Bush's triumph up to fraud, and conspiracies may be a comforting salve for bruised political egos, but it won't change that fact.


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