Senators Should Object to Ohio Vote
This Thursday in Washington Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the senior minority member of the House Judiciary Committee, will formally object to the counting of the Ohio electoral vote in the 2004 presidential election. If any senator joins him, the counting of the vote is suspended and the House and the Senate must convene separately to hear the objections filed, and to vote on whether to accept them.
The grounds for the objections are clear: The irregularities in the Ohio vote and vote count are widespread and blatant. If the Ohio election were held in the Ukraine, it would not have been certified by the international community.
In Ohio, the gulf between exit polls and counted votes is vast and glaring. Blatant discrimination in the distribution of voting machines ensured long lines in inner-city and working-class precincts that favored John Kerry, while the exurban districts that favored President Bush had no similar problems.
Systematic efforts were made to suppress and challenge the new voters in Kerry precincts, whether students or African Americans. Some precincts were certified with more votes than the number registered; others were certified with preposterously low turnouts. Voting machines, produced by a company headed by a vowed Bush supporter, provide no paper record. Ohio's secretary of state, the inappropriately partisan head of the state's Bush campaign, has resisted any systematic recount of the ballots.
The systematic bias and potential for fraud is unmistakable. An in-depth investigation is vital – and the partisan secretary of state has opposed it every step of the way. In this context, Conyers and his colleagues in the House are serving the nation's best interests in demanding an investigation of the irregularities in Ohio, and objecting to business as usual in counting the vote.
If Harry Reid, the new leader of the Democratic minority in the Senate, has any sense, he will lead members of the caucus to support their colleagues from the House and demand a debate that will expose the irregularities in Ohio. If Kerry wants to establish his continued leadership, he will stand first to join with Conyers and demand a debate.
Will the debate overturn the outcome of the election? That is doubtful, although the irregularities in Ohio suggest that Kerry may well have won if a true count could be had. But the debate is vital anyway. This country's elections, each run with different standards by different states, with partisan tricks, racial bias, and too often widespread incompetence, are an open scandal.
We need national standards to ensure that we get an honest count across the country. National standards, accompanied by a constitutional amendment to guarantee the right to vote for all Americans, will be passed only if leaders in the Congress refuse to close their eyes to the scandal, and instead stop business as usual.
Conyers, Reid and Kerry will face harsh criticism for violating what might be called the Nixon precedent. When Kennedy beat Nixon by a few thousand votes in an election marked by irregularities in Illinois and Texas, Nixon chose not to challenge the result. Gore essentially followed that rule after the gang of five in the Supreme Court disgraced themselves by stopping the vote count in Florida. But the effect of the Nixon precedent is to provide those who would cheat with essentially a free pass. Particularly when the state officials are partisans, they can put in the fix with little fear of exposure so long as they win.
So Conyers will step up, accompanied by other courageous members of the House. They will object to the count and demand a debate. To force that debate, they need only one member of the Senate to join them. Reid should lead the entire caucus to join them. Kerry should stand alone if necessary to demand clean elections in America.
If America is to be a champion of democracy abroad, it must clean up its elections at home. If it is to complain of fraudulent and dishonest election practices abroad, it cannot condone them at home. But more important, if our own elections are to be legitimate, then they must be honest, open, with high national standards.
The time has come to stand up for clean elections, and to let it be known that massive irregularities will not go unchallenged.
This piece originally appeared in the Sun Times.