Wednesday, January 12, 2005

John Kerry on Ohio Electoral Vote Challenge

Statement from John Kerry, entered into the Senate record regarding last week's debate on the Ohio election results:

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, free and fair elections are the foundation of our democracy. Thanks to the efforts of tens of thousands of citizens, millions more Americans registered and went to the pools this year. But despite this dramatic expansion in public participation, many voters faced barriers to casting their ballot. Disenfranchisement and barriers to voting are fundamentally undemocratic and should be unacceptable in the freest nation in the world.
On November 3, I conceded the Presidential election to George Bush and also expressed my commitment to ensuring that every vote in this election is counted. The questions being raised by my colleagues in Congress about the vote in Ohio are important. As evidenced by the media and Congressman JOHN CONYERS' report of the vote in Ohio, there were many voting irregularities in the November election that led to the disenfranchisement of voters. These included long lines at predominantly minority polling places resulting from the failure to provide sufficient number of voting machines; voter intimidation and misinformation; the restriction of provisional ballots in a fashion that likely disenfranchised voters; and instances in which malfunctioning voting machines transferred Kerry votes to Bush.

I strongly believe that we need to investigate this election and reform our system. However, while I am deeply concerned about the issues the questions and issues being raised by this objection and think they are very important, I do not believe that there is sufficient evidence to support the objection and change the outcome of the election and I am not joining their protest of the Ohio electors.

Despite widespread reports of irregularities, questionable practices by some election officials and instances of lawful voters being denied the right to vote, our legal teams on the ground have found no evidence that would change the outcome of the election.

It is critical that we investigate and understand any and every voting irregularity anywhere in our country, not because it would change the outcome of the election but because Americans have to believe that their votes are counted in our democracy.

We must take action this Congress to make sure that the problems voters encountered in Ohio and elsewhere never happen again. We must make sure there are no questions or doubts in future elections. It is critical to our democracy that we investigate and act to prevent voting irregularities and voter intimidation across the country.

I strongly support the efforts of the civil rights and voting rights groups across the country that continue to investigate what happened in 2004 and how we can ensure it will never happen again. A Presidential election is a national Federal election but we have different standards in different States for casting and counting votes. We must have a national Federal standard to solve the problems that occurred in the 2004 election.

I am calling on my Republican colleagues to put election reform on the congressional agenda this year. The Republican leadership in the House and Senate must commit to make protecting voting rights a priority and commit to adding election reform legislation to the legislative calendar this year. One goal must be to eliminate barriers to voting, to encourage the greatest level of civic participation possible, and to restore confidence in the notion that every eligible voter will have the opportunity to vote and to have their vote counted.

I have spoken with Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid and my colleagues in the House and Senate about my intention to introduce legislation this year to ensure transparency and accountability in our voting system and the need for the Democratic Caucus to make voting rights and electoral reform one of our top priority pieces of legislation. Election reform will be one of my top agenda items.

I will be meeting in coming weeks with key leaders on both sides of the aisle and from civil rights and voting rights groups across the Nation. I plan to use the information gathered by Representative Conyers in his report, and information from other investigations underway, to guide my legislation.

We must invest resources in our country to help State and local communities purchase modern voting machines and do research and development on safe and secure forms of voting. We must ensure that our voting machines enable voters to verify their vote.

No American citizen should wake up the morning after the election and worry their vote wasn't counted. No citizen should be denied at the polls if they are eligible to vote. As the greatest, wealthiest nation on Earth, our citizens should not have to be forced to vote on old unaccountable voting machines. And, as the greatest, wealthiest Nation on Earth, our citizens should never be forced to vote on old, unaccountable and nontransparent voting machines from companies controlled by partisan activists.

Together we can put the critical issue of electoral reform on the front burner in Washington and across the country.


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