Saturday, June 10, 2006

Dayton Daily News Debunks 2004 Election Myths

Myths of fraud in the 2004 Ohio election have been repeated so frequently by portions (and fortuantely a minority) of the left wing blogosphere so frequently that some accept them as truth without evaluation. The controversy increased with Robert Kennedy’s article in Rolling Stone (discussed here and here). The Dayton Daily News, being near the heart of the controversy, evaluated several of the claims. My first question on reading this was whether the paper had a bias. Maybe they do. In 2004 they endorsed John Kerry–placing them in a distinct minority among Ohio newspaper which supported Bush by an eleven to four margin. They also supported Gore over Bush in 2000. A copy of their endorsement for John Kerry is available in the Kerry Reference Library.

The Dayton Daily News has run an editorial entitled Robert Kennedy Jr. fails to carry Ohio for John Kerry. Here’s their analysis of some of the claims:

RFK Jr. says: “The worst theft in Ohio may have quietly taken place in rural counties. An examination of election data suggests widespread fraud — and even good old-fashioned stuffing of ballot boxes — in 12 sparsely populated counties scattered across southern and western Ohio: Auglaize, Brown, Butler, Clermont, Darke, Highland, Mercer, Miami, Putnam, Shelby, Van Wert and Warren. … John Kerry’s numbers were suspiciously low in each of the 12 — and George Bush’s were unusually high.

“Take the case of Ellen Connally, a Democrat who lost her race for chief justice of the state Supreme Court. … Kerry should have drawn far more votes than Connally — a liberal black judge who supports gay rights and campaigned on a shoestring budget. …

“Yet in these 12 off-the-radar counties, Connally somehow managed to outperform the best-funded Democrat in history, thumping Kerry by a grand total of 19,621 votes (or) 10 percent.

“(Congressman Dennis) Kucinich … (says) ‘Down-ticket candidates shouldn’t outperform presidential candidates like that. That just doesn’t happen. The question is: Where did the votes for Kerry go?’ …

“The … likely explanation is that they were fraudulently shifted to Bush. …

“Says (one analyst), ‘By itself, without anything else, what happened in these 12 counties turns Ohio into a Kerry state. To me, this provides every indication of fraud.”

The truth is: There’s a simple, innocent explanation:

In judicial races in Ohio, including Supreme Court races, the ballot does not mention a candidate’s party. That’s an ideal situation for a Democrat in Republican territory in a low-profile race. Ms. Connally simply got the votes of people who didn’t know that she is a Democrat.

(Moreover, the article doesn’t mention a central fact: Votes are counted at the county level, where election boards have equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. A multicounty conspiracy would be remarkable.)

Warren County in spotlight

RFK Jr. says: “The most transparently crooked incident took place in Warren County. (Officials devised) a way to count the vote in secret. Immediately after the polls closed, … GOP officials — citing the FBI — declared that the county was facing a terrorist threat that ranked 10 on a scale of … 10. The county administration building was hastily locked down.”

The truth is: Well, that was certainly bizarre. The distrust is entirely appropriate. But it turns out that a Kerry campaign representative was present for the vote count and saw nothing suspicious. And the election board has as many Democrats as Republicans. They reported nothing hinky in the counting.

And the event was reported immediately, resulting in much attention for Warren County, even nationally. And, later, a (public) recount found nothing unusual in sampled precincts.

Bush vs. marriage ban

RFK Jr. says: “Ohio… had an initiative on the ballot… to outlaw gay marriage. Statewide, the measure proved far more popular than Bush, besting (him) by 470,000 votes. But in six of the 12 suspect counties (mentioned above) — as well as in six other small counties in central Ohio — Bush out-polled the ban … by 16,132. To trust the official tally, in other words, you must believe that thousands of rural Ohioans voted for both Bush and gay marriage.”

The truth is: Nothing of the sort. In 11 of the 12 counties the article names, more people voted in the presidential contest than on the gay-marriage issue. Therefore, President Bush got more votes than the ban. This is not rocket science. Sen. Kerry also got more votes than opposition to the ban. (The numbers are at the secretary of state’s Web site.)

As for the fact that the gay marriage ban got more votes statewide than President Bush: elementary. A lot of Kerry people in the cities (including blacks) supported the ban.

Much of the Rolling Stone article is about Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell. It says he did a lot of things to decrease turnout, such as insisting (briefly) that registration cards must be on paper of a certain thickness. But, as the article notes, Mr. Blackwell lost some battles in court. The article insists that he nevertheless sowed confusion and kept some people from voting for fear they’d be hassled.

But his impact must have been minimal. After all, the election had an amazing million more voters than in 2000. Mr. Kennedy’s article doesn’t mention that.

The Kennedy piece, like the one in Harper’s, makes charge after charge after charge. They shouldn’t all be rejected out of hand. Clearly, something went wrong in counties where people had to stand in line to vote for hours.

Again, though, decisions about distribution of voting machines were made by evenly divided election boards. Republicans alone can’t be blamed.

Among the 350,000 people Rolling Stone says were “prevented” from voting by Republicans, 174,000 were allegedly discouraged by long lines. The other main impediments were errors made by voting machines and avoidable errors made during registration. All are attributed to Republicans.

If these numbers were derived with the same sophistication used to analyze the judicial race and the gay-rights issue, they aren’t worth much.


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