Saturday, June 03, 2006

Kennedy Made The Cover of the Rolling Stone, and Flopped

I eagerly anticipated Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Rolling Stone article examining questions of election fraud in Ohio. While such stories have been common in the blogosphere ever since the election, they have been virtually ignored by the mainstream media. I noted that “assuming that Kennedy presents convincing evidence to support this article, this could have a major impact on how the 2004 election is perceived beyond the blogosphere.”

The reaction to Kennedy’s article was justifiably under whelming. Those bloggers who have been immersed in this story saw this as justification for their theories, but for most readers the article was an embarrassment which will likely do far more harm than good to the cause of election reform. The Left Coaster found it ” troubling that a half hour after this story is online, not one of the A-list center-left blogs is even posting on it.” There is good reason many liberal bloggers chose to ignore this article. We cannot claim to be the “reality based community” while supporting arguments which are far weaker than those made to claim the existence of WMD in Iraq.

Rather than coming up with anything new, Kennedy rehashed arguments which have been thoroughly refuted by those of all political persuasions. Rather than lending any credence to these arguments, Kennedy’s sloppy research and misstatements of the facts have seriously harmed his own credibility, placing him more in the category of questionably reliable writers such as Mark Crispin Miller. While there were clearly problems in Ohio which should be addressed, careful analysis of these factors by many parties have showed that these did not affect anywhere near as many votes as Kennedy claims. As the Democratic Party’s report found, “Despite the problems on Election Day, there is no evidence from our survey that John Kerry won the state of Ohio.”

There are far to many errors in Kennedy’s article to review in a blog post. Those who have examined the election with an open mind, as opposed to based upon hopes for the Kerry victory we wish had occurred, are already familiar with this information. For others, fortunately Salon has already performed an excellent act of fact checking on Kennedy’s article.

By presenting such a weak and easily disputable case Kennedy sets back the cause of achieving more transparent and fair elections. It is a shame that Kennedy didn’t take the approach that John Kerry wisely has. It is time to face the fact that the 2004 election is history and George W. Bush was the winner. By all means continue to investigate, but claims of a stolen election carry an extremely high burden of proof and claims of fraud should not be made until such proof is well established.

As long as any efforts at election reform are based upon changing the results of the 2004 election half of the country will be immediately suspicious and discount any arguments for reform. However, if problems such as those which did occur in Ohio and elsewhere (including areas which voted Democratic) are criticized based upon the principle of fair and transparent elections we have hopes of receiving the support of a solid majority. In a democracy it is urgent that all accept the legitimacy of election results. Unfortunately, while it can not be definitely proven that the election was stolen from John Kerry, it also cannot be proven to everyone’s satisfaction that George Bush legitimately won. This in itself is good reason to search for ways to conduct elections better.

Update: The Salon article is also mentioned at Hulabaloo with a suggestion that “either a substantive counter-response or an admission of error on Kennedy’s part really is appropriate.” This would be interesting but this also should not be confused as a disagreement between Kennedy and one Salon writer. Similar criticism of the arguments Kennedy made have been made by others in the liberal media since the election, including the Washington Monthly, Mother Jones, The Nation, and NPR. Democratic pollster Mark Blumenthal (aka The Mystery Pollster) has also debunked the exit poll arguments. However as the Salon article most directly relates to Kennedy’s article a response from Kennedy to these arguments would be a good place to start. If Kennedy cannot refute these arguments it would be helpful to the cause of election reform if Kennedy limited his charges to the problems which really can be demonstrated to exist. We should demand election reform not only because of Democratic questions as to whether Ohio was stolen by Republicans but also due to Republican beliefs that Wisconsin was stolen by Democrats, and the very real possibility that another Kennedy benefited from a stolen election in Illinois in 1960. The problem remains one of a poorly run election system which leaves far too much room to question the results.

Update 2: There’s another good analysis of the article at a non-partisan site, Election Law.

Update 3: The Carpetbagger Report is “suspicious of the argument because I’m not sure it holds up to close scrutiny.” He writes:

I’ve read the article, and the accompanying 74 footnotes, and I remain a skeptic. Some of Kennedy’s sources are a little shaky, and his over-reliance on voter exit polls brings his conclusions into question. Kennedy makes an excellent and persuasive case that Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell (R) played fast and loose with the rules, and arbitrarily pushed voting standards that contributed to statewide irregularities, but one dubious state official does not a stolen election make.


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