Article — From the August 2005 issue

None Dare Call it Stolen

Ohio, the election, and America’s servile press

( 5 of 6 )

That is what the Democratic staff of the House Judiciary Committee found, that is what they distributed to everyone in Congress, and that is what any member of the national press could have reported at any time in the last half year. Conyers may or may not have precisely captured every single dirty trick. The combined votes gained by the Republicans through such devices may or may not have decided the election. (Bush won Ohio by 118,601 votes.) Indeed, if you could somehow look into the heart of every eligible voter in the United States to know his or her truest wishes, you might discover that Bush/Cheney was indeed the people’s choice. But you have to admit—the report is pretty interesting.

In fact, its release was timed for maximum publicity. According to the United States Code (Title 3, Chapter 1, Section 15), the President of the Senate—i.e., the U.S. Vice President—must announce each state’s electoral results, then “call for objections.” Objections must be made in writing and “signed by at least one Senator and one Member of the House of Representatives.” A challenge having been submitted, the joint proceedings must then be suspended so that both houses can retire to their respective chambers to decide the question, after which they reconvene and either certify or reject the vote.

8. Offended by the president-elect's first cabinet appointments (Henry Kissinger, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, et al.), Bailey was protesting Nixon's liberalism.

Thus was an unprecedented civic drama looming on the day that Conyers’s report appeared. First of all, electoral votes had been contested in the Congress only twice. In 1877 the electoral votes of several states were challenged, some by Democrats supporting Samuel Tilden, others by Republicans supporting Rutherford B. Hayes. In 1969, Republicans challenged the North Carolina vote when Lloyd W. Bailey, a “faithless elector” pledged to Richard Nixon for that state, voted for George Wallace.8 And a new challenge would be more than just “historic.” Because of what had happened—or not happened—four years earlier, it would also be extraordinarily suspenseful. On January 6, 2001, House Democrats, galvanized by the electoral larceny in Florida, tried and failed to challenge the results. Their effort was aborted by the failure of a single Democratic senator to join them, as the law requires. Al Gore—still vice president, and therefore still the Senate’s president—had urged Democrats to make no such unseemly waves but to respect Bush’s installation for the sake of national unity. Now, it seemed, that partisan disgrace would be redressed, at least symbolically; for a new challenge from the House, by Representative Stephanie Tubbs-Jones of Ohio, would be co-signed by Barbara Boxer, Democratic senator from California, who, at a noon press conference on January 6, heightened the suspense by tearfully acknowledging her prior wrong: “Four years ago I didn’t intervene. I was asked by Al Gore not to do so and I didn’t do so. Frankly, looking back on it, I wish I had.”

It was a story perfect for TV—a rare event, like the return of Halley’s comet; a scene of high contention in the nation’s capital; a heroine resolved to make things right, both for the public and herself. Such big news would highlight Conyers’s report, whose findings, having spurred the challenge in the first place, would now inform the great congressional debate on the election in Ohio.

As you may recall, this didn’t happen—the challenge was rejected by a vote of 267?31 in the House and 74?1 in the Senate. The Boston Globe gave the report 118 words (page 3); the Los Angeles Times, 60 words (page 18). It made no news in the Wall Street JournalUSA TodayNewsweekTime, or U.S. News & World Report. It made no news on CBS, NBC, ABC, or PBS. Nor did NPR report it (though Talk of the Nation dealt with it on January 6). CNN did not report it, though Donna Brazile pointedly affirmed its copious “evidence” on Inside Politics on January 6. (Judy Woodruff failed to pause for an elaboration.) Also on that date, the Fox News Channel briefly showed Conyers himself discussing “irregularities” in Franklin County, though it did not mention the report. He was followed by Tom DeLay, who assailed the Democrats for their “assault against the institutions of our representative democracy.” The New York Times negated both the challenge and the document in a brief item headlined “Election Results to Be Certified, with Little Fuss from Kerry,” which ran on page 16 and ended with this quote from Dennis Hastert’s office, vis-à-vis the Democrats: “They are really just trying to stir up their loony left.”

Indeed, according to the House Republicans, it was the Democrats who were the troublemakers and cynical manipulators—spinning “fantasies” and “conspiracy theories” to “distract” the people, “poison the atmosphere of the House of Representatives” (Dave Hobson, R., Ohio), and “undermine the prospect of democracy” (David Dreier, R., Calif.); mounting “a direct attack to undermine our democracy” (Tom DeLay, R., Tex.), “an assault against the institutions of our representative democracy” (DeLay); trying “to plant the insidious seeds of doubt in the electoral process” (J. D. Hayworth, R., Ariz.); and in so doing following “their party’s primary strategy: to obstruct, to divide and to destroy” (Deborah D. Pryce, R., Ohio).

Furthermore, the argument went, there was no evidence of electoral fraud. The Democrats were using “baseless and meritless tactics” (Pryce) to present their “so-called evidence” (Bob Ney, R., Ohio), “making allegations that have no basis of fact” (Candice Miller, R., Mich.), making claims for which “there is no evidence whatsoever, no evidence whatsoever” (Dreier). “There is absolutely no credible basis to question the outcome of the election” (Rob Portman, R., Ohio). “No proven allegations of fraud. No reports of widespread wrongdoing. It was, at the end of the day, an honest election” (Bill Shuster, R., Pa.). And so on. Bush won Ohio by “an overwhelming and comfortable margin,” Rep. Pryce insisted, while Ric Keller (R., Fla.) said that Bush won by “an overwhelmingly comfortable margin.” (“The president’s margin is significant,” observed Roy Blunt, R., Mo.) In short, as Tom DeLay put it, “no such voter disenfranchisement occurred in this election of 2004—and, for that matter, the election of 2000. Everybody knows it. The voters know it, the candidates know it, the courts know it, and the evidence proves it.”

That all this commentary was simply wrong went unnoticed and/or unreported. Once Bush was re-inaugurated, all inquiries were apparently concluded, and the story was officially kaput. By March talk of fraud was calling forth the same reflexive ridicule that had prevailed back in November—but only now and then, on those rare moments when somebody dared bring it up: “Also tonight,” CNN’s Lou Dobbs deadpanned ironically on March 8, “Teresa Heinz Kerry still can’t accept certain reality. She suggests the presidential election may have been rigged!” And when, on March 31, the National Election Data Archive Project released its study demonstrating that the exit polls had probably been right, it made news only in the Akron Beacon-Journal.9 The article included this response from Carlo LoParo, Kenneth Blackwell’s spokesman: “What are you going to do except laugh at it?”

9. On the other hand, the thesis that the exit polls were flawed had been reported by the Associated Press, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Columbus Dispatch, CNN.com, MSNBC, and ABC (which devoted a Nightline segment to the “conspiracy theory” that the exit polls had been correct).

More from Mark Crispin Miller:

Article From the January 1986 issue

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