What Makes Ohio Red

It’s a story that won’t die, and yet it can’t get any attention. Since November 3rd, reasonable people have been wondering what happened. On election night, exit polls predicted a 5 million vote win for Kerry, but the official election results declared Bush the winner by 3 million votes. We’re all suspicious of polls, but an 8 million vote discrepancy is big and exit polls are considered the most accurate of all. In fact, exit polling is used by the US to judge the fairness of elections in other countries like Ukraine, where allegations of election fraud caused the collapse of the government and a re-vote in December 2004.

Steve Freeman and Josh Mitteldorf covered this story in detail for In These Times in February. Most interestingly, they looked at the margin of error on a precinct by precinct basis and found that local politics and vote counting methods each played a strong role the difference between the exit polls and official count.

  • Precincts that used old-fashioned hand counts (where there are lots of witnesses) had the smallest margin of error compared to the exit polls.
  • Swing states had larger than average differences between the poll results and official counts.
  • Republican strongholds — where republicans held all positions of power and authority — had the greatest difference between poll results and official counts, resulting in ‘official’ numbers that showed Kerry getting 30% fewer votes than the polling data indicated.
  • Contrary to Fox News reports, Bush voters were found more likely to participate in polling than Kerry voters.

Outliers and spurious data are one thing, but these numbers correlate too closely with political affiliation to be explained away or brushed aside. …Too closely and too prickly in an election where there were more than 100,000 officially logged reports of voting irregularities.

And that’s why John Conyers, the ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee, is so hopping mad. As reported in this essay by Gore Vidal, Conyers led an investigation by the committee’s Dems into the allegations of election fraud in Ohio. The report, Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong In Ohio, includes the following:

With regards to our factual finding, in brief, we find that there were massive and unprecedented voter irregularities and anomalies in Ohio. In many cases these irregularities were caused by intentional misconduct and illegal behavior, much of it involving Secretary of State Kenneth J. Blackwell, the co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio.

Or, as Vidal reminds us, it was a repeat of the 2000 election where the state chair of the Bush/Cheney campaign was also the state’s Secretary of State and top election official.

Why bring this up now? Because in 2006 we’ll be starting a new election cycle, and we need to be aware of the Conyers report and others so we can avoid similar problems in 2008.

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