Kennedy: Republicans Stole 2004 Election (Updated)
[Update: Bumped to top from 21:29 6/1.]
I saw mention earlier today of a piece in Rolling Stone by Robert Kennedy, Jr. arguing that the Republicans stole the 2004 election. Given that it was 1) a Kennedy, and a junior at that; 2) in a rock mag; and 3) plainly idiotic, I ignored it.
After all, as I noted this morning, most of the prominent Republican blogs immediately dismissed the silly Jimmy Carter funded by al Qaeda story that circulated last night. Surely, the Left Blogosphere would do the same with this story. Right?
Not so much.
- tristero pronounces the piece “blistering” and invokes the 1976 movie “Logan’s Run.”
- Will Bunch pats Kennedy on the back for doing sleuthing that mainstream journalists would not.
- Steve Soto summarizes the piece: “there was no clear explanation for why the early exit polls weren’t borne out in the final vote totals, unless there was manipulation of the votes.” That, and the fact that exit polls are notoriously unreliable, of course.
- Jane Hamsher helpfully adds that, “Trying to keep people from voting is anti-Democratic and anti-American, and there are few places where wingnuttia’s contempt for democracy becomes more blatantly obvioius.”
Meanwhile, Michael Stickings, writing at The Moderate Voice, takes absolutely no position whatever.
Update: On to the substance of Kennedy’s claims which, he acknowledges, the NYT and WaPo readily dismiss. So, too, does NPR (via email from Dan Riehl). This will be grueling, both because of the bad writing filled with strange footnotes and because RS has formatted the text in a way that does not allow for easy cutting-and-pasting.
But despite the media blackout, indications continued to emerge that something deeply troubling had taken place in 2004. Nearly half of the 6 million American voters living abroad(3) never received their ballots — or received them too late to vote(4) — after the Pentagon unaccountably shut down a state-of-the-art Web site used to file overseas registrations.(5) A consulting firm called Sproul & Associates, which was hired by the Republican National Committee to register voters in six battleground states,(6) was discovered shredding Democratic registrations.(7) In New Mexico, which was decided by 5,988 votes,(8) malfunctioning machines mysteriously failed to properly register a presidential vote on more than 20,000 ballots.(9) Nationwide, according to the federal commission charged with implementing election reforms, as many as 1 million ballots were spoiled by faulty voting equipment — roughly one for every 100 cast.(10)
Actually, it’s an outright lie to say that “Nearly half of the 6 million American voters living abroad(3) never received their ballots — or received them too late to vote.” Using Kennedy’s own source, here’s the truth:
So, only 9% didn’t receive a ballot and 5% received their ballot after the election. That’s 14%. That’s bad but the reasons are manifold. First, quite a few of these people were either not registered to vote in the locality they requested an absentee ballot from, sent their request in too late, or forgot to send it and thought they had. Second, several states were unable to print and send ballots until very late in the process because of various lawsuits–many filed by Democrats–about ballot inclusion.
One gets up to a whopping 43%, though, if one adds in those 29% of overseas voters who received their ballots in the two weeks before the election. But why exclude them? All that’s required is that they be POSTMARKED by election day, not that they ARRIVE then.
Oh, by the way, these six million people living overseas?
Mostly military personnel and their families. That is to say, mostly prospective Bush voters. Indeed, Kennedy’s source was a DoD press briefing. [Update: Commenter and occasional co-blogger John Burgess notes that there are now many U.S. businessmen living overseas. Indeed, the DefenseLINK cite gives the breakdown: “[A]bout 1.4 million military members, about 1.3 million family members of voting age. We have about 100,000 federal civilian employees overseas, and another about 3.7 million U.S. civilians overseas not affiliated with the government, for a total of about 6 million potential voters that our program serves.” This is from Charles Abell, Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, providing a press briefing on the Federal Voting Assistance Program.]
Were there irregularies, including outright fraud in shredding ballots and improperly using election offices to recruit registrees for one party vice the other? You bet. That’s a bad thing but something that has gone on from time immemorial. And both sides engage in these practices. One can not simply cite GOP irregularities–mostly in states the GOP won by wide margins, incidentally–and conjure up votes that might have gone the other way; one must look at irregularites by the other side, too. [Update: In that spirit, Ed Morrissey reminds us of Wilwaukee.]
Indeed, Kennedy acknowleges as much. “Any election, of course, will have anomalies. America’s voting system is a messy patchwork of polling rules run mostly by county and city officials.” But he smells a conspiracy.
After carefully examining the evidence, I’ve become convinced that the president’s party mounted a massive, coordinated campaign to subvert the will of the people in 2004. Across the country, Republican election officials and party stalwarts employed a wide range of illegal and unethical tactics to fix the election. A review of the available data reveals that in Ohio alone, at least 357,000 voters, the overwhelming majority of them Democratic, were prevented from casting ballots or did not have their votes counted in 2004(12) — more than enough to shift the results of an election decided by 118,601 votes.(13) (See Ohio’s Missing Votes) In what may be the single most astounding fact from the election, one in every four Ohio citizens who registered to vote in 2004 showed up at the polls only to discover that they were not listed on the rolls, thanks to GOP efforts to stem the unprecedented flood of Democrats eager to cast ballots.(14) And that doesn’t even take into account the troubling evidence of outright fraud, which indicates that upwards of 80,000 votes for Kerry were counted instead for Bush. That alone is a swing of more than 160,000 votes — enough to have put John Kerry in the White House.(15)
The problem is that it is the job of state election officials to purge out-of-date registrations, those of people who have moved to other districts, and those otherwise ineligible to vote. That this would disproportionately affect Democrats is hardly surprising, especially in urban areas. For one thing, we’re mostly talking about poorly educated, transient people that are being “disenfranchised.” Many of them simply don’t understand that one has to register to vote and that one has to update one’s registration when one moves to a new district.
Hertsgaard quotes Michael O’Grady, the Democratic Party’s chief lawyer in Ohio:
O’Grady, the Democrats’ general counsel, agrees that Blackwell purged voter rolls, especially in large urban counties that figured to lean Democratic. But he points out that the purging was done legally, and he says it wasn’t necessarily underhanded. The Democratic base, he says, is more transient, so a voter may accumulate three different addresses on state voting rolls—a perfectly sound reason for a purge. As for the larger argument that Ohio was stolen, O’Grady says, “That point of view relies on the assumption that the entire Republican Party is conspiratorial and the entire Democratic Party is as dumb as rocks. And I don’t buy that.”
The first indication that something was gravely amiss on November 2nd, 2004, was the inexplicable discrepancies between exit polls and actual vote counts. Polls in thirty states weren’t just off the mark — they deviated to an extent that cannot be accounted for by their margin of error. In all but four states, the discrepancy favored President Bush.(16)
Over the past decades, exit polling has evolved into an exact science. Indeed, among pollsters and statisticians, such surveys are thought to be the most reliable. Unlike pre-election polls, in which voters are asked to predict their own behavior at some point in the future, exit polls ask voters leaving the voting booth to report an action they just executed. The results are exquisitely accurate: Exit polls in Germany, for example, have never missed the mark by more than three-tenths of one percent.(17) ”Exit polls are almost never wrong,” Dick Morris, a political consultant who has worked for both Republicans and Democrats, noted after the 2004 vote. Such surveys are ”so reliable,” he added, ”that they are used as guides to the relative honesty of elections in Third World countries.”(18) In 2003, vote tampering revealed by exit polling in the Republic of Georgia forced Eduard Shevardnadze to step down.(19) And in November 2004, exit polling in the Ukraine — paid for by the Bush administration — exposed election fraud that denied Viktor Yushchenko the presidency.(20)
But the skeptics betray a poor grasp of exit polling, starting with their claim that exit polls are invariably accurate within tenths of a percentage point. In truth, the exit polls were wrong by much more than that in the 1988 and 1992 presidential elections.
Warren Mitofsky and Joe Lenski, the pollsters who oversaw the 2004 exit polls, concluded that one source of their incorrect forecast was an apparent tendency for some pro-Bush voters to shun exit pollsters’ questions. “Preposterous,” claims Mark Crispin Miller, who also sees trickery in the adjusting of exit polls after the election, though that is utterly routine. And is it really so strange to imagine that Bush supporters—who tend to distrust the supposedly liberal news media—might not answer questions from pollsters bearing the logos of CBS, CNN, and the other news organizations financing the polling operation?
Besides, how do skeptics explain New Hampshire? The state conducted a hand recount of precincts that critics found suspicious; the recount confirmed the official tally, as Ralph Nader’s campaign, which paid for the exercise, admitted. Apparently one reason Bush did better than expected in those precincts was an influx of conservative Catholics who relocated from neighboring Massachusetts—the kind of anomaly that can confound even persuasive-sounding assumptions about voters.
Lenski and Mitofsky are quoted extensively in a 11/5/04 NYT story, “Report Says Problems Led to Skewed Surveying Data.” as well.
The new $10 million polling system used by many news organizations to predict the outcome of the presidential race had a number of problems that led to the early erroneous impression that John Kerry was heading for victory, according to a report prepared by the system’s architects. The report, written by Joe Lenski and Warren Mitofsky and obtained by The New York Times, details systemic glitches that skewed the data in ways of which several news organizations, who paid tens of thousands of dollars for the service, were not aware.
In some cases, the report said, survey takers could not get close enough to the polls to collect adequate samples of voters opinion. They were often stopped by legal barriers devised to keep people electioneering – not necessarily bona fide poll canvassers – away from voters.
The report also theorized that the poll results more frequently overstated support for Mr. Kerry than for President Bush because the Democratic nominee’s supporters were more open to pollsters. Whatever the case, according to the report, the surveys had the biggest partisan skew since at least 1988, the earliest election the report tracked. “We share all the members’ concerns about the inaccuracies in the projections produced by the early waves of exit poll data and we are personally miffed about the early results,” the report said.
The new system was engineered to avoid such problems. It was built by the National Election Pool, a consortium of the major television networks and The Associated Press, after an earlier set-up, the Voter News Service, helped lead the networks to call the state of Florida in the 2000 election first for Al Gore, then for George W. Bush, then for neither. The system broke down almost entirely on Election Day 2002.
Since Tuesday, the networks have played down errors caused by the system. They said that the data problems were rectified as the night went on, so that the final poll, highlighting why certain blocs voted the way they did, was accurate. Perhaps most important, they say, it never led them to make a wrong call. And even critics of the system agree that many of the problems highlighted in the report are typical of such polls, which are devised to correct themselves as more data accrues.
Mark Blumenthal, a highly respected Democratic pollster, has a superb 12/24/04 post entitled, “Have the Exit Polls Been Wrong Before? It turns out that not only have they been wrong before but they are virtually always wrong! Some excerpts (see the link for his sources):
- The networks’ 1992 national exit poll overstated Democrat Bill Clinton’s advantage by 2.5 percentage points, about the same as the  Kerry skew
- An inspection of within-precinct error in the exit poll for senate and governor races in 1990, 1994 and 1998 shows an understatement of the Democratic candidate for 20 percent of the 180 polls in that time period and an overstatement 38 percent of the time…the most likely source of this error is differential non-response rates for Democrats and Republicans
- on Election Day 2000, the exit polls overstated the Gore vote in 22 states and overstated the Bush vote in 9 states. In the other 19 states, the polls matched actual results. There was a similar Democratic candidate overstatement in 1996 and a larger one in 1992.
- In short, Mitofsky and Lenski have reported Democratic overstatements to some degree in every election since 1990. Moreover, all of Lenski and Mitofsky’s statements were on the record long before Election Day 2004.
All of this led the authors of the internal CNN report — Joan Konner, James Risser, and Ben Wattenberg – to conclude (p. 3, 7):
Exit polling is extremely valuable as a source of post-election information about the electorate. But it has lost much of the value it had for projecting election results in close elections…[Their recommendation to CNN:] Cease the use of exit polling to project or call winners of states. The 2000 election demonstrates the faults and dangers in exit polling. Even if exit polling is made more accurate, it will never be as accurate as a properly conducted actual vote count.
So, exit polls are amazingly reliable, unless we count the 2004, 2002, 2000, 1998, 1996, 1994, 1992, 1990, and 1988 elections.
Update: Finally, Kennedy makes a series of arguments that Blackwell made it his mission to steal Ohio for Bush by disenfranchising Democratic voters. Most of that has already been debunked above by Hertsgaard–who, incidentally, believes the 2000 election was stolen and thinks Blackwell is a scummy figure who indeed acted unethically in some cases. Kennedy’s main evidence, though, is this:
The most extensive investigation of what happened in Ohio was conducted by Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.(52) Frustrated by his party’s failure to follow up on the widespread evidence of voter intimidation and fraud, Conyers and the committee’s minority staff held public hearings in Ohio, where they looked into more than 50,000 complaints from voters.(53) In January 2005, Conyers issued a detailed report that outlined ”massive and unprecedented voter irregularities and anomalies in Ohio.” The problems, the report concludes, were ”caused by intentional misconduct and illegal behavior, much of it involving Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell.”(54)
”Blackwell made Katherine Harris look like a cupcake,” Conyers told me. ”He saw his role as limiting the participation of Democratic voters. We had hearings in Columbus for two days. We could have stayed two weeks, the level of fury was so high. Thousands of people wanted to testify. Nothing like this had ever happened to them before.”
Instead of welcoming the avalanche of citizen involvement sparked by the campaign, Blackwell permitted election officials in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo to conduct a massive purge of their voter rolls, summarily expunging the names of more than 300,000 voters who had failed to cast ballots in the previous two national elections.(55) In Cleveland, which went five-to-one for Kerry, nearly one in four voters were wiped from the rolls between 2000 and 2004.(56)
There were legitimate reasons to clean up voting lists: Many of the names undoubtedly belonged to people who had moved or died. But thousands more were duly registered voters who were deprived of their constitutional right to vote — often without any notification — simply because they had decided not to go to the polls in prior elections.(57) In Cleveland’s precinct 6C, where more than half the voters on the rolls were deleted,(58) turnout was only 7.1 percent(59) — the lowest in the state.
According to the Conyers report, improper purging ”likely disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters statewide.”(60) If only one in ten of the 300,000 purged voters showed up on Election Day — a conservative estimate, according to election scholars — that is 30,000 citizens who were unfairly denied the opportunity to cast ballots.
That angry Democrats showed up at a hearing conducted by a fellow Democrat to claim that the Republicans screwed them over is hardly illuminating. There is a huge groundswell of outrage by Democrats, especially the urban poor, going back to at least the 1992 election. But complaining that one isn’t allowed to vote because one failed to register to vote or has moved and is ineligible under state election law does not change the facts. And the general counsel for the Ohio Democratic Party concedes that Blackwell’s purge of the voting rolls was legal and above board.
Update: From the final report of the THE NATIONAL RESEARCH COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS AND VOTING [PDF], 1 March 2005:
Ohio witnessed significant variability in wait times in some districts, sporadic instances of machine malfunctions, and possible voting tabulation errors, undercounts, and overcounts. Based on the data available, the working group concluded that it was extremely unlikely that the absence of these irregularities would have shifted popular vote tallies sufficiently to change the declared winner in Ohio. However, continuing uncertainty over the extent of irregularities merits closer public scrutiny and full disclosure of relevant data. [emphasis added]
Of course, none of this will change the minds of those committed to conspiracy theories of how our system operates.
- Betsy Newmark: “I guess we’re now supposed to rely on what isolated groups of people who choose to respond to the pollsters in the middle of the day say about how they voted than actually counting the votes. Can it get more ridiculous than this?”
- John Hawkins: “Al Gore only received 2,186,19 votes in Ohio in 2000, while John Kerry received 2,741,165 votes in 2004. That’s a pretty pathetic job of voter suppression by the vast right wing conspiracy if you ask me.”
AllahPundit: “If nothing else good comes from it, it’s a comfort at least to know that Keith Olbermann’s got his next eight months worth of shows all laid out for him.”
Update (6/3): tristero has read several rebuttals to RFK, Jr.’s piece, including mine and a Salon piece by Farhad Manjoo with the straightforward title “Was the 2004 election stolen? No.”, and is decidedly less sure, observing that, “either a substantive counter-response or an admission of error on Kennedy’s part really is appropriate.”