February 28, 2005

Christopher Hitchens, Bush Supporter, Criticizes Ohio Election in "Vanity Fair"

Christopher Hitchens, a Bush supporter, has charged in a "Vanity Fair" piece that Ohio's "odd numbers" are not be believed, and that the evidence shows that something went seriously awry in Ohio:

"Ohio's Odd Numbers

Are the stories of vote suppression and rigged machines to be believed? Here is "non-wacko" evidence that something went seriously awry in the Buckeye State on Election Day 2004


"If it were not for Kenyon College, I might have missed, or skipped, the whole controversy. The place is a visiting lecturer's dream, or the ideal of a campus-movie director in search of a setting. It is situated in wooded Ohio hills, in the small town of Gambier, about an hour's drive from Columbus. Its literary magazine, The Kenyon Review, was founded by John Crowe Ransom in 1939. Its alumni include Paul Newman, E. L. Doctorow, Jonathan Winters, Robert Lowell, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and President Rutherford B. Hayes. The college's origins are Episcopalian, its students well mannered and well off and predominantly white, but it is by no means Bush-Cheney territory. Arriving to speak there a few days after the presidential election, I found that the place was still buzzing. Here's what happened in Gambier, Ohio, on decision day 2004.

"The polls opened at 6:30 a.m. There were only two voting machines (push-button direct-recording electronic systems) for the entire town of 2,200 (with students). The mayor, Kirk Emmert, had called the Board of Elections 10 days earlier, saying that the number of registered voters would require more than that. (He knew, as did many others, that hundreds of students had asked to register in Ohio because it was a critical "swing" state.) The mayor's request was denied. Indeed, instead of there being extra capacity on Election Day, one of the only two machines chose to break down before lunchtime.

"By the time the polls officially closed, at 7:30 that evening, the line of those waiting to vote was still way outside the Community Center and well into the parking lot. A federal judge thereupon ordered Knox County, in which Gambier is located, to comply with Ohio law, which grants the right to vote to those who have shown up in time. "Authority to Vote" cards were kindly distributed to those on line (voting is a right, not a privilege), but those on line needed more than that. By the time the 1,175 voters in the precinct had all cast their ballots, it was almost four in the morning, and many had had to wait for up to 11 hours. In the spirit of democratic carnival, pizzas and canned drinks and guitarists were on hand to improve the shining moment. TV crews showed up, and the young Americans all acted as if they had been cast by Frank Capra: cheerful and good-humored, letting older voters get to the front, catching up on laptop essays, many voting for the first time and all convinced that a long and cold wait was a small price to pay. Typical was Pippa White, who said that "even after eight hours and 15 minutes I still had energy. It lets you know how worth it this is." Heartwarming, until you think about it.

"The students of Kenyon had one advantage, and they made one mistake. Their advantage was that their president, S. Georgia Nugent, told them that they could be excused from class for voting. Their mistake was to reject the paper ballots that were offered to them late in the evening, after attorneys from the Ohio Democratic Party had filed suit to speed up the voting process in this way. The ballots were being handed out (later to be counted by machine under the supervision of Knox County's Democratic and Republican chairs) when someone yelled through the window of the Community Center, "Don't use the paper ballots! The Republicans are going to appeal it and it won't count!" After that, the majority chose to stick with the machines.

"Across the rest of Ohio, the Capra theme was not so noticeable. Reporters and eyewitnesses told of voters who had given up after humiliating or frustrating waits, and who often cited the unwillingness of their employers to accept voting as an excuse for lateness or absence. In some way or another, these bottlenecks had a tendency to occur in working-class and, shall we just say, nonwhite precincts. So did many disputes about "provisional" ballots, the sort that are handed out when a voter can prove his or her identity but not his or her registration at that polling place. These glitches might all be attributable to inefficiency or incompetence (though Gambier had higher turnouts and much shorter lines in 1992 and 1996). Inefficiency and incompetence could also explain the other oddities of the Ohio process—from machines that redirected votes from one column to the other to machines that recorded amazing tallies for unknown fringe candidates, to machines that apparently showed that voters who waited for a long time still somehow failed to register a vote at the top of the ticket for any candidate for the presidency of these United States.

"However, for any of that last category of anomaly to be explained, one would need either a voter-verified paper trail of ballots that could be tested against the performance of the machines or a court order that would allow inspection of the machines themselves. The first of these does not exist, and the second has not yet been granted.

"I don't know who it was who shouted idiotically to voters not to trust the paper ballots in Gambier, but I do know a lot of people who are convinced that there was dirty work at the crossroads in the Ohio vote. Some of these people are known to me as nutbags and paranoids of the first water, people whose grassy-knoll minds can simply cancel or deny any objective reasons for a high Republican turnout. (Here's how I know some of these people: In November 1999, I wrote a column calling for international observers to monitor the then upcoming presidential election. I was concerned about restrictive ballot-access laws, illegal slush funds, denial of access to media for independents, and abuse of the state laws that banned "felons" from voting. At the end, I managed to mention the official disenfranchisement of voters in my hometown of Washington, D.C., and the questionable "reliability or integrity" of the new voting-machine technology. I've had all these wacko friends ever since.) But here are some of the non-wacko reasons to revisit the Ohio election.

"First, the county-by-county and precinct-by-precinct discrepancies. In Butler County, for example, a Democrat running for the State Supreme Court chief justice received 61,559 votes. The Kerry-Edwards ticket drew about 5,000 fewer votes, at 56,243. This contrasts rather markedly with the behavior of the Republican electorate in that county, who cast about 40,000 fewer votes for their judicial nominee than they did for Bush and Cheney. (The latter pattern, with vote totals tapering down from the top of the ticket, is by far the more general—and probable—one nationwide and statewide.)

"In 11 other counties, the same Democratic judicial nominee, C. Ellen Connally, managed to outpoll the Democratic presidential and vice-presidential nominees by hundreds and sometimes thousands of votes. So maybe we have a barn-burning, charismatic future candidate on our hands, and Ms. Connally is a force to be reckoned with on a national scale. Or is it perhaps a trick of the Ohio atmosphere? There do seem to be a lot of eccentrics in the state. In Cuyahoga County, which includes the city of Cleveland, two largely black precincts on the East Side voted like this. In Precinct 4F: Kerry, 290; Bush, 21; Peroutka, 215. In Precinct 4N: Kerry, 318; Bush, 11; Badnarik, 163. Mr. Peroutka and Mr. Badnarik are, respectively, the presidential candidates of the Constitution and Libertarian Parties. In addition to this eminence, they also possess distinctive (but not particularly African-American-sounding) names. In 2000, Ralph Nader's best year, the total vote received in Precinct 4F by all third-party candidates combined was eight.

"In Montgomery County, two precincts recorded a combined undervote of almost 6,000. This is to say that that many people waited to vote but, when their turn came, had no opinion on who should be the president, voting only for lesser offices. In these two precincts alone, that number represents an undervote of 25 percent, in a county where undervoting averages out at just 2 percent. Democratic precincts had 75 percent more undervotes than Republican ones.

Complete text of article

No comments: