What Went Wrong in Ohio?
Posted on Monday, July 25, 2005. A forum on voting rights in the 2004 federal elections.
On July 21, 2005 Harper's Magazine hosted a forum on voter rights as they related to the 2004 federal election. The forum was held at the U.S. Capitol, and was moderated by Harper's Publisher Rick MacArthur. The panelists were John Conyers, Jr., Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Sherrod Brown, Eleanor Clift, and Mark Crispin Miller. Miller's piece “None Dare Call it Stolen” appears in the August 2005 issue of Harper's Magazine.
About the Forum
The forum was held to discuss a fundamental aspect of the people's business—that of voting rights in the 2004 federal elections and the rather substantial evidence that these Constitutionally guaranteed rights were extensively violated in the state of Ohio—indeed, systematically violated and on a grand enough scale that the election may have been corruptly swung in favor of President Bush and against Senator John Kerry.
Ohio, as things turned out, was the key battleground state. Had Senator Kerry won Ohio he would have won the electoral college and would now be president of the United States. The Secretary of State's office in Ohio initially declared a 118,601 margin of victory for Bush over Kerry; after a county-by-county recount marred by highly inconsistent and evidently illegal procedures, the official victory margin for Bush was reduced by 144 votes. For the record, the Green Party lawsuit challenging the integrity of the recount in federal court has still not been heard—the Greens claim that state's recount was not conducted using random selection of precincts in 86 of the 88 counties, as required by state law.
The principal evidence for voting irregularities in Ohio is contained in the Conyers Report on the 2004 Presidential Election, prepared by the Democratic staff of the House Judiciary Committee, and now published as this book, also entitled What Went Wrong in Ohio. This investigation was initiated and supervised by Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary committee. The Republican majority on the Judiciary Committee declined to participate in the Conyers inquiry, so we do not have the benefit of their insights. This is unfortunate, given that one of the principal subjects of the Conyers investigation is an Ohio Republican, Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, who was also co-chairman of the Ohio Bush re-election campaign. Nevertheless, even lacking Republican input, the Conyers report is an altogether remarkable document. It is by far the best and most complete dossier on voter disenfranchisement and possible vote fraud in Ohio, and it has more than enough hard information to justify a public conversation.
There's a second question raised by the Conyers Report, albeit implicitly, which I hope we will have time to explore today. For as remarkable as the information in the Conyers report may be, the near total media silence that greeted it when it first appeared—as well as the scant coverage of the formal objection to the Ohio electoral vote count filed by Representative Stephanie Tubb Jones—is, to my mind, just as remarkable. So remarkable, in fact, that Harper's Magazine has devoted its August cover story to summarizing and explicating the Conyers report and to asking why it wasn't considered more newsworthy by the national media. Even though eight months have passed since the election, the material compiled here seems to us fresh and scandalous in large part because it has gone almost entirely unreported in the press. As William Raspberry wrote in the Washington Post, "political reporters, mainstream editors and most of Congress seemed utterly unalarmed" by the reports of election chicanery in Ohio. The Conyers report, orginally titled, "Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio," was released on January 5 of this year—and our search on Google and Lexis Nexis turned up very little in the way of coverage.
Given the stakes and given the well-reported disenfranchisement of African-American voters in Florida in the 2000 election, this seems to be a scandal every bit as important as the election irregularities in Ohio.
Rick MacArthur, publisher of Harper's Magazine.
John Conyers, Jr., Democrat of Michigan, is the ranking Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee. Elected to the House in 1964, Representative Conyers is the second most senior member of this body and his personal political parallels the history of the civil rights and voting rights, movements in this country. He was, notably, the driving force behind the Help America Vote Act of 2002.
Stephanie Tubbs Jones is a four-term Democratic congresswoman representing the 11th District of Ohio. A lifelong resident of Cleveland, Representative Tubbs Jones was a prosecutor and a judge in Ohio before she came to Washington. She currently sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, the first African American woman to do so. It was Congresswoman Tubbs Jones who, partly on the strength of the Conyers investigation, formally objected to the certification of the Ohio electoral count last January.
Sherrod Brown has represented Ohio's 13th District as a Democrat since 1993 and served as Ohio's Secretary of State for two terms, from 1982 to 1990. He is the author of Myths of Free Trade, Why American Trade Policy has Failed.
Eleanor Clift is a contributing editor for Newsweek Magazine and a familiar face on television public affairs programs. She has covered the White House, presidential campaigns and Congress and is the author, with her late husband Tom Brazaitis, of two books, most recently Madam President: Shattering the Last Glass Ceiling. She contributed to Newsweek's instant book on the 2004 election, and she has contributed to Harper's Magazine.
Mark Crispin Miller is a professor of media studies at New York University and the author of several books, most recently Cruel and Unusual, Bush/Cheney's New World Order. Professor Miller wrote the cover story for the August issue of Harper's Magazine.
This is What Went Wrong in Ohio?, published Monday, July 25, 2005. It is part of Features, which is part of Harpers.org.