By Bob Fitrakis, Steve Rosenfeld and Harvey Wasserman
The Free Press
The following text is the Introduction to the 767 page:
Did George W. Bush Steal America's 2004 Election?
This volume of documents is meant to provide you, the reader, with evidence necessary to make up your own mind.
Few debates have aroused more polarized ire. But too often the argument has proceeded without documentation. This volume of crucial source materials, from Ohio and elsewhere, is meant to correct that problem.
Amidst a bitterly contested vote count that resulted in unprecedented action by the Congress of the United States, here are some news accounts that followed this election, which was among the most bitterly contested in all US history:
- Despite repeated pre-election calls from officials across the nation and the world, Ohio's Republican Secretary of State, who also served as Ohio's co-chair for the Bush-Cheney campaign, refused to allow non-partisan international and United Nations observers the access they requested to monitor the Ohio vote. While such access is routinely demanded by the US government in third world nations, it was banned in the American heartland.
- A post-election headline from the Akron Beacon Journal cites a critical report by twelve prominent social scientists and statisticians, reporting: "Analysis Points to Election 'Corruption': Group Says Chance of Exit Polls Being So Wrong in '04 Vote is One-in-959,000."
- Citing "Ohio's Odd Numbers," investigative reporter Christopher Hitchens, a Bush supporter, says in Vanity Fair: "Given what happened in that key state on Election Day 2004, both democracy and common sense cry out for a court-ordered inspection of its new voting machines."
- Paul Krugman of the New York Times writes: "It's election night, and early returns suggest trouble for the incumbent. Then, mysteriously, the vote count stops and observers from the challenger's campaign see employees of a voting-machine company, one wearing a badge that identifies him as a county official, typing instructions at computers with access to the vote-tabulating software.
When the count resumes, the incumbent pulls ahead. The challenger demands an investigation. But there are no ballots to recount, and election officials allied with the incumbent refuse to release data that could shed light on whether there was tampering with the electronic records.
This isn't a paranoid fantasy. It's a true account of a recent election in Riverside County, California..."
- Hundreds of Ohio African-American voters give sworn testimony that they were harassed, intimidated, deprived of voting machines, given faulty ballots, confronted with malfunctioning machines and hit with a staggering range of other problems that deprived them of votes that were destined for John Kerry, votes that might have tipped the Ohio outcome.
- A team of high-powered researchers discover results in three southern Ohio counties where an obscure African-American candidate for the state Supreme Court somehow outpolls John Kerry, a virtually impossible outcome indicating massive vote fraud costing Kerry thousands of votes.
- Up until 11pm Eastern time on election night, exit polls show John Kerry comfortably leading George Bush in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Mexico, giving him a clear victory in the Electoral College, and a projected national margin of some 1.5 million votes. These same exit polls had just served as the basis for overturning an election in Ukraine, and are viewed worldwide as a bedrock of reliability. But after midnight the vote count mysteriously turns, and by morning George W. Bush is declared the victor.
There is far far more...enough, indeed, to result in massive court filings, unprecedented Congressional action and a library full of documents leading to bitter controversy over the 2004 election, especially in Ohio.
In this volume, we have attempted to present many of the most crucial of those documents.
Do they prove that George W. Bush stole the US presidential election of 2004?
Should John Kerry rather than Bush have been certified by the Electoral College on January 6, 2005?
Historians will be debating that for centuries. What follows are some of the core documents they will use in that debate:
The most hotly contested evidence comes most importantly from Ohio, whose 20 electoral votes decided the election. But it also comes from other key swing statesespecially Florida and New Mexicowhere exit polls and other evidence raise questions about the officially certified vote tallies in favor of Bush.
As mentioned, this book presents the most crucial documents indicating how this bitterly contested election was actually decided.
But it is also this book's purpose to memorialize the successful grassroots campaign by voting rights advocates that forced an historic Congressional challenge on the floors of the US Senate and House. Acting on an 1887 law that grew out of the stolen election of 1876, a concerned constituency called into question before Congress the electoral votes of an entire state for the first time in US history.
Brought forth by US Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and by Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH), the Ohio electoral delegation challenge was the product of a unique grassroots campaign whose work is also documented here. As the New York Times described it, "In many ways, the debate came about because of the relentless efforts of a small group of third-party activists, liberal lawyers, Internet muckrakers and civil rights groups, who have been arguing since Election Day that the Ohio vote was rigged for Mr. Bush."
The research and writing in this book has focussed on Ohio, where we have been collectively reporting on electoral politics for more than three decades.
While the alleged irregularities, frauds and illegalities that transpired here in 2004 have probably generated the most thorough documention of any state, important parallel assertions have arisen in other states around the country, most importantly Florida and New Mexico.
As journalists and researchers with deep roots in Columbus, the state capitol, we warned of serious problems developing in how Ohio's 2004 balloting was being administered even before the actual votes were cast.
Republican Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell who oversaw the Ohio election, is an outspoken, extremely controversial partisan who also served as co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign, a conflict of interest that aroused much anger.
In his dual role, Blackwell seemed to replay the part of Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris. In 2000 Harris also served as co-chair of the state's Bush-Cheney campaign while administering the election that first gave them the White House. In both cases, Harris and Blackwell termed the elections "highly successful."
But were these "successes" defined in terms of their public servant roles as Secretaries of State? Or were they defined in terms of their partisan roles as campaign co-chairs for George W. Bush?
In this volume's first three documents, we reproduce articles published before November 2, 2004. Widely distributed throughout the Internet weeks before the election, they warned that a wide range of abuses stemming from Secretary Blackwell's office and other sources had already tainted the outcome of the upcoming Ohio vote.
On Election Day, these warnings seemed tragically prophetic. The balloting throughout Ohio was riddled with a staggering array of irregularities, apparent fraud and clear illegalities. Many of the questions focused on electronic voting machines whose lack of official accountability and a reliable paper trail had been in the news since the bitterly contested election of 2000, four years earlier. (Similar questions also arose in Georgia in 2002, where Democratic candidates for Governor and US Senate had substantial leads in the major polls right up to election day, only to lose by substantial margins).
The most widely publicized Ohio problems came as predominantly African-American precincts turned up suspiciously short of voting machines. Inner-city voters waited three hours on average and up to seven hours, according to election officials and to sworn testimony of local residents. Many voters stood in the cold rain to cast their ballots while nearby white Republican suburbs suffered virtually no delays. The wait at liberal Kenyon College, located in Knox County, Ohio, was eleven hours, while voters at a nearby conservative Bible school could vote in five minutes.
To this day no one can definitively tell how many citizens, seeing the long lines, went home or to work or to take care of their children, thus losing their right to vote.
But long waits were hardly the only problems predominantly Democratic voters encountered on Election Day. Selective harassment by partisan poll "inspectors," provisional ballot manipulations, missing registration records, denial of absentee ballots, absentee ballots pre-punched for Bush, faulty computer screens reflecting votes for Bush that were meant for Kerry, apparently deliberate misinformation regarding polling locations, inadequate poll worker training in predominantly Democratic precincts, and much much more threw scores of polling places into serious disarray.
In two heated public post-election hearings, attended by a thousand central Ohioans, several hundred angry voters testifiedunder oathon the details of the irregularities that quickly led to the widespread belief that the election had been stolen. Their testimony got virtually no mainstream media coverage. But the verbatim essence of their sworn affidavits appears in this book.
Like the elections of 2000 and 2002, much of the doubt about the election of 2004 continues to center on the counting of votes, especially on electronic voting machines.
About 15% of Ohio's ballots were cast on computerized devices that left no paper trail. With more than 5.7 million votes cast in a state yielding an official margin for Bush of less than 117,000 votes, a skewed vote count on those machines alone could have made the difference for George W. Bush.
Sworn testimony recorded in public hearings in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, and Warren cast serious doubt on how those voting machines performed. In Warren, voters pressing Kerry's name on electronic screens repeatedly saw Bush's name light up. In predominantly Democratic Lucas County, Diebold Opti-scan machines broke down early in the day and were never fixed, denying thousandsmostly Democratstheir right to vote.
Reports surfacing in other precincts verified that technicians dismantled key electronic machines before a recount could be certified. Election officials in Franklin County (where Columbus is located) reported that 77 of their machines malfunctioned on Election Day, virtually all of them in heavily Democratic precincts. Inner city precincts in Cincinnati and Cleveland had all-too-familiar Florida-style problems with their punch card machines.
To date, there has been no credible, independent audit of these machines, not in Ohio or in any other state. In Ohio, Secretary of State Blackwell issued an order in the weeks following the election that all 2004 election records, paper and electronic, were to be sealed from public access and inspection. As of this book's publication date, those records remain unobtainable.
The controversy surrounding the voting machines remains extremely fierce in part because major manufacturers such as Diebold, ES&S, Triad, and others are controlled by partisan Republican companies with secret proprietary software. This unfortunate lack of transparency calls all US elections into question.
In a highly publicized controversy, Diebolt principal Walden O'Dell, a resident of central Ohio, pledged in a 2003 GOP fundraising letter to deliver Ohio's electoral votes to George W. Bush, leaving the indelible suspicion that he might do it fraudulently. US Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) is a principle in another major voting machine company, ES&S, on which many millions of votes were cast in 2004. Hagel was elected and re-elected in balloting that relied on ES&S machines. Such apparent conflicts of interest have left the poisonous impression that America's right to cast a ballot in secret has been transcended by a private partisan company's right to count votes in secret.
In fact, the question of electronic voting machines remains the single largest "black hole" in the entire electoral process. Nationwide at least 30% of the votes in 2004 were cast on such "black box" machines, more than enough to have tipped the balance in the popular vote from John Kerry to George W. Bush.
Despite the intense battle over this election and the scrutiny it has received worldwide, it is virtually certain there will never be a clear answer as to how many votes cast on those machines really went to which candidate. The 3.5 million-vote margin claimed by George W. Bush in the 2004 election remains unverifiable and, at best, forever suspect.
In reaction, GOP operatives have put forth three major arguments to defend a Bush victory.
First, they argue that in Ohio and elsewhere, county election boards are bi-partisan, meaning Democrats would have had to accede to any theft of an election. This book provides a verbatim interview from William Anthony, Democratic election board member in Ohio's Franklin County. Among other things, Anthony confirms that Blackwell had the power to remove any election board member, including Democrats, whose actions displeased him. Anthony and other Ohio election board members confirm that Blackwell in fact made at least one such threat in the lead-up to the 2004 election. And that Blackwell specifically denied central Ohioans access to paper ballots, a decision that might well have affected the overall outcome.
Republicans also argue that exit polls were wrong because Republicans failed to respond to them throughout the country on election day. They also say a late surge of evangelical voters in Florida and elsewhere overwhelmed the polling data, and that social issues prompted tens of thousands of core Democrats to drop their long-standing party loyalties and to vote for George W. Bush where in 2000 they had voted by wide margins for Al Gore.
These assertions remain unsupported by hard data. A number of documents in this book indicate they could not be true. And in large part as a result of these refutations, the movement demanding further scrutiny of the national vote continued to gain momentum in the weeks and months after the election.
Amidst the bitter controversy that was voiced in Ohio's post-election public hearings, unprecedented national attention began to focus on what may or may not have happened here. In late November, the Reverend Jesse Jackson let it be known he had serious questions about the conduct of the Ohio balloting.
In a series of visits Jackson rallied an African-American community that felt it had been deprived of its vote. A former cohort of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jackson compared the grassroots campaign for voter justice in Ohio to the civil rights marches of the 1950s and 1960s. Terming the campaign here "a bigger deal than Selma," Jackson likened what happened in Ohio 2004 to the deprivation of black voting rights throughout the Jim Crow South dating to the 1890s.
As a grassroots movement grew within the stateand across the nationto demand a recount, Jackson enlisted the support of Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. Tubbs Jones. While a citizens movement demanded to know what Ohio had to hide, Secretary of State Blackwell dragged his feet on the recount. He used a wide range of legal and bureaucratic maneuvers that deprived the public of meaningful scrutiny prior to the convening of the Electoral College, which Blackwell had long since proclaimed would go for Bush.
The grassroots efforts coalesced into two legal actions. On the morning of December 13, at the federal courthouse in Columbus, suits were filed on behalf of candidates from the Green and Libertarian Parties, demanding that the Ohio Electors not be seated until a full investigation of both the balloting and the recount could be conducted. Meanwhile, the convenors of the citizens' post-election hearings assembled a legal team to file two election challenge lawsuits, Moss v. Bush, and Moss v. Moyer, at Ohio's Supreme Court.
Rev. Bill Moss, a former member of the Columbus School Board, was the lead plaintiff in the suits, filed against George W. Bush and Thomas Moyer, Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court. Small donor contributions from across the country financed both actions.
Later that morning, Rep. Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, convened a public forum on voting irregularities in Ohio that was covered by C-SPAN. Conyers had already taken testimony at a hearing in Washington. Now he was joined by Rep. Jones and Congressman Ted Strickland (D-OH), Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Congressman Jerome Nadler (D-NY) and others at the Columbus City Council Chambers. The hearing had originally been called for the Statehouse, but Republicans there denied the Congressional delegation a room.
Taking additional testimony from Ohioans who were denied their right to vote, Conyers' City Hall hearing also heard from national election experts. While they testified, Republican Electors cast their ballots around the corner at the statehouse, votes that would, as Blackwell predicted, give the election to George W. Bush.
In the wake of these new hearings, and with growing momentum built by Jackson, Jones, Conyers and others, a truly national movement arose to demand a new look at what had happened on November 2. With an almost total blackout on all coverage from the mainstream media, the vast bulk of the information was spread through FreePress.org. The Free Press articles were in turn picked up by CommonDreams.org, Truthout.org and other democracy-minded internet outlets. Co-authors Fitrakis, Wasserman and Rosenfeld appeared on Air America Radio Shows hosted by Laura Flanders, Randi Rhodes, Stephanie Miller, and Marty Kaplan, as well as Pacifica Radio, NPR, independent radio stations and with Amy Goodman on the Democracy Now TV network.
But by and large, the fact that the story spread at all was a tribute to the ability of the Internet to operate independently from the major media, whose scant coverage of what happened in Ohio was almost uniformly hostile to the idea that anything could have gone seriously wrong.
On January 3, 2005, Rev. Jackson hosted a rally in downtown Columbus at which Rep. Jones officially announced that she would formally question the seating of the Ohio Electoral delegation on January 6. The challenge would come through a law passed by Congress in 1887 in response to the Republican theft of the 1876 election.
That year the New York Democratic Samuel Tilden outpolled the Ohio Republican Rutherford B. Hayes by about 250,000 votes. But the Republican Party manipulated the electoral votes in Florida and other states.
After a tense five-month stand-off, a deal was cut and Hayes became president. In exchange, the GOP ended Reconstruction by pulling the last federal troops out of the defeated south, leaving millions of freed slaves to the mercies of Jim Crow segregation and a system designed to deprive them of their right to vote, a Constitutional violation not seriously challenged until the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
The 1887 law provided that at the formal request of a Senator and a Representative, the two houses of Congress would debate separately for two hours the legitimacy of seating a specified state's delegation to the Electoral College.
In 2000, members of the Congressional Black Caucus rose to challenge the Florida delegation. But Vice President Al Gore, who was presiding over the Senate at the time, recognized no senator willing to join them.
As of January 3, 2005, no US senator had stepped forward to join Rep. Jones. The next day a busload of activists left from Columbus for an overnight "freedom ride" to Washington. As they arrived the morning of January 5, the burgeoning "Election Protection" coalition staged a media briefing at the National Press Club, finally generating major global media coverage, including ABC's Nightline. Throughout that day, and the next, Rev. Jackson, with Fitrakis and others in tow, lobbied the Congress, providing in-depth briefings for key Democratic senators, including the newly installed Democratic leadership and former first lady Hillary Clinton (D-NY).
On January 6, at a morning rally across from the White House, Rev. Jackson announced that Senator Boxer would join Rep. Tubbs Jones in questioning the seating of the Republican delegation from Ohio to the Electoral College.
Boxer's historic decision was greeted with loud cheers from the Election Protection coalition. In her California re-election campaign, Boxer had been America's third-leading vote-getter, behind Kerry and Bush. But extremely harsh personal attacks spewed from Rep. Tom DeLay (D-TX) and the Republican leadership in the Congress and in Ohio. Much of the Ohio media, which had ignored the story since election day, jumped in with personal attacks on Rep. Tubbs Jones and the voting rights activists.
As the day progressed, public rallies accompanied the Congressional debate, much of which we have reproduced here. Then the two chambers re-convened, certified the Ohio delegationand George W. Bush was given a disputed second term.
But the historic controversy over the 2004 election has not ended.
At its core remain unanswered questions surrounding the actions of Secretary of State Blackwell, the fine print of election procedure and vote counting, as well as the still unresolved exit poll controversy and the nature of electronic voting.
Up until 11pm Eastern Standard Time, the major election-day exit polls showed John Kerry winning the national election. But in nine of eleven swing states, including Florida and Ohio, massive, unexplained shifts gave Bush the election.
Nationwide what appeared to be a victory for Kerry by about 1.5 million votes suddenly became a 3.5 million margin for Bush.
As shown in the documents here, the hard realities of such a shift remain unexplained.
In the months after the election, dozens of polling experts and statisticians have scrutinized every corner of the public exit polling data as it stacks up against the official vote counts. The major pollsters and their national media clients still refuse to release the raw data. The consensus, as shown here, is that the reversal of Kerry's fortunes late on election night was in essence a statistical impossibility, with the odds at roughly 1 in 950,000. According to these experts, John Kerry should have been inaugurated in January, 2005.
These exit poll analyses have been generally ignored but not disputed by the mainstream press. In early 2005, two major pollsters issued statements saying that their initial work was in error, and that they had somehow "under-interviewed" Republican voters, thereby skewing their findings toward the Democrats.
But such denials are simply not credible in the eyes of a broad spectrum of independent experts. As shown in the documents here, nearly all the "errors" in the polling were somehow in Bush's favor. The odds against the reversals that were shown in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania alone are in the hundreds-of-thousands to one; according to experts such as the University of Illinois's Ron Baiman, nationwide the odds approach 150 million to one.
Ironically, just prior to the 2004 US election, similar exit polls led to the reversal of a presidential election in Ukraine, where mass demonstrations forced a re-vote. The challenger's "defeat" in the first voting ran so clearly counter to the exit polls that a second vote was forced, which he won.
The Bush administration supported the revote in the Ukraine. But there was no parallel reversal here.
The drama in Ohio continues. In early 2005, Secretary of State Blackwell issued a fundraising letter congratulating himself for delivering Ohio to George W. Bush. The letter contained an illegal solicitation of corporate money, and was withdrawn as a "mistake."
Blackwell was not indicted. But the letter enhanced the widespread suspicion that Blackwell abused his position as Secretary of State to wrongfully deliver Ohio, and the White House, to George W. Bush.
In January 2005, Blackwell initiated an attempt by Ohio Attorney General James Petro to sanction four attorneys who sued to get to the bottom of what had happened on Election Day, 2004. Bob Fitrakis, Cliff Arnebeck, Susan Truitt and Peter Peckarsky were named as attorneys to be sanctioned at the pleasure of the Ohio Supreme Court, which is dominated by Republicans. Petro's brief essentially argues that there were no irregularities in the 2004 Ohio election and the Moss v. Bush and Moss v. Moyer filings were "meritless" and "frivolous." Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, who is cited in the second filing, refused to recuse himself, and appointed himself to rule on the Moss v. Bush case against the very lawyers who filed against him in Moss v. Moyer.
Meanwhile, Blackwell escalated his own campaign for Governor of Ohio, to be decided in primary and general elections he would administer as Secretary of State. As the prime candidate of the fundamentalist far-right, Blackwell planned to follow in the footsteps of Florida's Katherine Harris, who was rewarded with a safe Congressional seat after delivering her stateand the presidencyto Bush in 2000.
As the documents in the final chapter and appendix to this book show, the bitter controversy over the vote count in Ohio has been mirrored in other key states around the US.
The outcome in Florida 2004 remains in many ways as severely challenged as in 2000. Serious questions have erupted in New Mexico, where every precinct that used electronic scanning devices went for Bush, no matter what its demographic make-up or party proclivities. As Kerry noted in a conference call involving Jackson, Fitrakis and Arneback, it was not the Democrat or Republican, Hispanic or Anglo, rich or poor make-up of a precinct that decided the outcome in New Mexico, it was the presence of opti-scan vote counters.
Similar new concerns have since surfaced in Maryland and elsewhere.
Like the production of this book, the "Election Protection" campaign that grew from the Ohio grassroots has been unaided by either the Ohio Democratic Party, the Kerry campaign or any other candidate, or the major media. But it has coalesced into a nationwide movement for meaningful reform. Based in grassroots organizing and independent internet outlets like FreePress.org, they may be our only lifeline to any hope for the future of democracy.
The Democratic representatives who stood up on January 6 are pursuing election reform at the federal level. It remains to be seen how that plays out.
But the bitter controversy over Ohio 2004, like that over Florida 2000 and Georgia 2002, rings like a fire bell for the future of democracy.
Four decades after the 1965 signing of the National Voting Rights Act, and nearly fourteen decades after 1869 passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guaranteeing freed slaves the right to vote, millions of Americans and citizens worldwide believe that our electoral process is still vulnerable to manipulation, fraud and theft.
We believe the documents in this book form the most complete record so far of what really happened in Ohio and elsewhere immediately before, during and after the election of 2004. Some have been edited to avoid excessive repetition. All are accompanied by citations meant to guide you to original documents in their entirety, as well as to other sources providing a variety of perspectives.
Many who are discontent with how this election was conducted now argue for federal standards to apply to all future elections. There are a wide range of additional reforms being proposed on all sides of the political spectrum.
But few would disagree with the proposition put forth by Thomas Jefferson that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. And that free elections demand aggressive, informed, relentless protection.
We hope this volume will facilitate informed decisions about how that can be done in the future.