certainly weren't invalidated by faulty voting equipment: a trifling one percent of presidential ballots in the twelve suspect
counties were spoiled. The more likely explanation is that they were fraudulently shifted to Bush. Statewide, the president
outpolled Thomas Moyer, the Republican judge who defeated Connally, by twenty-one percent. Yet in the twelve questionable
counties, Bush's margin over Moyer was fifty percent -- a strong indication
that the president's certified vote total was inflated. If Kerry had maintained his statewide margin over Connally in the
twelve suspect counties, as he almost assuredly would have done in a clean election, he would have bested her by 81,260 ballots.
That's a swing of 162,520 votes from Kerry to Bush -- more than enough to alter the outcome. (183)
''This is very strong evidence that the
count is off in those counties,'' says Freeman, the poll analyst. ''By itself, without anything else, what happened in these
twelve counties turns Ohio into a Kerry state. To me, this provides every indication of fraud.''
How might this fraud have been carried
out? One way to steal votes is to tamper with individual ballots -- and there is evidence that Republicans did just that.
In Clermont County, where optical scanners were used to tabulate votes, sworn affidavits by election
observers given to the House Judiciary Committee describe ballots on which marks for Kerry were covered up with white stickers,
while marks for Bush were filled in to replace them. Rep. Conyers, in a letter to the FBI, described the testimony as ''strong
evidence of vote tampering if not outright fraud.'' (184) In Miami County, where Connally outpaced
Kerry, one precinct registered a turnout of 98.55 percent (185) -- meaning that all but ten eligible voters went to the polls
on Election Day. An investigation by the Columbus Free Press, however, collected
affidavits from twenty-five people who swear they didn't vote. (186)
In addition to altering individual ballots,
evidence suggests that Republicans tampered with the software used to tabulate votes. In Auglaize
County, where Kerry lost not only to Connally but to two other defeated Democratic judicial candidates,
voters cast their ballots on touch-screen machines. (187) Two weeks before the election, an employee of ES&S, the company
that manufactures the machines, was observed by a local election official making an unauthorized log-in to the central computer
used to compile election results. (188) In Miami County, after 100 percent of precincts had already reported their official
results, an additional 18,615 votes were inexplicably added to the final tally. The last-minute alteration awarded 12,000
of the votes to Bush, boosting his margin of victory in the county by nearly 6,000. (189)
The most transparently crooked incident
took place in Warren County. In the leadup to the election, Blackwell had illegally sought to keep reporters
and election observers at least 100 feet away from the polls. (190) The Sixth Circuit, ruling that the decree represented
an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment, noted ominously that ''democracies die behind closed doors.'' But the
decision didn't stop officials in Warren County from devising a way to count the vote in secret. Immediately after the polls
closed on Election Day, GOP officials -- citing the FBI -- declared that the county was facing a terrorist threat that ranked
ten on a scale of one to ten. The county administration building was hastily locked down, allowing election officials to tabulate
the results without any reporters present.
In fact, there was no terrorist threat.
The FBI declared that it had issued no such warning, and an investigation by The Cincinnati
Enquirer unearthed e-mails showing that the Republican plan to declare a terrorist alert had been in the works
for eight days prior to the election. Officials had even refined the plot down to the language they used on signs notifying
the public of a lockdown. (When ROLLING STONE requested copies of the same e-mails from the county, officials responded that
the documents have been destroyed.) (191)
The late-night secrecy in Warren
County recalls a classic trick: Results are held back until it's determined how many votes the favored
candidate needs to win, and the totals are then adjusted accordingly. When Warren County finally announced its official results -- one of the last counties in the state to do so (192) -- the results departed
wildly from statewide patterns. John Kerry received 2,426 fewer votes for president than Ellen Connally, the poorly funded
black judge, did for chief justice. (193) As the Conyers report concluded, ''It is impossible to rule out the possibility
that some sort of manipulation of the tallies occurred on election night in the locked-down facility.'' (194)
Nor does the electoral tampering appear
to have been isolated to these dozen counties. Ohio, like several other states, had an initiative on the ballot in 2004 to outlaw
gay marriage. Statewide, the measure proved far more popular than Bush, besting the president by 470,000 votes. But in six
of the twelve suspect counties -- as well as in six other small counties in central Ohio -- Bush
outpolled the ban on same-sex unions by 16,132 votes. To trust the official tally, in other words, you must believe that thousands
of rural Ohioans voted for both President Bush and gay marriage. (195)
IX. Rigging the Recount
After Kerry conceded the election, the Green and Libertarian parties launched
a recount of all eighty-eight counties in Ohio. Under state law, county boards of election were required to randomly select
three percent of their precincts and recount the ballots both by hand and by machine. If the two totals reconciled exactly,
a costly hand recount of the remaining votes could be avoided; machines could be used to tally the rest.
But election officials in Ohio worked outside the law to avoid hand recounts. According to charges brought by a special prosecutor in April, election
officials in Cleveland fraudulently and secretly pre-counted
precincts by hand to identify ones that would match the machine count. They then used these pre-screened precincts to select
the ''random'' sample of three percent used for the recount.
''If it didn't balance, they excluded those
precincts,'' said the prosecutor, Kevin Baxter, who has filed felony indictments against three election workers in Cleveland. ''They screwed with the process and increased the probability, if not the certainty, that there would not be a
full, countywide hand count.'' (196)
Voting machines were also tinkered with
prior to the recount. In Hocking County, deputy elections director Sherole Eaton caught an employee of Triad -- which
provided the software used to count punch-card ballots in nearly half of Ohio's counties
(197) -- making unauthorized modifications to the tabulating computer before the recount. Eaton told the Conyers committee
that the same employee also provided county officials with a ''cheat sheet'' so that ''the count would come out perfect and
we wouldn't have to do a full hand-recount of the county.'' (198) After Eaton blew the whistle on the illegal tampering, she
(199) The same Triad employee was dispatched
to do the same work in at least five other counties. (200) Company president Tod Rapp -- who contributed to Bush's campaign
(201) -- has confirmed that Triad routinely makes such tabulator adjustments to help election officials avoid hand recounts.
In the end, every county serviced by Triad failed to conduct full recounts by hand. (202)
Even more troubling, in at least two counties,
Fulton and Henry, Triad was able to connect to tabulating computers remotely via a dial-up connection, and reprogram them
to recount only the presidential ballots. (203) If that kind of remote tabulator modification is possible for the purposes
of the recount, it's no great leap to wonder if such modifications might have helped skew the original vote count. But the
window for settling such questions is closing rapidly: On November 2nd of this year, on the second anniversary of the election,
state officials will be permitted under Ohio law to shred all ballots from the 2004 election. (204)
X. What's At Stake
The mounting evidence that Republicans employed broad, methodical and illegal
tactics in the 2004 election should raise serious alarms among news organizations. But instead of investigating allegations
of wrongdoing, the press has simply accepted the result as valid. ''We're in a terrible fix,'' Rep. Conyers told me. ''We've
got a media that uses its bullhorn in reverse -- to turn down the volume on this outrage rather than turning it up. That's
why our citizens are not up in arms.''
The lone news anchor who seriously questioned
the integrity of the 2004 election was Keith Olbermann of MSNBC. I asked him why he stood against the tide. ''I was a sports
reporter, so I was used to dealing with numbers,'' he said. ''And the numbers made no sense. Kerry had an insurmountable lead
in the exit polls on Election Night -- and then everything flipped.'' Olbermann believes that his journalistic colleagues
fell down on the job. ''I was stunned by the lack of interest by investigative reporters,'' he said. ''The Republicans shut
down Warren County, allegedly for national security purposes -- and no one covered it. Shouldn't
someone have sent a camera and a few reporters out there?''
Olbermann attributes the lack of coverage
to self-censorship by journalists. ''You can rock the boat, but you can never say that the entire ocean is in trouble,'' he
said. ''You cannot say: By the way, there's something wrong with our electoral system.''
Federal officials charged with safeguarding
the vote have also failed to contest the election. ''Congress hasn't investigated this at all,'' says Kucinich. ''There has
been no oversight over our nation's most basic right: the right to vote. How can we call ourselves a beacon of democracy abroad
when the right to vote hasn't been secured in free and fair elections at home?''
Sen. John Kerry -- in a wide-ranging discussion
of ROLLING STONE's investigation -- expressed concern about Republican tactics in 2004, but stopped short of saying the election
was stolen. ''Can I draw a conclusion that they played tough games and clearly had an intent to reduce the level of our vote?
Yes, absolutely. Can I tell you to a certainty that it made the difference in the election? I can't. There's no way for me
to do that. If I could have done that, then obviously I would have found some legal recourse.''
Kerry conceded, however, that the widespread
irregularities make it impossible to know for certain that the outcome reflected the will of the voters. ''I think there are
clearly states where it is questionable whether everybody's vote is being counted, whether everybody is being given the opportunity
to register and to vote,'' he said. ''There are clearly barriers in too many places to the ability of people to exercise their
full franchise. For that to be happening in the United States of America
today is disgraceful.''
Kerry's comments were echoed by Howard
Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. ''I'm not confident that the election in Ohio was fairly decided,'' Dean says. ''We know that there was substantial voter suppression, and the machines were not
reliable. It should not be a surprise that the Republicans are willing to do things that are unethical to manipulate elections.
That's what we suspect has happened, and we'd like to safeguard our elections so that democracy can still be counted on to
To help prevent a repeat of 2004, Kerry
has co-sponsored a package of election reforms called the Count Every Vote Act. The measure would increase turnout by allowing
voters to register at the polls on Election Day, provide provisional ballots to voters who inadvertently show up at the wrong
precinct, require electronic voting machines to produce paper receipts verified by voters, and force election officials like
Blackwell to step down if they want to join a campaign. (205) But Kerry says his fellow Democrats have been reluctant to push
the reforms, fearing that Republicans would use their majority in Congress to create even more obstacles to voting. ''The
real reason there is no appetite up here is that people are afraid the Republicans will amend HAVA and shove something far
worse down our throats,'' he told me.
On May 24th, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
tried unsuccessfully to amend the immigration bill to bar anyone who lacks a government-issued photo ID from voting (206)
-- a rule that would disenfranchise at least six percent of Americans, the majority of them urban and poor, who lack such
identification. (207) The GOP-controlled state legislature in Indiana passed a similar measure,
and an ID rule in Georgia was recently struck down as unconstitutional. (208)
''Why erect those kinds of hurdles unless
you're afraid of voters?'' asks Ralph Neas, director of People for the American Way.
''The country will be better off if everyone votes -- Democrats and Republicans. But that is not the Blackwell philosophy,
that is not the George W. Bush or Jeb Bush philosophy. They want to limit the franchise and go to extraordinary lengths to
make it more difficult to vote.''
The issue of what happened in 2004 is not
an academic one. For the second election in a row, the president of the United States was selected not by the uncontested will of the people but under a cloud of dirty tricks. Given the scope of the
GOP machinations, we simply cannot be certain that the right man now occupies the Oval Office -- which means, in effect, that
we have been deprived of our faith in democracy itself.
American history is littered with vote
fraud -- but rather than learning from our shameful past and cleaning up the system, we have allowed the problem to grow even
worse. If the last two elections have taught us anything, it is this: The single greatest threat to our democracy is the insecurity
of our voting system. If people lose faith that their votes are accurately and faithfully recorded, they will abandon the
ballot box. Nothing less is at stake here than the entire idea of a government by the people.
Voting, as Thomas Paine said, ''is the
right upon which all other rights depend.'' Unless we ensure that right, everything else we hold dear is in jeopardy.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to clarify a statement in the published version.
The article originally stated that John Kerry's campaign "helped the Libertarian and Green parties pay for a recount of all
eighty-eight counties in Ohio." In fact, the Green Party paid the state recount fee, and the Kerry campaign
paid for its own attorney as a party to the litigation surrounding the recount.
Talk about it in our National Affairs blog, or see exclusive documents, sources, charts and commentary.
Analysis conducted through official vote tallies posted on Ohio Secretary of State Web site:
184) Letter from Rep. John Conyers to Chris Swecker, assistant director of the Criminal Investigative Division at the Federal Bureau
of Investigation. See attached affidavits.
185) Miami County Board of
186) Confirmed by Bob Fitrakis of the Free
187) Analysis conducted through official
vote tallies posted on Ohio Secretary of State Web site.
188) Erin Miller, ''Board Awaits State Follow Up,'' The Evening Leader.
189) ''Preserving Democracy,'' pages 58-59.
190) The Associated Press, ''News Groups
Sue Ohio Elections Chief Over Poll Access,'' Associated Press, November 2, 2004.
Crispin Miller, ''None Dare Call It Stolen,'' Harper's, August 2005.
191) Incidents in Warren
County were catalogued in a series of articles by the Cincinnati
Erica Solvig, ''No Changes in Final Warren Co. Vote Count; E-mails Released Monday Show Lockdown Pre-planned,'' Cincinnati Enquirer, November 16, 2004.
Erica Solvig, ''Warren's Vote Tally Walled Off; Alone in Ohio, Officials Cited Homeland Security,'' Cincinnati Enquirer, November 5, 2004
Erica Solvig and Dan Horn, ''Warren Co.
Defends Lockdown Decision; FBI denies warning officials of any special threat,'' Cincinnati
Erica Solvig, ''Warren Co. Recount Goes
Public; After Election Night lockdown, security eases up,'' Cincinnati Enquirer,
December 15, 2004.
192) Erica Solvig, ''Warren's Vote Tally Walled Off; Alone in Ohio, Officials Cited Homeland Security,'' Cincinnati Enquirer, November 5, 2004.
193) Analysis conducted through official
vote tallies posted on the Ohio Secretary of State Web site.
194) ''Preserving Democracy,'' pg. 52.
195) Analysis conducted through official
vote tallies posted on the Ohio Secretary of State Web site.
196) Joan Mazzolini, ''Workers Accused of Fudging '04 Recount; Prosecutor Says Cuyahoga Skirted Rules,'' The Plain Dealer, April 6, 2006.
197) Malia Rulon, ''Congressman Calls for
FBI Investigation Into Ohio Election,'' The Associated Press, December 15, 2004.
198) Affidavit, December 13, 2004, Sherole Eaton, Re: General Election 2004, Hocking County.
199) Jon Craig, '' '04 Election in Hocking County; Worker Who Questioned Recount is Asked to Quit,'' Columbus Dispatch (Ohio), June 1st, 2005.
200) ''Preserving Democracy,'' pg. 81.
202) ''Preserving Democracy,'' pg. 82.
203) ''Preserving Democracy,'' pg. 83.
204) Ohio Secretary of State's press office.
205) Count Every Vote Act of 2005
206) Dena Bunis, ''Senate Limits Immigration Debate,'' The Orange County Register, May 24, 2006.
207) Tokaji's blog, Election Law at Moritz,
''McConnell's Voter ID Amendment,'' May 22, 2006.
208) United States District Court Northern District of Georgia, Rome Division