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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Strategy Notes:
John Belisarius

How Big A Role Did Fraud, Ballot Theft and Suppression of the Vote Play in The Election?

In the last few day’s accusations of massive vote fraud, ballot theft and suppression of the Democratic vote during the 2004 elections have mushroomed to such a level that both the New York Times and the Washington Post have given the charges front page coverage.
Unfortunately, almost all the discussion of this issue has become focused on the specific question of whether a sufficient number of votes might have been stolen or suppressed to have changed the outcome of the election. In many cases, the unstated assumption seems to be that if such violations did not rise to the level where they changed the result then they can safely be ignored.
That’s the wrong way to look at this issue. What the vast majority of Democrats find most disturbing about 2004 is that Bush’s victory was based on a pervasive strategy of dishonesty–a dishonesty that included major distortions of Kerry’s record by the Bush campaign’s own television commercials, outright lies told by the Swift Boat Veterans, grotesque distortions circulated among rural or minority voters (such as the claim that Democrats would take away religious people’s bibles or that Martin Luther King was a Republican), flyers listing false reasons why voters should believe themselves disqualified, leaflets and phone calls falsely announcing changes in polling places and phony voter registration groups that collected and then destroyed voter registration forms.
Layered on top of this were techniques for suppressing the vote in Democratic areas that included last minute changes in polling places, use of felon lists known to be inaccurate and the provision of inadequate numbers of voting machines and ballots.
It is this entire pattern of appallingly anti-democratic behavior that should be at the center of the national discussion today, and not just the specific question of whether these kinds of activities–along with any direct theft or alteration of votes by electronic or punch card voting machines–could have risen to a level sufficient to reverse Bush’s victory.
Regarding the precise amount of voter fraud and suppression that actually occurred during the election, data are still trickling in. A widely quoted article by Harpers magazine writer Greg Palast pulled together a variety of issues to draw the conclusion that Kerry might actually have won the election. Follow-up articles in Salon and The Nation by Farhad Manjoo and David Corn, however, while entirely sympathetic to Democrats basic suspicions and complaints, reviewed Palast’s evidence and reached the opposite conclusion.
The debate is not over. Two web sites that continue to collect and evaluate reports from around the country are the Election Incident Reporting System and the CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project.
But the most important thing for Democrats to remember about this debate is that they should not allow it to be reduced simply to the question of whether or not the election was “stolen”. What vast numbers of Democrats as well as many moderates and independent voters already believe and believe very strongly is that Bush’s victory was based on a campaign that was deeply, deeply dishonest and profoundly unfair.

20 comments on “Strategy Notes:
John Belisarius

How Big A Role Did Fraud, Ballot Theft and Suppression of the Vote Play in The Election?

  1. Amiel Handelsman on

    Thank you for these important and incisive comments.
    A note about the word “conspiracy theory.” I have observed that conservatives use it selectively, not always. They use it primarily when they or their allies have done something illegal and/or unethical, and rarely if ever when they are truly innocent. Thus, when you hear “these conspiracy
    theorists”, translate it into, “Yep, we’re guilty as charged.”
    Anyone else notice this?

  2. Suzanne on

    One sure way to get media and corporate attention is to stop “buying” what they sell. 55 million voted against Bush. If those 55 million stopped watching CNN, MSNBC, FOX, ABC, CBS etc and didn’t buy or subscribe to Newsweek, Time, the NYT, Washington Post et al; stopped going to Wal Mart we could get their attention.
    They do not offer us anything we want or enjoy; so throw them out. We don’t need them, they certainly don’t act like they need us. They will go bankrupt if 55 million Americans avoid them!

  3. karen on

    Does America have the courage and willingness to enforce action against Geroge W. Bush for his heinous and onerous campaign strategies?
    I am more than concerned that America has either not learned, or has forgotten how, to apply the power they have as a democratic society. Did the muting of America start with an under-funded education system and an increase in popular group-think rap music that advocated tuning out to the discipline of critical thinking and written rhetoric? Unconsciously muting one’s voice doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Stressors that range from economic powerlessness to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and combinations of the two affect voice. We are living with the profound effects of a social disease that Bush has become an icon for.
    To draw an analogy, consider the child who has been beaten each time he/she attempts to use reasoning with a parent, to acheive an end, and the parent lacks reasoning skills to understand anything more than a “because I said so” mentality. Eventually the child withdraws, avoids, or numbs out to sharing his/her personal belief system or critical thinking skills. Like an abused child, America’s voice has voluntarily muted itself.
    Is abuse too strong an analogy for such a rich, free market society as ours, one who outwardly claims all are free to access its internally treasures? Not when one looks closely at where Americans’ voices are spent. News organizations that distort and omit truth and fact, music that holds our fears and anger in the shallows of abusive language, whinning self-absortion, (and I am not referring to rap alone), cartoons for adults that depict mundane stupitidy and apathy all serve to lock the voice of democracy in the bossom of American individuals.
    Have American citizens handed over thier personal power to lawyers, congressmen, senators, and judges to determine the value of equality, justice, viable economic health? I believe we have done so out of trust and that trust has been betrayed. Americans no longer have institutions they can relie on. When the Supreme Court justices decide a president for this country instead of America demanding a painstaking national recount, then I say, yes, our institutions have failed us miserably. When we no longer equate emotionally healthy, economically sound individual homes with education and a free thinking society, then yes, we have been betrayed by our social and political institutions. Our institutions were designed to represent and hold sacred the lives of each American in this country. There has been an egregious failure to uphold those institutions in the spirit they were designed in.
    If America is to address the all important problem of George W Bush style politics then it must demand that ballots be counted nationally, one by one, do away with the electoral college, and develope a counting system that can not be penetrated by corporate, political, economical interests. I do not presume to have the skills or answers as to how to actually facilitate such a thing, yet I am certain, America must demand no less. Once again, who, in a position of power, might I vocalize this to?

  4. thatcoloredfella on

    I do believe The Nation’s David Corn misrepresented what Palast actually wrote about the spoiled ballots in Ohio. Palast surmised that only after the Provisional Ballots are counted, if Kerry gets within the margin of 19,000 down – which triggers an automatic recount – should the spoiled ballots be considered.
    Unlike some Kerry supporters, I’ve been willing to judge for myself and accept convincing debunking of certain claims. However, what has enraged me have been the documented (and unchallenged) efforts by Ohio’s Sec. Of State to suppress the vote of his own people.
    Of course, such information has not made the mainstream media either. ‘Deeply, deeply dishonest and profoundly unfair’ is an accurate description Ruy, but as a Black Democratic I hate feeling powerless to do something about it.
    That Colored Fellas weblog

  5. David on

    I don’t doubt that the people have spoken and Bush won regardless of the reported irregularities. It is CRTICALLY IMPORTANT that we fight for a future where every vote is counted and that there be redress for anyone wrongfully deprived of the right to vote.
    The single most important value of Democracy is that our leaders be determined by the ballot. This should be a bipartisan concern. We must fight to eliminate the doubts as to the fairness of the system that have been raised since 2000.

  6. Long-Tom on

    I’m a little baffled that my message of November 12 was not posted in this thread. In it, I said that during a campaign, Democrats should submerge the desire to bleat about our opponents’ methods and instead make sure that we do whatever it takes to counter them. Vote manipulation, dirty tricks, character assassination, and voter intimidation have been, at least episodically, a part of national elections for a long time. Now it has become the norm for the other party. The only way to stop or mitigate these tactics is to take power from those who engage in them. And at this point, it is important not to imagine ourselves too pure to stoop to some of these methods ourselves.
    Rather than try to list all the “dirty” tricks I think we should or should not allow ourselves to engage in, I suggest a thought experiment: if you could “switch”–i.e., steal–enough votes to give the election to Kerry, assuming no one the wiser, would you do it?
    If your answer is no, ask yourself if you would have “stolen” enough votes to change the results of the 1932 German elections, in which the National Socialists managed to barely get enough votes to claim a victory. It was the last contested election they had until after WWII and 50 million deaths. And don’t answer based on present knowledge. Any observer in 1932 could see what Hitler was, even if they couldn’t predict the full extent of his depredations.
    I don’t want to belabor the Nazi-Bush comparison; it’s over the top, and I hope it continues to be. However, I would strongly suggest that we not underestimate the threat posed to our democratic traditions and to the values of the Enlightenment by what is apparently now the mainstream of the Republican Party, nor that we ignore their essentially intolerant, militaristic, and totalitarian approach to transforming life in America.
    It’s critically important to expose the corruption of the other side, but let’s not kid ourselves that the casually interested (i.e., ‘independent’ or undecided) voter is going to consider us significantly purer than the Republicans. (Haven’t Democrats registered numerous unqualified voters? What about the Dan Rather/60 Minutes debacle, in which they used forgeries to help them defame the President?) The numerous cases are too complicated to digest easily and to affect public opinion.
    This fight is about power, and these people aren’t going to give it up easily. With all the chatter about Bush’s tax cutting and social security plans, one of the biggest efforts they’ll make will be to rewrite the campaign rules so that Democrats will be unable to use the resources that leveled the financial playing field this time. Then what?

  7. cloudy on

    It’s good that this site FINALLY addresses the crucial issue of voter fraud. It is a good point that voter fraud is a serious issue even if it doesn’t tip the scales of the election. HOWEVER, it appears that it MIGHT have tipped the scales AND THIS ISSUE NEEDS TO BE PURSUED FULL FORCE RIGHT AWAY BEFORE THE DEC 12 DEADLINE. The point is that there being a lot of resistance, including in the major mass media (did anyone say “justifying the lying” ?– well I DID), as well as the “right”. The Florida 2000 issue was pursued because there was no choice really. The Democrats merely phoned it in, as Michael Moore rightly implies in Fahrenheit 9/11. The point is that there needs to be a pedal-to-the-metal focus on fraud that might have tipped the scales of the election NOW, and whatever is found can contribute to an ongoing battle to uncover the whole picture and try to correct it. Everywhere there are voices seeking to blunt the effort: facile rejections (I just had a confrontation on WNYC this morning with Corn — he claimed — contrary to the description of the article by Jonathan Chait, “The Invention of Flipflop”, where he explains away the press silence in critiquing the spin — that he (Corn) had been doing so since “day 1”. I could find nothing on the web and emailed him with requests for documentation. He also denied dismissing Hartmann’s findings about the voter scan in Florida out of hand, as I said, considering a mere clause of a sentence to be such a dismissal; he hotly protested that too, suggesting he had done a ‘detailed study’ or something; possibly someone had done a study or felt they had refuted Hartmann and (without citation) Corn took his word. NOTE HOW THE STANDARDS OF PROOF ARE MUCH LOWER FOR THOSE POOH POOHING CLAIMS OF FRAUD, ESPECIALLY POTENTIALLY DECISIVE FRAUD THAN FOR THOSE SUGGESTING CAUTIOUSLY THAT IT DID IN FACT HAPPEN. Do not be sidetracked until the resolution of this election, ASSUMING ARGUENDO that there was decisive fraud, into other concerns, but of course the other concerns should be addressed AFTER this CRUCIAL QUESTION IS THOROUGHLY VETTED, as opposed to ‘decided’ by consensus in the mainstream media, as is happening. (Corn also suggests voter fraud as the new ‘grassy knoll’ following the script of another dismissal-by-chorus-of-protestation. I am one of those who consider Stone’s movie an excellent docudrama, very close to the facts (except that one gratuitous short scene with Donald Sutherland, so that viewers wouldn’t fail to see the forest for the trees, given all the evidence that was the backbone of the film).
    The more resistance and sidetracking there are, the more energy and singlemindedness needs to be focuses on the fraud and the ABSOLUTE NECESSITY FOR A RECOUNT IN BOTH FLORIDA AND OHIO.
    (The Democrats who threw the election and the mass media who were indeed silent in a chorus, on critiquing the flipflop spin and the Bai distortion are not going to pursue this issue either, but it should be pursued, even though the system won’t even offer vindication EVEN WITH TOTAL proof. These are the things that make a democracy different from a machine theatric imitation of a democracy

  8. marty on

    And yet, Bush and Republicans are still considered the “moral” party, the party of “values”……it is disgusting.
    Bush once stated that he was “Eager to give the American people a full opportunity to judge whether I made the right calls.”
    And yet, his is the most profoundy un-democratic and deceitful, secretive and manipulative since Nixon……and even worse.
    Bush has at bottom (in my opinion) a profound distrust of our system of informed consent and free flowing information.
    This Administration has a contempt for the people that is evident in almost all they do, and his appointments lately only further a trend.
    Goss at CIA and now Gonzales at Justice…..what do they have in common?
    Both will put loyalty to Bush and Administration policy above the pesky citizens and will also help to keep the lid on any real investigation of Administration wrongdoing.
    Bush’s “joke” about things “being easier if I were the dictator” is looking less and less like a joke.
    We now have even more of a government that is not accountable to its citizens – and this is obviously the way Bush prefers it.
    He is a disgrace……while he has managed to keep his pants on in the Oval Office, he stains the office far more than Clinton ever did.
    He will sned your son to die in Iraq for “freedom”, yet arrest you here at home for wearing the wrong t-shirt at a rally.
    “First Amendment zones”??????? I thought the whole country was a free-speech zone.
    Bush supporters got what they wanted……..but too many of them seem ignorant of what country they live in.

  9. Alan on

    The reason Democrats don’t pursue these efforts is mostly because of the near total control the right wing has over the rhetoric the nation uses. Any Democrat wanting to pursue allegations of voter fraud or simple errors will be instantly branded as a “Sore Loserman” and “Focused on the past not the future.” Worse, “they don’t stand for anything” and “will do anything to win.” So there’s not much in it for Democrats to pursue this type of thing.
    As for the “unfairness” of the election, the Bush voters could hardly care less. Many of them are with Bush and not Kerry SIMPLY because he is perceived as the winning guy, the toughest dog with the toughest team. They waste them wimpy Democrats any way they can. The outrageous ploys that come to light only prove their point.
    The problem gets back to our basic culture, and I’m not sure how that can be fixed.

  10. Mikeindc on

    All of us who have paid attention to this race can catalogue the same litany of dishonest maneuvers prior to the election that John Belisarius enumerates. Though I confess that no one has gotten the goods on All the President’s Men concerning actual malfeasance in the manipulation of the voting, there are plenty enough suspicious facts that, given the Administration’s record during the campaign, I can raise my eyebrows in wonderment that anyone doubts this Administration’s capacity to commit electoral fraud. I always have concurred with the aphorism that you will know a tree by the fruit it bears. In this case, I would add the qualification, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

  11. Florindo Troncelliti on

    Thanks for putting in your cents, Roy. This is where we need to take the issue.
    If fraud is not investigated, there will be no findings. And, as long as dishonesty permeates public election campaigns, it will turn up at the ballot box, too, and nobody, including the media, will look closely enough to see the truth.
    Why Americans Still Don’t Vote, by Cloward & Piven (Beacon Press 2000) gives some interesting insight into the historical perspective on this.
    According to them, “Election machinery has always been … the means of influencing the verdict of the electorate.”
    The silence of the press on this is deafening.

  12. Rob on

    It should not be surprising that so little attention is now being focused upon Republican dishonesty and dirty tricks, given that they received so little attention during the election campaign. Even worse, the mainstream media essentially served as accomplices, wittingly or unwittingly, for much of it. Independent media watchdogs and truth commissions are nice, but realistically speaking, their reach is very limited.
    Much of the depression that Democrats now feel relates directly to a sense of helplessness. There does not seem to be much that one can do to effectively counter the opponents’ election juggernaut, unless one is willing to adopt the same tactics. Even then, the Republicans will still be in control of the corporate media and will have a much easier time getting their dishonest message across.

  13. Another voice on

    There’s a pretty compelling opinion piece in the WashPo (linked to truthout here:
    Basically, it says that this is not about the results of the election, but about how shocking the apathy of Democrats and Republicans alike is to reports of voter suppression.
    At least we’ll get recounts to verify potential fraud claims.

  14. marky on

    I agree with this framing. Let’s suppose we have proof of voting machine fraud that came directly from the Bush campaign. Then regardless of outcome, aren’t we obligated to push for the removal of Bush from office? That would be an impeachable offense, or treason.

  15. George Phillies on

    Describing the misrepresentations as ‘Bush’ campaigning methods is selfdefeating, because he is not running for office again. Describing them as ‘Republican’ campaigning methods sets the grounds for the future.

  16. Tom A. on

    It seems to me the only way to counter such blatant and uncompromised lies from the other side is to CONSTANTLY shine a light on them. Not once, but repeatedly. mediamatters.org and factcheck.org are just the beginning. If you hear a lie, announce it to everyone (blog, Web site, News outlets, etc.), write an editorial in your paper, make a banner ad, purchase a few billboards, take ads out in targeted magazines, etc. It just seems to me that when people are confronted with TRUTH vs. LIES and you can quickly and easily point out why the Lie is a Lie than they will soon see BushCo. for who they really are (and of course we shouldn’t stop at BushCo.). As a quick example, during the RNC Sen. Rick Santorum said in his speech that “Bush’s welfare reform has lowered poverty in this country” which is about as blatant a lie as possible. I fired off a few emails, and mentioned it on a couple blogs but nothing came of it. We all need to do more to show these folks for who they really are.

  17. Big Dog on

    Did vote fraud occur? I have no evidence personally. What I find disturbing, however,is that in the face of circumstantial, inferential and anecedotal evidence — analogous to “probable cause” in criminal law — that most of the mainstream media are covering this matter in a dismissive, even mocking way. Worse, they’re peddling GOP talking points of “conspiracy theories”.

  18. Chuck Gibson on

    I’m reminided of an airport converstation I had in the late nineties when Bobby Knight of Indiana basketball fame was in his final throes before being fired. The simple observation that my seatmate made was “If people like you, you can do no wrong. If they don’t, you can do no right.” Knight was a dysfunctional personality with a long history of inappropriate, abusive and dangerious behavior both on and off the basketball court yet held the fierce loyalty of Indiana fans. There was a huge outcry and threats against the IU president when he was finally fired.
    Clearly Knight was a symbol and an icon for his fans who would overlook and deny just about anything because of how he made them feel. Bush carries the same status for many in our country and I have no doubt that many will feel morally justified in doing anything (or overlooking and denying anything) that gets him and his ilk in power.
    I think this is the reality that Democrats are facing. We are not simply campaigning against values and policies that differs from our own but against a charisma that sucks in many who might otherwise be on our side and enables the most egregiously dishonest and anti-democratic behavior.

  19. Arthur Fleschner on

    Thank you for this thoughtful and necessary reminder. It does raise the question of how do we counter such campaigns without become equally dishonest. I am troubled that the media gave the Swift Boat Veterans such coverage but barely a trickle about the mail campaign to religious conservatives. I am also troubled by some of the comments on democratic blogs bashing religious folk as ignorant. They are delighted they “out Michael Moored” us. Your post is critical because what democrats should stand for is integrity. Integrity of the voting process and integrity of message. Then let the chips fall where they may.

  20. moraks on

    i completly agree with you, I think that democrats and the mediahave been missing the big issue in this post election discussion. the rank dishonesty and vile nature of the bush campaign has not gotten enough attention. people keep saying that bush ran a great campaign, i could too if I could go around the country lying and the press does not call him on it. the only problem that I had with the kerry campaign was I believe that the did not push this issue consistently and hard enough


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