The “mainstream” media has fallen down on the job by failing to cover efforts since November 2 to ensure that all votes in the presidential election are accurately counted. The conclusion by John Kerry that an investigation could not possibly reverse the election may quite possibly have been premature. But the question that both activists and the media should be asking is not whether there was enough fraud and errors to decide the election, nor even whether there was more than is usual, but whether there was any fraud or errors, where the problems occurred, how they can be prevented in the future, and — in particular — whether new kinds of fraud were permitted by new technologies and by the privatization of our election process.
The International Labor Communications Association is particularly concerned, because of indications, detailed below, that fraud may have occurred in areas where there are heavy populations of workers, African-Americans, and other progressive voters that our member organizations represent. People deserve to have their votes counted, and the strategists who will spend four years studying the election results deserve to have the facts. Some citizens and independent media outlets are raising these issues, but the corporate media is AWOL. An investigation by the media would seem especially appropriate, since the 2000 election led to investigations in Florida that determined the loser was occupying the White House.
Evidence existed before this election that quite possibly “the fix” was in: the co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio was running the 2004 election in that state and had for weeks been demonstrating every intention to disenfranchise Democrats; the head of a company manufacturing electronic voting machines for use around the country had announced his intention to help Bush stay in the White House. The weaknesses and susceptibility to abuse of electronic voting machines, including the machines that many people vote on and the machines that add up the votes from multiple precincts, had been well documented.
QUESTIONS ABOUT EXIT POLLS
If the pre-election context wasn’t enough to put the media on alert, the exit polls on election day should have been. The polls by the National Election Pool, throughout the day, showed Kerry ahead in a number of swing states. Media commentators made it quite clear that they had seen and took seriously the polls. Professional pollster John Zogby took them seriously enough to call the race for Kerry. Wall Street took them seriously enough to start dropping stock prices.
Back on September 28, the New York Post, in agreement with other U.S. media outlets, editorialized that the results of a recall election in Venezuela had been proven fraudulent by exit polls. “It is unconscionable,” the Post quoted Jimmy Carter as saying, “to perpetuate fraudulent or biased electoral practices in any nation.” The Post then commented:
“Oh, really? Funny, Carter quickly endorsed the results of last month’s recall effort against Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez. Chavez, a pal of dictators from Saddam Hussein to Fidel Castro, officially beat back the recall with nearly 59 percent of the vote. Oddly, that result was completely opposite the findings of an exit poll conducted by a well-regarded polling firm used often by the U.S. Democratic Party, which showed Venezuelan voters booting Chavez by the same 59 percent….Yet Jimmy Carter said that the election was ‘free and fair.'”
Other U.S. media coverage was similar. The Miami Herald ran this headline: “Find Out If Chavez Stole Vote.” United Press International ran a column arguing that Carter was unqualified to criticize voting procedures in Florida because exit polls had proved him wrong in Venezuela. Carter had said that Florida’s voting arrangements didn’t meet “basic international requirements.”
On October 17, the New York Times ran an article on the use of exit polls to identify and prevent election fraud in a number of countries. The article suggested that exit polls might play a similar role in the upcoming U.S. election.
A November 5 New York Times article, and the rest of the U.S. media’s coverage after the election, sang a very different tune, building in as an unargued assumption that the November 2 exit polls had been proved wrong by the official vote counts. The Times’ article sought to determine in a very “balanced” and “objective” manner exactly what went wrong with the exit polls, but not whether they were wrong or right.
The New York Post switched song books as well, running on November 3 in its online edition a column by Dick Morris demanding to know who had rigged the exit polls. Exit polls, according to Morris, cannot be off by as much as they were this time without intentional fraud. Morris presented no evidence of fraud in the exit polling and no evidence that it was the polls rather than the official counts that got it wrong.
As pointed out in various analyses, the exit polls were accurate within their margin of error in many states but were surprisingly far off in a number of swing states, and always off in the same direction, showing more support for Kerry than was found in the official counts. Warren Mitofsky, co-director of the National Election Pool, told the News Hour with Jim Lehrer that “Kerry was ahead in a number of states by margins that looked unreasonable to us.” Mitofsky speculated that perhaps more Kerry voters were willing to participate in the exit poll, but did not suggest any reason for that speculation other than the difference between the exit polls and the final counts. He and his colleagues have since produced other speculative reasons why the exit polls could have been wrong, all grounded in circular reasoning. Mitofsky told the News Hour that on the evening of November 2 he decided to wait for the official counts and then use those to “correct” the exit polls, thus rendering the hugely expensive exit polls useless as either predictors of the election outcome or measurements of the count’s accuracy. Media outlets “corrected” the exit polls on their websites early in the morning of November 3. Mitofsky promised in the future to keep exit poll results secret, thus fully rendering them useless for any stated purpose related to election outcomes (they will still be able to tell us after the fact how many voters were female or Jewish or go to church weekly or believe health care is the most important issue, etc.).
Other surprising outcomes should stimulate investigation, including the low gain in voter turnout for Kerry in Florida despite massive get-out-the-vote efforts and widely reported record lines at polls on election day and in early voting.
Reasons for concern over this election are, however, no longer limited to surprise over the outcome. Nor need this issue be focused on the uncountable votes of those wrongly denied voting status, turned away, intimidated, forced to vote on provisional ballots, or discouraged from voting by long lines.
Specific evidence of miscounting has been uncovered. And, despite the national media’s near-blackout of the issue, local reporting has documented some of the problems. In fact, although you won’t learn it from the corporate media, three members of Congress have asked the General Accounting Office to investigate irregularities with voting machines in the November 2 election. The Congress Members, John Conyers, Jerrold Nadler, and Robert Wexler, cited a few of the problems that have already arisen, including a machine in a single Ohio precinct awarding Bush an extra 3,893 votes, machines in North Carolina losing 4,500 votes, machines in Florida miscounting absentee ballots, and voters in both Florida and Ohio reporting machines registering votes for Bush that were intended for Kerry.
More troubling than these problems and others like them is the fact that much of the electronic vote counting is in the hands of private companies, produces no auditable record, and can easily be tampered with. A leading investigator of this problem, BlackBoxVoting.org, appeared in 23 “mainstream” media articles or transcripts in the weeks leading up to the election, according to a Nexis search, but only one since then, and that was a mention by a caller to a radio show. BlackBoxVoting has not vanished from the media because it’s ceased activity. Rather, it’s launched the largest series of FOIA requests in history and announced that it believes fraud took place in the election.
An analysis reported on by Thom Hartmann found that in Florida, in the smaller counties in which optically scanned ballots were counted on a central computer the results were quite surprising. For example, Franklin County, with 77.3 percent registered Democrats, went 58.5 percent for Bush. Holmes County, with 72.7 percent registered Democrats, went 77.25 percent for Bush. “Yet in the larger counties,” Hartmann noted, “where such anomalies would be more obvious to the news media, high percentages of registered Democrats equaled high percentages of votes for Kerry. And, although elections officials didn’t notice these anomalies, in aggregate they were enough to swing Florida from Kerry to Bush. If you simply go through the analysis of these counties and reverse the ‘anomalous’ numbers in those counties that appear to have been hacked, suddenly the Florida election results resemble the Florida exit poll results: Kerry won, and won big.”
According to Hartmann, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Florida’s 16th District, Jeff Fisher, claimed to have evidence of hacking that would explain these results, and to be turning that evidence over to the FBI. Bev Harris of BlackBoxVoting.org explained how easy such hacking is on a CNBC talk show some months back. Watch the clip. The “mainstream” media has not touched this story.
Nor has the corporate media touched on the topic of spoiled ballots and hanging chads in Ohio, which BBC reporter Greg Palast believes wrongly cost Kerry the election there.
The stories of election problems that would seem to merit investigation are numerous. See, for example, these:
one, two, three, four, five, six. In New Hampshire, the Nader/Camejo campaign has challenged the electronic voting results. In Auglaize County, Ohio, in October, a former employee of Election Systems and Software (ES&S), the company that provides the voting system in Auglaize County, was allegedly on the main computer that is used to create the ballot and compile election results, which would go against election protocol.
The mainstream media will not report these claims unless indisputable evidence is produced that Kerry won the election. And, if the 2000 election is any guide, the media will bury the story even then. In the meantime, following the narrowest win for a sitting president since Woodrow Wilson, the media has announced that Bush has a “clear mandate” to enact his agenda an agenda that the media is reporting on more now than prior to the election.
Clearly the top agenda item for those who care about democracy in this country must be reshaping our media. Passing media reform through Congress presents the same chicken-and-egg problem as campaign finance reform or term limits or instant runoff voting or greater access for third parties: how do you force politicians to oppose their own interests and those of their funders?
An alternative is to build our own media to compete with the corporate version. Rebuilding labor media is the mission of the ILCA, and we see that mission as having just grown more important than ever.
DAVID SWANSON is the media coordinator for the International Labor Communications Association. He can be reached at: email@example.com