Did they steal the last election? 

For months, there has been a steady and growing buzz that the 2004 election was, in fact, stolen. Various theories have been put forward as to how this was done, but most revolve around manipulation of the new electronic voting systems that are becoming the norm.

Frankly, until recently, I haven't paid much attention, for a number of reasons. Don't get me wrong — I wouldn't rule out very much, when it comes to Karl Rove and the gang of monsters in the White House. George Bush is the worst president this nation has had since the Civil War, if not ever, and I would have given anything to prevent either of his elections.

Yet it is an amazing stretch to think that the number of votes needed could have been stolen in 2004. I have no doubt, none whatsoever, that Al Gore was elected president in 2000. Had a free and fair count of all the Florida ballots been held, he would have carried that state by several thousand votes.

As it was, he won the national popular vote, and the officially certified results say Bush won Florida that year by 537 votes, a statistically insignificant number, when you are talking about 6 million cast.

The situation two years ago was, however, very different. John Kerry officially lost Ohio, which he needed for victory, by 118,599. That's a lot of votes to steal. Nationally, Bush's popular vote margin was just over 3 million. He improved on his 2000 showing in 40 of the 50 states.

I had no doubt that officials made it harder in 2004 for poor and minority voters to cast ballots, especially perhaps in Ohio. But I had put the idea that the whole thing had been stolen in the same file as the conversation I once had with Lyndon LaRouche, who told me that he'd actually won all the 1984 Democratic primaries. The fact that the official records show him getting almost no votes was due to "manipulating those stupid little wheels" in the voting machines. Most likely, on direct orders from the Queen of England.

Now, however, two new challenges to the election results ought to give anyone pause. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the environmentalist and author, has a major article in the current Rolling Stone in which he pretty much concludes that, yes, it was indeed filched. And Steven Freeman, an expert on polling, and Joel Bleifuss, editor of In These Times, have collaborated on an important new book, Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count.

These three men are not wild-eyed conspiracy nuts, like the man I once met who swore that President Kennedy was actually shot by his driver when nobody was looking. RFK is the best of the current generation of Kennedys, and has been resisting calls to seek political office.

Both of these analyses raise some profoundly disturbing issues, and should sound some alarms about the messy and easily corruptible ways in which this nation holds elections. Interestingly, I found RFK's much shorter piece in Rolling Stone the most worrisome.

He charges that something like 350,000 Ohio voters, the vast majority of them Democrats, were just flat-out disenfranchised. The main villain in this was the Republican Secretary of State, a black (!) man named J. Kenneth Blackwell who is now the GOP nominee for governor.

Kennedy, as well as Bleifuss and Freeman, present what looks like pretty damning evidence of tampering with the vote count in the Republican suburbs around Cincinnati, where the certified count does look a bit suspicious, compared to the rest of the state.

Most of the argument in Was the 2004 Election Stolen? centers on the exit polls, which were famously wildly off, indicating a Kerry win with at least 309 electoral votes. (Bush won the official count, 286-252.)

"The odds against the result that was reported in Ohio are well over a hundred million to one," they report, citing statistical models. "Either the exit poll was deeply flawed, or else the vote count was corrupted."

Freeman and Bleifuss, however, leave little doubt that they think it was corrupt, that somehow, votes were changed, most probably, they hint, by those designing the secret software that counts the votes.

Two years ago, 35 percent of us voted by the optical-scan method. This involves electronic counting, but there is a paper trail of ballots that one can go back and physically inspect. However, 29 percent of the nation's voters vote via DREs — Direct-Recording Electronic systems that provide no paper trail whatsoever — and hence no accountability.

Presumably, the number of votes counted this way will be even higher next time — and that is truly scary, if only because of the possibility of an accidental malfunction, let alone fraud.

So has the case been proven? Was the election stolen?

My gut instinct, reinforced by a lifetime of studying elections and election returns, is still — no. I think Bush really won. I think the exit polls were flawed, because people didn't tell the truth. I think, worried by national security concerns, and wanting to stick it to Osama bin Laden, people cast an uneasy vote for the Shrub.

Something like this has happened before. In Virginia in 1989, exit polls indicated a landslide victory for Douglas Wilder, the first black Democratic gubernatorial nominee in history. He won by barely 1 percent. The good white voters' hands trembled when they reached for the lever for the candidate of color, and they just couldn't do it.

I think this happened here. As evidence, take Alabama, one of the safest Republican states. Bush beat Gore — who was a nominal Southerner — there, 56-42. Everyone expected Bush would do even better against that old Boston Brahmin, John Kerry. Yet the exit polls showed Bush leading only 56-42. The actual result? Bush won 62-37. There was no need for the Republicans to commit or even think about fraud. Nor did they. The polls were off.

But the authors of this book have proven that, maybe, it could happen here. There is a bill now before Congress sponsored by U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat with a Ph.D. in physics. His Voter Confidence Act (HR 550) would require a paper trail and otherwise make voting safer and fraud harder. Urge your congressman to fight to pass it, now.


One cheer for Jennifer Granholm: From time to time, I have gently taken our governor to task for lacking backbone in dealing with controversial issues. So I am happy to note that she did the right thing by vetoing the bill that would have dropped the requirement that motorcycle riders wear helmets.

How the Legislature could have passed this is beyond me, except for the fact that it is controlled by Republicans. (It is worth noting that their candidate for governor, Dick DeVos, supported the helmet repeal.)

The dimmer hardcore bikers whined that it was their skulls, and the state had no business interfering with their right to smash them in. If they all died on the spot, I might cheerfully agree. But most don't, and a closed-head injury patient can, the insurance boys say, easily run up $9 million in medical expenses in a lifetime. Guess who pays for that, through increased insurance premiums, medical bills and taxes? The rest of us. Thanks, gov.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at letters@metrotimes.com

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