A Crime Without a Name

Thursday, November 10th, 2005

Some news is so big it won’t fit into a headline. For example: WIDESPREAD VOTER DISENFRANCHISEMENT IN 2004.

Sorry. It may be true, but it’s a no-go on the front pages and TV news programs of America. The reality hovers namelessly, like the disappeared of Central America. Shhh, don’t refer to it directly. Wait 20 years, until they dig up the mass graves.

No matter the election was a multilayered travesty of disenfranchisement: widespread malfunctioning of electronic voting machines that continually worked to the benefit of George Bush over John Kerry; Jim Crow-style spurious challenges of African-American and other likely Democratic voters; preposterously long lines in inner-city neighborhoods while unused machines sat in warehouses; mysteriously inaccurate exit polls that picked Kerry until Bush suddenly emerged victorious; dirty tricks galore; more than 100,000 uncounted provisional ballots in the bitterly contested state of Ohio alone; and now, a just-released General Accounting Office report on electronic voting in 2004, which found evidence of lost and miscounted votes, sloppy security and other problems.

Even the most high-profile victim of all this malfeasance and chicanery, the losing candidate himself, seems unable to give it a name, though he stands for all that’s right and good: “Barriers to voting — whether it’s intimidation, disinformation or a lack of voting machines — have no place in the freest, greatest nation in the world.”

Sen. Kerry is one of the sponsors of the Count Every Vote Act of 2005, which contains provisions to “discourage partisan manipulation and deceptive practices in elections” and, radically, “ensure that all votes are counted.”

But why should this be necessary? It took me a day, basically, of journalistic tooth-pulling — that is, repeated pestering of his press office — to get the following concession: “Yes, 2004 is what inspired the Count Every Vote Act.”

Cut now to a Kerry fund-raiser last week, where writer and political analyst Mark Crispin Miller stood waiting by the door for the senator to walk in. Miller, the author of the newly published “Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election and Why They’ll Steal the Next One Too” (Basic Books), was able to grab a few moments with the guest of honor. He handed Kerry a copy of his book and said, “You were robbed, Senator!”

Let me note that “Fooled Again” is a meticulously researched, engrossing and infuriating book. It’s excellent. It lays out not just the case of ’04 election fraud, but examines in harrowing detail the psychology of the zealots and theocrats who perpetrated it: these true believers, these latter-day crusaders against evil, who will stop at nothing to thwart evil’s minions, be they terrorists or Democrats.

Miller writes of “the fierce effectiveness with which Bush/Cheney, and the theocratic movement backing them, stole the White House in 2004. Unless we recognize the nature of that drive and its important place in right-wing religious ideology, we will be powerless to contend with it and thereby to preserve — or one day realize — American democracy.”

Kerry, upon receipt of the book, said, “‘I know!’ with a clear gesture of extreme frustration, and then said that he can’t get any of his colleagues on the Hill to face the issue,” according to Miller’s account. They talked briefly about specific matters, such as “all the problems with the electronic touch-screen machines” and the recent GAO report. Then Kerry punched Miller on the arm and gave him a thumbs up.

Miller found the encounter “bracing,” he told me. So he started talking, on his book tour, about Kerry’s solidarity with the rest of outraged America. Wow, he’s on our side! The story began circulating. For a few hours last week, it looked as though voting rights advocates were going to get the headline that’s been MIA for a year: KERRY SAYS 2004 ELECTION STOLEN; DEMANDS INVESTIGATION.

But the online newsmagazine Raw Story soon deflated this hope, running a piece in which a Kerry aide categorically denied Miller’s version of what happened, beyond the senator’s receipt of Miller’s book.

I recount this controversy not to insert myself into the middle of a “he said, he said” standoff with no possibility of independent corroboration either way, but because it captures the enormous frustration of voting-rights activists who believe a terrible wrong occurred on Nov. 2, 2004 that must not be glossed over. Ironically, Kerry believes this too, enough to be “deeply concerned” by it all, as he said last Jan. 5, when the Ohio electors were challenged in Congress (a challenge he was not part of).

Kerry’s “deep concern” contains no sense of urgency and betrays no will to hold the thieves, or their mocking apologists in the media, accountable for their crimes against democracy. Yet election reform doesn’t stand a chance without it.