Friday, July 29, 2005

Get Your Own Tinfoil Hat!

Matt Taibbi has joined the tinfoil brigades:

I was in Washington last week, covering a story in Congress, when a friend invited me to a panel discussion in the basement of the Capitol building. I agreed before he told me what the subject was. Boy was I bummed when I saw the title on the e-circular:

What went wrong in Ohio? A Harper's Magazine Forum on Voting Irregularities in the 2004 Election.

Oh, Christ, not that, I thought. Like a lot of people in this country (and like most all of my colleagues in the journalism world), my instinctual reaction to the Ohio electoral-mess story has always been one of revulsion and irritation. Almost on principle I had refused even to look at any of the news stories surrounding the Ohio vote; there is a part of me that did not want to be associated with any sore-loser hysteria of the political margins, and in particular with this story, the great conspiratorial Snuffleupagus of the defeated left.

It had always seemed to me that I understood the psychology of the Ohio story without having to examine the facts involved. I thought the story appealed most directly to a group of people who were still reeling after 2000, an election which George W. Bush not only lost according to the popular vote, but plainly stole in the electoral college. The evidence for this theft has been there for everyone to see for five years now; few serious thinkers even dispute the matter anymore, just as few Democrats would even bother denying now that John Kennedy stole the 1960 election.

Then Taibbi find that perhaps there was a little more to what happened in Ohio and the rest of the country, too. It's a leedle disorienting to suddenly find oneself among the conspiracy theorists, I know, as that happened to me last November, and I'm the most rational of all goddesses (which may not say very much). The thing is, what looks like tinfoil-craziness from the outside may not look like that if one knows statistics and reads all the zillions of studies carried out about the elections. Some studies were discredited, others could be explained by more plausible theories, but too many remained unexplained and mysterious. Too many well-conducted studies which tell us that the confluence of events we observed is as likely to occur as the finding that the moon is made out of Edam, after all. And we are all just expected to ignore such little oddities.

But I digress. Let Taibbi tell what caused his slide into the group of us nutjobs:

• As was the case in Florida, the secretary of state (Kenneth Blackwell, in Ohio), who is in charge of elections, was also the co-chair of the state's Bush-Cheney campaign.

• In a technique reminiscent of the semantic gymnastics of pre-Civil Rights Act election officials, Blackwell replaced the word "jurisdiction" with "precinct" in an
electoral directive that would ultimately result in perhaps tens of thousands of provisional ballots—votes cast mainly by low-income residents—being disallowed

• Blackwell initially rejected thousands of voter registrations because they were printed on paper that was, according to him, the wrong weight.

• In conservative, Bush-friendly Miami County, voter turnout was an Uzbekistan-esque 98.55 percent.

• In Warren county, election officials locked down the administration building and prevented reporters from observing the ballot counting, citing a "terrorist threat" (described as being a "10" on a scale of 1 to 10) that had been reported to them by the FBI. The FBI made no such report. Recounts conducted during this lockdown resulted in increased votes for Bush.

• In Franklin County, 4,258 votes were cast for Bush in a precinct where there were only 800 registered voters.

There's lots more in the original documents, and some very similar things happened in several other states. No one incident may look like much, but if you add up all the myriad tiny incidents you get... what? I don't know because it has been regarded as somehow impolite or crude to look into the way elections are carried out in this country, or because we are told that the very same thing has happened in every single elections and therefore it's perfectly acceptable. Because we do it, too, you know.

Well, I doubt that anything on this scale has happened before, but even if it has isn't it time to start practising that thing Bush rants about: democracy? A good way of beginning our return to something that might resemble democracy is by returning to paper ballots in elections. At least all paper companies are not owned by Republican activists. Or so I hope.