The NORC Florida Ballot Study
A Five-Part Series of Analysis and Commentary
Aaron M. Cohen
Editor and Publisher, The Democracy Chronicle
Copyright 2001 Aaron M. Cohen
Part I: Getting Ready: An Immodest Proposal
"You know I could run for governor but I'm basically a media creation. I've never done anything. I've worked for my dad. I worked in the oil business. But that's not the kind of profile you have to have to get elected to public office." - George W. Bush, 1989
I. Carpe Diem, Mr. Bush
I am thinking about writing a letter to George W. Bush to tell him that any day now he will have a unique window of opportunity to demonstrate that his character is as pure as he has contended it is.
If he seizes the moment, he will convince people now and all peoples to come that the Bush family has integrity after all. Additionally, he will be able to reassure our citizens that our country continues to aspire to be the world's greatest democracy. And perhaps most profoundly, he will become a candidate for sainthood - transcending the follies of human politics and for all time being hailed and worshiped as the great spiritual leader who added and certified The Eleventh Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Lie.
To achieve this transcendence, he may have to leave his ranch and climb the highest mountain so he can shout loud enough to make his voice heard above the media ruckus that is about to beset the land.
II. Citizens: Get Ready to Get Dizzy
Any day now most of the largest and most powerful media organizations in the nation will announce the results of "the definitive" analysis of Florida's 180,000 uncertified, uncounted ballots from the presidential election.
This analysis was conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago. A consortium of major news organizations retained NORC to develop "a comprehensive in-depth inventory of all uncounted votes in Florida's November 2000 Presidential race that would be immune from charges of political bias or methodological weakness."
On behalf of this consortium, NORC stresses that this ballot study "does not identify 'winners'. Its goal is to assess the reliability of the voting systems themselves, using the highest standards of scientific accuracy and reliability."
The inventory has been organized into a database that will be released first to the sponsoring organizations so they can "develop their own analyses and stories about what the uncounted ballots reveal." A few days later, the database will be posted to the NORC Web site for public access.
The consortium of news organizations sponsoring the NORC Florida ballot project is made up of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post Co., Tribune Publishing, CNN, Associated Press, St. Petersburg Times and The Palm Beach Post. The New York Times owns The Boston Globe, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and the Lakeland Ledger among others. Washington Post Co. owns The Washington Post and Newsweek. Tribune, based in Chicago, owns the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Orlando Sentinel, and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, among others.
The Florida ballot database was compiled from the observations of teams of NORC-trained people who inspected each ballot and coded its characteristics using pre-determined categories. Each team was comprised of three people who independently recorded their observations. Various coding categories were developed by NORC to suit the various types of ballots used.
To help calm the dizziness many people may feel when the database is released and the sponsoring news organizations begin their barrage of statistics and analyses, I have structured my observations into a five-part series written expressly for democrats.com. The next four installments will explore what the data means, review some of methodologies employed to collect it, survey variations in conclusions by different new organizations, comment on the impact of the results, and provide responses to the unfolding Republican propaganda designed to influence media and public opinion.
Specifically, Part 2 will address the "NORC Results and Methodologies" and suggest strategies for "Countering the Republican Spin." Part 3 will provide some surprises, that nature of which I can't discuss until after the study is released. Then, in Part 4, I will provide some "Critical Perspectives on the Conclusions of the NORC and Other Ballot Studies." Finally, in Part 5, I will conclude the series with "Commentary About the Media Ruckus, Republican Spin, and I will examine Remaining Questions that Demand Additional Research."
First, however, let me suggest the opportunities the unveiling of this study provides before I reveal my proposed plan of action.
III. We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident
An indisputable fact of the Florida fiasco was that more people intended to vote for Al Gore than for George W. Bush. However, Al Gore was denied his victory by Republican tactics, Supreme Court collusion, and media acquiescence that conform perfectly with the definition of how one effects a Coup d'Etat.
We can safely predict, however, that - upon release of the NORC results - once again the facts will be obscured. We will be bombarded by the re-emergent Republican PR and propaganda machine that worked such magic back in November to transform their loss to a win.
Actually, maybe re-emergent is not the correct word. The Republican and Right Wing spin machine has remained quite active and effective since the election. It has convinced the mainstream media to mute the controversy, to continue masking Mr. Bush's intelligence deficit, and to refrain from any critical analyses of the people hired by the administration, and any exposure of their agendas to redistribute wealth, privatize government, and halt or reverse many socially beneficial and visionary programs. And in what may rank as one of history's greatest examples of hypocrisy, the Republican and Right Wing propaganda behemoth, buttressed by the support and collusion of powerful corporate allies, has thus far prevented the launching of formal investigations by Florida and the Federal government.
So, instead of using the term "re-emergent" to characterize the looming ruckus, let me state it this way: we will be bombarded by what has to be the LAST GASP of all those who have participated in the coup.
Do you think I am being overly optimistic? Maybe not. After all, it is only logical and appropriate that this be their last gasp. No amount of spin can hide the truth: the people elected Al Gore.
IV. What We Must Say While They Are Gasping
Remember this: upon the release of the NORC study, we will replay the past if we confine our focus to (1) the deluge of new statistics about undervotes, overvotes, and dimpled and hanging chads; (2) the barrage of media analysis; and (3) the obfuscating Republican propaganda.
The NORC study will be filled with minutiae. We should not be swept up in the frenzied debates about who really won. We know that already. Nor should we get bogged down in debates about such issues as the standards of determining voter intent. The Republicans have demonstrated their skill in diverting attention away from the facts. And too many media commentators and pundits have demonstrated their commitment to bashing Democrats and poisoning any hopes for civility.
Instead of falling into these traps again, we can be most effective if we confine our focus to two areas.
Instead of partaking in any "who won" debates, we should adopt the strategy that may be the most effective way to shift public opinion. This strategy is to persist with a simple, repetitive message. The message is: there must be a full and formal investigation.
The other important area of our focus should be to explain why an investigation is needed. This need should be conveyed by a similar "sound bite approach."
Having personally examined many of the ballots, I believe that one of the most powerful and convincing arguments for an investigation can be stated as follows:
An investigation will reveal that, contrary to Republican and media spin, it was NOT voter error that denied the presidency to Al Gore.
One proof of this is evidenced by looking at consistent physical anomalies in the ballots from counties where the Votomatic punch card ballots were used. One sees incontrovertible evidence that faulty machines prevented voters from fully punching out the chads.
Aside from all the other ways in which ballots were declared invalid, and apart from all the controversies about standards used to manually count undervotes and overvotes - there are enough machine-spoiled ballots to have given the election to Al Gore.
I will go into detail about this in the next installment. For now, let us confine our focus to the questions that arise from votes being invalidated by faulty machines. Should such a systemic failure - whether unintentional or the result of sabotage - result in the loser being declared the winner? And what if the presence of faulty machines violated the law, who should be held accountable?
If the speedometer in my car breaks and does not alert me that I am exceeding the speed limit and driving at 80 mph, this mechanical failure is of no consequence if I am stopped and given a ticket. The fact is that I was driving at 80 mph.
Similarly, if I voted for Al Gore but my vote did not register because of a faulty machine - I still voted for Al Gore.
Under what law can my vote be discarded?
This example of one factor that contributed to the election being stolen from Al Gore is just the tip of the iceberg. Additional ballot anomalies need investigating, as do the ever-growing body of evidence supporting allegations that laws were broken by state and county elections officials, Republican operatives, Jeb Bush, Katherine Harris, et. al. There are also many remaining questions about possible conspiratorial behavior that warrant investigation. Additionally, there are serious questions about media collusion. Important stories, subjects needing investigation, and even evidence of potential fraud have been ignored and/or censored by all the major news organizations that, without exception, have donated more money to Republicans than to Democrats.
V. So Now What? An Imaginary Journey
Let us imagine a scenario that is the logical conclusion of having reached the point where all the Florida ballots finally have been inspected.
The conclusion is self-evident. It is not reliant for its validity upon how the NORC data is translated into counts by analysts. Because, once again, the essential truth is that more people voted for Al Gore, but his lead was invalidated by systemic failures, law breaking, a contortion of public opinion by Republicans and the media, a Supreme Court decision tainted by prejudices and conflicts of interests, and, possibly, sabotage in some locations.
Disclaimer: To imagine how all this SHOULD play out may require the reader to suspend cynicisms, forego partisanship, and unite in respect for our nation and people. Here is what happens after the release of the NORC study.
- Some courageous media news leader boldly connects all the dots and admits that Gore won.
- Some courageous state and federal politicians and media professionals persist in pressuring for formal investigations. (More in my next installment about whatever happened to the Department of Justice investigations promised and launched by Janet Reno).
- Subsequently, the State of Florida and the Federal government begin formal investigations.
- The five Supreme Court Justices who reversed the will of the people admit their mistakes, or face impeachment. Three of them recuse themselves from any further association with the issue because they have relatives employed by the Bush administration.
- George W. Bush resigns, and the Congress and States expeditiously pass a Constitutional Amendment mandating a Special Presidential Election monitored by the United Nations.
- The major television networks immediately establish ombudsman panels to devise ways to disengage news operations from the political preferences and biases of their corporate parents. Further, the media commits to balancing the overwhelming numbers of conservative analysts and commentators by adding more liberal and progressive voices.
- The Democratic Party, with widespread support, immediately lets go of the timidity that resulted from decades of "pinko" attacks from the Right. It realizes that appealing to the center does not mean having to exclude perspectives that are Left of center. The Party learns to stand proudly on the legacies of its liberal and progressives voices. To help with this transition, Democrats can learn from the Republicans who have managed to hold together a broad spectrum of the Right. As one of the first steps in this process, the Democratic Party will establish and welcome a Green faction.
And finally, a little ecumenical spiritual renewal that enables a giant leap in our national character. Here is what happens. The Christian Right has a revelation. It realizes that it became so intolerant of human diversity and differences, often resorting to tactics of intimidation, because it inadvertently forgot to include in its canon alongside the Ten Commandments the equally profound and essential expression of core Judeo-Christian values - the Sermon on the Mount.
Concurrently, other religion- and spiritual-based epiphanies spread through the land. Christians and Jews accept that it is time to gain a deeper understanding of Islam. This adds a deeper, more inclusive dimension to the "One Nation Under God" mantra. With that accomplished, we reach a level of maturity as a nation that enables us to take a momentous spiritual leap. We are ready to fill a huge void in the Judeo-Christian-Moslem canon: we integrate into our identity the spiritual heritage and philosophies of the Native peoples who add to our spiritual values the component that has been absent - a respect for the Earth.
VI. Back to Reality
Nice imagination exercise, you agree?
O.K., O.K., so none of this will happen. The Republicans will never admit to potentially criminal acts. The media will not admit duplicity, nor correct its errors and biases. The "vast Right Wing conspiracy" will continue impeding progress and vision. Corporations will continue to value wealth over social responsibility. And, until the media gets over its liberal bashing, the Democrats will maintain a safe centrism. (Safe? Such safety lost Congress and the White House!)
Perhaps the greatest impediment to a just and principled conclusion to this mess is the threat posed to our national character and identity by an admission that the wrong man is in the White House. Indeed, it is unrealistic to expect that the American character is strong enough at this point to face and accept the truth that we had a coup d'etat and that our current government is illegitimate. Too many mythologies would need revision. It just cannot happen here.
And we are not quite ready to take the next step in the transition from a national identity built upon the Mayflower-anchored, white male Christian power structure of the first four hundred years of our history. Much of the time that's what I think this coup, this power grab, is really about. Hmm…that "last gasp" theme again.
VII. And now to the Immodest Proposal
So whatcha think Mr. Bush? Will you seize the day? Will you be born again, again? If you decide not to step down voluntarily and heal the nation, I just might suggest the following course of action to those who have taken an active role in protesting the subversion of our democracy, and who understand what is being done to this nation.
Despite the mind-boggling censorship of the Pro-Democracy Movement by the media, and the pervasive societal pressure to "move on", many of us have remain motivated and energized by reminding ourselves why we must remain diligent. Every day, we ask ourselves this question: If they went as far as they did to usurp the will of people, subvert democracy, and grab power - what will they do next to retain it? What are they planning? What new strategic sophistications are they plotting to sabotage the preferences of the majority of voters?
We are ultimately motivated most by the need to ensure the "rule of law." Although we do not subscribe to the use of this phrase as it was applied repeatedly by the Republicans during their $60 million spending spree to sabotage Bill Clinton's vision, through their expenditures of additional millions to hound as many Clinton administration officials as they could, and throughout their attacks on Al Gore before the election and in its aftermath.
Therefore, if Mr. Bush and his cohorts are unable to guide our nation back to truth and democracy, and if our Democratic leaders are not powerful enough to ensure that formal investigations are launched, we may have only one alternative left.
To adhere to the rule of law, and to reclaim and restore our democracy - we must resort to a Citizens' Arrest of George W., Jeb, Katherine, et. al.
(A Special Note to the Secret Service and FBI: my suggestion in no way mandates, necessitates, suggests, prefers, or plans (1) any physical contact with Mr. Bush or any other parties similarly arrested; (2) any attempt to approach them; (3) nor any entry into any government facility; (4) nor any other actions that break any laws or abridges anyone's rights and freedoms. This Citizens Arrest will consist solely of distributing a legally sounding, but unfortunately not binding document. It may use some of the language in the Declaration of Independence, and it certainly will utilize our Constitution, Bill of Rights, Voting Rights Act, and other foundational laws and principles of our democracy.)
Hmm… the Citizens Arrest Project?
The right timing is important - perhaps on the anniversary of the election, or Supreme Court decision. Expressions of interest are invited from any organizations and individuals interested in being signatories to a Citizens Arrest document. Pro bono legal advice is also welcomed so that maximum impact can be achieved by producing a legally sound and carefully prepared document.
News about developments of this "Citizens Arrest Project" will be published in the next issue of "The Democracy Chronicle," scheduled for publication on September 15. Contact information is available on the Chronicle Web site: www.kiosk2000.com