In its recent book, "The Miami Herald Report: Democracy Held Hostage," the Herald points to machine problems as the real unsung culprit. I had reached the same conclusion after having the opportunity to look at ballots: machine problems played the major role in ballot spoilage that resulted in enough undercounted ballots to have given Gore the election. Let's "move on" to determining if rampant machine problems were a reflection of benign indifference and incompetence - or felonious actions on the part of election officials.

Get ready for the Next Battle in the Republican Spin and Propaganda Exaggeration War (SPEW)
Part I
Aaron M. Cohen

One of these days soon, "the definitive archive of the disputed ballots from the recent presidential election in Florida" will be released by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago.

NORC, which was hired by the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Time, the Palm Beach Post, et. al., will publish a database that presents the independent observations of three people who observed every Florida ballot. These coders used NORC categories developed for the various types of voting system: optical scan, punch card, and so on.

The NORC website explains that the results have been a bit delayed due to the need for a "mopping up" operation. "In a few counties we discovered that some precincts weren't included in our examination and some ballots were 'missing.' That is, the number of ballots that were reported in the certified vote counts as under and over votes and the numbers that were shown to NORC (as well as other groups that looked at them) were different. For that reason our clients are negotiating with a few counties with 'missing' precincts and ballots for us to return and code them."

When NORC releases its data, it is reasonable to expect a SPEW onslaught that will divert attention from the facts and build upon Republican successes enlisting the media to urge the American public to "move on." The most recent of these successes was the vicious preemptive attack on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) draft report, Voting Irregularities in Florida During the 2000 Presidential Election.

Reading the report is chilling; reading the report of the report in the mainstream news media is even more chilling. The cover-up continues, inspired by the propaganda machine set in motion by James Baker on November 7 and 8.

Indeed, although summer is upon us, a chill wind still blows. Always a glutton for truth and justice, I suspended my anger over the Miami Herald's spin of its own (arguably contorted) ballot recount and picked up a copy its related book, The Miami Herald Report: Democracy Held Hostage (St. Martin's Press, 2001).

Authors Martin Merzer and the staff of the Miami Herald have redeemed themselves a bit in my estimation - with a laudable discussion of an issue that has received far too little attention, namely problems with the voting machines themselves.

We have too often heard the Republican SPEW blaming Florida VOTERS for the problems that resulted in ballot spoilage as high as five times greater than the past average.

"The issues were not with our system," says Katherine Harris, whose abrogation of responsibility is parroted by Theresa LePore, Palm Beach County elections supervisor. LePore was a Republican who turned independent, then turned Democrat to win election, and recently has returned to independent, arrogantly bashing Democrats and voters in the process. She takes about the same level of responsibility for a stolen election as George H. W. Bush took for Iran-Contra.

The Herald debunks this assertion, providing credible evidence that it was, indeed, a system problem. Aside from the ballot design errors - which made voter-preferred Al Gore the loser and George W. Bush the accidental (and later appointed) president - the Herald points to machine problems as the real unsung culprit.

I had reached the same conclusion after having the opportunity to look at ballots: machine problems played the major role in ballot spoilage that resulted in enough undercounted ballots to have given Gore the election. The evidence of this is irrefutable when one observes the same patterns of spoilage on a significant number of ballots within particular precincts.

The Herald book spends many pages laying out evidence in support of machine error and official negligence, focusing on such findings as:

There is more... much more that the Herald reports, and much more that I saw. As if I were not chilled enough, after chilling out with the USCCR report, the Miami Herald book, and a three-hour foray into correlating undervotes in certain Palm Beach county precincts with demographic data - yesterday, still indulging in my gluttony for truth and justice, I decided to delve into Florida election law.

Florida law does mandate an array of misdemeanor and felony charges for state and county employees who deprive citizens of voting rights.

The USCCR report concludes with the statement: "While nothing can be done to restore votes lost by Florida voters in the November 7 election due to machine disparities and ballot design flaws, the Commission believes that illuminating and cataloguing these various difficulties can prevent their recurrence in Florida and elsewhere."

This statement made me shiver until I looked at one of the report's recommendations: a formal U.S. Department of Justice investigation. The Herald book quotes numerous people who have similar sentiments.

In an interview in the forthcoming "Democracy Chronicle," of which I am editor and publisher, Louis Posner, founder of VoterMarch, states the obvious: "If we could commit the same amount of resources to the elections issue as was devoted to investigating Bill Clinton's personal lifestyle, we would find significant criminal behavior."

May God bless us Democrats, liberals, and progressives! We can be so naïve and timid, continually losing the battles of the Republican SPEW. Let's try to win the next battles of their Spin and Propaganda Exaggeration War.

Let's be ready to counter the next Republican SPEW and media onslaught when the NORC results are released. Whatever these results show, we can expect the Republicans to use them to, again, promote finality to further discussions about the election. When this next wave of spin begins, I think the first question posed to any right wing or media pundit who attempts to spin the results and cloud the truth should be: "Have you actually LOOKED at the ballots?" Anyone who has not looked at the ballots, and presumes to contend that George W. Bush won, is spreading propaganda. I know - I looked at the ballots.

It is time to 'move on' - to investigation of possible criminal behavior!

The investigative process cannot stop with the release and analysis of the NORC results. While the NORC database will be a far more extensive and reliable archive than the Herald's admittedly incomplete analysis, it will be "the definitive archive" only in relationship to its own classification categories and methodologies.

There is much that still needs investigation. To fully understand the machine-related problems, additional investigation of the spoiled ballots is needed using classifications and correlations that were not part of either the NORC or the Herald archival processes. The Herald book, while presenting the results of its methodically-weak ballot study, does, in its narrative portions, offer important investigative leads. And in all likelihood, the NORC study will open new doors.

Only after this third-stage investigation can a determination be made about whether system-caused invalidation of votes reflects benign indifference and incompetence - or felonious actions on the part of election officials.

We have to act fast! As a result of new Florida legislation, punch card ballots can no longer be used. And Therese LePore plans to auction the machines on E-Bay.

Indeed, a chill wind blows.

Aaron M. Cohen is editor and publisher of The Democracy Chronicle

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