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2004 Presidential Election Legitimacy Investigated

Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release April 18, 2005

Questions Surrounding Legitimacy of 2004 Presidential Election Investigated

Interview with Joel Bleifuss, editor of In These Times, conducted by Scott Harris

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Unlike the extended dispute that plagued the 2000 presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush, Democratic Party candidate John Kerry conceded the 2004 race for the White House rather quickly. However, in the months after the Nov. 4th ballot, citizen groups in the battleground state of Ohio launched protests and convened hearings demanding an investigation into allegations of vote count irregularities and Republican Party efforts to suppress the turnout of Democratic voters.

But now, five months after his quiet exit from the presidential election contest, Sen. John Kerry has raised the issue of voter intimidation and GOP dirty tricks, while stating that he does not believe these irregularities would have changed the outcome. Speaking to the Massachusetts League of Women Voters on April 10, Kerry charged that many of his supporters were denied access to the polls through the use of misleading leaflets and telephone calls.

Several issues regarding the 2004 election continue to cause many citizens to be skeptical about the results. Contradictions between exit polls and the final vote tally, and anomalies of electronic voting machine totals are the subject of a forthcoming book by investigative journalist Joel Bleifuss and statistician Steven Freeman. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Bleifuss, editor of In These Times Magazine, who discusses his investigation into questions surrounding the legitimacy of the 2004 presidential election.

Joel Bleifuss: There are two issues surrounding the election, and Kerry touched on one of them with his comments to the League of Women Voters -- and that is, the sort of legal fraud. Legal in the sense that a secretary of the state can do it, and there are no consequences. This is the sort of vote suppression tactics that he was referring to. They were extremely widespread, especially in Florida and Ohio in 2004. And undoubtedly, they did affect the vote somewhat.

And while the book that my co-author Steven Freeman and I are writing examines and explores some of those sort of what we call legal fraud, the vote suppression tactics -- the thrust, pretty much the complete thrust of our book is examining the discrepancy between the official count, the official tally and what the exit polls had predicted on Election Day.

Between The Lines: What's your guess as to what happened with the exit polls -- and the explanation why the discrepancy, why Kerry lost the vote that, according to those polls, he should have won?

Joel Bleifuss: Our thesis, and we don't have proof of this besides -- I mean, that since the exit polls are the proof -- and one can examine the claims by Mitosky and Edison that there was this preference of Kerry voters to speak with pollsters and a reluctance of Bush voters to do so. So we present the thesis that there's a possibility, that what are called DRE -- which are like touch screen voting machines, electronic voting machines -- which are used in about 30 percent of all polling places around the United States, have the possibility to be tampered with. Therefore, since the explanation that the exit polls are wrong does not hold up under any examination, one has to begin looking at the possibility that there was electoral fraud through rigging of these electronic voting machines which leave no paper ballot.

Between The Lines: Congressman John Conyers, (Democrat) of Michigan conducted hearings in Ohio and there were charges that the allocation of voting machines were deliberately skewed to Republican strongholds and away from Democratic party strongholds.

Joel Bleifuss: That was absolutely true. I mean there were people that had to wait nine hours in line, eight hours and seven hours, in various heavily Democratic areas of the state -- and obviously many people went to vote, but didn't wait.

I don't know that a case can be made that there were enough votes that were suppressed to turn the election. I mean obviously, it contributed something, but I think what's more indicative of this sort of widespread voter suppression on the part of (Republican) Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell in Ohio, is that it indicates the mentality of the GOP in dealing with elections.

You look at what happened with (Florida Republican Secretary of State) Katherine Harris back in 2000. There's a sense that there's an institutionalization, or institutional acceptance on the part of the Republicans, that you win an election by whatever means necessary. I think in Florida and Ohio in 2004 there was exactly a sort of, they ramped up what had been done in 2000 in Florida.

In some ways what it indicates is that the United States -- and this is what international observers remarked in 2004, that this is the only advanced industrial democracy that has such a chaotic voting system. Each state has its own -- there's not a constitutional right to vote first in the constitution, it's a state right. And each state determines how votes are cast. Within the state, the county election supervisors have a lot of leeway on deciding that. So you have this sort of ad hoc, huge, huge voting system that has no central standards or laws or regulations -- and so it becomes very vulnerable to manipulation.

Between The Lines: Are you hopeful that there will be any accountability for what was done on the part of let's say, Mr. Blackwell, the Secretary of State of Ohio, or going back to Katherine Harris -- although it may be too late now to catch up with her? Are you at all of the opinion that people down the line will be held accountable for what may have happened, the deliberate kind of efforts at voter suppression or juggling the vote tallies?

Joel Bleifuss: I'm not sure if past errors will be remedied, or justice brought in those cases. But, what we can do now is just demand and try to work to ensure that we have a transparent electoral system where there's not a question as to whether the winner won or lost, but it's just that people have faith that the system works for them, the democratic process.

I think that the facts, in a sense, are on our side. I would just expect that once people begin to realize this that they'll be greater demands, on the parts of both Democrats and Republicans, for clean elections.

You know, it's an awfully big step for people to mentally consider the fact that an election was stolen through vote fraud, because that's just so un-American. And who would ever do anything like that?

And I think there's a reluctance on the part of the media, particularly, to examine this. And part of that is that there's sort of an established conventional wisdom and that has become that, "Well, the exit polls were off, but we can explain it because there was a differential in how Republicans and Democrats responded to the exit polls." Well, that just doesn't hold up, and I think once people begin to realize that, they might pay more attention to the flaws in the electronic voting system we have.

"Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen?" will be published by Seven Stories Press in late spring 2005. Read Joel Bleifuss's articles online at

Related links on our website at


Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending April 22, 2005. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Scott Harris and Anna Manzo.



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