Nov. 19, 2004
Kerry supporters still in denial about loss

By URIEL HEILMAN
CLEVELAND, Ohio

Psychologists say mourners go through a five-stage process when grieving, starting with denial and followed by anger, bargaining with God, depression and acceptance.

A little more than two weeks after the U.S. election that rewarded President George W. Bush with a second term in office, some Democrats are still stuck in denial.

While most of blue-state America may have progressed as far as depression, some Democrats are saying it's possible Bush stole the election. They are sounding themes familiar to what party leaders argued after the 2000 vote, saying new technology may have enabled hackers to tamper with the outcome of the vote, ballots were thrown out or miscounted in some heavily Democratic districts, and the election results in some crucial swing states simply did not match up with the exit polls. They have seized upon a few much-publicized but isolated vote-counting errors as evidence of more widespread abuse.

"The voting machines leave no paper trail, and the source code has not been revealed," wrote Noam Gundle, author of one email message making its rounds on the internet. "There have been numerous reports by folks who checked their vote and found their Kerry vote switched to Bush. Hmm. This is only the people who bothered to check. What about the rest of them?"

Already, there are serious efforts to force a recount here in Ohio, whose 20 electoral votes were won by Bush by a margin of 136,000 votes.

Most analysts say that despite a few isolated errors in counting the vote, there is absolutely no evidence of vote rigging. And even those raising questions about the vote acknowledge that a recount almost certainly will not alter the ultimate outcome of the presidential election, which Bush won by 32 Electoral College votes and roughly 3.5 million popular votes. What a recount will show, they say, is a voting system rife with errors that is in dire need of real reform.

Whatever the case, the persistence of conspiracy theories about the election point to a more widespread lack of voter confidence in the American electoral process. What began as far-fetched chatter by left-wing bloggers on the internet has spread to the airwaves, the TV talk shows and even some Democratic congressmen. In the House of Representatives, six Democrats so far have called for a federal investigation into the Nov. 2 vote.

One of them, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Jewish congressman from New York who wrote a letter to the Government Accounting Office calling for a probe, said the point is to put to rest the conspiracy theories and instill much-needed confidence in the electoral process in America-or, alternatively, to substantiate the theories and correct the terrible mistake of naming the wrong man as the next president of the United States.

"The point of this letter is not to say the election wasn't fairly won; the point is to say there are valid questions and they ought to be validly investigated," Nadler said in a recent interview.

It hasn't helped the cause of those denying allegations of malfeasance that the CEO of the Diebold Corporation, maker of many of the optical-scan machines used to count the vote in places like Ohio, said in a speech several months before Nov. 2 that he'd do everything within his power to deliver Bush the vote. Diebold did not return a call seeking comment for this story.

"The point is not whether or not we had fraud, but why do we have a system vulnerable to fraud," Tom Hartmann, of the left-wing news group Common Dreams, said in a recent radio interview. "There are profound problems with the voting system."

He cited voting-machine malfunctions where ballots for Kerry accidentally were changed to Bush votes and pointed to machines that did not provide a paper trail but instead transmitted votes via an electronic source code to a central computer as examples of the kind of flawed procedures that raise serious questions about the entire system.

In Ohio, the last major swing-state holdout on election night, Democrats are pointing to other problems as further evidence that partisan election officials unfairly tried to limit the Democratic vote. For example, in some heavily Democratic precincts in Cleveland and on college campuses, only a small number of voting machines were available on Election Day, forcing lines exceeding five hours in some places. There is no telling how many people planning on voting changed their mind when they saw those long waits at their precincts.

A recount will not rectify that problem, but at least it will result in a more accurate count of votes in a state where 155,000 provisional ballots still have not been counted, advocates of a recount in Ohio say. Provisional ballots are votes cast in cases where election officials are not sure whether that person is authorized to vote in that precinct; they are set aside for verification at a later date and counted if it turns out that the total number of provisional ballots could make a difference in the election's outcome.

"We announced our intention to seek a recount of the vote in Ohio," David Cobb, the Green Party's 2004 presidential candidate, said in a recent statement. "Since the required fee for a statewide recount is $113,600, the only question was whether that money could be raised in time to meet the filing deadline." Cobb also has demanded that Ohio's Republican secretary of state recuse himself from the recount process.

Experts now say it's likely the effort to force a recount in Ohio will succeed, but nobody seems to be holding their breath to see who will be the winner-including Sen. John Kerry. After conceding defeat the day after the election to Bush, Kerry said he still wanted all the votes counted but did not believe he could emerge the winner. For all the talk of conspiracy theories, there has been no indication that Kerry has changed his mind.