- I know you don't want to hear it. You can't face one
more hung chad. But I don't have a choice. As a journalist examining that
messy sausage called American democracy, it's my job to tell you who got
the most votes in the deciding states. Tuesday, in Ohio and New Mexico,
it was John Kerry.
- Most voters in Ohio thought they were voting for Kerry.
At 1:05 a.m. Wednesday morning, CNN's exit poll showed Kerry beating Bush
among Ohio women by 53 percent to 47 percent. The exit polls were later
combined with-and therefore contaminated by-the tabulated results, ultimately
becoming a mirror of the apparent actual vote. Kerry also defeated Bush
among Ohio's male voters 51 percent to 49 percent. Unless a third gender
voted in Ohio, Kerry took the state.
- So what's going on here? Answer: the exit polls are accurate.
Pollsters ask, "Who did you vote for?" Unfortunately, they don't
ask the crucial, question, "Was your vote counted?" The voters
- Here's why. Although the exit polls show that most voters
in Ohio punched cards for Kerry-Edwards, thousands of these votes were
simply not recorded. This was predictable and it was predicted. [See TomPaine.com,
"An Election Spoiled Rotten," November 1.]
- Once again, at the heart of the Ohio uncounted vote game
are, I'm sorry to report, hanging chads and pregnant chads, plus some other
ballot tricks old and new.
- The election in Ohio was not decided by the voters but
by something called "spoilage." Typically in the United States,
about 3 percent of the vote is voided, just thrown away, not recorded.
When the bobble-head boobs on the tube tell you Ohio or any state was won
by 51 percent to 49 percent, don't you believe it ... it has never happened
in the United States, because the total never reaches a neat 100 percent.
The television totals simply subtract out the spoiled vote.
- Whose Votes Are Discarded?
- And not all votes spoil equally. Most of those votes,
say every official report, come from African-American and minority precincts.
(To learn more, click here.)
- We saw this in Florida in 2000. Exit polls showed Gore
with a plurality of at least 50,000, but it didn't match the official count.
That's because the official, Secretary of State Katherine Harris, excluded
179,855 spoiled votes. In Florida, as in Ohio, most of these votes lost
were cast on punch cards where the hole wasn't punched through completely-leaving
a 'hanging chad,'-or was punched extra times. Whose cards were discarded?
Expert statisticians investigating spoilage for the government calculated
that 54 percent of the ballots thrown in the dumpster were cast by black
folks. (To read the report from the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, click
- And here's the key: Florida is terribly typical. The
majority of ballots thrown out (there will be nearly 2 million tossed out
from Tuesday's election) will have been cast by African American and other
- So here we go again. Or, here we don't go again. Because
unlike last time, Democrats aren't even asking Ohio to count these cards
with the not-quite-punched holes (called "undervotes" in the
voting biz). Nor are they demanding we look at the "overvotes"
where voter intent may be discerned.
- Ohio is one of the last states in America to still use
the vote-spoiling punch-card machines. And the Secretary of State of Ohio,
J. Kenneth Blackwell, wrote before the election, "the possibility
of a close election with punch cards as the state's primary voting device
invites a Florida-like calamity."
- But this week, Blackwell, a rabidly partisan Republican,
has warmed up to the result of sticking with machines that have a habit
of eating Democratic votes. When asked if he feared being this year's Katherine
Harris, Blackwell noted that Ms. Fix-it's efforts landed her a seat in
- Exactly how many votes were lost to spoilage this time?
Blackwell's office, notably, won't say, though the law requires it be reported.
Hmm. But we know that last time, the total of Ohio votes discarded reached
a democracy-damaging 1.96 percent. The machines produced their typical
loss-that's 110,000 votes-overwhelmingly Democratic.
- The Impact Of Challenges
- First and foremost, Kerry was had by chads. But the Democrat
wasn't punched out by punch cards alone. There were also the 'challenges.'
That's a polite word for the Republican Party of Ohio's use of an old Ku
Klux Klan technique: the attempt to block thousands of voters of color
at the polls. In Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida, the GOP laid plans for poll
workers to ambush citizens under arcane laws-almost never used-allowing
party-designated poll watchers to finger individual voters and demand they
be denied a ballot. The Ohio courts were horrified and federal law prohibits
targeting of voters where race is a factor in the challenge. But our Supreme
Court was prepared to let Republicans stand in the voting booth door.
- In the end, the challenges were not overwhelming, but
they were there. Many apparently resulted in voters getting these funky
"provisional" ballots-a kind of voting placebo-which may or may
not be counted. Blackwell estimates there were 175,000; Democrats say 250,000.
Pick your number. But as challenges were aimed at minorities, no one doubts
these are, again, overwhelmingly Democratic. Count them up, add in the
spoiled punch cards (easy to tally with the human eye in a recount), and
the totals begin to match the exit polls; and, golly, you've got yourself
a new president. Remember, Bush won by 136,483 votes in Ohio.
- Enchanted State's Enchanted Vote
- Now, on to New Mexico, where a Kerry plurality-if all
votes are counted-is more obvious still. Before the election, in TomPaine.com,
I wrote, "John Kerry is down by several thousand votes in New Mexico,
though not one ballot has yet been counted."
- How did that happen? It's the spoilage, stupid; and the
- CNN said George Bush took New Mexico by 11,620 votes.
Again, the network total added up to that miraculous, and non-existent,
'100 percent' of ballots cast.
- New Mexico reported in the last race a spoilage rate
of 2.68 percent, votes lost almost entirely in Hispanic, Native American
and poor precincts-Democratic turf. From Tuesday's vote, assuming the same
ballot-loss rate, we can expect to see 18,000 ballots in the spoilage bin.
- Spoilage has a very Democratic look in New Mexico. Hispanic
voters in the Enchanted State, who voted more than two to one for Kerry,
are five times as likely to have their vote spoil as a white voter. Counting
these uncounted votes would easily overtake the Bush 'plurality.'
- Already, the election-bending effects of spoilage are
popping up in the election stats, exactly where we'd expect them: in heavily
Hispanic areas controlled by Republican elections officials. Chaves County,
in the "Little Texas" area of New Mexico, has a 44 percent Hispanic
population, plus African Americans and Native Americans, yet George Bush
"won" there 68 percent to 31 percent.
- I spoke with Chaves' Republican county clerk before the
election, and he told me that this huge spoilage rate among Hispanics simply
indicated that such people simply can't make up their minds on the choice
of candidate for president. Oddly, these brown people drive across the
desert to register their indecision in a voting booth.
- Now, let's add in the effect on the New Mexico tally
of provisional ballots.
- "They were handing them out like candy," Albuquerque
journalist Renee Blake reported of provisional ballots. About 20,000 were
given out. Who got them?
- Santiago Juarez who ran the "Faithful Citizenship"
program for the Catholic Archdiocese in New Mexico, told me that "his"
voters, poor Hispanics, whom he identified as solid Kerry supporters, were
handed the iffy provisional ballots. Hispanics were given provbisional
ballots, rather than the countable kind "almost religiously,"
he said, at polling stations when there was the least question about a
voter's identification. Some voters, Santiago said, were simply turned
- Your Kerry Victory Party
- So we can call Ohio and New Mexico for John Kerry-if
we count all the votes.
- But that won't happen. Despite the Democratic Party's
pledge, the leadership this time gave in to racial disenfranchisement once
again. Why? No doubt, the Democrats know darn well that counting all the
spoiled and provisional ballots will require the cooperation of Ohio's
Secretary of State, Blackwell. He will ultimately decide which spoiled
and provisional ballots get tallied. Blackwell, hankering to step into
Kate Harris' political pumps, is unlikely to permit anything close to a
full count. Also, Democratic leadership knows darn well the media would
punish the party for demanding a full count.
- What now? Kerry won, so hold your victory party. But
make sure the shades are down: it may be become illegal to demand a full
vote count under PATRIOT Act III.
- I used to write a column for the Guardian papers in London.
Several friends have asked me if I will again leave the country. In light
of the failure-a second time-to count all the votes, that won't be necessary.
My country has left me.
- Greg Palast, contributing editor to Harper's magazine,
investigated the manipulation of the vote for BBC Television's Newsnight.
The documentary, "Bush Family Fortunes," based on his New York
Times bestseller, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, is now available on
DVD. View a clip at http://www.gregpalast.com/bff-dvd.htm
- To receive Greg's investigative reports click here: