“Kerry heard all the disquieting stories” about
voting irregularities in Ohio and other states, said Jonathan Winer, a
longtime Kerry adviser and a former deputy assistant secretary of state.
“But he didn’t have the evidence to do more.”
The Massachusetts senator conceded to George W.
Bush on Nov. 3, 2004, the day after the election when it became clear
that the uncounted votes in the swing state of Ohio were insufficient to
erase Bush’s narrow lead.
The move infuriated some Democratic activists who
felt Kerry should have lived up to his campaign promise that he would
make sure every vote was counted. In January 2005, as Bush’s victory was
being certified by Congress, Kerry also refused to back a resolution
challenging the fairness of the Ohio vote.
Mark Crispin Miller, a New York University
professor and author of a new book about the 2004 election entitled
Fooled Again, said he discussed the voting issue with Kerry on Oct.
28 when he encountered the senator at a political event.
a Nov. 4 interview on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now,” Miller said he
gave Kerry a copy of Fooled Again, prompting Kerry’s comments
about the 2004 election results.
“He told me he now thinks the election was stolen,”
Miller said. “He said he doesn’t believe that he is the person who can
go out front on the issue because of the sour grapes … question. But he
said he believes it was stolen. He says he argues about this with his
Democratic colleagues on the Hill. He had just had a big fight with
Miller and Winer said Kerry suspected possible
tampering with electronic voting machines, but that he was persuaded by
his campaign’s top advisers, including veteran consultant Bob Shrum,
that contesting the results only would lead to accusations that Kerry
was a sore loser.
In an interview with me, Winer said the
“disquieting stuff” that troubled Kerry included reports that
touch-screen systems had malfunctioned in such a way that voters who
tried to vote for Kerry saw their votes switched to Bush. Kerry also was
upset with reports that Ohio’s Republican election officials shorted
Democratic strongholds on voting machines, Winer said.
In some Democratic precincts, there were complaints
that voters waited in line for hours or gave up and went home, while in
heavily Republican precincts, there were plenty of voting machines and
lines were relatively short.
Democratic activists also cited the disparity
between exit polls, which showed Kerry winning by about 3 percentage
points nationwide and carrying key swing states, and the official count,
which flipped the results giving Bush wins in most swing states and a
national popular vote margin of about 3 percent.
Some defenders of the election results argue that
the exit-poll discrepancies could be explained by Bush’s supporters just
being less willing to answer questions from pollsters after leaving the
voting booth. According to this argument, Bush voters disdained the
“liberal media” which they saw represented by the exit-poll questioners.
That explanation, however, doesn’t explain why
historically exit polls have been highly accurate or why the 2004 exit
polls were on target when it came to the results for Senate candidates,
while off the mark on the presidential race. Presumably, if
conservatives were ducking the exit pollsters, there would be a similar
percentage shift for statewide races.
Doubts, Not Certainty
Winer said he discussed the election irregularities
with Kerry in November and December of 2004. At that time, Winer said
Kerry never asserted “outright” that the election had been stolen, but
was “uneasy” about what he had heard.
Adding to Kerry’s suspicions, Winer said, was the
memory of Election 2000 in which Al Gore defeated Bush in the popular
vote by more than 500,000 ballots but lost when Bush got five
Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court to stop a recount of votes in
details on Election 2000, see Consortiumnews.com’s “So
Bush Did Steal the White House.”]
But Winer said Kerry didn’t believe the evidence
existed to prove systematic tampering with the vote in 2004. Kerry also
was certain he would face withering criticism if he challenged the
election results without strong evidence.
“The powers in place would have smashed him,”’
On “Democracy Now,” Miller said Kerry bent to the
will of his campaign advisers to concede, even though his vice
presidential running mate, John Edwards, favored holding out until more
information was in.
Based on reporting for Fooled Again, Miller
said Kerry told Edwards in a phone call that Shrum and other advisers
insisted that a concession was the best course. “They say that if I
don’t pull out, they (Kerry’s political opponents) are going to call us
sore losers,” Miller said, recounting the substance of Kerry’s phone
call to Edwards.
Miller said Edwards responded, “So what if they
call us sore losers?” But Kerry pressed ahead with his decision to
“Kerry’s caving in like that gave an enormous gift
to the right wing,” Miller said. “They (the conservatives) could now
claim, ‘well, even their (the Democrats’) candidate doesn’t think it was
stolen. And they (Kerry and his advisers) left … the American people
hanging out to dry there.”
report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative
arm of Congress, also has questioned the security of U.S. electronic
The GAO said some systems don’t encrypt ballots or other data,
leaving them open to tampering that could escape detection. The GAO
found that another danger was the potential for altering a ballot’s
appearance to trick voters into thinking they were voting for one
candidate when their ballots actually went to another.
“Some of these concerns were reported to have caused local problems
in federal elections – resulting in the loss or miscount of votes – and
therefore merit attention,” the GAO said.
Winer, who is now a private attorney with a specialty in information
security, said it’s conceivable that electronic balloting was hacked in
Election 2004 but that – without a credible witness confessing – there
is little hope to prove it.
“There are systems for one-time use that erase themselves
afterwards,” Winer said. “You’d have to have a confession and anyone who
would confess would look psychotic.”
Kerry, too, appears to have weighed how he would
look if he made accusations about possible hi-tech hijinks affecting the
outcome of a presidential election. Pundits surely would have put him on
the couch as a delusional conspiracy theorist.
But Kerry’s decision not to fight has left millions of Americans
wondering if their democratic birthright has been stolen – along with
the last two presidential elections.