The prominent Skeptic (with a capital "S") author and thinker Michael Shermer is fond of saying that "humans are pattern-seeking animals."
By that, he implies that it is built into the human brain pattern to make conclusions out of dissassociated phenomena.
To that I add that it is also built into the human brain pattern to drill out the firewall between what could happen from what has happened.
In a time when liberals need to devote all our energies to taking back both Houses of Congress, it seems that there is still a rather vocal coterie of conspiracy theorists who believe the 2004 Presidential election was stolen, and Ohio was ground zero for that indescribably wicked transgression.
Greatly simplified, the "thinking" goes like this:
Diebold CEO, a major contributor to Republican campaigns, declares that we have to try our hardest to have Bush win Ohio.
In order to ensure this result, hundreds of thousands of Democratic voters were inconvenienced and even disenfranchised at the hands of a partisan Republican Ohio election apparatus.
Despite these steps, Ohio exit polls clearly showed Kerry in the lead...
Exit polls are most often very accurate. Yet since the reported results showed a different winner, then Diebold must have been in on massive voter fraud and hacking. Because, of course, Diebold machines are hackable.
The mass media knew about all of this, but failed to report it because most mass media outlets are Republican. If you want proof, look at the supposedly objective New York Times, and Judy Miller's "reporting" on Iraq's WMD.
Before I present some elegantly researched refutation, I would like to raise the following points on my own.
Diebold makes a convincing nexus for all these charges. Admit it. What's the most direct day-to-day contact we have with this company? At the bank ATM, of course. It is there that we insert our bank card, and tap out our PIN. Through national networks, the Diebold machine authenticates our transaction and gives us our cash. My point is that it is easy to regard Diebold as a giant data-collecting technological colossus that's kind of good at this numbers stuff.
Yes, it is true their CEO is a staunch Republican who has stated he wants Republicans elected. Yet I have yet to ever encounter a "conspiracy" where the conspirator(s) telegraphed their intentions ahead of time. The nature of conspiracies is they are hatched in secret, not at fund-raisers.
There's also the supposition that Ohio voting irregularities and "facts" about this so-called "stolen" election have been suppressed by the mainstream media. I have to point out that Kerry won the endorsements of more newspapers than did Bush in 2004. And at many if not most newspapers, something as heady as Presidential endorsements do not get tendered without the express approval of the owner, publisher, or both.
And yes, there's a feeling out there that an Administration who has no problem spying on its citizens, and is, in fact, guided to a large extent by "evil men" such as Karl Rove, would be complicit in such plots. Yet even if you were to make the giant leap that the evil men were in on fixing Ohio, keep in mind that the current data collecting skills seem to be oriented at collecting data after the fact (such as getting phone call records from telcos) rather than at their point of commission. You give them too much credit.
I also think there's something to be said for the "echo chamber" effect. The most partisan of we Democrats tend to have the most impassioned discussions with other Democrats. We meet in our homes, online, at the coffee shop, and we tend to reinforce each other with pronouncements of how evil our current breed of Republicans can be (and yet, they can). We tend to overcount our own ranks, forgetting that most of our (to quote Phil Ochs) "small circle of Friends" are like-minded, we don't consider the yellow-ribbon, creationism-fish-brandishing America of the 6,000, 8,000, 10,000-strong evangelical megachurches. Some of which are in Ohio, by the way.
In doing so we rub conspiratorial assumption sticks together in our minds, and it seems incomprehensible that Bush could have won in 2004.
The supposition weaved together from these perspectives and assumptions has, in fact, been eloquently refuted in thoroughly researched studies that have appeared in two of the most sharply progressive publications we have in our national discourse, "Mother Jones" and "The Nation." Publications that like me and you too, are hostile to the current Administration and most all it stands for.
Count Salon in that number. On Saturday, the brilliant progressive columnist and investigative reporter Farhad Manjoo debunked the assumption-laden "reporting" of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. in Rolling Stone. Debunked it, charge by charge.
"Kennedy's headlining claim is that 357,000 voters, "most of them Democratic," were either prevented from voting or had their votes go uncounted, making Kerry (who lost by 118,000) the likely true winner. Kennedy finds these "missing votes" in the damnedest places. He counts 30,000 voter registrations that were deleted from voter rolls, in keeping with state law, as mostly Kerry voters, though it's impossible to know if those were even real people," Manjoo writes. "He says that 174,000 mostly Kerry voters didn't vote because they were put off by long lines. But the source states it was actually 129,543 voters, and that those votes would have split evenly between Kerry and Bush. And that same source -- the Democratic Party's report once again -- notes conclusively: 'Despite the problems on Election Day, there is no evidence from our survey that John Kerry won the state of Ohio.' But Kennedy doesn't tell you that."
Then Manjoo attacks the "exit polls are always right" thinking.
"Worse, Kennedy relies on a band of researchers whose research on election fraud has long been called into question by experts. Especially in his section on Ohio's exit poll, Kennedy reports his sources' theories uncritically, even though many have been debunked, or have at least been the subject of tremendous debate among experts.," he writes. "Reading Kennedy's article, you'd never guess that some of his star sources' claims have fared quite badly when put to people in the field.
Next, Manjoo rebuts Kennedy's charge that Republican officials deliberately rigged voting procedures to create the long voting lines seen in Kerry strongholds.
"Kennedy says that 'more than 174,000 voters' in Ohio did not cast a ballot due to long lines at the polls.
For his numbers, Kennedy cites the Democratic Party's comprehensive report on the question, so it's difficult to see where he comes up with the idea that 'more than 174,000 voters' were turned away from the polls due to long lines," he writes. "In fact, the DNC report -- says "two percent of voters who went to the polls on Election Day decided to leave their polling locations due to the long lines. This resulted in approximately 129,543 lost votes." The report adds that "these potential voters would have divided evenly between George Bush and John Kerry." But even if Kerry got two-thirds of those ballots -- a huge margin, matching what he got in Ohio's bluest counties -- he'd have won about 86,000 more votes, while Bush would have won 43,000 more. This would have reduced the final 118,000-margin in Ohio to about 75,000 -- that is, Bush would still have been comfortably in the lead.
Manjoo also refutes the notion that exit polls could not have been wrong, and explanations that they were based on the reluctance of more Bush voters than Kerry voters to answer exit pollster's questions were not backed up by the facts. Kennedy says the conclusions that voters were improperly sampled were invalidated, but Manjoo says that Walter Mitofsky, chief exit pollster in Ohio during , tells him that he never issued a refutation.
As to the matter that the Ohio exit poll canvassing was representative of the electorate, investigative journalist Mark Hertsgaard - who believes the 2000 Election was stolen has an interesting point. One which occurred to me as far back on election night, 2004 as I glumly watched the returns:
"And is it really so strange to imagine that Bush supporters--who tend to distrust the supposedly liberal news media--might not answer questions from pollsters bearing the logos of CBS, CNN, and the other news organizations financing the polling operation? "
As to mystery votes, Hertsgaard says that Roger Kearney, a contract employee who manages the Miami County website, told him he understands what aroused the skeptics' suspicion. "The problem," Hertsgaard quotes Kearney as saying "is that (Ohio's) Miami County considers a precinct to be "reporting" as soon as a single vote is reported. Thus, when election officials were distributing results on election night, their last two tallies of the night said that 100 percent of precincts were reporting. "The reason the last report had 13,000 more votes," he says, "is that those votes hadn't been counted yet, but they were there in the system."
And what about the purging? Yes, there was purging of the voter rolls, but to understand this, you have to understand electoral sociodemographics.
Hertsgaard agrees that Michael O'Grady, general counsel for the Ohio Democratic Party, agrees that Ohio Secretary of State Kenneith Blackwell purged voter rolls, especially in large urban counties that figured to lean Democratic. But he points out that the purging was done legally, and he says it wasn't necessarily underhanded. The Democratic base, O'Grady tells Hertsgaard, is more transient, so a voter may accumulate three different addresses on state voting rolls--a perfectly sound reason for a purge. As for the larger argument that Ohio was stolen, O'Grady says, "That point of view relies on the assumption that the entire Republican Party is conspiratorial and the entire Democratic Party is as dumb as rocks. And I don't buy that."
Neither does the only person in the U.S. who has lost the pinnacle of power to a well-orchestrated Republican Presidential campaign. Jimmy Carter, who in his Carter Center role has monitored dozens of elections throughout the world for fairness, believes that Bush won Ohio, and the 2004 Election. For the record, President Carter feels that Gore did win in 2000.
And as to the notion of Diebold machines being hackable: first of all, Diebold machines were only used in two Ohio counties. And The Nation's David Corn, a vocal Kerry supporter, quotes investigative journalist Robert Parry as saying:
"Theoretically, at least, it is conceivable that sophisticated CIA-style computer hacking--known as 'cyber-warfare'--could have let George W. Bush's campaign transform a three-percentage-point defeat, as measured by exit polls, into an official victory of about the same margin. Whether such a scheme is feasible, however, is another matter, since it would require penetration of hundreds of local computer systems across the country, presumably from a single remote location. The known CIA successes in cyber-war have come from targeting a specific bank account or from shutting down an adversary's computer system, not from altering data simultaneously in a large number of computers."
That from the author of "Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq," an an AlterNet columnist who believes that Bush has protected Enron far more extensively than believed, and who thinks Iran-Contra-drugs exposer Gary Webb might have been murdered. A guy who knows his conspiracies, and is not afraid to call them as he sees 'em.
So what do we have, aside from the conspiracy theorists at sites such as Black Box Voting? A bunch of assumptions - assumptions composed of flawed dots that don't connect.
And what's worse, far worse, a corrosive imprint on the progressive body politic that may cause disaffected voters from showing up at the polls this critical midterm election.
Which we must.