Did Kerry actually win the election? It sounds absurd, but check out the topics buzzed about in the blogosphere.
I. Massive Election Fraud?
The tin foil hat brigade is out in full force, pointing to dodgy vote irregularities as signs of possible election fraud. After the raging, year-long conspiracy theories regarding Diebold voting machines, new conspiracy theories are no surprise. But it's also true there's some sketchy stuff out there. First, there's the unexplained disparity between exit polls and vote totals (apparently the exit polls were much more accurate in states that had punch card ballots than touch screen systems). Then there are precincts where Bush won thousands of more votes than there are registered voters. Then there's the systematic elimination of "spoiled ballots" largely in minority-heavy precincts. And now, the blogosphere has dug up the bizarre duplicative vote differences in tallies of different wards in Ohio. Very suspicious, indeed.
I typically dismiss conspiracy theorists, but these guys do mount something of a case. The definitive case is offered by British journalist Greg Palast. Picking up the story, Keith Olbermann became the first mainstream journalist yesterday to come out with a report, which is a helpful summary of the goings-on. A last lengthy summary can be found here. For the obsessives, a very helpful clearinghouse of links to articles addressing alleged voting fraud is here.
II. Exit Poll Meltdown, or...
Even if you don't buy the conspiracy theories -- and I don't, at least not yet -- one must explain the widespread failure of the exit polls this year. Generally, with such gargatuan sample sizes, exit polls just aren't wrong outside the margin of error. The exit polls had it Kerry-51 Bush-48, with Kerry sweeping the battleground states. So what on earth happened? A Princeton professor has a blog devoted to the exit poll/vote total disparity, and it's got some interesting info. Another good discussion can be found on MysteryPollster, but even then, without the actual exit poll data in his hands, MysteryPollster can only speculate. Internet guru Lawrence Lessig has now called for the 2004 exit poll data to be released publicly. That's a start. Getting to the bottom of this isn't just to help Kerry, who has probably a 1 million to 1 shot of overturning the putative election results. It's so shit like the Tuesday afternoon debacle doesn't happen again.
Those fucking exit polls, after all, made all the Dems giddy for 5 hours, when everyone thought Kerry won. Bush's Vegas odds were tanking; Karen Hughes was consoling Dubya; Kerry was set to work on his victory speech. We were so happy! What the fuck happened?
III. Voter Intimidation and Minority Suppression
From the ground in Ohio, it really looked like Kerry was gonna win. Canvassing in Marion, OH, a mid-sized, 50/50 city on October 30, we bumped into ACT people, KE'04 people, even Fingerhut folks working the GOTV. Kerry/Edwards lawnsigns, while outnumbered by BC '04 signs, abound in small towns and rural areas, indicating genuine enthusiasm in Red areas. The Columbus Dispatch poll final poll of 2000+ Ohians showed an eight (8!) vote difference separating the two candidates. GOTV will take it for Kerry, we thought.
Then reality intruded, along with a well directed Rethug suppression operation. But more mundane obstacles also contributed to the loss. Tuesday brought a steady, unforgiving downpour, which likely cost Kerry a good chunk of votes. Long lines in urban (read: Democratic areas) due to poor equipment and understaffing led to potential Kerry voters ditching the polls. I suspect these banal factors caused Kerry to lose at least 25,000 to 50,000 votes over Bush.
But some blame must be placed on under-the-radar suppression efforts. Reports include robo-calls featuring a purported Kerry/Edwards message saying a vote for Kerry is a vote for gay marriage, so support gay marriage by supporting Kerry!, flyers in minority districts saying that the election is on Nov. 3, and especially, bum rushing the polling places with, intimidating darkly-attired "challengers" intimidating minority voters. All of this undoubtedly contributed to a lower vote total for Kerry. Just how much, it's hard to say.
And therein lies Kerry's problem. His most compelling case involves disenfranchised voters, those prevented from voting. It's impossible to determine how many votes should've counted. And in this case, the party can only blame itself. The Dems, as usual, didn't play as hard as the Rethugs, losing ground even with all that money, energy and volunteers in the state. Is it an outrage that Rethugs are always out to suppress voting? Sure. But that's how the game's played, and everyone knows it. If I were running the operation, I'd roll out robocalls to Christian fundamentalists telling them about Bush's eve-of-election support for gay civil unions. Yeah, that's nasty, but you can't fight with boxing gloves if the other guy's trying to bash you with a folding chair.
The biggest mistake Kerry and his allies made in this vein is that, not only did they not play as dirty, they wouldn't call out GOP dirty tricks, which would at least set the groundwork for a public relations campaign to discredit this laughable "mandate" business.
IV. A Recount in Ohio?
The only realistic option is a recount in Ohio. Kerry needs to get the margin down to about 19,000 votes for Ohio's automatic recount provision to set in. The current numbers, taken from the Ohio Democratic Party:
Bush-Kerry margin: 136,483
Estimated number of provisional ballots yet to be counted (likely with heavy Kerry margins): 155,000
Overseas absentee ballots: number of ballots unknown, none yet counted.
Overvotes/Undervotes: ~93,000 ballots for President not counted by machines due to overvotes, undervotes, or no votes.
Given these numbers, Kerry obviously needs a shocking tabulation error discovery to save him. The provisionals and the absentees will not get him to the 19,000 where a recount might reverse things. That's why Kerry conceded so early.
So there's next to no chance for a Kerry presidency in 2004, but it's good to know that some are still keeping hope alive.