Saturday, December 11, 2004

Conyers (R-MI) Leads Congressional Hearings on Voting Irregularities

Doubts Persist About Election Results

By RACHEL KONRAD, Associated Press
Fri Dec 10, 5:57 PM ET

As the Electoral College prepares to certify President Bush's re-election on Monday, concerns persist about the integrity of the nation's voting system — particularly in Ohio, where details continue to emerge of technology failures, voter confusion and overcrowded polling stations in minority and poor neighborhoods.

Few mainstream politicians dispute Bush's victory, and the incumbent's 3.5 million-vote margin nationwide was wider than any of the reported problems, which included insufficient or incomplete provisional ballots and, in some places, brazen partisan shenanigans.

But that is not stopping a disparate assortment of personalities — prominent among them Democratic congressman John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and presidential candidates of the Green and Libertarian parties — from questioning the accuracy of certified results and demanding investigations.

Of greatest concern is the extent of disenfranchisement in the critical swing state of Ohio, whose 20 electoral votes guaranteed Bush's victory.

"It's critical that we investigate and understand any and every voting irregularity anywhere in our country, not because it would change the outcome of the election but because Americans have to believe that their votes are counted in our democracy," John Kerry said this week, after calling for a statewide recount in Ohio.

The nation's voting system, despite improvements since the 2000 Florida fiasco, remains a locally administered patchwork whose lack of national uniformity distinguishes the United States from many other democracies.

Although most complaints have come from Democrats and the third-party candidates, Republicans and bipartisan groups acknowledge problems. The Government Accountability Office is investigating election problems. Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio and chairman of the House Administration Committee, will oversee an inquiry next year.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission, created in 2002, is also scrutinizing the outcome. It plans to publish in January the government's first report on the voting, which will serve as the basis for congressional recommendations and reforms.

"We definitely did not have a glitch-free election," said EAC chairman DeForest Soaries Jr., a Bush appointee.

Rev. Jackson and other activists want wholesale changes in the U.S. voting process, ideally before the 2006 midterm elections. Jackson says the most distressing problem appears to be the lack of nationwide standards. No federal agency enforces regulations when states or counties fail to comply with internal procedures.

Without national standards, he said, some poor counties have inferior equipment and insufficient numbers of voting machines to support dense populations.


Conyers, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, began examining Ohio's problems in a hearing this past week attended by eight Democratic lawmakers.

Among his concerns was that voters in urban, minority and Democratic precincts waited in lines up to eight hours — even though in Youngstown, election administrators had extra voting terminals stored in a warehouse. Conyers also charged that a "campaign of deception" directed some Democrats to wrong polling places, where they were forced to cast provisional ballots.

Last week, Conyers sent a letter to Blackwell asking him to cooperate in a Democratic investigation of "substantial irregularities" in Ohio, which certified a 119,000-vote margin for Bush. That is some 17,000 votes fewer than Blackwell's original estimate of 136,00



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