Washington, DC; Dec. 8, 2004 – After a three-hour Capital Hill briefing Wednesday, Democratic staff of the House Judicial Committee pledged to investigate allegations of statewide vote suppression and fraud in Ohio. Moderated by Representative John Conyers (D-Michigan), the public briefing came two days after Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell certified George Bush the winner of the state by a margin of 118,775 and coalitions of voters spearheaded by third party candidates called for a recount.
The briefing, which was attended by a crowd of about 100 people, featured speakers from various voter advocacy organizations that have been active in monitoring the November 2 vote and its aftermath in Ohio.
No prominent Republicans chose to accept Democratic invitations to the event, including Blackwell, who received a fifteen-page letter from Conyers detailing election the irregularities under investigation. "We wrote the letter. I called him. I even called him this morning just to make sure that all the other times I couldnâ€™t reach him werenâ€™t accidental," Conyers said Wednesday in an interview with The NewStandard.
Blackwell has born heavy criticism for his handling of the Ohio vote before, during and after November 2. His critics have demanded he recuse himself from his vote supervision role because he previously ran the Bush/Cheney 2000 Ohio campaign.
While house Democrats expressed support for the recount movement, they said their goal in investigating the Ohio election is not to overturn Bushâ€™s victory.
"We ride the same highways from Maine to California and stop at the same stop signs. Why canâ€™t we apply the same logic to voting?" --Jesse Jackson
In Ohio, all Electoral College votes go to the certified winner of the popular vote, yet a complete recount before the electors are seated on December 13 is a near impossibility.
When asked after the hearing if he would file suit to insure that the Electoral College is not seated before the recount is completed, Conyers said he would not. "My inclination is not to bring members of congress into litigation of this level," he said.
Conyers was instrumental in helping write the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2000 and is currently working with Reverend Jesse Jackson on a bill that would federalize the election system, a strategy rooted in concerns that current lapses between federal, state and local law allow too much open to the interpretation by local officials.
"We ride the same highways from Maine to California and stop at the same stop signs. Why canâ€™t we apply the same logic to voting?" Jackson asked during the hearing.
Much of the discussion during the briefing included information formerly brought to light during public hearings in Ohio, held by a coalition of voting rights groups back in mid-November (see previous coverage).
Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights voting rights Project Director Jon Greenbaum cited seven patterns he saw with the recent election: problems with voter registration, provisional ballots, the absentee process, voting machines, suppression and intimidation tactics, and inequitable distribution of resources to county boards of elections. "Its time to examine the way we register to vote and process absentee ballots. We should take a look at early voting and consider the shortcomings of a precinct system," he said.
Echoing Jackson, Greenbaum also said that the decentralization of election management was a big issue and recommended that the contested election demonstrates the need for legislation beyond HAVA.
A panel discussion among representatives from organizations such as People for the American Way, Voting Rights Project and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights complemented by audience membersâ€™ own testimonials provided stories about electoral dysfunction ranging from computer glitches that allowed dead Ohioans to vote but removed eligible residents from the rolls, to procedural problems that left a Democratic precinct in Gambier, the polling location for Kenyon College, with one machine to service 1,300 voters.
The Government Accountability Office has begun its own study of the election, but any consequent hearings or legislation will not take place until next term.
Because official hearings must be initiated by the chair of a committee -- in this case, a Republican who did not respond to Conyersâ€™ invitation -- todayâ€™s briefing carried no legal weight. "Next time, weâ€™ll put our request for [bipartisan attendance] in writing," Mel Watts (D-North Carolina) told TNS.