Readers respond to "Election Fraud Watch," by Farhad Manjoo.

By Salon Staff

Published November 12, 2004 7:38PM (EST)

[Read "Election Fraud Watch," by Farhad Manjoo. Reader responses to Manjoo's "Was the Election Stolen?" are here. ]

I have no doubt that the last election was stolen, and not for any tin-foil-hat reasons of hacked computers and rigged exit polls, either. I live in Nashville, Tenn., and worked the election as a volunteer, and I saw many instances of voter intimidation and vote fraud in my city. They include:

-- Polling places in African-American precincts with only one operating voting booth, the others never having been turned on.

-- Voters called before Nov. 2 and erroneously told their voting location had changed.

-- Poll workers asking voters to declare whether they are Democrat or Republican before entering the voting booth so they can "set the machines," something which is only practiced during primaries.

-- Voters denied provisional ballots, in violation of state law.

-- Poll workers who held up lines in African-American precincts by claiming not to know the alphabet, therefore they checked every single page of the voter rolls as they checked people in.

I spent Election Day putting out these and dozens of other fires all around my city. The overriding thought I had was, "if it's like this in Nashville, Tenn., a supposedly Bush-safe state, what on earth are they doing in places like Ohio and Florida?"

I have no doubt in my mind that this election was stolen, based on my own experiences on Nov. 2. Whether it can be proved or not is another matter. Articles that refuse to take this issue seriously seem more like preemptive damage control to me. Now that's a conspiracy theory I'd like to see addressed.

-- Lisa Zhito

I agree with the many people who think that we should not be so quick to banish any notion that the '04 election was rigged. I have seen how again Salon, which does deserve praise for not always following the mainstream press line, does seem to jump on the bandwagon when they feel like it. You jumped on the bandwagon and slimed Howard Dean and now we are asked to just accept that a bunch of partisan hacks at Diebold who have been discredited in many academic circles based simply on their technical incompetence, whether deliberate or accidental, can be trusted to serve up a fair election? As your other readers have pointed out this is only the beginning of the irregularities in Ohio and elsewhere. Win or lose we need to know, and there are efforts underway for us to find out. We don't care whether you endorse them or not.

-- James Thomas

I have no doubt that behind many of the attacks on Farhad Manjoo and his article, "Was the Election Stolen?" is an unwillingness to accept that the country has moved to the right. I too find it tempting to believe that most of the country thinks like I do and that Bush only could have won if the election had been rigged. But talk to people outside of the big cities and college towns, and a Bush victory becomes much more plausible.

It is also tempting to confuse articles that simply tell us what we want to hear with good reporting. I have read many of Farhad Manjoo's articles and found them well-researched and thorough. His article on possible election fraud was no exception. I am grateful that Salon has chosen solid reporting over pandering to its readers.

So rather than continuing to scream "Election Fraud!" let's tackle the more difficult task of talking to people and moving the country back in the right direction.

-- Edwin Schiele

I am not a hysterical person, nor would I even think it was conceivable that the GOP would bother to pay you for a cover-up (no offense meant).

I'm looking for the answer to a couple of questions, and I have not seen them adequately addressed. Here are my top ones:

1) Has there been a hand recount/audit of the optical ballots in Florida? For 2004? For 2000? For 1996? A spot check is not adequate; at least four or five of the counties need to be completed counted by hand.

2) Why isn't anyone simply doing this? If you want to quell the rumors of wrongdoing, a hand recount would put an end to all of them. Why would anyone resist doing this? That is what raises serious red flags: The only logical reason is that someone knows it would change the vote! (All other issues that I can think of could easily be addressed -- money, time, people, etc.)

Why aren't the hard questions being asked?

-- Chris Franklin

I can't believe it! I just read Farhad Manjoo's second article in defense of his first article. At least this article was more researched. But he manages to play the "lets debunk the exit polling" game while completely ignoring the larger problem. Republican corporations own the voting machines. The voting machines don't offer a paper trail. The source code is secret.

Until and unless the machines are open source, run by a nonpartisan agency, and leave a verifiable paper trail, elections will be suspect. I'm sure that if the majority of Americans learned these facts, they would be appalled. This is a story that needs to be given a wider audience.

-- Lola Piazza

I am sorry that some readers have offered unkind and even suspicious remarks toward Farhad Manjoo. At times like these, the earwig of paranoia besets even of the best of us.

But fact, not paranoia, compels me to disagree with Manjoo's conclusions. The best place to find these facts can be found in the new study by Dr. Steven F. Freeman of the University of Pennsylvania, whose work can be found here.

At least Manjoo tries to deal directly with the problematical exit poll data, which most debunkers ignore. Unfortunately, he neglects to tell readers that exit poll discrepancies are the only bulwark we have against electronic vote tampering. That's why such disparities are viewed as a serious matter by international election observers, and why similar disparities in the (formerly Soviet) Georgian elections led to the ouster of Shevardnadze.

I have scoured the net, and I have yet to see a single story indicating that exit poll discrepancies undervalued the Kerry vote in any state. All the evidence I have seen indicates only the Bush vote was undervalued. Certainly, the pattern in the battleground states is beyond dispute. Dr. Freeman reports that the chances against the degree of undervaluation in just three states (Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio) is 250,000 to 1.

Dr. David Anick of MIT came to a similar conclusion.

Manjoo falls into the trap of referring to "early" exit polls as though this factor explains the undervaluation of the Bush vote. Why? Common wisdom used to hold that Republicans voted early, and Democrats voted late. If that adage no longer holds true, we should expect the exits to give us errors favoring both Bush and Kerry. The fact that only the Bush vote was undervalued in the battleground states offers legitimate grounds for suspicion.

Manjoo writes: "As Mark Blumenthal, the Democratic pollster who runs the blog Mystery Pollster, notes, exit polling data is not re-weighted all at once -- it's done live, as the results come in, in different precincts at different times."

If Blumenthal is accurate (and if Manjoo cannot prove that all Democrats have suddenly turned into early risers) then the early polls are more likely to give us an objective look at the electorate. If that is the case, then Dr. Freeman (who used the latest available exit polls) should have relied upon earlier data, which showed an even more noteworthy undervaluation of the Bush vote.

Incidentally, Freeman considers the exit poll/actuals shift to be significant, not "very slight." I think we should defer to his expertise, unless Manjoo can bring forth a counter-argument from an expert with better credentials.

Regarding the apparent optical scan/e-vote discrepancy based on Kathy Dopp's information: I was impressed by her chart at first. Within 24 hours, I had to concede much territory after receiving an education on the "blue dog" phenomenon in certain small Florida counties. More recently, I came across arguments attempting to debunk the debunkers -- some believe that those blue dogs voted in greater numbers than one would have predicted. I am willing to leave the question for others to thrash out, since Dopp's chart now strikes me as something of a diversion.

The main issue, it seems to me, concerns the central tabulating system. It handles results from both optical and electronic counties, and it can be hacked by a bright teenager.

Manjoo can't explain why exit polls should undervalue the Republican vote consistently -- state after state, election after election. Neither does he address the question of why these polls proved accurate in the past, or why they are accurate to a remarkable degree in other countries. He asks us to wait until the exits are studied in a probe that is "currently underway." Alas, we had similarly skewed exit poll results in 2000 and 2002. When are studies of those elections going to reach us? If we wait months or years for studies of the 2004 election to be performed, the public's attention will be elsewhere when the results come out (if they come out). Few will double-check any problems. Most will fall for any story that sounds good superficially.

This is the third election in a row in which the exit poll disparities showed the same suspicious pattern seemingly indicative of Republican vote tampering. At what point will the time come for Americans to call a spade a spade -- just as they did in Georgia?

-- Joseph Cannon

Whenever I am ready to write off Salon as just another left wing rag, I read something so honest, so not on the bandwagon, as Manjoo's recent story. The fact that he has the courage to point out what is pretty obvious -- that the election system is a clusterfuck, but that there was no stolen election -- is admirable.

While I don't think most on the Kerry side are so deluded to think the result could be overturned, I do think that many will still latch onto this fantasy. Aside from it playing into a victim's mindset, it allows those folks to avoid the concept of actual rejection.

Sadly, this will be repeated again and again, a mantra among many on the left. Since I am a Republican, I don't mind the left doing something as self-destructive as this. What I do mind, however, is that more and more people will buy into the concept that the entire system is rigged and that there is no real democracy in the United States.

-- Tim Estes

Whether or not the election was rigged, please think about this concept: In public administration we generally don't contract out those services that have a great amount of power and responsibility to act ethically. Police service is the premier example of this. Sure, it might be cheaper to contract out police services, but it's not done because it is generally accepted that it's simply too risky. Giving private enterprise that much power over our society is dangerous. Period. On that I think we all agree.

My hope is that the current outrage will be channeled into this concern: Contracting out vote-counting is just as foolhardy and dangerous as contracting out our police. There's just too much opportunity for temptation and unethical behavior. I hope Salon readers will contact their elected officials about this simple idea. Contracting our vote-counting flies in the face of well-established good standards in public administration. We should not do it. Period.

-- Glenn Krell

With all of the theories of vote fraud this time around, I find one point interesting: Why isn't the Kerry camp leading the way in the investigation? Haven't their lawyers found anything that would cause them to jump up and down like everyone else (it would seem) with a keyboard and an Internet connection?

-- Christian Matthews

Salon Staff

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