Palm Beach Post
Bush's wins on Democratic turf fuel conspiracy cries
Friday, November 12, 2004
By Jane Musgrave
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
As chairman of the Dixie County Democratic Party, Arthur Pinner didn't need an exit poll to tell him which presidential candidate was going to win the overwhelmingly Democratic county.
The majority of voters -- like him -- were going to vote for President Bush.
Internet sites and chat rooms are awash with reports and so-called statistical analyses claiming to prove that four years after they unscrupulously handed the presidency to Bush, the dastardly Republicans have done it again.
What the conspiracy theorists ignore, say those who have reviewed purported proof that the state's voting system again went horribly awry, is the most obvious of facts: Residents of such counties have a long and rich history of registering Democrat and sending Republicans to the White House. It's the very reason the term "Dixiecrat" was born.
"No one would be more interested than me in finding out that we really won, but that ain't the case," said Jack Corrigan, a veteran Kerry adviser who led the Democrats' team of 3,600 attorneys who fanned out across the country on Election Day to address voting irregularities.
"I get why people are frustrated, but (Republicans) did not steal this election," he added. "There were a few problems ... But ... there is no doubt that they actually got more votes than we did, ..."
The 2000 election -- with its epicenter in Palm Beach County -- helped spawn the election conspiracists. That election showed voting could go horribly wrong and led to an unprecedented series of election reforms.
But perceived flaws remain. Leading up to the Nov. 2 election, most of the attention about potential problems in Florida centered on touch-screen voting machines. Since the election, however, the attacks are aimed at optical-scan systems.
According to conspiracy theories, Republicans targeted the mostly small rural counties that use the less expensive machines, ...
While it would be theoretically possible to hack into the central computers in the 52 counties where paper ballots are fed into machines that tabulate the results, the task would be monumental, said Stephen Ansolabehere, a political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project.
Furthermore, said Doug Jones, a computer science professor at the University of Iowa who is an expert on optical-scan systems, if someone wanted to throw an election, it would be easier to do so in large counties where tens of thousands of votes could be snared.
But election-security concerns aren't going away. That's why other states should follow California's lead and require counties to conduct hand recounts after every election, he said.
"It creates a public trust," he said of a California law that requires 1 percent of all votes cast in random precincts in each county to be hand counted.
While acknowledging that his Democratic-controlled county is known for favoring Republican presidential candidates, Holmes County Democratic Party Chairman Charles Smith said a manual recount would go a long way toward easing his concerns about the optical-scan system.
Unlike academics, he insisted the small Panhandle county would be a good target for political operatives.
"It would be a perfect place to hide a gigantic fraud. All of the exit polls said voters voted one way and the results come out the other way," he said of discrepancies on Election Day.
Exit polls are another favorite target for bloggers who question last week's results. But those who analyzed the early predictions said they were skewed because pollsters interviewed an unrepresentative sample of women and residents of western states who were more likely to favor Kerry.
Still, all the hoopla surrounding the Internet-fueled theories has led to some peculiar problems for those involved in the Kerry campaign.
Kerry's brother, Cameron, began receiving e-mail messages at a rate of several per minute after an e-mailer suggested he was compiling reports of voting problems. ...
Most say election reforms will grow out of such efforts. But few, except those fueling the rumors, say they expect such a review will change the outcome of the election.
After all, as Pinner said, those in conservative rural areas knew what the results would be. "The South wasn't going to go for someone as liberal as Kerry," he said. "He was just way too far out there."
Palm Beach Post wire services contributed to this story.