CBSNews.com chief political writer
Congressional Democrats have given a degree of legitimacy to Internet bloggers who insist the 2004 election was stolen. Reps. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and John Conyers, D-Mich., along with four other representatives now, requested an investigation by the Government Accounting Office, in a letter dated Nov. 5.
The first request was followed with a second letter on Monday, "urgently" calling for an "investigation of the efficacy of voting machines and new technologies used in the 2004 election."
"The point of this letter is not to say the election wasn't fairly won, the point is to say there are valid questions and they ought to be validly investigated," Nadler emphasized in an interview. "But I demand a thorough investigation. We ought to look into this."
What Nadler and other Democrats question is not that Mr. Bush won (some leftist bloggers online do just that). "Given the margin," Nadler said, there was "no evidence" to think Kerry should not have conceded.
"But we see some counties in Florida with very large Democratic enrollment, as high as 70 percent, but Republicans won," Nadler continued. "Maybe they've been voting Republicans for 20 years or maybe there was fraud or an error with the machines."
Nadler acknowledges that this could be the affect of so-called Reagan Democrats, those who have been voting Republican on national tickets since the 1980s but remained registered Democrats. In general, this is considered a phenomenon of the waning Southern Democratic rural White vote.
Most of the concern surrounds key battleground states Ohio and Florida. Not helping the matter, it surfaced last week that an electronic voting machine at a Columbus precinct added 3,893 votes to President Bush's tally. But with Mr. Bush's victory far larger, by 136,483 votes in Ohio, mainstream Democrats have not cried foul.
"There's no question in my mind that the Republicans, who controlled the apparatus in that state by and large, did everything possible to make it tough for Democrats to vote," said Paul Maslin, a Democratic pollster and strategist who worked for Howard Dean during the Democratic primary. "But Republicans won. If that margin was much closer, that'd be different.
"As a party we've got to acknowledge that Bush produced more votes than we did," Maslin added.
Online, some liberals argue the margin of victory in Ohio was "much closer." The Web site TomPaine.com posted an article Nov. 4 arguing that "Kerry would have won" Ohio because of the 93,000 punch-card ballots that were discarded. The article argued that this "spoilage" plus the 155,000 provisional ballots would have exceeded Mr. Bush's margin of victory.
What keeps Democrats from raising their murmur to a scream is the online theories have holes, from their point of view.
The first problem: there is an assumption that all those Ohio ballots are valid. Second problem: of those rightly counted, the assumption is they would have gone overwhelmingly for Kerry.
Spoilage has disproportionately occurred in the past in heavily minority and urban districts, which vote largely Democratic. This was the case in Florida four years ago. Back then, it was a combination of non-familiarity with the voting process and lower quality machines in urban districts.
But unlike Florida in 2000, Ohio intends to count every provisional ballot. If a recount was called for, the spoiled or discarded ballots would have been reexamined.
"Had the margin of victory been half as big in Ohio, I'm not sure we would not know who is president now," said Doug Chapin, Executive Director of Electionline.org, a non-partisan voting reform organization. "I've yet to see any evidence that the outcome of the election would have been changed."
But Chapin's group is checking into it. Electionline will release a report in early December.
Other theories among liberal bloggers surround the fact that the television networks' exit polls gave Kerry an edge, while the final returns showed otherwise. "The exit polls are accurate," asserts TomPaine.com.
An early report by the CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project found a 1.3 percent discrepancy between the exit polling and the actual vote tally. The project called the margin "significantly different" in a "statistical sense."
In recent elections, there has been a general trend where exit polls on Election Day favor Democrats. This year's discrepancy was slightly larger than normal but not in a consequential sense, research so far indicates.
"My concern is that there are enough problems that did occur on Election Day that there is going to have to be some action taken in the new Congress," said Chapin. "These theories could discount valid problems."
For the congressmen requesting an investigation, their concern surrounds anecdotal complaints of voter intimidation and fraud. Rep. Conyers' office has begun compiling complaints, hoping to have a comprehensive measure of what voter malfeasance occurred on Election Day 2004.
"Conspiracy theories are one thing. People calling in with valid complaints are another," Conyers said in an interview. "There are hundreds and hundreds of complaints. Many are just reported by the press.
"That's why the General Accounting Office is being called in," he continued. "We are trying to make the voting process as effective as we can. People don't like to vote, if they get hassled."