It has been a month now and we still don't have a clear count of the votes for our own presidential race from the state of Ohio.
For those who may have forgotten, Ohio supposedly assured George W. Bush a second term in the White House - only the most important job on the planet.
The morning after the election, we were told Bush was ahead of John Kerry in that state's unofficial count by 139,000 votes, or 2.5%.
At the time there were 155,000 uncounted provisional ballots and an unknown number of overseas ballots, but Kerry concluded they would not produce enough of a margin to erase his deficit, so he promptly conceded.
At the same time, given the bitter Democratic memories of the 2000 Florida fiasco, he assured his supporters he would fight to have every vote properly counted this time.
Within a few days, other problems began to show up in Ohio's preliminary tally.
We learned, for example, that an additional 93,000 voters had gone to the polls yet machines had registered no preference of theirs for President. Only a manual recount can tell us for sure what happened to those 93,000 ballots.
Then, red-faced election officials in Franklin County admitted a computer error on Election Night had tallied 4,258 votes for Bush in a precinct where only 638 people voted. That correction alone will drop Bush's margin by 3,620.
And now Daily News reporter Larry Cohler-Esses and I have uncovered some more unusual vote totals, this time in black neighborhoods of Cleveland. Those results are from the precinct-by-precinct tallies released by the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, where Cleveland is located.
In the 4th Ward on Cleveland's East Side, for example, two fringe presidential candidates did surprisingly well.
In precinct 4F, located at Benedictine High School on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Kerry received 290 votes, Bush 21 and Michael Peroutka, candidate of the ultra-conservative anti-immigrant Constitutional Party, an amazing 215 votes!
That many black votes for Peroutka is about as likely as all those Jewish votes for Buchanan in Florida's Palm Beach County in 2000.
In precinct 4N, also at Benedictine High School, the tally was Kerry 318, Bush 21, and Libertarian Party candidate Michael Badnarik 163.
Back in 2000, the combined third-party votes in those two precincts - including the Nader vote - was 8. Cuyahoga, like most of Ohio's 88 counties, uses punch-card balloting.
"That's terrible, I can't believe it," said City Councilman Kenneth Johnson, who has represented the 4th Ward since 1980. "It's obviously a malfunction with the machines."
But Peroutka and Badnarik polled unusually well in a few other black precincts. In the 8th Ward's G precinct at Cory United Methodist Church, for instance, Badnarik tallied 51 votes - nearly three times better than Bush's 19. And in I precinct at the same church, Peroutka was the choice on 27 ballots, three times more than Bush's 8. In 2000, independent candidates received 9 votes from both precincts.
The same pattern showed up in 10 Cleveland precincts in which Badnarik and Peroutka received nearly 700 votes between them.
In virtually all those precincts, Kerry's vote was lower than Al Gore's in 2000, even though there was a record turnout in the black community this time, and even though blacks voted overwhelmingly for Kerry.
If this same pattern held true in other cities around Ohio, then quite possibly thousands of votes meant for Kerry somehow ended up in the tallies of the two independent candidates. So far, however, precinct-by-precinct results have not been posted by boards of elections in other counties, but by Thursday all official results are due.
On Monday, Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell will certify Ohio's results and then a manual recount will be requested by the Green and Libertarian parties.
The Badnarik and Peroutka surge was not the only unusual occurrence in Cleveland.
Also unusual was the drop in the Democratic vote in scores of precincts compared to 2000. But more on that next time.
Juan Gonzalez is a reporter for the New York Daily News and co-host of Democracy Now!.
© 2004 New York Daily News