Something went seriously wrong in Ohio on Election Day.
On Nov. 13 and 15, hearings conducted by the Ohio Election Protection Coalition in Columbus featured oral and written testimony from a number of voters, poll workers, precinct judges and legal observers.
The testimony confirmed numerous complaints tracked by election-watchdog organizations and investigative journalists since Nov. 2. Those who testified told stories of the obstruction and disqualification of legitimate voters, malfunctioning computer voting machines, and prohibitively long lines for too few machines.
A pattern emerged: The complaints came disproportionately from blacks, young people and precincts where Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry had strong support.
As the Green Party presidential candidate, I have a statutory right to demand a recount of the presidential vote in Ohio. On Nov. 11, I announced my intention to invoke that right, joined by Libertarian candidate Michael Badnarik. We were compelled to demand a recount by widespread reports of irregularities, to ensure that the final tally is accurate and to restore faith in the electoral process.
The grass-roots support from individuals and citizens' organizations for an Ohio recount has been overwhelming. Within four days following the Nov. 11 announcement, thousands of people in Ohio and across America responded by contributing the $113,600 required for the recount.
Neither Badnarik nor I has a partisan interest in seeing either Kerry or George W. Bush in the White House. But we do have an interest -- and a responsibility, as candidates and American citizens -- in ensuring the fairness of elections and integrity of vote counts.
Greens are already keenly aware of how our democracy has been manipulated and compromised -- how Democratic and Republican politicians have passed prohibitive ballot-access laws in many states to obstruct independent and third-party candidates, and how the two established parties took control of the presidential debates away from the League of Women Voters to exclude all other candidates.
Greens are especially concerned about the corruption of the political process by the influence of corporate campaign contributions and lobbyists. The Green Party does not accept corporate contributions.
Badnarick and I are also asking Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell to recuse himself from any involvement in the recount. Blackwell supervised the presidential vote at the same time that he served as cochairperson of the Bush campaign in Ohio.
This is an unfortunate reprise of the 2000 fiasco in Florida, when Secretary of State Katherine Harris was also the chairwoman of the Bush campaign and the person responsible for counting the presidential vote. Votes should be counted by an independent election commission, not by overtly partisan politicians.
Like many Americans, I was, to say the least, disappointed that Kerry conceded the election so quickly on Nov. 3, despite his promise that all votes be counted. My disappointment stemmed not from a desire to see Kerry elected, but a desire to see that everyone who cast a ballot would have their vote counted.
For many Democratic Party leaders, on the other hand, the lesson of the 2000 Florida scandal seems to be that controversy must be avoided, even if votes go uncounted or serious allegations don't get investigated.
For those of us in the Green Party, however, the lesson of 2000 is that the fight for voting rights didn't end with the reforms of the civil rights movement. It goes on today, in Ohio and elsewhere.
Regardless of whether a recount changes the outcome of the election, we must protect the right to vote and the right for all votes to be counted. Either every vote is sacred, or democracy is a sham.
David Cobb was the Green Party's presidential candidate in 2004.
© 2004 Star Tribune