I called Sen. Olympia Snowe's Washington, D.C., office recently, as I frequently do when I'm concerned about something political. We disagree on many matters, but I assumed that the importance of a fair voting system in this country would not be one of them. I have recently attended speeches by both of our senators in which they have stressed their defense of the democratic process and the importance of bipartisanship to achieve legislative progress. So, I was more than taken aback by my reception.
My call was prompted by reading an article by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., titled "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?" (Rolling Stone, June 1, and available on commondreams.org and truthout.org) It has been conceded by papers like The New York Times and The Washington Post that the 2000 election was a miscarriage of justice.
Al Gore won in Florida. And there has been much speculation about voting irregularities in 2004 presidential election, especially in Ohio. So here we have this exhaustive article that documents (with many footnotes) intimidation, fraud, tampering, registration shredding and numerous other kinds of voter manipulation - so much so that Kennedy says:
After carefully examining the evidence, I've become convinced that the president's party mounted a massive, coordinated campaign to subvert the will of the people in 2004. Across the country, Republican election officials and party stalwarts employed a wide range of illegal and unethical tactics to fix the election. A review of the available data reveals that in Ohio alone, at least 357,000 voters, the overwhelming majority of them Democratic, were prevented from casting ballots or did not have their votes counted in 2004 - more than enough to shift the results of an election decided by 118,601 votes.
Kennedy goes into great detail about the variety of mechanisms by which the vote was subverted and quotes from many people, experts and regular voters, angry and baffled by what happened in Ohio. One man, Steven F. Freeman, a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, who describes himself as a person who despises Democrats, and who is a survey expert, was very puzzled by the results.
In regard to the votes in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania going for Bush after the extremely reliable exit polls had predicted large wins for Kerry, Freeman said that the chances of that happening were one in 660,000.
"As much as we can say in sound science that something is impossible," Freeman said, "it is impossible that the discrepancies between predicted and actual vote count in the three battleground states of the 2004 election could have been due to chance or random error."
So, I called Snowe's office. I told the staff member who answered that I was calling because I was very upset having just read Kennedy's article and I wanted Sen. Snowe to look into the matter, read the article, call for an investigation. I'm sorry to not be able to quote his answer precisely, but the gist of what he said was, "the article was written by a Kennedy. We wouldn't pay any credence to that."
I thought he must be kidding. I said, "I'm not talking about political spin, I'm talking about documented evidence. This Kennedy is not in office. His specialty is environmental law. This is about a threat to our democracy. Not about partisanship."
He repeated that they would not be interested in anything a Kennedy had to say.
My blood pressure rose. "Are you telling me that if an important message is delivered by a person with the wrong name," I asked, "you won't pay it any heed?"
He stuck to his line.
I mentioned that I had attended, just a few days before, a speech by his senator in which she complimented herself for her bipartisanship and accented it as the only way to get the people's business done. Then, I told him that he should be ashamed of himself for working in a senator's office and having so little regard for the just functioning of democracy. End of conversation.
A few minutes later I called back and asked for his name because, I told him, I wanted to write about this exchange. But, now, I have little interest in embarrassing him.
Read Kennedy's article. If you are as concerned as I about the integrity of our voting system, respond with letters and calls to Sens. Snowe and Susan Collins. They may have little respect for one messenger's warning about a flawed democracy, but if many messengers call with the same warning, that's a democracy they have to listen to. Unless they know something about the voting system in Maine that I don't.
The author lives in Brooksville and is the painter of the series "Americans Who Tell the Truth: Portraits by Robert Shetterly."
© 2006 Bangor Daily News