Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Hanging Chads and Hanging Participles


Hanging Chads and Hanging Participles

Keith Olbermann

NEW YORK - You don’t have to wait for the Ohio Presidential Recount to
get confused. Just pay attention to the recasting of news releases from
the Ohio Democratic Party.

Early Monday afternoon, Ohio Chairman Dennis White released a
comparative bombshell inside the still tiny world of the
Recount-Conscious. It bore the headline “Kerry/Edwards Campaign Joins
Ohio Recount” and advised that “assuring Ohioans receive an accurate
count of all votes cast for president has prompted the Democratic Party
to join the initiative to recount the results of the November 2
presidential election.”

But by 8 PM Eastern, a second press release was out, with two notable
tweaks. Now the headline read “Kerry/Edwards Campaign Participates In
Ohio Recount,” and the lead sentence read “…has prompted the Democratic
Party to participate in the initiative to recount the results…”

The switch from “join” to “participate” reduces the Democratic
commitment from virtual co-sponsorship to nearly the level of
acquiescence. In late afternoon, Ohio Dems’ spokesmen Dan Trevas told
us that the remains of the national Kerry/Edwards campaign had approved
the original press release and “gave us the authority to proceed with
this. Tomorrow we expect to have a letter from them to Kenneth
Blackwell” which would ask Ohio’s Secretary of State to proceed with a

But the lead Kerry lawyer on the ground in Ohio, Daniel Hoffheimer, was
more cautionary. “What they meant to say is that the Kerry/Edwards
campaign will be putting witnesses in the Boards of Elections if a
recount is asked for… We are not requesting a recount.”

At this point, the words are being that carefully chosen and,
evidently, debated. So don’t think when John Kerry said in his
web-exclusive statement and video Friday that “Regardless of the
outcome of this election, once all the votes are counted…” he wasn’t
being deliberately vague. Similarly nuanced were the words of the Ohio
Democratic chair, Mr. White: “As Senator Kerry stated in his concession
speech in Boston, we do not necessarily expect the results of the
election to change…”

Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent of Newsweek and since the
days of our old The Big Show an MSNBC analyst, summed up the exact
inexactitude of Kerry and the Democrats about Ohio, on the Monday
Countdown. “They keep saying these little things designed to make
clear, at least to their supporters and the whole blogosphere out
there, that they take the possibility (of a Kerry victory) and the need
for a recount seriously.”

Fineman put it in terms that the mainstream can’t ignore. He told me
he’d talked to Ohio’s Mr. Blackwell earlier in the evening. “There in
fact will be a recount,” Howard said with a sigh that encapsulated all
of the Florida 2000 Experience. “We will be talking about chads once

As Kerry himself calculated early on November 3rd, the Provisional
Ballots alone obviously could not provide anything close to enough bona
fide Democratic votes to overcome President Bush’s 135,000 vote
plurality in the Ohio election night tally. But as Howard also pointed
out - and my colleague David Shuster so thoroughly extrapolated in a
previous post on Hardblogger - the Provisionals plus the “Undercount”
could make things very close indeed. The punch-card ballots “where it
looks like nobody marked anything” when read by an optical scanning
machine, might produce thousands of legitimate votes if hand-counted
and judged by Ohio’s strict laws defining how many corners of the
proverbial chads have to be detached to make a vote valid.

In Ohio, the reality of the recount is beginning to sink in, and local
governments aren’t happy about it. The Associated Press ran a story
Monday afternoon in which its reporter quoted the incoming president of
the Ohio Association of Election Officials, Keith Cunningham. “The
inference is that Ohio election officials will not count every vote,”
said the man who is currently head of the Board of Elections in Allen
County (that’s the Lima area, northwest of Columbus). “That’s just
insulting; it’s frivolous and simply harassment.”

Advised of the recount push by the Green and Libertarian Parties, and
their plan to sue to force a second tally even before Secretary of
State Blackwell is scheduled to certify the first count, Cunningham
said his statewide group might sue back to prevent a recount. “I need
to see if this is merely my opinion or reflects the opinion of the

The issue may boil down to money. The Glibs had raised $235,000 as of
Monday morning, an amount which covers the $113,600 bond they had to
provide as demanded by Ohio election law, plus some of their own
organizational expenses. But Cunningham said the actual expenses would
“crush county governments,” and a spokesman for Blackwell said the
final cost could be $1.5 million.

So there it is. There will be a recount in Ohio. Unless there won’t be.
And the Kerry campaign staff will participate in it. Unless that’s too
strong a word for them.

Keep those email coming at KOlbermann@msnbc.com