Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Kerry lawyer: does the re-election warrant the public trust?
Kerry lawyer: does the re-election warrant the public trust?
-Keith Olbermann

NEW YORK— I spent the weekend holding the latest statement from John Kerry’s Ohio attorney up to the light, to see if I could read the secret treasure map written in invisible ink on the other side.

In signing on to the Glibs’ court bid to preserve all the evidence of what has been a severely compromised recount, Daniel Hoffheimer told us at Countdown: “Only then can the integrity of the entire electoral process and the election of Bush-Cheney warrant the public trust.”

Surely, I’m not going out on a limb here to infer that at the moment, Mr. Hoffheimer and the Kerry-Edwards campaign don’t think the entire electoral process and the election of President Bush warrant the public trust.

I mean, the infamous “regardless of the outcome of the election,” phrase in Kerry’s only post-concession comment on the mangled vote was so subtle in both temporality and meaning that it could have been inserted in a statement dealing with any eventuality ranging from a clearly determined vote that was in the past, to a still undecided result.

But not Hoffheimer’s. Them’s (to borrow the language of the noted political pundit Yosemite Sam) fightin’ words. Fightin’ words issued last Thursday evening, as America got out of town for a holiday weekend. Fightin’ words that came just eight working days before the Electoral College votes are opened before Congress, and Maxine Waters or John Conyers or anybody else in the House can crawl all the way out on the limb of formal challenge, and it won’t matter a jot if there isn’t one Senator to crawl out there with them.

It’s unfathomable that Kerry would sign the requisite written challenge. Given his incredibly nuanced response to the entire voting irregularities story, and his evident aspiration to become the Adlai Stevenson or even William Jennings Bryan of the 21st Century, becoming the Senate sponsor of the challenge would seem about as likely and about as consistent as a motorist doing 20 in the right hand lane, suddenly accelerating to 110 and doing the full Bill Murray Groundhog Day bit into the quarry.

Kerry’s signature might not even be sought. There has been “very serious” contact among the staffs of leading Democrats in both houses about the implications of the challenge, according to a congressional figure privy to that contact. He estimates for us that the chance of a Senator actually signing on has — in the last week — risen from almost nothing, to upwards of one third.

And there is still that coda from Hoffheimer’s statement. By itself, it is the thrown gauntlet, and yet it is produced at a time when gauntlets are pretty much symbolic protests. Unless, perhaps, that is the strategy here. The Ohio election was undeniably full of holes, but barring developments unforeseen, the collective verified hole is not likely to be big enough to drive a truck carrying 10,000 uncounted votes through it.

However, the recount has been butchered, badly enough that even an editorial in Sunday’s Toledo Blade noted “the miserable performance of much of the American electoral system.” The Green Party says that 86 of the 88 counties violated Ohio voting law and pre-selected what were to be randomly chosen precincts for hand recounts. It claims that only one county (Coshocton) ran a full hand recount of all of its votes, and, oopsie, its certified total number of votes rose from 16,000 on election night, to 17,000 after the recount (evenly split, we might add, between Bush and Kerry, but indicating 6% of all votes disappeared). The official recount in Fairfield County found added 1,130 votes to the first count of 66,378. Representative Conyers last week wrote again to Triad Systems asking them to refute charges that they had “remote access” to their voting equipment in Fulton and Henry Counties (read as: they could change computer stuff over the internet). In the kindest of all possible lights, a Triad employee tried to save the elections officials of Hocking County the ‘trouble’ of a full hand recount at Christmas time by helping them find a precinct whose second tally would match the first one.

Is the political premise here to redirect attention from the hazy confusion of election day voter suppression or unexplained lockdowns or troubled equipment, to the simpler-to-digest black-and-white issues of the recount? “Law says A. You did Z.” The full Hoffheimer statement includes this: “Senators Kerry and Edwards… want to be sure that all circumstances involved in the Ohio election, including the recount, should be put before the Court and disclosed to the American people.” For the record, Hoffheimer’s full statement to Countdown is included at the bottom of this entry.

Excepting the possibility that the Greens/Libertarians/Kerry-Edwards suit will be immediately dismissed, this court action in Ohio is not going to be processed quickly enough to affect the inauguration. It could, instead, become a kind of institutionalized protest, the exact kind of lingering, evolving post-post game show that Al Gore swore the Democrats off of in 2000. It could become, in effect, the slow-moving symbol of the final line Hoffheimer’s statement, questioning public trust in “the entire electoral process and the election of Bush-Cheney…”

Voters and politicians will have to determine if that is an appropriate playing field for political discourse for the next two or four years.

Speaking of discourse, I’ve received a handful of e-mails since I mentioned in passing in last Tuesday’s post, the claims of a Florida computer software worker that he was asked to write a ‘vote-switching program’ in 2000. There have been several points raised that can, I think, be pretty easily cleared up here:

* Several e-mails noted that the programmer, Clint Curtis, testified before the Conyers Voting Forum in Columbus, Ohio, earlier this month. Well, yes and no. He did tell his story there, but it’s instructive to note that he was not asked to do so until after Representative Conyers left the forum, and had turned the chairing of the meeting over to a local politician. This wasn’t a case of Conyers rushing to catch a bus, nor a problem with too many witnesses, nor a coincidence.
* For weeks, say sources at various levels of the formal investigations into the voting irregularities, Mr. Curtis has promised them corroboration of his accusations — even if it was just the statement of someone to whom he said, in 2000, ‘hey, this guy just asked me to write a vote-switching program.’ These sources say they’ve received no such corroboration, and certainly none has been presented publicly.
* One e-mailer complained that the denial by the politician accused by Mr. Curtis of soliciting the program seemed pretty tepid, and confined itself largely to his comment “I don’t remember meeting Mr. Curtis.” Well, the ambiguity of the denial is partially my fault. Much of the remarks were boilerplate and repetitive, but I did leave out a fairly salient one, in which he said these were: “some of the most ridiculous, fictional charges you could ever imagine.” I wouldn’t classify that as a ‘non-denial denial.’
* Two readers asked why we didn’t simply put Mr. Curtis on 'Countdown' or otherwise interview him. Unfortunately, there is a question of the size of the platform here. If the details of his charges can be found on an innocuous website with limited readership, it doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things if the possibility that they are partially or totally untrue, turns out to be the correct one. But if that’s the case — if this is actually the story of a guy out to hurt a politician — and we put him on national television, I will have effectively recreated the Swift Boat Veterans fiasco. Under those circumstances, especially in the absence of corroboration, the truth becomes secondary, and the damage is the only verifiable thing.
* Lastly (and, for my money, most entertainingly): I noted that an attorney for Curtis’s former employers, for whom he was working when he claims to have been asked to develop the nefarious program, described him to MSNBC as a ‘disgruntled former employee.’ However, an e-mailer writes, at the time of his departure from the firm, the company gave him a going-away card. I had to smile at this evidence. When I left ESPN in 1997, the company gave me a tape of my oddest moments on the air, a huge farewell banner, and a going-away party that lasted until sunrise and was so joyous that the authorities were summoned. Still, I have to be the first one to say it: if anybody has the right to call me a ‘disgruntled former employee,’ it’s ESPN.

As promised, the full text of the statement to Countdown from the evening of December 23 of Daniel J. Hoffheimer, State Legal Counsel, Ohio, Kerry-Edwards 2004, Inc., (and, yes, he’s referring to himself in the third person here):

“Daniel Hoffheimer, State Legal Counsel for the Kerry-Edwards campaign, told MSNBC today that Kerry-Edwards will support the third-party candidates in asking the Federal Court in the Ohio recount lawsuit to order the preservation of the evidence obtained during the recount and to expedite discovery of the facts. Hoffheimer said that various problems and errors have occurred in a number of Ohio's 88 county boards of elections during the recount, which will conclude next week. Hoffheimer acknowledged that the most publicized of these problems was the machine manipulation in Hocking County but said that the developing evidence will reveal other problems as well. He said that Senators Kerry and Edwards are very concerned that the law for conducting the recount should be uniformly followed. They want to be sure that all circumstances involved in the Ohio election, including the recount, should be put before the Court and disclosed to the American people. Only then, Hoffheimer said, can the integrity of the entire electoral process and the election of Bush-Cheney warrant the public trust."

Originally published Dec 27, 2004