Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Letter to Blackwell

From Keith Olberman

NEW YORK - It’s not exactly Zola’s “J’Accuse.” In fact it seems to have been written entirely in Congressionalese.

But anybody seeking the proverbial laundry list of all the complaints, questions, and oddities of Election Night in Ohio is referred to the fifteen-page letter sent Thursday to Ohio’s Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, over the signatures of twelve of the fifteen Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee.

The document is so calm as to almost neuter the implications of the 34 specific questions John Conyers and his associates pose. It was not composed by a political firebrand. It does not invoke the Cuyahoga County “super voting” precinct numbers, since explained as amateurish accounting rather than political perfidy. Curiously, it does echo John Kerry’s ambiguous on-line statement. “We are sure you agree with us that regardless of the outcome of the election…”

More importantly, it starts where our own investigations of Ohio began, with the lockdown in Warren County as the votes were tallied there. The Judiciary members ask three questions that, in importance, actually transcend the election itself. They want to know if Blackwell has investigated the barring of reporters during the vote count, if Blackwell has identified the FBI agent who allegedly (and despite FBI denials) warned the county of a terrorist threat, and, most pointedly: “If County officials were not advised of terrorist activity by an FBI agent, have you inquired as to why they misrepresented this fact? If the lockdown was not as a response to a terrorist threat, why did it take place? Did any manipulation of vote tallies occur?”

Blackwell needs to answer these questions. He needs to answer them even if his answers aren’t very convincing. Twelve Congressmen from the losing side of a presidential election do not a Warren Commission make (forgive the coincidental historical analogy). The likelihood they’ll even get anything going inside the Judiciary Committee is negligible.

But posterity is a stern taskmaster. At the time, the election disaster of 1876 was wrapped up nicely, with Rutherford Hayes taking the oath early in 1877, and Samuel Tilden slipping into the backwaters of history. But ask any American of any political stripe about 1876, and if they paid attention in one Social Studies class in High School, they’re likely to tell you that was the year the presidency was stolen. A comprehensive study of the machinations that permitted the seating of a man who won neither the popular nor the electoral vote - and the awful consequences for the South of the resulting enabling compromise - was published as recently as last year (Roy Morris’s Fraud Of The Century).

It is neither wild speculation nor partisan sour grapes to suggest that unless Blackwell promptly answers the 34 questions raised in the Democrats’ letter, the 2004 election will meet a similar historical fate. With the exponential growth in the rapidity of research, the issue, unless settled now by thorough and transparent investigation, could trickle gradually into the collective public consciousness - and far sooner than did the Hayes/Tilden fiasco. It should be assumed that even if the day-to-day chroniclers of such things in the media find Ohio’s vote too complicated, or too unlikely to alter the outcome, investigators and historians will populate the bookshelves of the nation with scathing analyses, even dismissals, of the 2004 vote - probably even before the nation again goes to the polls.

Logic must suggest to the more sober of the Republicans that this needs to be addressed now. A party trumpeting the already-exaggerated claims that its vote majority owes largely to the “Moral Values” issues has got to be aware of the potential for long-term damage that continuing a stonewall answer to those 34 questions (and others) can wreak. I only have to look away from this screen for a second, to my small collection of political campaign buttons, to underscore the wisdom of this warning. One of mine reads “The ‘I’ in Nixon stands for integrity.”

originally published December 5, 2004