Irregularities in Ohio

The Buckeye state remains a reminder of this year’s flawed presidential election

While Harvard students mull over the split ticket outcome of the recent Undergraduate Council presidential elections, Ohio residents are still technically waiting for the results of another election—their Electoral College delegation for last month’s presidential race. Six weeks and one major Eastern European voting scandal later, what happened on November 2 in the Buckeye State remains unclear. Though Bush’s victory is not realistically under scrutiny, Ohio voters deserve a quicker and more thorough examination of the election results than they will receive.

Considered to be one of the most crucial swing states, the spotlight disappeared from Ohio quickly after news outlets called the state’s 20 electoral votes for President Bush. But both before and after the election, multiple Ohio newspapers reported on a string of voting irregularities, including serious concerns about how thousands of votes were counted. Many of these worries stem from the balloting machinery in Ohio: while only about 12 percent of the nation votes by punch card, the infamous ballot system that muddled the 2000 presidential election in Florida, about three-quarters of Ohio residents do. And of the 88 counties in the state, only one switched from punch cards to a new system after the last election.

That lack of change comes in spite of evidence that not all votes were counted four years ago. A report by the Columbus Dispatch found that of ballots cast in a typical Ohio precinct during the 2000 presidential election, only a sliver—less than two percent—did not have a vote for president recorded on them. But in poorer areas like Ohio’s Appalachia region, presidential votes are much less likely to be recorded; and in predominantly black precincts, presidential votes went uncounted at nearly three times that rate. No one knows why, or seems even vaguely interested in finding an answer.

And in the 2004 election, the irregularities continued, with several reports of tabulation glitches producing phantom votes for the presidential candidates. The original count finds a gap of two percent separating Bush and Kerry in Ohio—not terribly close, and certainly not narrow enough to trigger an automatic recount under state law. Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, the overseer of the Ohio elections and a Republican who ardently supported Bush’s re-election campaign, has been adamant in his stance that the elections in Ohio were fair, and that a recount would be a waste of state tax money. But Blackwell opined that a recount would cost just $1.5 million—not that much in the grander scheme of government spending, and a small price to pay to insure citizens’ faith in the election process.

Much to Blackwell’s chagrin, a federal judge did order a recount in Ohio. The court declined, however, to speed up the timetable of the recount or delay the Electoral College convention. As a result, Ohio’s electoral delegation met in Columbus last Monday—before the recount is completed and regardless of whatever irregularities are uncovered—to certify Bush as the winner. But until the state government takes a serious interest in why votes are going missing, the losers of this election are the voters.

Matt Loy ’07 is an English and American Literature and Language concentrator living in Eliot House.