Waiting for Ohio

WAITING FOR OHIO….Matt Taibbi has gotten a lot of attention in the left blogosphere for saying in a recent New York Press story that after starting out as a skeptic, he’s suddenly become a believer that there was funny business in Ohio that cost John Kerry the presidency last year. His Road to Damascus moment came after he was invited to a panel discussion and then learned that the topic was “What went wrong in Ohio? A Harper’s Magazine Forum on Voting Irregularities in the 2004 Election”:

Oh, Christ, not that, I thought….Almost on principle I had refused even to look at any of the news stories surrounding the Ohio vote; there is a part of me that did not want to be associated with any sore-loser hysteria of the political margins, and in particular with this story, the great conspiratorial Snuffleupagus of the defeated left.

….Well, I don’t think that way anymore. After attending this panel, and speaking to the congressmen involved in the preparation of the Conyers report (in particular Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a former Ohio secretary of state) I’m convinced that Ohio was a far more brazen and frightening subversion of democracy than Florida.

Here’s the thing about Ohio. Until you really look at it, you won’t understand its significance, which is this: the techniques used in this particular theft have the capacity to alter elections not by dozens or hundreds or even thousands of votes, but by tens of thousands.

I haven’t blogged about this because Taibbi’s article was only a teaser. He promises to lay out his actual case next week, and since I studied Ohio fairly closely last year and remained a skeptic even so, I didn’t see much point in mentioning Taibbi’s article until I saw Part 2.

For what it’s worth, though, I thought I’d take the chance to mention that the best case I’ve seen so far in favor of foul play in Ohio came from Christopher Hitchens. Writing in Vanity Fair, he suggested that it wasn’t the sheer number of irregularities that mattered so much as the fact that they all pointed in the same direction:

Machines are fallible and so are humans, and shit happens, to be sure, and no doubt many Ohio voters were able to record their choices promptly and without grotesque anomalies. But what strikes my eye is this: in practically every case where lines were too long or machines too few the foul-up was in a Democratic county or precinct, and in practically every case where machines produced impossible or improbable outcomes it was the challenger who suffered and the actual or potential Democratic voters who were shortchanged, discouraged, or held up to ridicule as chronic undervoters or as sudden converts to fringe-party losers.

Hitchens is asking, What are the odds? ? and it’s a good question. As it happens, though, it’s hard to say, because it’s also possible that there were screwups that hurt Bush but no one had much incentive to dig them up and publicize them. The Kerry folks sure weren’t likely to do it, and since they won, the Bush folks probably had better things to do with their time too.

Still, Hitchens is right: the coincidence is striking. I’ve never been much convinced that the discrepancy between the exit poll results and the actual vote tallies proves there was funny business in the vote tallying, since the exit polls were screwed up across the country, not just in Ohio, and are more plausibly explained by other factors anyway (see here, here, and here). Still, it’s all a bit strange, you have to admit.

Anyway, this is all by way of saying that I’m still a skeptic, but I’m curious to see what Taibbi has to say next week. Perhaps Harper’s can put this back on the front burner.

UPDATE: Sorry, false alarm. Taibbi’s followup is already out, and it’s distinctly underwhelming. More here.