If you care about the legitimacy of our democracy, read this article. (Updated. Twice.)

Finally, a somewhat mainstream media source has covered the 2004 election debacle. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., writing in Rolling Stone, presents an extensive catalogue of evidence detailing the systemic unethical and illegal behavior of Republican operatives in Ohio, with the aim of subverting the will of the people. It's a lengthy article, but well worth the read.

Reading through charge after charge of irregularities, I was overcome by the pure chaos of the way in which our votes were counted. The only regularity behind it all seemed to be the GOP's indomitable will to steal the election for Bush.

This is from the conclusion:

The issue of what happened in 2004 is not an academic one. For the second election in a row, the president of the United States was selected not by the uncontested will of the people but under a cloud of dirty tricks. Given the scope of the GOP machinations, we simply cannot be certain that the right man now occupies the Oval Office -- which means, in effect, that we have been deprived of our faith in democracy itself.

American history is littered with vote fraud -- but rather than learning from our shameful past and cleaning up the system, we have allowed the problem to grow even worse. If the last two elections have taught us anything, it is this: The single greatest threat to our democracy is the insecurity of our voting system. If people lose faith that their votes are accurately and faithfully recorded, they will abandon the ballot box. Nothing less is at stake here than the entire idea of a government by the people.

Voting, as Thomas Paine said, "is the right upon which all other rights depend." Unless we ensure that right, everything else we hold dear is in jeopardy.

The fact that so much of this fraud occurred under the cover of efforts to reduce election fraud is utterly perverse, beyond Orwellian. This is why we need massive election reform now. We need paper trails, safer voting software, easier access to provisional and absentee ballots, nonpartisan or bipartisan election boards, and an overall streamlining of the electoral process.

Above all, we need to strike a better balance in our regulation of fraud. Ensuring that voters are who they claim to be is important, to be sure. But what has utterly--and intentionally--been neglected in these purported "anti-fraud" efforts is making the voting process as painless as possible for citizens. It shouldn't take an Herculean effort to be able to vote for Kerry in Ohio.

It's sad to say, but we should not be surprised if the Republicans somehow maintain their congressional majority this November. If it happens in 2006, it will happen again in 2008, and in 2010, and in 2012...

As progressives, if we care about instituting universal healthcare, fueling alternative energy research, providing everyone with a living wage, ensuring equal rights for all people--or whatever we are fighting for--all of our struggle is for naught, if our votes are not counted. We cannot stand idly by and let this gross injustice continue.

This country is (nominally) a democracy. Regardless of how they vote, everyone should have their vote counted. This is not a partisan issue--unless the two sides are pro- and anti-democracy.

ADDENDUM: After looking at other bloggers' coverage of this article and reviewing some naysayers' attempts at refuting exit poll discrepancies and so forth, I am honestly at a loss to know whether or not the election was stolen. Frankly, since I am not an expert, I don't know whom to trust.

What we do know, however, is that there was a lot of fraud--we just don't know if it was sufficiently in one direction to have affected the outcome (this is more or less what Kerry says in RFKJr's article).

Part of my enthusiasm in embracing election theft narratives, I'll admit, comes from a reluctance in believing that Americans could actually have seen fit to ask for 4 more years of Bush. I'm sure he'd lose if he had to run again today, but there are still millions of people who support him.

And it's not fair to categorize them exclusively as ignorant, misguided, or duped. A good many probably were, but others had what they took to be good reasons for voting as they did.

Regardless of what happened in '04, or '00 for that matter, our election system is a mess and badly in need of safeguards and streamlining. Consistent standards in federal elections would be a step in the right direction for democracy. If we could also get corporate and private money out of politics, that'd be even better.

ADDENDUM II: For a nice summary of problems with RFKJr's article, check out this piece from Salon.com.

As I read more about this, it seems increasingly less probable that voter disenfranchisement was systematically biased and maliciously motivated, as Kennedy and others claim. For the first time, I've encountered explanations that I find plausible to account for various discrepancies.

Somewhat surprisingly, I'm actually left quite optimistic. If this is the case, then 2006 may not turn into a stolen election. We may just get our accountability yet.

It's kinda funny. After being disappointed and disgusted by Bush and his ilk repeatedly and for so long, I was willing to believe any bad thing I'd heard about him or them. This is not to say that this episode has increased my trust in the system or in Republicans. Rather, I feel like I need to be more skeptical of claims that I want to believe are true.

In other words, I'm a little warier of kneejerk anti-Bush sentiment. Statements are not false just because Bush utters them. I mean, he's gotta slip up every now and again and accidentally say something true. ;-)

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