January 6th, 2005 1:05 pm
Democrats to Force Debate on Ohio Results
By Alan Fram / Associated Press
WASHINGTON – A small group of Democrats agreed Thursday to force House and Senate debates on Election Day problems in Ohio before letting Congress certify President Bush’s win over Sen. John Kerry in November.
While Bush’s victory is not in jeopardy, the Democratic challenge will force Congress to interrupt tallying the Electoral College vote, which had been scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. EST Thursday. It would be only the second time since 1877 that the House and Senate were forced into separate meetings to consider electoral votes.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., signed a challenge mounted by House Democrats to Ohio’s 20 electoral votes, which put Bush over the top. By law, a protest signed by members of the House and Senate requires both chambers to meet separately for up to two hours to consider it. Lawmakers are allowed to speak for no more than five minutes each.
“I have concluded that objecting to the electoral votes from Ohio is the only immediate way to bring these issues to light by allowing you to have a two-hour debate to let the American people know the facts surrounding Ohio’s election,” Boxer wrote in a letter to Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, a leader of the Democratic effort.
The action seems certain to leave Bush’s victory intact because both Republican-controlled chambers would have to uphold the objection for Ohio’s votes to be invalidated. But supporters of the drive hope their move will shine a national spotlight on the Ohio voting problems.
Underscoring that the outcome was not in doubt, Kerry, who conceded to Bush the day after the Nov. 2 election, said he would not join the challenge. The four-term Massachusetts senator was in the Middle East, thanking U.S. troops for their service.
In a statement, Kerry said there are “very troubling questions” about the Ohio voting and he would present a plan later to improve voting procedures.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan dismissed the move as politically driven.
“I think the American people expect members of Congress to work together and move forward on the real priorities facing this country, instead of engaging in conspiracy theories and rehashing issues that were settled long ago,” McClellan said.
Bush defeated Kerry by 286 to 252 electoral votes, with 270 needed for victory.
On Wednesday, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, issued a report claiming “numerous, serious election irregularities in the Ohio presidential election.”
The report, mirroring complaints from Ohio voters, cites machine shortages and extremely long lines in minority and Democratic precincts. It alleges intimidation of voters, a purging of registration lists and other irregularities.
Many problems stemmed from “intentional misconduct and illegal behavior” by Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, the co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign in the state, the report argues.
Blackwell spokesman Carlo LoParo called the report “ludicrous” and a waste of taxpayer dollars.
In January 2001, a group of House Democrats protested the 2000 election because of Florida’s ballot problems. But with the country weary of that contest’s six weeks of recounts and turmoil, no senator joined in and the challenge failed. In political theater at its most ironic, Vice President Al Gore — the defeated Democratic presidential contender — presided over the session, rejecting a challenge aimed at making him president.
The last time the two chambers were forced to interrupt their joint session and meet separately was in January 1969, when a “faithless” North Carolina elector designated for Richard Nixon voted instead for independent George Wallace. Both chambers agreed to allow the vote for Wallace.
The previous challenge requiring separate House and Senate meetings was in 1877 during the disputed contest that Rutherford Hayes eventually won over Samuel Tilden.