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Published: Monday, 1/10/2005

Election challenge might compound mistake of 2000

COLUMBUS - Better late than never?

Four years ago, a Democratic U.S. senator would not challenge the certification of the Electoral College, which thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court and the banana republic of Florida put George W. Bush in the White House instead of Al Gore.

The opening of Michael Moore's documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, captured the excruciating spectacle of Democratic House members pleading with their Senate colleagues to lodge an objection - but no one stood up.

"It was a mistake not to object four years ago," Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California told the New York Times last Thursday, the day she objected to Mr. Bush capturing the 20 electoral votes from Ohio that made him the winner. It was the second challenge since 1877.

If there is a sequel to Mr. Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, he will need to find a new beginning. So have Mrs. Boxer and U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, the Cleveland Democrat who filed the objection in the House, compounded the mistake of 2000 by joining the "tinfoil-hat brigade" of 2004?

Now that the election is over, it depends on what happens over the next four years. Republicans were almost gleeful as the four-hour debate unfolded last Thursday, ending with Congress certifying Mr. Bush's re-election by 267-31 in the House and 74 to 1 (Mrs. Boxer) in the Senate.

"I seriously doubt these same people would have staged this congressional circus today if John Kerry had won the election," said Bob Bennett, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party. "But if Stephanie and her friends want to throw one final temper tantrum, that's their right. It's also the right of their constituents to get a little more than hot air and theatrics from their congressional representation. Republicans look forward to working in a bipartisan manner on substantive election reforms. These political stunts do nothing to forward that effort."

Around the Statehouse, Republicans saw a parallel with the hijinks from the Senate Democrats last Tuesday over a House-Senate resolution to confirm Gov. Bob Taft's appointment of Bruce Johnson as the new lieutenant governor.

Like Mrs. Boxer and the lost opportunity of 2000, it was payback time.

In the dying days of the lameduck session in December, state Sen. Jeff Jacobson (R., Dayton) used his parliamentary skills to move some bills that hadn't received a vote in committee to the Senate floor, where the GOP majority approved them.

So when Mr. Johnson's confirmation vote came up last Tuesday, state Sen. Eric Fingerhut (D., Cleveland) said the rules required that the measure be sent to a committee.

The issue, Senate Democrats said, was democracy - the ability of citizens through their elected officials to press Mr. Johnson on the issues, given that he is replacing Jennette Bradley because Mr. Taft appointed her state treasurer.

Senate Democrats didn't prevail. Some Republicans said the maneuver - in which all 11 Democrats voted against Mr. Johnson's confirmation - fit a pattern in which Democrats tend to marginalize themselves.

Republicans on Capitol Hill made the same argument two days later.

"This is a travesty," said U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. "They're still not over the 2000 election, let alone the 2004 election."

The New York Times noted that the challenge by Ms. Tubbs Jones and Mrs. Boxer "cast a spotlight on divisions among Democrats, with party leaders and many in the rank and file distancing themselves from the effort, while black and liberal lawmakers embraced it."

The irregularities on election day in Ohio are well-documented, and the debate over Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell's handling of the election won't be over soon. Dems weren't the only ones who got glitched. The lines also were long in GOP enclaves in the Columbus area.

But no evidence has emerged - as activist lawyers have claimed in challenging the results - that Mr. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Karl Rove stole a victory from Democrat John Kerry. U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a Toledo Democrat, voted to certify Mr. Bush but wisely spoke out in favor of voting reforms.

The Progressive Democrats of America have outlined what reforms are needed:

  • A constitutional amendment confirming the right to vote.

  • Same-day registration for all Americans.

  • Creation of unified federal standards for national elections.

  • Extended voting periods to allow all voters a meaningful opportunity to vote.

    If the Democrats scrap the conspiracy theories and push for the reforms, they won't be marginalized. They'll be true democrats.



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