Something's rotten in the state of Denmark

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

BREAKING NEWS: Abnormally High Totals for Third Party Candidates in Cleveland

Juan Gonzalez, co-host of public radio's Democracy Now but also a columnist for the NY Daily News -- you know, that liberal rag that... oops, endorsed Bush for President -- takes on Ohio in his column today, entitled "Ohio Tally Fit for Ukraine."

In doing so, Gonzalez gives new fuel for the pro-recount forces, material I hadn't seen coming up in other recent articles. And though I've taken a skeptic's eye to many stories recently, the report he gives about abnormal third party totals in black Cleveland, if true, is enormous in its significance.

In the piece, Gonzalez reveals what he and fellow Daily News reporter Larry Cohler-Esses have discovered: more unusal vote totals in black neighborhoods. Here's Gonzalez:

And now Daily News reporter Larry Cohler-Esses and I have uncovered some more unusual vote totals, this time in black neighborhoods of Cleveland. Those results are from the precinct-by-precinct tallies released by the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, where Cleveland is located.

In the 4th Ward on Cleveland's East Side, for example, two fringe presidential candidates did surprisingly well.

In precinct 4F, located at Benedictine High School on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Kerry received 290 votes, Bush 21 and Michael Peroutka, candidate of the ultra-conservative anti-immigrant Constitutional Party, an amazing 215 votes!

That many black votes for Peroutka is about as likely as all those Jewish votes for Buchanan in Florida's Palm Beach County in 2000.

In precinct 4N, also at Benedictine High School, the tally was Kerry 318, Bush 21, and Libertarian Party candidate Michael Badnarik 163.

Back in 2000, the combined third-party votes in those two precincts - including the Nader vote - was 8. Cuyahoga, like most of Ohio's 88 counties, uses punch-card balloting.

"That's terrible, I can't believe it," said City Councilman Kenneth Johnson, who has represented the 4th Ward since 1980. "It's obviously a malfunction with the machines."

But Peroutka and Badnarik polled unusually well in a few other black precincts. In the 8th Ward's G precinct at Cory United Methodist Church, for instance, Badnarik tallied 51 votes - nearly three times better than Bush's 19. And in I precinct at the same church, Peroutka was the choice on 27 ballots, three times more than Bush's 8. In 2000, independent candidates received 9 votes from both precincts.

The same pattern showed up in 10 Cleveland precincts in which Badnarik and Peroutka received nearly 700 votes between them.

In virtually all those precincts, Kerry's vote was lower than Al Gore's in 2000, even though there was a record turnout in the black community this time, and even though blacks voted overwhelmingly for Kerry.

If this same pattern held true in other cities around Ohio, then quite possibly thousands of votes meant for Kerry somehow ended up in the tallies of the two independent candidates. So far, however, precinct-by-precinct results have not been posted by boards of elections in other counties, but by Thursday all official results are due.

On Monday, Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell will certify Ohio's results and then a manual recount will be requested by the Green and Libertarian parties.

The Badnarik and Peroutka surge was not the only unusual occurrence in Cleveland.

Also unusual was the drop in the Democratic vote in scores of precincts compared to 2000. But more on that next time.

Now, a drop in a Democratic vote alone isn't evidence of fraud or glitches. But Gonzalez's comparison of the Third Party presidential turnout in those precincts compared to 2000 is extremely damning. For third party candidates to go from 8 votes to over 250...

It's not even clear to me that the glitches here favored Kerry -- Bush's totals in those precincts look small even for extremely Democratic precincts. But that's not the point. The point is, something clearly went wrong in those precincts. And a hand recount is the only way to discern what exactly happened.

Great job by Gonzalez. I look forward to his next column...