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2005-01-07

History in the Making: Dems Force Debate on Ohio Voting Irregularities

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For only the second time in over a century, Congress debated certification of the Electoral College vote. The joint session vote tally was interrupted by Rep. Stephanie Tubbs (D-OH) who, along with other House Democrats, mounted a challenge to Ohio’s 20 electoral votes. The challenge was signed by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), forcing the House and Senate to split and have a two-hour debate on voting irregularities. We hear excerpts of Republicans and Democrats in both chambers. [includes rush transcript]

The House and Senate met in joint session yesterday to count the electoral votes in the 2004 presidential election and certify President Bush’s win over John Kerry.

Vice President Dick Cheney was presiding in his role as president of the Senate, overseeing as each state’s votes were withdrawn from mahogany boxes and totaled in a ceremony as old as the Constitution itself.

The routine tally went by in alphabetical order, state-by-state without event until the session reached Ohio.

  • Joint Session of Congress, Electoral College vote tally, January 6, 2005.

The Electoral College vote tally was interrupted by Democratic Congressmember Stephanie Tubbs of Ohio. Tubbs is the leader of a small group of Democrats who agreed to force House and Senate debates on voting irregularities in Ohio by mounting a challenge to the state’s 20 electoral votes that had secured President Bush’s reelection.

Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California yesterday signed the House challenge–a move no Senator was willing to do in 2000, when African-American Congressmembers rose to protest the vote from Florida.

In a letter to Congressmember Tubbs, Senator Boxer wrote "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."

John Kerry, who conceded to Bush the day after the Nov. 2 election, said he would not join the challenge.

By law, a challenge signed by members of the House and Senate requires both chambers to meet separately for up to two hours to consider it. Both chambers have to uphold the challenge in order for the state’s votes to be invalidated. Yesterday’s challenge marked only the second time since 1877 that the House and Senate were forced into separate meetings to consider electoral votes. The last time came in 1969, when a North Carolina elector designated for Richard Nixon voted instead for independent George Wallace. Both chambers agreed to allow the vote for Wallace.

After the joint session was forced to split yesterday, the Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate chambers debated Ohio voting irregularities.

  • Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
  • Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH)
  • Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI)
  • Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL)
  • Rep. John Lewis (D-GA)
  • Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH)
  • Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)

The Senate voted to reject the challenge 74-1 and the House 267-31.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, the other historic debate that went on yesterday, the House and Senate met in joint session yesterday to count the electoral votes in the 2004 presidential election, and certify President Bush’s win over John Kerry. Vice President Dick Cheney was presiding in his role as president of the senate, overseeing as each state’s votes were withdrawn from mahogany boxes and totaled in a ceremony as old as the constitution itself. The routine tally went by in alphabetical order, state by state, without event, until the session reached Ohio.

CLERK: Mr. President, the certificate of the electoral vote of the well-known and great state of Ohio seems to be regular in form and authentic and appears therefrom that George W. Bush of the State of Texas received 20 votes for President. Dick Cheney for the state of Wyoming received 20 votes for Vice President.

DICK CHENEY: For what purpose does the member from Ohio rise?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Mr. Vice President, I seek to object to the electoral votes of the State of Ohio.

DICK CHENEY: Has the Senator signed the objection?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: The Senator has signed the objection.

DICK CHENEY: An objection presented in writing, and signed by both the Representative and a Senator complies with the law, Chapter 1 of Title 3, United States Code. The clerk will report the objection.

CLERK: "We, a member of the House of Representatives and a United States Senator, object to the counting of the electoral votes of the State of Ohio, on the ground that they were not under all of the known circumstances regularly given. Signed, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, State of Ohio; Barbara Boxer, State of California."

DICK CHENEY: The two houses will withdraw from the joint session. Each house will deliberate separately on the pending objection, and report its decision back to the joint session. The Senate will now retire to its chamber.

AMY GOODMAN: After the joint session was forced to split yesterday, Senator Boxer took to the floor of the Senate to explain her decision to sign the House Challenge.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: I join today with Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones a ten-year judge, an eight-year prosecutor, a six-year member of Congress, a woman inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame. Folks, she has great credibility, and she asks just one senator to take a couple of hours. I hate inconveniencing my friends, but I think it’s worth a couple of hours to shine some light on these issues. Here is the thing — we passed H.A.V.A. That was important. The Help America Vote Act, but then we did nothing. Senators Graham, Clinton and I introduced the bill to insure a paper trail goes along with the electronic voting. We couldn’t even get a hearing in that last congress. Over in the House, it’s the same problem. We need this kind of bill. So, let me simply say to my colleagues, I have great respect for all of you, but I think it’s key that whether we’re republicans or democrats, we understand that the centerpiece, the centerpiece of this country is democracy, and the centerpiece of democracy is insuring the right to vote. And I ask you, my friends, from both sides of the aisle, when we get busy working in the next few weeks, let us not turn away from the things that happen in Ohio. Our people are dying all over the world, a lot from my state, for what reason? To bring democracy to the far corners of the world. Let’s fix it here, and let’s do it first thing out. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

DICK CHENEY: Your time has expired.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Barbara Boxer, taking to the senate floor to explain her decision to sign the "House Challenge" to the electoral vote of Ohio. This is Democracy Now! We’ll go back to this historic hearing in the Senate and the House in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: The electoral college vote tally was interrupted by Democratic Congress member Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio, the leader of a small group of Democrats who agreed to force house and Senate debates on voting irregularities in Ohio by mounting a challenge to the state’s 20 electoral votes that had secured President Bush’s re-election. John Kerry, who conceded to Bush the day after the November 2 election said he would not join the challenge. But let’s go to the house now where Congress member Stephanie Tubbs Jones led off the challenge.

REP. STEPHANIE TUBBS JONES: Mr. Speaker, and ladies and gentlemen, I, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a representative from the state of Ohio, and Senator Barbara Boxer, a Senator from California, have objected to the counting of the electoral votes of the state of Ohio on the ground that they were not under all of the known circumstances regularly given. I thank god that I have a Senator for joining me in this objection, and I appreciate Senator Boxer’s willingness to listen to the plight of hundreds and even thousands of Ohio voters that for a variety of reasons were denied the right to vote. Unfortunately, objecting to the electoral votes from Ohio is the only immediate avenue to bring these issues to light. While some have called our cause foolish, I can assure you that my parents, Mary and Andrew Tubbs, did not raise any fools. They raised a lawyer. They raised a former judge. They raised a prosecutor, and thank god, they lived to see me serve as a member of the House of Representatives. I’m duty-bound to follow the law and apply to the law to the facts as I find them, and it is on behalf of those millions of Americans who believe in and value our Democratic process, and the right to vote, that I put forth this objection today. If they’re willing to stand at polls for countless hours in the rain as many did in Ohio, then I should surely stand up for them here in the halls of Congress. This objection does not have at its root the hope or even the hint of overturning the victory of the president, but it is a necessary, timely, and appropriate opportunity to review and remedy the most precious process in our democracy. I raise this objection neither to put the nation in the turmoil of a proposed overturned election, nor to provide cannon fodder or partisan demagoguery for my fellow members of Congress. I raise this objection because I am convinced that we as a body must conduct a formal and legitimate debate about election irregularities. I raise this objection to debate the process, and protect the integrity of the true will of the people.

AMY GOODMAN: Democratic Congress member, Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio leading the Democrats who agreed to force the House and Senate debates challenging the electoral vote of Ohio. Among those who challenged her was Republican Congress member Candice Miller of Michigan.

REP. CANDICE MILLER: Mr. Speaker, the American people must be watching this debate and literally shaking their heads. With all of the challenges facing our nation, we are spending our time debating the challenge to the validity of the presidential election simply because the Democratic Party cannot accept the fact that their candidate lost this election. They cannot accept the fact that their agenda, their vision for America has been rejected by the majority of Americans. They cannot accept the fact that President George W. Bush simply received more votes than Senator John Kerry. This election was very hard-fought on both sides. The American people have accepted the fact that it’s over and they want this Congress to get to work, and to work in a bipartisan way. If this is the minority party’s idea of bipartisanship, then let the people of our nation see it for what it is. Because in the spirit of bipartisanship, the Democrats are asking us to overturn the presidential election, which President Bush won by over 3 million votes nationwide, and by over 118,000 votes in the state of Ohio. In the spirit of bipartisanship, they say that somehow Karl Rove was manipulating votes from a secret computer in the White House, and that somehow these secret computers were changing the votes on punch cards and optical scan sheets that record actual votes. This language is in their challenge.

JUAN GONZALEZ: That was Republican Congresswoman Candice Miller of Michigan. And now we’re going to her from Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr., who provided some of the most eloquent and at the same time, I think, substantive arguments in this debate.

REP. JESSE JACKSON, JR.: Mr. Speaker, I want to be clear. Today’s objection is not about an individual, but our institutions. It’s not about Republicans, but our republic. It’s not about Democrats, but our democracy. It’s about an election result. It’s not about an election result, but about an election system that’s broken and needs to be fixed. Today you’re hearing the facts about voting irregularities in Ohio. In 2000 we saw a similar mess in Florida and other states. As we try to spread democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere, it is prudent, appropriate and timely to examine our own democracy. What’s wrong with our democracy? What’s wrong with our voting system? State after state, year after year, why do we keep having these problems? The fundamental reason is this — Americans do not — Mr. Speaker, the house is not in order. Americans do not have the explicit right to vote in their constitution. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore ruled, and I quote, "the individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for president of the United States." So, at present, voting in the United States is a state right, not a citizenship right. Hence, our voting system is built on the constitutional foundation of states’ rights. 50 different states, 3,067 different counties, 13,000 different election jurisdictions, all separate, all unequal. Consider this: If you’re an ex-felon in Illinois, you can register and vote. If you are an ex-felon in 11 states, mostly in the south, you’re barred from voting for life. There are nearly 5 million ex-felons who paid their debt to society, but are prohibited from ever voting again, including 1.5 million African-American males. But in Maine, and Vermont, you can vote, if you’re a felon, while you are in jail. Illinois, Florida, Vermont, different states, different rules, different systems. In contrast, the first amendment to the constitution guarantees us an individual citizenship right, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, and we can travel between the states with such a fundamental right. However, when it comes to voting you do not have such a fundamental right. You have a state right, a state right is not a citizenship right but a right defined and protected by each state, and limited to each state. 108 of the 119 nations in the world that elect their public officials in some Democratic manner have a right to vote in their constitution, including the Afghan constitution, and the interim document in Iraq. The United States is one of 11 nations that do not have an affirmative right to vote in the constitution. Shouldn’t we be the 108th nation that does just that?

CONGRESSWOMAN: The House is not in order.

SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The House please be in order. The gentleman may proceed.

REP. JESSE JACKSON, JR.: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The bible says if you build a house on sand, when it rains, the winds blow and the storms come and it will not stand. Our voting system is built on the sand of states’ rights. Florida one year, Ohio next year and no telling what’s happening in 2008, and 2012. As a result, the American people are gradually losing confidence in the credibility, the fairness, the effectiveness, and the efficiency of our voting system. So, we need to build our democracy, not on H.A.V.A., Democrats, not on H.A.V.A., Republicans, but build our democracy on the fundamental, individual guarantee in the constitution that every citizen can rely upon in their constitution. We need to provide the American people with the citizenship right to vote and provide Congress with the authority to craft a unitary system from Maine to California, so we don’t have so many separate and unequal systems. Mr. Speaker, it is the foundation upon which we build a more perfect union amongst the states. I take the balance of my time, Mr. Speaker, and I yield it to the distinguished gentleman from Georgia, a gentleman whose credentials on the question of voting are unparalleled and unmarked and unmatched in this Congress.

SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Gentleman from Georgia is recognized.

REP. JOHN LEWIS: Thank you Mr. Speaker, and thank you my colleague and my friend. The right to vote and to have every vote counted is precious and sacred. It is the heart and soul of our Democratic process. We cannot be true to ourselves as a Democratic society unless we get it right. I think, Mr. Speaker, it is fitting and appropriate that we pause, that we have this discussion, that we have this debate, and that Congress hold further hearings on the question about the presidential election in Ohio and elsewhere. Our electoral system is broken and it must be fixed for once and for all. What happened in Florida in 2000 and in Ohio in 2004 came to dramatize the fight that there’s something wrong with our democracy. More and more of our citizens are growing uneasy. I hear people on the other side saying we should forget about it. We should get over it.

SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Gentleman’s time is expired.

REP. JOHN LEWIS: People died for the right to vote. People suffer for the right to vote. The right of every vote to be counted. It must be upheld by this body.

AMY GOODMAN: Congress member John Lewis, who marched with Dr. King, a member of the student non-violent coordinating committee, following Congress member Jesse Jackson in the House. At the same time that the House debate was going on challenging the electoral votes of Ohio, the Senate was debating the same issue. This is Republican Ohio Senator, George Voinovich.

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH: As a Republican from Cleveland who has been elected to federal, state and county and municipal offices, I’m living proof that Ohioans know how to count ballots and more importantly, we count fairly. It is clear that those who persist in beating a dead horse are attempting to create uncertainty where none exists. That is why I’m so disappointed that this body is squandering its time playing Monday morning quarterback when the result of Ohio’s presidential election is clear. President George W. Bush won my home state, and its 20 electoral votes. Frankly, I am proud of how the election went in Ohio. Hundreds of thousands of new voters took part in their democracy this past November, increasing Ohio’s voter participation rate to 72%, up from 64% in 2000. Unfortunately, prior to November 2, unsubstantiated allegations were being made about the electoral process in Ohio. But at the end on Election Day, and at the end of the recount, Ohio’s Secretary of State’s Kenneth Blackwell and the bipartisan election boards across the state did a tremendous job to insure that the election was fair, and the results were without question and I want to publicly applaud the good work of those dedicated public officials. It is time to put this election to rest. Editorial boards from Ohio newspapers, many of which endorsed Senator Kerry agree as well. The so-called recount effort is a circus that needs to pack up and leave town.

AMY GOODMAN: Ohio Senator, George Voinovich, Republican. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Democratic Senator, did not agree with his assessment of the Ohio Secretary of State, Kenneth Blackwell.

SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG: Yesterday Congressman John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, issued a report of problems that occurred in Ohio. Some of the problems that he report include: Problems with voting machines in predominantly minority Democratic-leaning wards that caused people to wait ten hours or more in the rain. One precinct was forced to close at 9:25 in the morning because its voter machines weren’t working. 9:25 in the morning? The Ohio Republican party suppressed the turnout of minority, Democratic-leaning voters by engaging in free election caging tactics, which is declared illegal by a federal court. Now, Ohio Secretary of State, Ken Blackwell, a Republican, deviated from election law by severely restricting voters’ access to provisional ballots. He went so far as to reject voter registration applications based on paperweight and texture. Those actions and his complete unwillingness to cooperate with Congressman Conyers investigation are deeply troubling. His actions are troubling particularly because he didn’t just serve as the chief election official of his state. He also co-chaired the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio. Now, allowing a state official to oversee a federal election and simultaneously serve as a partisan campaign official for one of those candidates in that election is a blatant conflict of interest, and we have got to put a stop to it. That’s why later this month I’m going to be introducing the Federal Election Integrity Act, to prohibit state election officials from overseeing federal elections in which they play a partisan role on behalf of one of the candidates. Secretary Blackwell is now running for Governor. He recently sent a fund raising letter to potential Republican donors, and I think his letter underscores the need for my bill. First page of his letter tells a story: "I have no doubt that the strong campaign we helped the president run in Ohio coupled with a similar effort I helped deliver for the state issue one, the marriage protection amendment, can easily be credited with turning out the record numbers of conservatives, and evangelicals on election day." Well, it’s not surprising that many other people have no doubt that Secretary Blackwell also ran a strong campaign against other voters, namely minorities and Democrats. Americans need to believe that their election officials are beyond reproach. Allowing such officials to serve simultaneously in a partisan campaign capacity by seriously undermines that confidence.

AMY GOODMAN: Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. Ultimately, the Electoral College challenge was voted down in the Senate, 74-1. In the House, 267-31.

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