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Was the 2004 Election Stolen?: A Debate on Ohio One Year After Bush’s Victory

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A year later, questions remain over the outcome of the Ohio election and whether George W. Bush fairly won the state and the presidency. We explore some of these questions with a debate between Mark Crispin Miller and Mark Hertsgaard. [includes rush transcript]

There were widespread reports of voter intimidation; suspiciously long lines in heavily Democratic areas; faulty voting machines; mishandled absentee and provisional ballots; election results that contradicted exit polls…and then there were the electronic voting machines. For years critics of these machines have warned that they could be manipulated in ways to fix elections.

Last week the Government Accountability Office — the investigative unit of Congress — issued a major report [Download PDF of report] on the safety of electronic voting machines. Although the report has received little attention in the corporate media, its findings have startled critics of electronic voting. There are three main problems the GAO found with the machines: First, some electronic voting systems did not encrypt cast ballots or system audit logs, and it was possible to alter both without being detected. Second, it was possible to alter the files that define how a ballot looks and works so that votes for one candidate could be recorded for a different candidate. Third, vendors installed uncertified versions of voting system software at the local level.

The GAO concluded, “some of these concerns were reported to have caused local problems in federal elections — resulting in the loss or miscount of votes.”

  • Mark Crispin Miller, author of “Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election and Why They’ll Steal the Next One Too (Unless We Stop Them).” He is a professor at New York University and author of several other books including “Cruel and Unusual: Bush/Cheney’s New World Order” and “The Bush Dyslexicon: Observations on a National Disorder.”
  • Mark Hertsgaard, investigative reporter who recently examined the 2004 election for Mother Jones magazine. He is the author of many books including “The Eagle’s Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World” and “Earth Odyssey: Around the World in Search of Our Environmental Future.” He is also the environment correspondent for The Nation and the political correspondent for LinkTV.

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

AMY GOODMAN: A year ago today on Democracy Now! we aired John Kerry’s concession speech on the steps of Faneuil Hall in Boston. This is what Kerry had to say.

JOHN KERRY: Earlier today I spoke to President Bush and offered him and Laura our congratulations on their victory. We had a good conversation. We talked about the danger of division in our country and the need, the desperate need, for unity, for finding the common ground, coming together. Today I hope that we can begin the healing. In America, it is vital that every vote count and that every vote be counted. But the outcome should be decided by voters, not a protracted legal process. I would not give up this fight if there was a chance that we would prevail. But it is now clear that even when all of the provisional ballots are counted, which they will be, there won’t be enough outstanding votes for us to be able to win Ohio. And, therefore, we cannot win this election.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator John Kerry, presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. A year later questions still remain over the outcome of the Ohio election, if George W. Bush fairly won the state and thus the presidency. There were widespread reports of voter intimidation, suspiciously long lines in heavily Democratic areas, faulty voting machines, mishandled absentee and provisional ballots, election results that contradicted exit polls, and then there were the electronic voting machines. For years critics of these machines have warned they could be manipulated in ways to fix elections.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Last week the Government Accountability Office, the investigative unit of Congress, issued a major report on the safety of electronic voting machines. Although the report has received little attention in the corporate media, its findings have startled critics of electronic voting. These are the three main problems the G.A.O. found with the machines: (1) Some electronic voting systems did not encrypt cast ballots or system audit logs, and it was possible to alter both without being detected; (2) It was possible to alter the files that define how a ballot looks and works, so that votes for one candidate could be recorded for a different candidate; and (3) Vendors installed uncertified versions of voting system software at the local level. The G.A.O. concluded, quote, “Some of these concerns were reported to have caused local problems at federal elections, resulting in the loss or miscount of votes.”

AMY GOODMAN: Today we are going to explore some of the questions that still persist over the 2004 election. We are joined in our studio here in New York by New York University professor, Mark Crispin Miller. He is author of a new book; it’s called Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They’ll Steal the Next One, Too, (Unless We Stop Them). We are also joined on the telephone by investigative journalist, Mark Hertsgaard. He has investigated the claim that the elections were stolen, has written on the subject in the new issue of Mother Jones magazine. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Mark Crispin Miller, let’s begin with you. Lay out your arguments.

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, I think we’ve focused understandably on Ohio, understandably because Ohio was the pivotal state that allegedly put Bush over the top, but there’s a problem with that focus, and the problem is that the evidence of major election fraud is ubiquitous. It’s all over the place. I wrote this book, Fooled Again, to provide the reader with a panoramic view of what went on from coast to coast in the United States before and on, and in some cases after, Election Day.

There was election fraud — extensive election fraud in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. But there was also election fraud throughout the nation, places as different as West Virginia, Oregon, Montana, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Jersey, even in solidly Democratic states. There seemed to be a general program of doing everything possible, using the broadest possible array of tactics, to cut down the Kerry vote and to hype or pad the Bush vote, and this even extended to the expatriate vote.

I have a chapter in Fooled Again on the G.O.P.’s extensive efforts and successful efforts to cut back on the votes of those Americans living abroad, a constituency sometimes referred to as the 51st state, includes between four and seven million votes, a lot of people. The vote tends to skew Democratic, and the stuff that the government pulled — I should say, yeah — well, this one-party government pulled to interfere with that vote is quite, quite stunning.

My aim here — let me just say one thing — my aim here is not to challenge the outcome of the election in any way that would mean let’s, like, install Kerry in the White House. That’s not constitutional, and I think when Kerry conceded, he forfeited his moral right to do that anyway. The purpose of this book is to jumpstart a crucial movement for election reform. We need electoral reform as soon as possible, because if we don’t have it, if we don’t let the scandal of last year resonate and we don’t have the requisite response of reform, we are cooked, we’re finished as a democracy.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The Ohio race, in particular, obviously has gotten the most attention because of the pivotal electoral votes involved there. Could you talk a little bit about what are some of the key or the most flagrant examples of what you think were done there to steal that election?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Yeah, well, the Conyers Report, which is available on a paperback called What Went Wrong in Ohio is very good on the subject. I have about ten pages in the book paraphrasing the report and describing what happened to the report, because it really fell into a black hole when it was published on January 5th of this year.

There were three phases of chicanery. First, there was a pre-election period, during which the Secretary of State in Ohio, Ken Blackwell, was also co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio, which is in itself mind-boggling, engaged in all sorts of bureaucratic and legal tricks to cut down on the number of people who could register, to limit the usability of provisional ballots. It was really a kind of classic case of using the letter of the law or the seeming letter of the law just to disenfranchise as many people as possible.

On Election Day, there was clearly a systematic undersupply of working voting machines in Democratic areas, primarily inner city and student towns, you know, college towns. And the Conyers people found that in some of the most undersupplied places, there were scores of perfectly good voting machines held back and kept in warehouses, you know, and there are many similar stories to this. And other things happened that day.

After Election Day, there is explicit evidence that a company called Triad, which manufactures all of the tabulators, the vote-counting tabulators that were used in Ohio in the last election, was systematically going around from county to county in Ohio and subverting the recount, which was court ordered and which never did take place. The Republicans will say to this day, 'There was a recount in Ohio, and we won that.' That’s a lie, one of many, many staggering lies. There was never a recount.

Now, I found stuff in writing Fooled Again that the Conyers people didn’t go over. I talked to some people who worked in Ohio and have documentary evidence that some 10 to 20% of all the hard line Democratic voters in their precincts just disappeared from the rolls. I have all the details in the book, but it was systematic. There was something having to do with the computer program. Suffice it to say, Ohio’s situation was egregious. It actually looks good compared to Florida, but the fact is this is simply a version of what happened nationwide.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Mark Hertsgaard, you have written an article looking at some of these allegations in this book and some others that have come out about the elections, and while you find problems, you also find holes in some of the allegations in the stolen election theory. Could you talk about that?

MARK HERTSGAARD: Yes, that’s true. And I should say up front here that I’m friendly and a former colleague with Mark Crispin Miller, so I approach the topic with that, I guess, bias to some extent, and let me say, I’m not as persuaded as he is that the election was definitely stolen in Ohio. I do think, though, that he and other — John Conyers and especially the people at Free Press in Ohio who did a lot of the original reporting on this have turned up a lot of very suspicious stuff.

But there’s a difference between something being suspicious and it definitely being the case. For example, one of the things that is constantly offered in Ohio is this idea that in Warren County that there was a supposed lockdown on election night of the building where the votes were being counted and that this was defended by a supposed terrorist threat and that the F.B.I. then denied that any such threat had been given. And there’s some truth to that story, but not as much as is said in the Conyers Report. Yes, the F.B.I. denied any such terrorist threat. Yes, the county did say that originally. But it is not true that those votes were then counted in secret. Those votes were counted in front of both the Democratic and the Republican election board supervisors, as is always the case. And the only — according to people on both sides of that, the only person who was supposedly locked out of that counting was the reporter from the Cincinnati Enquirer who later wrote the story, and rightly or wrongly, in Warren County reporters have never been allowed into the counting room.

Likewise, in Miami County, the story — of Ohio — the story is told that somehow overnight an extra 13 or 19 thousand votes were mysteriously added after the final 100% precincts had reported. When I went and talked to the person who actually was involved with that, he said, 'Look, I'm a liberal Democrat. I would be very happy to be able to say there was fraud here and to turn this election over to Bush — from Bush, rather, to Kerry. But that’s not what happened, and the skeptics who read it that way made an understandable error in reading the returns, that they assumed that when it said 100% precincts reporting, that that was the total vote and, in fact, that’s not the way we count votes in Ohio, at least in Miami County. As soon as there’s one vote from the precinct, that precinct is noted as reporting.’ And so, between the final and the next-to-final votes of the postings of the night there were those extra votes there, but they were already in the system. And he said it’s an understandable error to make, but I tried to mention it to the Free Press, and they continued to insist that they just basically ignored it.

And that — I think part of the problem is that there are some people who don’t want to believe that Bush won that election. And, as I say, there’s a lot of smelly stuff, but there’s a difference between an allegation and a fact, and as a journalist, I have to look at facts, not just allegations.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Mark Hertsgaard, investigative reporter, did a piece for Mother Jones called “Recounting Ohio: Was Ohio Stolen? You Might Not Like the Answer.” We are also joined by Mark Crispin Miller. He wrote Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They’ll Steal the Next One, Too. We’ll be back with both of them in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: We are talking about the election. Was the 2004 presidential election stolen? Our guests are Mark Hertsgaard, who has done an article in the current Mother Jones magazine, “Recounting Ohio: Was Ohio Stolen? You Might Not Like the Answer”; and Mark Crispin Miller, wrote the book Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They’ll Steal the Next One, Too.” Mark Crispin Miller, professor at New York University. Juan.

JUAN GONZALEZ: (Unless We Stop Them), that’s the last line of the subtitle. I would like to go back to Mark Hertsgaard a second. One of the issues that has been raised most, especially by social scientists and statisticians who have looked at the election, is this whole question of the difference between the exit polling that occurred on Election Day and the final results. And that’s been claimed as a major sort of indicator that there was something awry. You challenge that in your article. Could you talk about that?

MARK HERTSGAARD: Yes. The case, just to sort of expand on that, on the part of the skeptics, say, look, it’s just unprecedented that the exit polls would be that wrong. You’ll recall, of course, that the exit polls projected Kerry to win by a comfortable 3% nationwide at the start of sort of the middle of the day on Election Day, and then, of course, he lost by about that same margin. And the statisticians who looked at this said they focused on 11, in particular, states, so-called battleground states, and in each case they said the exit polls were mistaken or contradicted, rather, by the actual results, and they said if you looked at that on a matter of pure chance, the odds of that happening are about 988,000 to one. Therefore, there must be some other explanation; therefore, there’s strong evidence that the election was stolen, that the vote totals were somehow tampered with.

And my take on that is, yes, that’s entirely possible, but a theory is a very long way from fact, and in this area I disagree with my friend Mark Crispin Miller a bit, who — I think it’s very possible that the conventional explanation of this is correct; that is to say, the so-called reluctant responders on the part of Bush voters who had just come out from voting, and you know how exit polling works is that basically someone accosts you after you’ve left the voting booth and says, 'Would you tell me who you voted for?' And let’s remember, those exit pollsters are wearing the logos of the major news organizations — CNN, ABC, etc. — who pay for the polls. And the explanation given by the exit pollsters themselves for why they were wrong by about 1.9% was that they think that because the pro-Bush voters tend to be very hostile or at least skeptical of the supposedly — although we all know that they are not — supposedly liberal news media that they would be less inclined to give answers to them. I don’t find that very hard to believe, myself. I gather from Mark’s book that he finds that not very plausible.

But then, beyond that, there’s something very specific, which is in one of those eleven states, the State of New Hampshire, there actually was an actual recount paid for by Ralph Nader’s Green Party campaign. That campaign picked the precincts that would be recounted, precincts that they thought were suspicious, and that hand recount confirmed the actual vote totals and showed that the exit polls were, in fact, wrong. And so, I think that, again, it’s possible that this is what happened, but we are far, far way from having it proven.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Crispin Miller, your response.

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, as Mark said, we are friends. When we first met we had lunch on James Madison’s birthday and toasted that august moment in our history. So, you know, I think highly of him. It pains me, therefore, to see him engaging in this kind of — what strikes me as pedantic over-analysis of specific claims. I’m afraid that his evidence is partial in each case, and I can only suggest that people read the Free Press collection of documents, “Did George W. Bush Steal the Election in 2004?” It is voluminous, and it is highly credible on Ohio, as is the Conyers report.

I’m also not persuaded that the word of a Democrat, assuring us that there was no foul play in Warren County, for example, is authoritative. I mean, I agree with Mark. I think we should look at the facts. But what I think we should be emphasizing here is that this kind of, I think, hyper-vigilance in interrogating various details with a bias toward claiming that there is a conventional view, the conventional view is solid and the skeptics who question it are grasping at straws, they’re desperate to deny reality, this is itself a denial of reality. I want to repeat, Fooled Again deals with the entire country, not just with Ohio. I also want to emphasize that I’m not a Democrat, I’m an Independent. And I’m even less of a Democrat than I was before John Kerry conceded.

Speaking of John Kerry, I have some news for you. On Friday, this last Friday night, I arranged to meet Senator Kerry at a fundraiser to give him a copy of my book. He told me he now thinks the election was stolen. He said he doesn’t believe that he is the person who can go out front on the issue, because of the sour grapes, you know, question. But he said he believes it was stolen. He says he argues about this with his Democratic colleagues on the Hill. He had just had a big fight with Christopher Dodd about it, because he said, you know, ’There’s this stuff about the voting machines; they’re really questionable.’ And Dodd was angry. 'I don't want to hear about it,’ you know, 'I looked into it. There's nothing there.’

Well, there’s plenty there, and let me add one thing: This is not a criminal case, okay? We don’t have to prove guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt. This is our election system, right? This is a system based on consent of the governed. If many, many millions of Americans are convinced that they got screwed on Election Day and couldn’t vote, or if 3.4 million more Americans claim that they voted than the actual total of voters — this is what the Census Bureau told us last May — this is grounds alone for serious investigation, and I think Mark would agree with me here. We have to have serious investigation.

AMY GOODMAN: Did Senator Kerry say, when he said on Friday night, according to you, that he does think the election was stolen, did he say why he raced out the next day after, for months, the Democratic candidates had assured the voters that they would make sure every vote was counted? I mean, Mark Hertsgaard says in his own piece in Mother Jones, “It didn’t help that Kerry conceded immediately, despite questions about Ohio. The American press is less an independent truth seeker than a transmission belt for opinions of movers and shakers in Washington. If the Democratic candidate wasn’t going to cry foul, the press certainly wasn’t going to do it for him.”

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, that’s true. That was a real body blow to the democratic system, and it demoralized a lot of people when Kerry pulled out. It’s hard to forgive him for that. Why did he do it? Well, according to my evidence and I’ve got this in Fooled Again, Kerry was swayed by the brain trust around him. These are people like, you know, Bob Shrum, Mary Beth Cahill —- they’re, you know, Democratic Party war horses. I don’t think they have a stellar record of winning campaigns, and I don’t really understand how it is that they were hired to do this, but they persuaded him up in Martha’s Vineyard that he should pull out, otherwise, he told John Edwards in his call, Kerry said, “They say that if I don’t pull out, they are going to call us sore losers,” as if there’s -—

MARK HERTSGAARD: I think Mark Crispin Miller has given us a major news flash here and kind of buried the lead. If Kerry thinks that the election was stolen, that is big, big news. And I think that it is very unfortunate that it took him 12 months to come around to that conclusion, because, you know, I want to stress this. In my piece — I’m an investigative journalist. I am going to deal with the facts, and I’m sorry, I am going to be kind of picky about the facts. That’s my business. But at the conclusion of the piece, I say repeatedly, it is smelly what happened in Ohio. It is entirely plausible that this election was stolen, and above all, that what we need is a real investigation both by the mainstream media and especially by people with subpoena power.

John Conyers, God bless him for pushing his own investigation, but he was stonewalled by Ken Blackwell, the Secretary of State of Ohio and other officials, including the Triad Computer Company, who basically refused to answer his questions. Had he or another agency with subpoena power should go back and get that, because I agree with Mark entirely. Look, this is the essence of our democracy. We deserve to have a persuasive answer to what happened in 2004. We probably would have gotten it if Kerry had shown the courage to say, on Election Day — on the day after Election Day a year ago what he apparently told Mark Crispin Miller the other night. If he had said then that “I suspect this election was stolen,” believe me, even the corporate media would have investigated this. It’s too juicy a story, but because Kerry dropped the ball there, you know, it’s now a year later, and it’s only the outsiders who are talking about it.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you saying, Mark Crispin Miller, that John Edwards didn’t want to concede?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Absolutely not. I spoke to someone, a relative of his who was with him when the phone call came from Kerry. This is this in the book, Fooled Again. Kerry called him on the cell phone, and don’t forget that Edwards himself, four hours before, had just been on national TV promising righteously to count every vote, got a big hand. Now he felt he was being made to look like a fool, and he argued with Kerry vehemently. He said, “It’s too soon, you know. Wait.” Kerry, you know, said this thing about how they will call us sore losers, as if that’s worse than the country, you know, going fascist, whatever. And Edwards said quite understandably, “So what?” You know, “So what if they call us sore losers?” I mean, they are going to call them names in any case. But it’s true, Mark is right, Kerry’s caving in like that gave an enormous gift to the right wing. They could now claim, “Well, even their candidate doesn’t think it was stolen.” And they left, you know, the American people hanging out to dry there.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Let me ask you. You raised earlier that you thought that because of all of these major questions about what happened in 2004, that it’s extremely important for the American people to get behind electoral reform now. But there was an attempt, supposedly, at electoral reform after the 2000 election, and in the eyes of many people the so-called reform has only made the situation worse. So, why expect that this will change now?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, when I envision proper reform I’m — I guess I’m naive enough to assume this will take place in a democratic way at the behest of the people and not in the shadow of what’s essentially a dictatorship by one party. I mean, their cynicism is awesome. My hat’s off to their cynicism. In Fooled Again, I talk about precisely how they hijacked the issue of electoral reform early on. You know, the Democrats wouldn’t contest the 2000 theft of the election. The only thing they could bring themselves to do was sort of whine about electoral reform. 'We have to have electoral reform.'

So, what the White House did was very cleverly say, 'Yes, electoral reform. We're very interested in electoral reform,’ and on that basis, they shoved through the Help America Vote Act. Now, there are some decent provisions in that act, but it’s that act that mandates the use of touch screen voting machines throughout the entire country eventually. That’s already a serious problem. Those private vendors should be outlawed. We shouldn’t be using them at all.

So, the Democrats, because of their spinelessness, allowed themselves to be very badly outmaneuvered. The White House seized the issue of electoral reform and, of course, used it to promote the opposite, used it to make the situation worse, which they’re now trying to do with the Voting Rights Act. You know, they want to remove certain provisions from that to make it vulnerable to repeal or abolition by the Supreme Court. So we can’t trust this administration, you know, to guard the hen house.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Hertsgaard, as you hear this news of John Kerry, according to Mark Crispin Miller, saying that he thinks that the election was stolen, if you were John Kerry, what power do you have? What would you do? What power do you have right now as the former Democratic presidential candidate?

MARK HERTSGAARD: Well, unfortunately, as Mark said, he forfeited a lot of his moral authority on this a year ago when he went forward and conceded way too early. However, he is still the former presidential candidate and, if I were he and I wanted to make a fuss about this, which I am not so sure, I would do more than just say it to Mark Crispin Miller at a private fundraiser. I would probably write an op-ed in the Washington Post or The New York Times or someplace I know it would be seen and call for a genuine investigation in some way similar to what Senator Reid did the other day about calling for a real, instead of a phony, investigation into how the Bush administration deceived the country and manipulated intelligence to take us to war, because, certainly, besides going to war, the selection of the President is arguably one of the two or three core elements of this democracy — and try and get something with subpoena power to look into this.

But John Kerry, one other quick thing about that — look, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation if Kerry had run a decent campaign in the first place. George W. Bush was the most vulnerable incumbent in American presidential history, and Kerry ran a very poor campaign. And it was only possible if they did — if Bush did steal this, it was only because the vote was close enough to let them do it. And the vote should not have been even close in Ohio or elsewhere. In fact, in the current issue of Mother Jones they profile a very interesting piece on Paul Hackett, who, of course, is the first Iraqi war combat veteran to run for Congress. And he ran in Ohio, and he ran in a district that Bush won by two to one over Kerry in 2004, but Hackett, unlike Kerry, was not afraid to come out against the Iraq war, not afraid to take a very strongly critical attack stance against George W. Bush. And Hackett, although a political neophyte, in that same district that Bush won 2 to 1, Hackett got 48% of the vote, almost won. And I think had Kerry done that kind of a campaign we wouldn’t be having this conversation today.

AMY GOODMAN: And now, of course, Paul Hackett has announced he is running for Senate in Ohio, and his Democratic challenger is the longtime progressive Democratic Congress member, Sherrod Brown. Mark Crispin Miller, final comment.

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Yeah, I’m going to agree readily that the Kerry people ran a miserable campaign. I have got stuff about it in the book. They were tone deaf. They were ridiculous, however, they still won. That’s my argument. And to pay, you know, too much attention to how inexpert the campaign was misses the point that there’s solid evidence that many, many millions of Americans voted against Bush, and this includes a lot of Republicans, Amy. This is not just a party issue. There’s a lot of evidence — I have it in Fooled Again — that the Republican Party was fractured last time, whereas the Democratic Party was more unified than it had ever been since 1964.

Now, I enjoy faulting political operatives for running idiotic campaigns. You know, it’s kind of gratifying. It’s cathartic, but let’s not be misled by this. The fact is that even though he ran a bad campaign, Bush had been running a far worse presidency, and the American people had had enough of that. I don’t — you know, I’m not a Democrat, as I say, and I’m not at the moment much of an admirer of Senator Kerry, but the fact is that this was an anti-Bush vote, and it’s extremely important, because Bush represents the antithesis of democracy.

You know, you had a story at the beginning of the hour about Haiti. Is it any surprise that this administration would steal its way to power? You know, they evicted the first democratically elected government of Haiti. Here they have written the entire legal code for Iraq, where there’s no press freedom. They don’t believe in democracy. They are profoundly opposed to democracy. Fooled Again talks about that theocratic frame of mind.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. When we come back from our break, we are going down to Argentina where President Bush is. We are going to talk about the mass protests that are taking place at the Summit of the Americas. Mark Crispin Miller has been our guest, Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They’ll Steal the Next One, Too (Unless We Stop Them). And Mark Hertsgaard on the telephone with us who did the piece for Mother Jones, “Recounting Ohio: Was Ohio Stolen? You Might Not Like the Answer.”

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