WASHINGTON – While President Bush secured his re-election with a 119,000-vote victory in Ohio, voting-rights advocates focused Tuesday on a statistic they said told another story – more than 414,000 calls to national hotlines established to monitor complaints and compile other eyewitness observations about the Nov. 2 vote.
Among those calls, according to a new report from the Common Cause Education Fund, were many pleas for help from Ohio.
A woman in Miami County took her registration card to a polling site, the report said, but was forced to use a provisional ballot even though her address was current.
A man in Knox County complained that his daughter was forced to wait more than seven hours to vote, one of 11,000 people able to use just two machines. “I just thought you would like to know that,” the man said. “It seems a little extreme to me.”
In Franklin County, a man reported being turned away from a polling place because he wore a T-shirt that said: “Vote or Die.”
Such anecdotes fueled a vigorous – but mostly one-sided – forum on Capitol Hill Tuesday spotlighting voting-system issues raised in last month’s presidential election, four years after an electoral meltdown in Florida led to a bitter standoff that required Supreme Court intervention.
Common Cause, the Century Foundation and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights sponsored the forum. Many people in attendance at the Dirksen Senate Office Building appeared to be as disappointed by Bush’s victory as they were incensed at voting foul-ups.
But others were more sanguine.
“Our system held up remarkably well,” said Rep. Robert W. Ney, R-Ohio, who helped draft a landmark federal election reform law in 2002. “This is not to say the election was perfect. No election ever is.”
Ney told the forum that Congress would continue to push for improvements to voting systems. “We are under no illusions today that our election reform work is finished,” he said.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Monday that the presidential voting was widely perceived as “very free and fair.” McClellan’s assessment came the same day that Ohio’s Republican secretary of state certified Bush’s victory by a margin that had shrunk somewhat after provisional and absentee ballots were counted.
Unofficial returns immediately after the vote had Bush winning the state’s decisive 20 electoral votes by a 136,000-vote margin over Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry, the Democratic nominee. The final tally, which still is subject to recount, had Bush up by 118,775 votes, or about 2 percentage points.
Still, forum sponsors said Tuesday that widespread accounts from frustrated would-be voters showed that much remains to be done to restore confidence in the system.
“It is clear that voters still faced problems in getting to vote and having their votes counted,” said Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Coalition for Civil Rights, a Washington-based organization comprising more than 180 civil rights and affiliated groups.
The Democratic Party, while not contesting Bush’s victory, announced this week that it would conduct its own investigation of Ohio voting problems.