Eighteen days following the initial request, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has agreed this week to investigate several incidents of election problems from the recent November election to satisfy the concerns brought forth by U.S. Reps. John Conyers (D-MI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), and 12 other congressmembers.
“The right to vote and the right to have our votes counted are both fundamental to our democratic system of government,” Lee said in a statement last week. “As elected representatives of the people, we hold a sacred responsibility to every voter across this nation to ensure that their vote is counted and recorded properly. We cannot, and we should not accept any flaws in our election process.”
Julie Nickson, press secretary for Lee, adde d, “She signed it because she was aware of the situation. We got some phone calls from constituents.”
Results from the investigation are not expected to be available prior to Bush’s inauguration. “I don’t think the results are going to be as rapid as peo ple want them to be,” said John Doty, press spokesman for U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).
A series of letters had been sent to the GAO, beginning on Nov. 5, by U.S. Reps. Lee, Conyers, Nadler, Robert Wexler (D-FL), Robert Scott (D-GA), Melvin Watt (D-NC), Rush Holt (D-NJ), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), George Miller (D-CA), John Olver (D-MA), Bob Filner (D-CA), Gregory Meeks (D-NY), and . Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) called the House Judiciary Committee office this week to become the 14th signatory.
A statement issued by the GAO on their website said that the nonpartisan congressional research office will be conducting an impartial investigation. It will be up to state and federal agencies, however, to respond to findings in order to uphold election laws and citizens’ rights, or challenge the elections results.
Conyers and the other supporters of the GAO probe are encouraged. A press release out of Nadler’s office, stated, “We are pleased that the GAO has reviewed the concerns expressed in our letters and has found them of sufficient merit to warrant further investigation.”
The representatives’ statement continued, “We are hopeful that GAO’s non-partisan and expert analysis will get to the bottom of the flaws uncovered in the 2004 election. As part of this inquiry, we will provide copies of specific incident reports received in our offices, including more than 57,000 such complaints provided to the House Judiciary Committee.”
Doty, spokesperson for Nadler, said, “A lot of peo ple are interested in changing the election results, but I don’t think at this point, at least the Congressmen don’t see enough content to change the election results. The point is to fix irregularities.”
Nadler, who is the ranking Democratic member of t he Subcommittee on the Constitution, on the House Judiciary Committee, plans to continue supporting Holt’s bill to demand a receipt, or paper trail, for all voters.
“There will be calls for hearings,” said Doty. “We need to reauthorize the National Voter Registration Act and the Help America Vote Act. We’ve been pushing for the Rush Holt paper trail bill. Nadler intends to play an important role in improving our elections, and in working closely with the Judiciary Committee. As Democrats on the committee, we will continue to investigate the election, but we’re unsure whether Republican Chairman Sensenbrenner will ultimately support a bi-partisan Congressional investigation. We certainly hope he will.”
CNN has reported that the GAO “will not investigate every charge listed by the Democrats, but will examine ‘the security and accuracy of voting technologies, distribution and allocation of voting machines and counting of provisional ballots.’’’
The GAO issued a statement asserting, “Under the nation’s leg al framework, elections are largely a matter reserved to, and regulated by, the states… Congress has, however, asserted its prerogatives under the Election Clause of the Constitution (Article 1, Section 4, Clause 1) to impose certain procedural requiremen ts on federal elections through such federal statutes such as the Help America Vote Act and the National Voter Registration Act, both of which are enforced by the Department of Justice.”
Actual steps to enforce remedies when election irregularities occur are referred to the following three agencies in the GAO statement: the Civil Rights Division, Voting Section, at the Department of Justice; the Criminal Division, Public Integrity Section, at the Department of Justice; and the U.S. Election Assistance Co mmission.
Many concerns were brought forth by the congressmembers, including the almost 4,000 votes awarded to Bush in Columbus, Ohio, reported by the AP, which was starkly noticeable because more votes were recorded in the precinct than there were regis tered voters.
Other reported incidents included votes that were lost on a local initiative in Florida because the computer could only store so many votes; approximately 4,500 votes lost in one North Carolina county; a glitch in San Francisco computers wh ich caused many votes to be uncounted; and Florida’s anomalous results where only districts with touch screen voting had disproportionate votes for Bush than expected.
A second letter, dated Nov. 8, cited even more problems, including AP reports in Flori da and Ohio of voters who stated when using touch screens, that if they selected ‘John Kerry,’ instead ‘George Bush’ would appear on the screen; long lines reported in urban Ohio areas; 3,000 phantom votes that were added by a Nebraska ‘vote tabulator’ which doubled the votes; 22,000 North Carolina votes the computer initially discarded; 21 voting machines in Broward County, Florida, that malfunctioned, eliminating prior votes; and boxes of absentee votes discovered after the election in a Broward County election office.
Nine out of the current 14 supporters are members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC). They are Lee (who is a leader of the Caucus), along with Conyers, Nadler, Watt, Baldwin, Miller, Olver, Filner, and Schakowsky. There are cu rrently 55 congressional members on the Progressive Caucus.
Support by at least one senator and one House Representative is required to formally contest an election result prior to inauguration.
Matthew Cardinale is a freelance writer, activist, and gr aduate student in sociology and democracy studies at UC Irvine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.