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Kerry Suspects Election 2004 Was Stolen

By Robert Parry
November 6, 2005

Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, has told acquaintances over the past year that he suspects that the election was stolen, but that he didn’t challenge the official results because he lacked hard proof and anticipated a firestorm of criticism if he pressed the point.

“Kerry heard all the disquieting stories” about voting irregularities in Ohio and other states, said Jonathan Winer, a longtime Kerry adviser and a former deputy assistant secretary of state. “But he didn’t have the evidence to do more.”

The Massachusetts senator conceded to George W. Bush on Nov. 3, 2004, the day after the election when it became clear that the uncounted votes in the swing state of Ohio were insufficient to erase Bush’s narrow lead.

The move infuriated some Democratic activists who felt Kerry should have lived up to his campaign promise that he would make sure every vote was counted. In January 2005, as Bush’s victory was being certified by Congress, Kerry also refused to back a resolution challenging the fairness of the Ohio vote.

Mark Crispin Miller, a New York University professor and author of a new book about the 2004 election entitled Fooled Again, said he discussed the voting issue with Kerry on Oct. 28 when he encountered the senator at a political event.

In a Nov. 4 interview on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now,” Miller said he gave Kerry a copy of Fooled Again, prompting Kerry’s comments about the 2004 election results.

“He told me he now thinks the election was stolen,” Miller said. “He said he doesn’t believe that he is the person who can go out front on the issue because of the sour grapes … 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.”

Miller and Winer said Kerry suspected possible tampering with electronic voting machines, but that he was persuaded by his campaign’s top advisers, including veteran consultant Bob Shrum, that contesting the results only would lead to accusations that Kerry was a sore loser.

‘Disquieting Stuff’

In an interview with me, Winer said the “disquieting stuff” that troubled Kerry included reports that touch-screen systems had malfunctioned in such a way that voters who tried to vote for Kerry saw their votes switched to Bush. Kerry also was upset with reports that Ohio’s Republican election officials shorted Democratic strongholds on voting machines, Winer said.

In some Democratic precincts, there were complaints that voters waited in line for hours or gave up and went home, while in heavily Republican precincts, there were plenty of voting machines and lines were relatively short.

Democratic activists also cited the disparity between exit polls, which showed Kerry winning by about 3 percentage points nationwide and carrying key swing states, and the official count, which flipped the results giving Bush wins in most swing states and a national popular vote margin of about 3 percent.

Some defenders of the election results argue that the exit-poll discrepancies could be explained by Bush’s supporters just being less willing to answer questions from pollsters after leaving the voting booth. According to this argument, Bush voters disdained the “liberal media” which they saw represented by the exit-poll questioners.

That explanation, however, doesn’t explain why historically exit polls have been highly accurate or why the 2004 exit polls were on target when it came to the results for Senate candidates, while off the mark on the presidential race. Presumably, if conservatives were ducking the exit pollsters, there would be a similar percentage shift for statewide races.

Doubts, Not Certainty

Winer said he discussed the election irregularities with Kerry in November and December of 2004. At that time, Winer said Kerry never asserted “outright” that the election had been stolen, but was “uneasy” about what he had heard.

Adding to Kerry’s suspicions, Winer said, was the memory of Election 2000 in which Al Gore defeated Bush in the popular vote by more than 500,000 ballots but lost when Bush got five Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court to stop a recount of votes in Florida. [For details on Election 2000, see Consortiumnews.com’s “So Bush Did Steal the White House.”]

But Winer said Kerry didn’t believe the evidence existed to prove systematic tampering with the vote in 2004. Kerry also was certain he would face withering criticism if he challenged the election results without strong evidence.

“The powers in place would have smashed him,”’ Winer said.

On “Democracy Now,” Miller said Kerry bent to the will of his campaign advisers to concede, even though his vice presidential running mate, John Edwards, favored holding out until more information was in.

Based on reporting for Fooled Again, Miller said Kerry told Edwards in a phone call that Shrum and other advisers insisted that a concession was the best course. “They say that if I don’t pull out, they (Kerry’s political opponents) are going to call us sore losers,” Miller said, recounting the substance of Kerry’s phone call to Edwards.

Miller said Edwards responded, “So what if they call us sore losers?” But Kerry pressed ahead with his decision to concede.

“Kerry’s caving in like that gave an enormous gift to the right wing,” Miller said. “They (the conservatives) could now claim, ‘well, even their (the Democrats’) candidate doesn’t think it was stolen. And they (Kerry and his advisers) left … the American people hanging out to dry there.”

GAO Report

A recent report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, also has questioned the security of U.S. electronic voting systems.

The GAO said some systems don’t encrypt ballots or other data, leaving them open to tampering that could escape detection. The GAO found that another danger was the potential for altering a ballot’s appearance to trick voters into thinking they were voting for one candidate when their ballots actually went to another.

“Some of these concerns were reported to have caused local problems in federal elections – resulting in the loss or miscount of votes – and therefore merit attention,” the GAO said.

Winer, who is now a private attorney with a specialty in information security, said it’s conceivable that electronic balloting was hacked in Election 2004 but that – without a credible witness confessing – there is little hope to prove it.

“There are systems for one-time use that erase themselves afterwards,” Winer said. “You’d have to have a confession and anyone who would confess would look psychotic.”

Kerry, too, appears to have weighed how he would look if he made accusations about possible hi-tech hijinks affecting the outcome of a presidential election. Pundits surely would have put him on the couch as a delusional conspiracy theorist.

But Kerry’s decision not to fight has left millions of Americans wondering if their democratic birthright has been stolen – along with the last two presidential elections.


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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