Beyond "conspiracy theories," election irregularities get scant media attention


On November 9, the Los Angeles Times reported a voting irregularity during the November 2 presidential election in Youngstown, Ohio, where equipment initially recorded a negative 25 million votes for one precinct. In the 24 hours following the story's appearance, only one television news show -- MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann -- mentioned the incident.

Though articles about the prevalence of Internet-based "conspiracy theories" regarding voting irregularities have appeared in several major newspapers -- including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe -- these articles focused on general speculation about voter fraud rather than on the voting irregularities that actually occurred. Media Matters for America previously noted the failure of most television and cable news networks to report on the glitch in one suburban Ohio town's electronic voting system that resulted in 3,893 extra votes for President George W. Bush; the three media outlets cited above did cite that glitch as an incident that has fueled speculation about vote fraud, but each ignored the negative-25-million-vote episode and other irregularities.

National Public Radio Washington correspondent Pam Fessler touched on "the minus-25 million votes that showed up on a cartridge in one Ohio precinct" in her November 12 report on electronic voting irregularities on NPR's Morning Edition. Fessler also recounted the story of an Ohio voter who "pressed the box for John Kerry" and was forced to seek assistance from a poll worker when the machine indicated a vote for Bush. Fessler noted that the voter "worries about all those who didn't get such help" and that, "[i]n fact, there were dozens of reports last week about voters pressing one candidate's name on an electronic touch-screen machine and having another name recorded."

In her November 12 column in The Washington Post, titled "Worst Voter Error Is Apathy Toward Irregularities," columnist Donna Britt outlined how newsworthy reports of voting irregularities have been largely ignored by the media:

[T]he much-publicized voting-machine error that gave Bush 4,258 votes in an Ohio precinct where only 638 people cast ballots preceded a flood of disturbing reports, ranging from the Florida voting machine that counted backward to the North Carolina computer that eliminated votes. ... Much of the media dismisses anxiety over such irregularities as grousing by poor-loser Democrats, rabid conspiracy theorists and pouters frustrated by Kerry's lightning-quick concession. ... The point isn't just which candidate won or lost. It's that we all lose when we ignore that thousands of Americans might have been discouraged or prevented from voting, or not had their votes count.

And on the November 9 edition of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann, host Olbermann asked Congressional Quarterly columnist and MSNBC political analyst Craig Crawford if "every news organization [gave] up on this story the moment John Kerry conceded the election?" Crawford offered this perspective:

The glib answer, which is part of the truth, is I think everybody was tired after that election. And it was a grueling one. And so, since John Kerry -- and this is the second factor -- since John Kerry conceded, then there wasn't the great desire to run out to Columbus or wherever and try to figure this stuff out. And the concession is the key, because we're often wimps in the media. And we wait for other people to make charges, one political party or another, and then we investigate it. But this is the time to do this. There's still time before the results are certified. It doesn't mean it will change the outcome, but it is good, and I congratulate you for looking at some of these irregularities.

Posted In
2004 Elections
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.