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Home / Straws Grasped: The Election and Cognitive Dissonance

Straws Grasped: The Election and Cognitive Dissonance

Unexpected, jarring events — such as Sen. John Kerry’s relatively decisive loss to President Bush in last week’s election — can cause a cognitive dissonance that some seek to explain by denying “apparent” reality rather than coming to terms with the meaning of that reality.

The campaign to discredit the results of the election is picking up some modest steam. We will look at those bones of contention, but first an object lesson in conspiracy theory.

The Bulge

The question of “Bush’s bulge” during the first presidential debate has been put to rest: it was the strap of his bulletproff vest, according to Albert Eisele and Jeff Dufour of The Hill:

    sources in the Secret Service told The Hill that Bush was wearing a bulletproof vest, as he does most of the time when appearing in public. The president’s handlers did not want to admit as much during the campaign, for fear of disclosing information related to his personal security while he was on the campaign trail.

    The suspicion that Bush was, indeed, wearing something under his coat was given further credence by Dr. Robert M. Nelson, a senior research scientist for NASA and Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and an international authority on image analysis, who conducted tests while working at home on his own computers.

    “I am willing to stake my scientific reputation to the statement that Bush was wearing something under his jacket during the debate,” Nelson told Salon.com. “This is not about a bad suit. And there’s no way the bulge can be described as a wrinkled shirt.”

Nelson was right about that, wrong in his assumption about what the bulge was: scientists too can be led to see what they want to see. Nelson is a Democrat and was rooting for Kerry. The NY Times mentions today that the tailor who made Bush’s suit, Georges de Paris, now also believes it was the bulletproof vest strap. The only “conspiracy” here is the White House’s reticence to discuss the president’s security measures, a perfectly legitimate consideration.

Election Results

So, what of the election itself? Are the results legitimate? The nation and the mainstream press seem to think so. Evidence of the latter is apparent in the lead to a NY Times story from yesterday about problems with vote systems and counting:

    Voters in Ohio delivered a second term to President Bush by a decisive margin. But the way the vote was conducted there, election law specialists say, exposed a number of weak spots in the nation’s election system.

And the Times very strongly favored Kerry in the election.

Regarding the voters themselves, an AP poll shows relief that the vote was decisive, and renewed confidence in the nation’s electoral system.

Back to the Times story on voting problems, particularly in Ohio, which would have been the ideal setting to discuss legitimate questions with the results:

    “We dodged a bullet this time, but the problems remain,” said Heather K. Gerken, who teaches election law at Harvard. “We have problems with the machines, problems with the patchwork of regulations covering everything from recounts to provisional ballots, and problems with self-interested party officials deciding which votes count.”

    ….[Ohio] relies heavily on punch-card balloting machines of the hanging-chad variety. Voting machines in Ohio failed to register votes for president in 92,000 cases over all this year, a number that includes failure to cast a vote, disallowed double votes and possible counting errors. An electronic voting machine added 3,893 votes to President Bush’s tally in a suburban Columbus precinct that has only 800 voters.

    Officials in Ohio will be able to reject some of the approximately 155,000 provisional ballots cast there, offered to potential voters whose names could not be located on local election rolls, because of the ambiguity of the standards.

    There were also long lines at the polls, and it is unclear how many people grew too dispirited to keep waiting and ended up not voting.

    “In Ohio,” said Edward B. Foley, who teaches election law at Ohio State University, “there is a cloud over the process, even though there is not a cloud over the result.”

Some real problems to be sure, but note a “cloud over the process” not over the result, based upon the fact that Bush beat Kerry by 2% in Ohio. The Democrats themselves concluded it wasn’t worth contesting the Ohio result.

    Democratic lawyers concluded that challenges based on these problems could not bridge the 135,000-vote deficit Senator John Kerry faced on Wednesday morning. A recount of the punch cards would have yielded no more than 20,000 votes, election law specialists said, and there was no reason to think that those votes or the provisional ballots would uniformly favor Mr. Kerry.

    Based on the Ohio experience, election law scholars advocate two types of broad reform: more uniformity within states – in registration lists, voting technologies and the distribution of voting machines – and replacing partisans with professionals in election administration.

    ….Most scholars and lawyers agree the main problems in Ohio resulted from technical failures and inadequate resources rather than partisan bickering in polling places or intentional disenfranchisement.

Makes sense to me – confidence in the system is critical to the legitimacy, and equally important, the perceived legitimacy of the government, although there will ALWAYS be error, it behooves us to reduce it as much as praticable. Although again, the experts are not questioning the results.

Who is?

MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann is agitated, mentioning a story in the Cincinnati Enquirer about some oddities in southern Ohio’s Warren County, and adding:

    the media has yet to touch the other stories of Ohio (the amazing Bush Times Ten voting machine in Gahanna) or the sagas of Ohio South: huge margins for Bush in Florida counties in which registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans 2-1, places where the optical scanning of precinct totals seems to have turned results from perfect matches for the pro-Kerry exit poll data, to Bush sweeps.

    We will be endeavoring to pull those stories, along with the Warren County farce, into the mainstream Monday and/or Tuesday nights on Countdown.

I await your findings, Keith.

The Warren County story is odd, but is it nefarious?

    Citing concerns about potential terrorism, Warren County officials locked down the county administration building on election night and blocked anyone from observing the vote count as the nation awaited Ohio’s returns.

    ….Warren County Emergency Services Director Frank Young said he had recommended increased security based on information received from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in recent weeks.

    Commissioners made the security decisions in a closed-door meeting last week, but didn’t publicize the restrictions that were made until after polls closed.

    “If we were going to make a judgment, we wanted to err on the side of caution,” Commissioner Pat South said Thursday. “… Hindsight is 20-20. There was never any intent to exclude the press.

    ….James Lee, spokesman with the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office in Columbus, said Thursday he hasn’t heard of any situations similar to Warren County’s building restrictions. He said general security concerns are decided at the local levels.

    Other counties, such as Butler County, let people watch ballot checkers through a window.

    Typically, the Warren County commissioners’ room is set up as a gathering place for people to watch the votes come in. But that wasn’t done this year.

    And despite being told that there would be an area with telephones set up for the media, those who tried to get into the building on Justice Drive were stopped by a county employee who stood guard outside. After journalists challenged the restriction, reporters were allowed into the building’s lobby – two floors below the elections office.

    A representative of The Associated Press, which had stringers at every Ohio board of elections site, said no such election-night access problems were reported outside of Warren County.

    County Prosecutor Rachel Hutzel said commissioners “were within their rights” to restrict building access.

Bush got 72% of the vote in Warren County. Note the Enquirer article does not cast doubt upon the results, but questions why this one county excluded the press from observing the process under the pretense of homeland security.

Now, we dip below the mainstream media: this table is making the rounds as proof that something smells bad in Florida, description of which can be found at Common Dreams:

    While the heavily scrutinized touch-screen voting machines seemed to produce results in which the registered Democrat/Republican ratios largely matched the Kerry/Bush vote, in Florida’s counties using results from optically scanned paper ballots – fed into a central tabulator PC and thus vulnerable to hacking – the results seem to contain substantial anomalies.

    In Baker County, for example, with 12,887 registered voters, 69.3% of them Democrats and 24.3% of them Republicans, the vote was only 2,180 for Kerry and 7,738 for Bush, the opposite of what is seen everywhere else in the country where registered Democrats largely voted for Kerry.

    In Dixie County, with 9,676 registered voters, 77.5% of them Democrats and a mere 15% registered as Republicans, only 1,959 people voted for Kerry, but 4,433 voted for Bush.

    The pattern repeats over and over again – but only in the counties where optical scanners were used. Franklin County, 77.3% registered Democrats, went 58.5% for Bush. Holmes County, 72.7% registered Democrats, went 77.25% for Bush.

    Yet in the touch-screen counties, where investigators may have been more vigorously looking for such anomalies, high percentages of registered Democrats generally equaled high percentages of votes for Kerry. (I had earlier reported that county size was a variable – this turns out not to be the case. Just the use of touch-screens versus optical scanners.)

And yet buried in the middle of Thom Hartmann’s screed is this paragraph:

    One possible explanation for this is the “Dixiecrat” theory, that in Florida white voters (particularly the rural ones) have been registered as Democrats for years, but voting Republican since Reagan. Looking at the 2000 statistics, also available on Dopp’s site, there are similar anomalies, although the trends are not as strong as in 2004. But some suggest the 2000 election may have been questionable in Florida, too.

Similar “anomalies” from 2000: perhaps then they are just “anomalies,” just as “Bush’s bulge” had a rather prosaic explanation. Rural Southern Democrats voting for Bush in an election that was set up along value lines of “us” vs. “them”? Sounds like the rural Southern Democrats went with “us,” just as social conservatives across the nation did in overwhelming numbers: those who cited values as their top priority (22%) voted for Bush over Kerry by 80 to 18 percent. And cultural conservatives turned out in greater numbers this time over 2000, for example, 5% higher in Ohio.

Fascinating that the poor showing of the exit polls are serving as evidence of two very different contentions: as evidence that the actual vote count is incorrect by Kerry partisans, AND as evidence that the networks tried to suppress Bush voter turnout, as voiced by at least one Bush partisan. Back to The Hill for Clinton campaign strategist Dick Morris’s accusations:

    Exit polls are almost never wrong.

    ….the networks did get the exit polls wrong. Not just some of them. They got all of the Bush states wrong. So, according to ABC-TV’s exit polls, for example, Kerry was slated to carry Florida, Ohio, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Iowa, all of which Bush carried. The only swing state the network had going to Bush was West Virginia, which the president won by 10 points.

    ….The mistaken exit polls infiltrated all three networks and the cable news outlets and had a chilling effect on the coverage of election night.

    While all anchors refrained from announcing the exit-poll results, it was clear from the context of their comments that they expected Kerry to win and wondered if Bush could hold any key state.

    ….Dark minds will suspect that these polls were deliberately manipulated to dampen Bush turnout in the Central, Mountain, and Pacific time zones by conveying the impression that the president’s candidacy was a lost cause.

    ….At the very least, the exit pollsters should have to explain, in public, how they were so wrong. Since their polls, if biased or cooked, represented an attempt to use the public airwaves to reduce voter turnout, they should have to explain their errors in a very public and perhaps official forum.

    This was no mere mistake. Exit polls cannot be as wrong across the board as they were on election night. I suspect foul play.

I suspect foul polling techniques and similarly “dark minds” at both extremes of the political spectrum, emphasized on the left this time because their side, um, lost.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected], Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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