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The mood at Patti Ruben’s MoveOn house party on the third Sunday
in November was cheerier than some might expect. Six years after its inception
as an opposition movement to Bill Clinton’s impeachment, MoveOn.org, the vaunted
Internet-based political group that, through its 527 and PAC, fought Bush’s
re-election with everything from bake sales to homebrew television ads, had
convened a nationwide conference of gatherings, networked via Web site, to collectively
assess its future. It was not necessarily an auspicious moment: After a spring,
summer and fall of energetic fund-raising, mobilizing and lavish media attention
that supposedly had right-wingers quaking in their Nikes, the fearsome MoveOn,
like so many newer organizations rising from the Bush-hating masses, had seemed
to wither in the face of a perceived referendum on the liberal way of life.
But not everyone was buying the mandate: “If a few thousand votes had gone
the other way in Ohio,” MoveOn executive director Eli Pariser told the
house parties’ participants during the Web cast, “the media would all be
talking about how brilliant our efforts were.”

Make that a couple hundred thousand; at any rate, the question
before the house parties was not so much about what went wrong in MoveOn’s campaign,
or even how to hold up under four more years of Bush, but what to do about the
Democratic Party, an organization so conformist it could not even stand firm
to contest a possibly rigged election. Ruben’s was one of some 1,700 parties
across the country, most of them concentrated along the coasts and the banks
of the Mississippi River. And as her 40-odd guests clustered in front of a fire
in an airy Los Feliz mansion, Bush, Cheney and Rove gave way to a new axis of
evil: Terry McAuliffe, James Carville and the cursed Bob Shrum, loser adviser
to Mondale, Dukakis and Kerry.

“The Democratic Party is hopeless,” said the woman sitting
next to me on the floor before the tiny iBook from which our leaders beamed
their remarks. “We’ve got to take over, get behind that guy from Sierra
Club who posted a note on the door of the Democratic headquarters, just like
Martin Luther did on the door of the church.”

Patti Nicklaus, a writer for the Church of Scientology’s Freedom
magazine, which she defined as the place where Oliver Stone got his ideas
about JFK, had another hypothesis. “The reason we’re here is because the
Republicans rigged the vote,” she insisted. “We can’t talk about anything
unless we talk about that.”

Nicklaus held in her hand a stack of printouts detailing voting
anomalies in bar graphs and tables, which Ruben asked her to put away until
later in the discussion. “I want people to come in here and feel free to
air the issues that have been on their minds,” she said. “I don’t
want them to be influenced yet.” Nicklaus graciously complied, but she
didn’t give up. By the time in the afternoon when each participant chose a single
most-pressing issue to expound on, Nicklaus, invoking Bev Harris of Black Box
Voting as her patron saint, had her pitch down cold. “Think of it this
way,” she said. “You’re a farmer, and you’re doing everything right
— watering, fertilizing, using the right pesticides — but you keep losing. Your
crops are disappearing. And until you find the band of thieves stealing from
your fields, you’re not going to get your farm back.”

It was not, as it turned out, an unpopular argument. At the end
of the afternoon’s 50-minute house-party discussion, Pariser came back online
to poll the partygoers on their opinions. Of all the issues offered in the discussion
— the environment, federal judicial appointees, third-party politics — none
came close to rivaling election reform as the matter most on people’s minds.
Whatever anyone thought of Nicklaus’ single-minded fervor, the final tally was
on her side. Election reform won the vote at Ruben’s house, and prevailed across
the country, said Pariser, “by a landslide.”

THINGS SOUNDED MUCH THE SAME a few weeks ago when, in the
days after the election, I called around to the various groups borne as much
of Bushphobia as Kerryphilia and found everyone from ReDefeat Bush founder David
Lytel in Washington, D.C., to the local Kerry grassroots club preoccupied with
exit-poll numbers. Only Democracy for America (DFA), Governor Howard Dean’s
alternative to the Democratic Party machine, had even considered moving on.
“We got many, many people elected this year,” boasted Laura Gross,
the fast-talking, upbeat communications director of the Dean PAC. “Half
of them were first-time candidates, and they won at all levels, from the state
Legislature in Hawaii to the water-conservation board in Florida.” Gross
made no mention of Election Day irregularities; she focused on the Dean team’s
victories.

“We had people elected in the so-called red states everywhere
from Utah to Idaho,” Gross said. “The mayor of Salt Lake County, Peter
Corroon, is a Democrat. We supported 13 men and 19 women, seven African-Americans,
one Latino, one Asian, two gay and lesbian. Ten of them defeated incumbent Republicans.”
Northeast Philadelphia sent a “Dean Dozen” Democrat, Allyson Schwartz,
to the U.S. House of Representatives, and Julia Boseman won the state senate
race in North Carolina’s 9th District. Montana elected a Democratic governor;
Portland, a liberal mayor.

[

“Even in an off year there’s going to be elections like these
that we need to focus on,” Gross said. “There are city and local races
coming up this January. “Enough with the woe-is-me attitude.”

Gross’ optimism is refreshing. Judging by the discussion boards
on the DFA Web site, however, it is still not shared by many of her organization’s
followers and contributors, many of whom pine for the moment when the Iowa screamer
himself will take up the cause of voter fraud (although, as one poster remarked,
if he ever does, he should avoid the word fraud and opt instead for the
more reasonable irregularities.).

“It’s just not really over for a number of people,”
says Lytel, who plans to speak this Saturday with the Reverend Jesse Jackson
and reporter Greg Palast at a rally in Columbus, Ohio. “There are twice
as many Americans who don’t believe Bush was legitimately elected president
as there are Ukrainians who don’t believe Viktor Yanukovich won his election
fairly.” Lytel cites a recent Harris Poll that found that 38 percent of
Democrats and 37 percent of people with no specific party identity believe there
were “some” or “many” attempts at unlawful vote suppression.
That works out, he concludes, to 18 million Democrats and 12 million independents
— roughly 30 million people. For context, the total population of Ukraine is
around 37 million.

So why aren’t we in the U.S. marching in the street by the hundreds
of thousands, as they are in the Ukraine? “Because Americans still continue
to see Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather and Peter Jennings as hardworking journalists
presenting the facts,” says Lytel, “when in fact they’re the faces
representing Viacom, General Electric and Disney. And the tools used to fix
the election were much more subtle here.”

Not to mention harder to expose. Dr. Steven Freeman of the University
of Pennsylvania has published a report, “The Unexplained Exit Poll Discrepancy,”
arguing that it’s statistically impossible that every discrepancy between exit-poll
numbers and official results in battleground states benefited Bush, but accusing
no one in particular of actual wrongdoing. In recent days, an investigative
reporter named Wayne Madsen has written two stories claiming that the Bush campaign
relied on $29 million in Saudi money to orchestrate a widespread machine-hacking
operation. Lytel calls him “a credible investigative journalist,”
but acknowledges that “If you’re going to bring down the government, you
need a named source.” Nevertheless, strong evidence has begun to emerge
from certain counties of voter intimidation and lost-and-found ballots affecting
the outcomes of local elections. Ironically, it’s not coming from conspiracy
theorists or revolutionary 527s, but from the hidebound Democratic Party.

In Westchester County, New York, state Democratic Party officials,
fearing a close and muddy fight, obtained a court order in advance of the 2004
state Senate race to have all machines and ballots impounded by local law enforcement
until a public recount could be completed. On election night, the initial tally
showed Democrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins running 1,674 votes behind 26-year incumbent
Republican Nick Spano; a week later, a re-canvass put Stewart-Cousins only nine
votes behind Spano. At the moment, independent observers are still holding each
ballot to the light as the media look on; Republican officials are still challenging
ballots they don’t consider valid. As Stewart-Cousins would be the first African-American
elected from the largely white county to the New York state Senate, the challenges,
according to Jonathan Rosen of the New York Democratic Senate Campaign Committee,
have been particularly fierce in heavily African-American districts. Republicans
have also systematically challenged voters in housing projects and fought emergency
ballots cast in the wrong district — a phenomenon for which Rosen blames his
opponents’ widespread misinformation campaign.

“This is about progressives getting tough and being pre-emptive,”
Rosen says. “The Republican Party runs an aggressive disenfranchisement
effort around this country for one reason: because they can. Because we don’t
challenge them. Because progressives don’t like the message that might makes
right, that you have to fight hard to protect your voting rights. We lost the
Florida recount in 2000 in that way. But we’ve now made a decision to never
let that happen again.

“I don’t think I’ll ever run another campaign without going
to court to get an impoundment order before Election Day,” Rosen declares.
He claims that the Democratic Party nationwide ran what he calls “an amazing
ballot-security operation” whose results have only begun to trickle in,
and when their findings are revealed, they won’t need complex spreadsheets or
shady stories of foreign financiers. “When the state of Ohio chooses not
to put enough machines in their polling places in Cuyahoga County so that people
have to stand in line in the rain until they give up and go home, that’s voter
fraud,” says Rosen.

[

As of this writing, Stewart-Cousins is 109 votes behind Spano
with a few thousand ballots left to count.

Stewart-Cousins was a “Dean Dozen” candidate, sponsored
and endorsed by Democracy for America. Accordingly, Rosen’s update on the state
Senate battle was posted to the DFA Web site on Monday, eliciting more than
200 comments, many invoking voter fraud. “I just donated $10 to the Andrea
Stewart voter defense fund,” wrote one participant. “And I would even
give more if DFA sponsored a fund to investigate election fraud in Ohio and
Florida.”

Now that even the Government Accountability Office has agreed
to investigate Election Day troubles, Lytel hopes the media he calls corporate
might start to take the issue more seriously. Maybe even a senator or two will
“stand up this time on January 6 — the day Congress meets to cast the electoral
votes — and say, ‘Okay, tell us why you think the votes weren’t cast legitimately?’
and we’ll finally get to give our 57 reasons why we think the election was rigged.”

If nothing else works, there’s always January 20, 2005. Several
organizations are making plans to send buses full of protesters to the inauguration;
the day has even inspired a whole, new anti-Bush grassroots effort: Turn Your
Back on Bush. “We don’t need banners, we don’t need signs, we just need
people,” says the Web site turnyourbackonbush.org. “We’re calling
on people to attend inauguration as they are: members of the public. Once through
security and at the procession, at a given signal, we’ll all turn our backs
on Bush.”

On the same day, Lytel will throw the largest “counterinaugural
ball” in history at an as-yet-undisclosed D.C. location. “ReDefeat
Bush will be reborn that night,” he says. “Bigger and better than
ever.”

LA Weekly