Howard Dean Got It Wrong

Ohio held the world’s focus on Election Day, Nov. 2, 2004. Thousands of attorneys representing every imaginable interest and thousands of journalists representing nearly as many nations as the Olympics’ opening ceremonies had descended upon the Buckeye State. And what transpired on that day was really nothing more than a little bit of rain and a lot of patient voters and elections officials doing what we do here several times a year: successfully casting ballots and counting votes.

That was eight months ago. Americans re-elected their President and accepted the final tally as fair, honest and the result of a transparent elections system.

However, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, in typical foot-in-mouth manner, citing a DNC “report,” recently made the outrageous claim that African-American and young voter turnout was somehow suppressed in Ohio. The facts tell a different story.

A million more Ohioans participated in the 2004 general election than did in 2000. The Census Bureau reported last month that both Ohio African-American and young voters went to the polls in record numbers. In fact, 66% of all eligible African-Americans in Ohio cast ballots as compared to 60% nationally. Four years earlier, only 54% had participated in Ohio. The 55% turnout for Ohio’s 18-to-24-year-olds also exceeded the national average (47%). That’s compared to 38% four years earlier.

Ohio’s provisional ballots are another issue where Dean misrepresented the facts. Provisional ballots are those cast by voters whose registration is uncertain on Election Day. The ballots are set aside until the registration status can be verified in the days following the election.

Dean asserts that Ohio’s provisional ballots usage and counting methods amount to an indictment of our management of the process. In the 2004 general election, Ohio ranked fourth (78%) in the percentage of provisional ballots ultimately counted according to a study by the non-partisan We were first among states of equal or greater population, regardless of counting standards and laws. In Pennsylvania, which allows voters to cast provisional ballots outside their home precincts, only 48% of the provisional ballots were either fully or partially counted. And in California, which also allows voters to cast provisional ballots outside their home precincts, 74% were counted.

The electoral system in Ohio worked well. Every eligible voter who wanted to vote had the opportunity to vote. There was no fraud. There was no disenfranchisement and certainly no voter suppression.

Voter enthusiasm was higher than I have ever witnessed. Problems and complaints were minimal. In some polling places, the record-high turnout resulted in long lines. Yet both poll workers and voters were patient, and the civility that has marked the Ohio election process for as long as I can remember reigned once again.

To address any future issues of long lines at the polls, I recently successfully lobbied the Ohio Legislature to require a voting machine ratio of one machine for every 175 voters. In addition, I persuaded the Ohio House to pass legislation broadening voters’ access to absentee ballots.

Elections are a human endeavor and, as such, can never be totally error-free. Yet every eligible voter had the opportunity to vote, using regular or provisional ballots. Was the process perfect? No. But it was perfectly inspiring—a testament to the strength and power of our democratic system, the commitment of American voters to have their voices heard and the integrity of the process that encouraged participation and demanded fairness.

We enjoyed record registration and record turnout from every demographic in Ohio’s general election. The process worked because voters, poll workers and election officials at every level followed established rules. We are a nation of laws. In fact, the vitality of our democratic process relies to a large degree on the grace of those whose preferred candidate does not win a legitimate, fair election to accept the results. By doing so we ensure a credible elective process for countless generations to come.