As anticpated, Robert Kennedy’s Rolling Stone article continues to create discussion in the blogosphere. Salon presents a reply from Kennedy to Manjoo’s article, along with a response from Manjoo. This was an obvious article for Salon with Manjoo having written the first and one of the most comprehensive evaluations of Kennedy’s article. (Of course Manjoo had an easy time of this since Kennedy presented arguments Manjoo had written on soon after the election.) A discussion between Kennedy and Manjoo is of value, but it should be remembered that this is not a simply a dispute between the two. Manjoo’s objections are shared by many, including many liberals, and the real question is whether Kennedy proved his case.
The biggest dissapointment in Kennedy’s article is that it stressed the exit polls so heavily, with many feeling that the exit polls fail to provide any evidence of fraud. The Mystery Pollster, who has already written extensively on this, responds more specifically to Kennedy’s use of the exit polls.
The biggest disappointment is that these serious discussions come from Democratic sites. Republican blogs generally offer only close minded attacks and offer little of value to the discussion. As long as election reform remains a Democratic issue there is no chance of achieving change. We need the support of independents and Republicans who also desire fair and transparent elections. This will not occur as long as the stress of articles such as Kennedy’s is on unprovable assertions that there is evidence that fraud changed the result of the election. As Kennedy failed to present evidence of fraud of this magnitude, and not all questionable acts are limited to Republicans, it would have been far more valuable if Kennedy had discussed problems with elections for which there is good evidence. If the result of an election cannot be determined with certainty this is in itself a problem and there is no need to attempt to show that this actually changed the result.
Besides being counterproductive, basing an article on election reform on claims of a stolen election creates discomfort in much of the liberal blogosphere. Liberals pride themselves on being the “reality-based” community. Liberals have the clear claim to having reality on their side on multiple issues, including WMD, Iraq’s lack of a pre-war lconnection to al Qaeda, evolution, global warming, and support for stem cell research. Regardless of whether fraud occured, unless more convincing evidence can be obtained of fraud, much of the liberal blogosphere will also ignore this issue (but hopefully not go to the lengths of one prominent site in banning those who maintain fraud occured).
Update: Salon also has a separate article on the controversy to answer their critics. They include comments from many blogs and defend Manjoo against several of the attacks on his article (which have become unnecessarily personal):
He has approached his stories on the massive problems with voting in this country in the same way, with an open mind. He investigated the many different allegations used to charge that President Bush “stole” the state of Ohio in 2004 and found all of them wanting. But in every piece, including his Kennedy article, he’s also made it plain that probably legal but unethical methods were used in Ohio and elsewhere to suppress voter turnout and discourage people from voting, and that those tactics are America’s shame. It’s clear, however, that a divide has opened on the left between those who want to label the 2004 election intentionally “stolen” by the GOP, and those who think unproven charges of theft — and they remain unproven, even after Kennedy’s ambitious piece — undermine efforts to work on the very real, documented problems in our voting system. They include the lack of safeguards for electronic voting, the too-frequent disparities in resources between rich and poor (and white and nonwhite) precincts, and the ethically challenged behavior of too many voting officials, from the infamous Katherine Harris of Florida to Kenneth Blackwell of Ohio, to people whose names we don’t know but who make decisions regularly that suppress voter participation.
Salon will continue to try to get to the bottom of charges of election theft in Ohio, but we don’t think the available facts prove the election was stolen. We also think unproven claims of theft weaken Democrats’ credibility and keep them from the work needed to build an electoral majority, as well as to reform the broken voting system that is at least one obstacle to that majority. While the blog posts below display a range of opinion about whether Kennedy or Manjoo makes the most effective case, they also show an increasing weariness of battles about the “theft” claim, when both sides agree there were serious problems in Ohio. As Chris Bowers of MyDD puts it, “Simply rehashing these old arguments is not going to get us very far in creating the sort of electoral reform we need … From what I can tell, there are only two things that will allow us to move forward with unity and hope. First, we need a lot more on the ground activism to try and retake control of our electoral infrastructure. Second, we need a national agenda for election reform that people on all sides of this issue can get behind.”