It looks like Bush won the election—this time.
I've long had the queasy feeling that, while there was probably fraud during the 2004 elections, Kerry actually did lose. And an article appearing today in Salon backs that up. Clearly the election was close—so close that the winner has no right to pretend that the party of the loser doesn't exist.
The point raised in the article by British amateur mathematician Elizabeth Liddle is a good one: the lines at polling places and the suppression of voter rolls need to be addressed. Those are the real issues, and they're problems that might have turned the election of 2004, and they certainly turned the election of 2000, as we remember all too well.
So, math is hard, and pollsters' jobs are difficult, as the whole exit poll-versus-actual results discussion points out. It's easier to cry "Fraud!" particularly in light of the fact that fraud decided the 2000 election, but that's a dangerous diversion. The truth isn't as easy to pin down. The truth is that Republican officials have done much to suppress voter rolls in numerous places—most famously Florida, but also in Ohio and Wisconsin. There have also been reports of racial intimidation in Kentucky and Arkansas during its senatorial and gubernatorial elections, I remember, and there's no reason to believe this couldn't have happened during the 2004 presidential—though in light of the fact those states weren't really in play, they wouldn't have been very interesting media targets. (Of course, Kentucky's very interesting senatorial race might have prompted some intimidation, though I don't recall hearing about any. Regardless, I doubt the self-appointed white Republican "poll watchers" who harassed black voters in heavily Democratic districts in 2003 during Kentucky's gubernatorial election would have sat out the presidential election the next year.)
What have we learned, then? Clearly nothing. The Republican Party has learned that victory hinges on their stopping as many people from voting as possible, and that they can fuss and fume enough to get away with it. Weird how the fringe that was relegated to the ranks of the John Birch Society just thirty-some years ago has made it into the mainstream, isn't it? America is more threatened now than ever before. And the problem is that the right-wing Republicans, as dangerous as they are, aren't as dangerous as those who insist on cynically believing that it doesn't matter who's in power. Those who don't see a difference between Bush and, say, Gore or Kerry or anyone else are tacitly giving more power to the extremists by not standing up for anything. Anyone who pays attention can see there's a marked difference between the modern Republicans and Democrats. The problem is that not enough people are paying attention anymore.