Invoking rules that sometimes seem quaint as quill pens, the House and Senate on Thursday certified President Bush's re-election despite a rare objection, which was intended to spotlight voting irregularities in Ohio and elsewhere.
Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., interrupted the ritual roll call of each state's "certificate of electoral votes" in a joint session of Congress, contending that Ohio's results were not "regularly given." The presiding officer, Vice President Dick Cheney, followed constitutional guidelines and sent lawmakers to their respective chambers so that each house could debate the matter.
The outcome was never in doubt. After a near four-hour delay to consider and reject the dispute, lawmakers affirmed Bush's 286-251 electoral vote victory _ plus a single vote that a "faithless" Kerry elector cast for his running mate, former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C. A total of 270 votes are needed for victory.
With Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., having long ago conceded Ohio and the Nov. 2 election, Boxer and Tubbs Jones said their only goal was to highlight Ohio's Election Day problems, which included long voting lines in several minority neighborhoods and short lines in affluent areas.
Boxer told colleagues that Americans have fought for social, economic and criminal justice, and "now we must . . . fight for electoral justice." On the House floor, Tubbs Jones said the objection was "the only immediate avenue to bring these causes to light."
The Senate eventually voted 74-1 to overrule Boxer's objection, even though many Democrats defended her in floor speeches. The House voted 267-31 to override the objection, with no Republicans siding with Tubbs Jones. Many lawmakers were at a funeral or on trips because they had not expected a roll-call vote.
The scene contrasted with the January 2001 electoral vote certification, when no senators joined several black House members who objected to Florida's recount in the bitterly contested race between Bush and former Vice President Al Gore. At least one member of each house must object to trigger a debate and vote. Boxer said Thursday she regretted granting Gore's request not to object to the 2000 electoral vote process.
Last November, Bush carried the swing state of Ohio by about 118,000 ballots, although voters complained of problems in many areas, most of them Democratic-leaning precincts. In Columbus, where some people waited 10 hours to vote, up to 15,000 frustrated would-be voters left without casting ballots. Poorly trained poll workers in Cleveland gave faulty instructions to voters that resulted in thousands of provisional ballots being rejected, and they misdirected several hundred votes to third-party candidates. In Youngstown, 25 electronic machines transferred an unknown number of Kerry votes to Bush, researchers found.
Similar problems occurred in other states, several Democrats said Thursday, and Congress must demand improvements such as electronic voting machines with paper trails providing backup data. Congress should "take it upon itself once and for all to reform this system," said Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.
Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said his state's election "was fair and the result was without question . . . It is time to put this election to rest." Eight-term Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, said the objection to Ohio's count was "one of the most base, outrageous acts" he had ever seen.
Several lawmakers said they will soon introduce bills to shore up the nation's voting processes. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he and Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., will reintroduce legislation requiring that voters be able to verify their ballots' accuracy by seeing paper versions before they are cast, and requiring backup paper records to be kept on file.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.