Friday, January 7, 2005

Congress counted the votes in the Electoral College yesterday and certified President Bush as the winner, but only after a bitter Democratic attempt to challenge Ohio’s 20 votes.

Republicans ridiculed the attempt, which Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, did not join. He was traveling in Iraq.

The Senate rejected the challenge by a vote of 74-1, and the House rejected it 267-31. All 31 members who voted for the challenge in the House were Democrats. A substantial number were members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Barbara Boxer of California, a Democrat, was the only senator who voted for the challenge, which she had sponsored. At least one senator was required to sponsor the measure to enable debate on the House challenge and to require a vote.

Vice President Dick Cheney, presiding over the joint session of Congress, then announced that Mr. Bush received 286 electoral votes and Mr. Kerry received 251 votes. One vote for president was cast for John Edwards, the Democratic nominee for vice president.

In the vice-presidential tally Mr. Cheney received 286 votes and Mr. Edwards, the retired senator from North Carolina, received 252.

“This announcement shall be a sufficient declaration of the persons elected president and vice president of the United States for the term beginning January 20, 2005,” Mr. Cheney declared.

Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio and Mrs. Boxer had objected to counting Ohio’s 20 electoral votes, citing reports from that state of long lines and too few machines at Democrat-leaning polling places, voters leaving without having a chance to vote, disparities between counties in the percentage of provisional ballots counted and standards for voter-registration forms.

They said they wanted to raise a debate about national election standards.

“The election is over; it’s not about overturning the election,” Mrs. Boxer said. “It’s the opening round, for me personally, in the battle for electoral justice.”

Republicans dismissed the attempt at Democratic bitterness over losing the election.

“It’s called sour grapes, and it’s sad to see in this House,” said Rep. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona.

Although Mrs. Boxer was the only senator to vote for her challenge, Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, first voted for the challenge but changed his vote.

This was the first time since 1969 that an objection had been raised to a state’s vote. House Democrats tried to lodge an objection to Florida’s electoral votes after the 2000 election but couldn’t find a senator to join their challenge, a requirement under the law.

Mrs. Boxer told reporters yesterday that she regretted not joining the challenge four years ago.

“Four years ago I didn’t intervene, I was asked by Al Gore not to do so, and I didn’t do so. Frankly, looking back on it, I wish I had,” she said, referring to the 2000 presidential candidate. “It really wasn’t about Al Gore, it was about the voters, and I made a mistake.”

Ohio Republicans led the fight against the challenge, citing editorials and comments from Democratic election officials in the state, who concluded that there was no effort to disenfranchise voters.

Several Republican members who had overseen past elections as secretaries of state, including House Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri, called yesterday’s electoral vote count the “wrong time, wrong place” for a debate on election reform.

“Every time we attack the process, we cast doubt on the fabric of democracy that’s so important,” he said.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said the challenge was a Democratic attempt to avoid “soul-searching” about the lost election.

“The purpose of this petition is not justice, but noise,” he said. “It is a warning to Democrats across the country — now in the midst of soul-searching after their historic losses in November — not to moderate their party’s message.”

In the Senate, the debate was low-key and was completed far short of the two-hour deadline.

In addition to Mrs. Boxer, 10 other Democrats spoke in favor of having the debate, though none of them voted for the challenge: Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Mark Dayton of Minnesota, Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Barack Obama of Illinois and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut.

Three Republicans — both Ohio Sens. George V. Voinovich and Mike DeWine and Rules Committee Chairman Trent Lott of Mississippi, one of the official vote counters — spoke against the challenge.

The debate in the House occasionally became bitterly personal, especially toward Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell. One Democrat, Rep. Maxine Waters of California, said she was “ashamed to say” that Mr. Blackwell is black. Mrs. Waters, who is also black, said their ancestors would be rolling in their graves.

Rep. David Dreier of California, the Republican chairman of the House Rules Committee, said the challenge could be seen as aiding the terrorists as U.S. troops are fighting a war on terror. The debate “clearly emboldens those who would in fact want to undermine the prospect of democracy because there is no evidence whatsoever that the claims that are being made are valid.”

In a final jab at the challengers, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Maryland Republican, said having to remain to vote on the challenge prevented his delivering apples from the Catoctin Mountain Orchard to sailors at the Naval Station Norfolk and to troops at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in Texas.

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