Boxer Joins House Democrats in Contesting Electoral Votes
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has agreed to join some of her House Democratic colleagues in challenging the validity of Ohio’s decisive Electoral College votes, potentially roiling an otherwise ceremonial procedure for counting the presidential ballots today.
In a letter to Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), Boxer said she was concerned about the voting process in the Buckeye State and the impact it had on voters in minority areas — although she stopped short of questioning the actual outcome of Ohio’s race between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).
Progressive House Democrats, particularly members of the Congressional Black Caucus, have been trying to launch investigations into the Ohio results despite Bush’s victory margin of more than 100,000 popular votes. They have also been vowing to challenge the electoral count when those votes are counted in the House on Thursday.
Their cause was aided by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who stood outside the Senate chamber during Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony and button-holed various Democrats as they came out in an effort to round up at least the one Senator needed to officially challenge the Ohio vote.
As was the case after the disputed 2000 elections, Democrats need at least one Senator to officially dispute any state’s ballot in order to trigger a debate. But it had long been assumed that any challenge by a House Democrat would be met with the same fate as occurred Jan. 6, 2001, when 13 House Members challenged the electoral count but couldn’t get a single Senator to join them in challenging the vote.
But Boxer told Jones, a former judge, she believed challenging the Ohio vote and triggering a two-hour debate on the House and Senate floors was the only symbolic way to jump-start a debate about the large number of votes in minority precincts that get disqualified during each election.
“I have concluded that objecting to the electoral votes from Ohio is the only immediate way to bring these issues to light by allowing you to have a two-hour debate to let the American people know the facts surrounding Ohio’s election,” said Boxer, who won a resounding re-election in November with the largest number of votes ever for any Member of Congress.
Most Senate Democrats, although sympathetic to the cause of pushing for a debate on the voting process, had been highly reluctant to take the step of agreeing to the challenge for fear of appearing too partisan at the start of the new Congress and the new presidential term. “It doesn’t necessarily make the Democrats look like they are looking forward,” Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) said earlier this week.
Kerry won’t even be on hand for the challenge to the state’s votes that sealed his defeat, as he is overseas. But Kerry issued a statement to his supporters saying he would like the debate to occur. And Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) will also not be on hand for the debate, having begun a tour of South Asian nations Wednesday.
Feingold acknowledged that much of the bitter sentiment among liberals is leftover distaste from the 2000 elections and the five-week dispute over Florida’s vote that year.
Today will be the first challenge to a state’s electoral ballot since 1969, when then-Sen. Edmund Muskie (D-Maine) unsuccessfully led a challenge to a North Carolina elector who bucked his state’s vote for President Richard Nixon and instead voted for Alabama Gov. George Wallace (D), who ran an independent campaign based against federal attempts to end segregation.
Prior to that the only other challenge is believed to have occurred after the disputed 1876 election, which only ended with Rutherford B. Hayes winning the presidency as part of a larger deal that ended attempts at Reconstruction.
Under long-standing rules, any challenge to the validity of a state’s electoral count must be done in writing, signed by at least one Member from each chamber. At that point the 100 Senators and 435 House Members would convene in their respective chambers.
Debate would be limited to two hours, and lawmakers would be limited to five minutes of speaking time each. A rejection of a state’s electors requires a majority in both chambers, making it impossible for Democrats to pull off the rejection of Ohio’s electoral votes given the GOP majority in each chambers and the overwhelming desire of most Democrats to avoid the fight.