Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Nut Job

He’s got his father’s good looks and mesmerizing speaking skills. Too bad Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s journalism is polluted with wacky conspiracy theories. His June 2006 Rolling Stone article convinced countless readers that George W. Bush stole the 2004 election in Ohio.

They got fooled by half-researched tales strung together to scare suspicious liberals. Ohio had plenty of voting problems, but they didn’t decide the election. Bush won here by 118,600 votes, a hard-to-forge margin. Kennedy spun our sad incidents of incompetence into a sinister plot — but his careless calculations fall apart if you examine his sources.

The phantom precinct. Kennedy frightens readers with this alleged example of vote suppression: turnout in Cleveland precinct 6C was only 7 percent. He didn’t look into why. Almost all voters in 6C registered at 10660 Carnegie Ave.: the former Cleveland Job Corps Center, where vocational students lived for a year or so, then moved away. This March, 6C’s turnout was down to 0.5 percent.

Turnout: suppressed or skyrocketing? Kennedy thinks Republicans won by suppressing votes in Democratic areas, including Greater Cleveland. That’s unlikely. John Kerry won 448,500 votes in Cuyahoga County in 2004 —88,500 more than Al Gore in 2000.

Pad those figures! Kennedy exaggerates a local study to claim 31,000 Cuyahoga County voters lost their vote to registration errors. The study actually estimates 2,700 voters were definitely deleted from the rolls and 13,000 put at some risk by official error — a scandal, but a fraction of the margin of victory.

Exit polls are never wrong! Because a flawed exit poll predicted a Kerry victory, Kennedy concludes Ohio’s actual vote count was wrong. He ignores the clear trend in polls before Election Day: a close race with a small lead for Bush.

Ballot-stuffing, or fun with numbers? Kennedy alleges 12 western Ohio counties stuffed ballots for Bush. The evidence? Mostly wild speculation by people who can’t believe anyone would vote for Bush and also for C. Ellen Connally, a black Democratic judge from Cleveland who ran for state Supreme Court. But judicial races are nonpartisan, and Ohio voters love judges with Irish-sounding names. Two respected political scientists hired by the Democratic National Committee debunked the fraud allegations, finding that Kerry’s support was consistent with other Democrats’ results in 2002 and 2004.

A vast conspiracy? Kennedy claims Republicans, especially Ken Blackwell, carried out a massive statewide plot. But Ohio’s elections are mostly run at the county level, with equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans on every elections board and at every polling station. Problems such as voting-machine shortages in Columbus and Oberlin were due to bad, bipartisan local decisions.

Not enough. Even if all of Kennedy’s theories were true, he asserts Kerry would’ve won Ohio by only about 1,600 votes. But that’s wishful thinking, because most of his theories are false.


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