Guest Blogged by Emily Levy
ED NOTE: The BRAD BLOG's Emily Levy sat down with Dennis Kucinich on Sunday, just before serving as a hand-counter for votes in the first Democratic San Mateo County Presidential Straw Poll. Results of that poll are below. Kucinich spoke about his plans to force a vote in the U.S. House on the Impeachment of Dick Cheney; on having officially removed his name as co-sponsor of Rep. Rush Holt's flawed Election Reform Bill; his interest in hand-counted paper ballots; and concerns about e-voting systems. As it turns out, however, his wife Elizabeth may have stolen the show with an impassioned speech on what America must do to restore "a rigged and a fake political system," which, she told Levy, is "very, very undemocratic."
Candidate Kucinich was surrounded by supporters after his speech to Democrats in San Mateo County, just south of San Francisco, over the weekend. One asked the U.S. House Rep (D-OH) about the failures of the current Congress to protect the Constitution. "If Congress did the right thing," he answered, "they would be talking … about impeachment."
At that point, I broke in with a question:
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: The American people: an outcry. That's what we ought to be talking about.
EL: What do they hear? What do they hear? I mean, I hear the American people screaming. How come they can't hear?
DK: They aren't. You're exactly right. You know, I introduced House Resolution 333 because I heard from the American people and they said they wanted some response to make Dick Cheney accountable for the statements that he made that took us into a war based on lies. And the statements he made that would take us into a conflict against Iran. Again, more lies.
The President is now openly invoking the specter of World War III with respect to Iran. He ought to be held accountable also. I'm the only member of Congress who stepped forward on the issue of making Dick Cheney accountable. And now we have 21 members who've joined me. That's a step in the right direction. But I'm going to go beyond that. I'm going to call a privileged resolution, at which point, would force a vote --- at least if it's only on a procedural motion --- members are going to have to confront this issue of impeachment. They're not going to escape it. This is a question of defending our Constitution. It really is.
(In a follow up phone call with the Congressman last night, I asked when he intended to introduce the privileged resolution in the House. He said it would happen in "the next few weeks," but couldn't be more specific. Now back to San Mateo...)
Kucinich burst into laughter when I showed him the teabag tag hanging from my shirt pocket. I praised his ingeniously deadpan appearance on The Colbert Report. He searched around in his jacket pocket for his mini-Colbert but was unable to produce the little guy.
While I waited for my turn to speak with Kucinich alone, I spoke with his wife, Elizabeth, who was "enjoying the last day of my twenties." (Happy birthday, Elizabeth.) I asked her the question that was really on my mind: Knowing what he knows about the theft of the last two presidential elections, why would her husband run for president?
After she said, "Are you kidding?" several times with increasing alacrity, I asked if I could turn on my voice recorder...
If everybody came out and just voted in their own enlightened self-interest, if everyone who wanted health care voted in the U.S.A., Dennis would get in. If anyone who wanted to get out of Iraq, if just they voted, then Dennis would get in. If everyone who wanted a change in agriculture and our environment and our climate change policies came out and voted, if they voted for their candidate, who is Dennis, Dennis would get in. If everyone who wanted to vote came out to vote for trade, if they wanted a change in NAFTA or the WTO and to rewrite trade agreements based on workers' rights, human rights, environmental principles, if they came out and voted, Dennis would get in.
It's time really. We've got a courageous person who stands out for a choice and it's really time for the American people to have the courage to come and stand with him and to vote for him.
EL: And how do you encourage people to vote when they don't believe that their votes will be counted accurately?
EK: You can't give up your democracy. If that...if such an overwhelming amount of people come out, they cannot fudge the issue. They cannot fudge the percentage that would come out. And we just have to make sure that so many people come and vote that it would be impossible to rig such an election.
My brief interview with Kucinich revealed a couple of useful nuggets. The full interview is transcribed below. Here are the highlights:
DK: I took my name off.
EL: You did.
DK: Absolutely. I went to the floor of the House and removed my name.
I found myself wondering how many of the other listed co-sponsors may have withdrawn their names. In February 2007, Maxine Waters told me she would remove her name, yet the Thomas site continues to list her as a co-sponsor as well. Other Reps. have also indicated they no longer support the bill. Perhaps that's why it hasn't come up for a full house vote, as Majority Leader Steny Hoyer had indicated would happen in early October.
I asked Kucinich what he is doing, as a Congressional representative or as a candidate, to ensure that there won't be massive disenfranchisement of voters of color, poor and working class voters in the 2008 elections.
"The electronic systems have deprived all voters, whatever their race, color or creed, of the integrity of the election system," he replied. He called upon the Department of Justice and civil rights groups to provide monitors at polling places in all communities of color.
When I asked Kucinich about what should be done in Georgia, which uses paperless, easily-hackable, Diebold touch-screen voting machines statewide, he stated, "I have a real problem with any state that has all Diebold. Because you can't guarantee that technology. And I think the only way to stop that is for citizens of that state to file a lawsuit claiming that their right to vote is being undermined by this technology which is unproven."
Kucinich remains the only presidential candidate who has called for hand-counted paper ballots. In the last Congress he introduced HR 6200, "The Paper Ballot Act of 2006," which would have required the use of hand-counted paper ballots in Presidential Elections. In answer to a question by election integrity advocate Jennifer Kidder at Sunday's San Mateo event, Kucinich said he plans to re-introduce the bill in the current Congress.
The 761 paper ballots used in the San Mateo Democratic Presidential Straw Poll over the weekend were hand-counted in less than an hour by teams of volunteers.
The top two vote-getters in the poll were John Edwards (29%) and Dennis Kucinich (23.6%). Barack Obama received 22.5% of the votes and Hillary Clinton 16.8%. Even as a write-in, Al Gore (3%) placed higher than Richardson, Biden, Dodd or Gravel. Full results with county breakdowns are available at the San Mateo County Presidential Straw Poll 2008 website.
The complete transcript of my interview with Dennis Kucinich follows below...
San Mateo, California, 10/21/07
EMILY LEVY: Last June you announced that you were going to drop your cosponsorship of HR811, the Holt bill. You're still listed on Thomas's website, on the House website, as a cosponsor. Are you still a cosponsor?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I took my name off.
EL: You did.
DK: Absolutely. I went to the floor of the House and removed my name.
EL: That's good to know. And we'll need to find out why they haven't updated their website.
DK: I'll ask about that.
EL: Okay. And I'm wondering what actions you're taking, either as a Congressional representative or as a candidate, to ensure that there won't be mass disenfranchisement of voters of color and poor and working class voters in the elections in 2008?
DK: Well, you know, besides making sure we have paper ballots where every vote's going to count and every vote will be counted, the electronic systems have deprived all voters, whatever their race, color or creed, of the integrity of the election system. Furthermore, I think that we need to insist that the United States Justice Department provide monitors and that all civil rights groups also provide monitors in all communities of color to make sure that there's no, first of all, in anticipation of the election, to make sure that each and every county election board is adequately staffed, that there's a sufficient number of polling places, that the hours are guaranteed to be kept open, that the polling places are accessible and well-staffed, I mean these are the mechanics of an election.
DK: But you have to pay attention to the mechanics of the election in order to make sure that the election's going to be run right, and then on the day of the election you need officials there to make sure that it's proceeding the way it was set up, it was supposed to be set up.
EL: And what would you do, what would you suggest, say, for Georgia, where they not only have all electronic voting, it's all Diebold and no paper trails, where there's not going to be any evidence of...
DK: I have a real problem with any state that has all Diebold. Because you can't guarantee that technology. And I think the only way to stop that is for citizens of that state to file a lawsuit claiming that their right to vote is being undermined by this technology which is unproven.
EL: Great. And could you explain for those of our readers who don't understand why you would take your name off a bill that claims to be a paper ballot bill, which is the Holt bill, HR 811, and speak out in favor of paper ballots?
DK: Well, actually, it's my legislation to create paper ballots. That came before the Holt bill. And so the Holt bill, after talking to people across the country, they pointed out their concerns and the deficiencies of the bill and asked me to take my name off it and I agreed to do that. And I did.
EL: And do you consider the Holt bill a paper ballot bill? It talks about paper…
DK: I wouldn't describe it as that. I mean, I think that it goes far beyond that, I want a simple bill to make paper ballots the way that elections are, the form of ballot for all presidential and federal elections.
EL: Okay, great. And as the representative from Cleveland, in Cuyahoga County, you were, it was your constituents who were among the most cheated in the 2004 --- well, we all were, in the whole country, but some of the biggest problems in the country happened right in Cuyahoga County. And I'm wondering how it looks to you like the plans that Jennifer Brunner has as the new SoS...
DK: I would hope that the, that Jennifer Brunner is going to--actually, she won her seat because of the irregularities in the election. People were so upset with the office of Secretary of State that they elected someone who promised reform. She won on a policy of election reform. So I would hope that Ohio, having suffered so grievously from the deficiencies in election system, will, with the new Secretary of State, have an election system that will protect the integrity of the elections. I'm sure it will.
EL: And one more question about voting and I have one separate question. How would you encourage people to vote when they don't have confidence that their vote will be counted accurately? Why should people still vote?
DK: Because there's no other way that we're going to change the system. I mean, the fact of the matter is if people vote in massive numbers, I can win the presidency, if they vote for what they want. And when you have a small number of people voting, then the election's always going to be in doubt. But if we have a big turnout and people, let's just say, are going to vote for me because they want health care, it changes the country. If they want peace, it changes the country. People have to vote in their own self-interest.