On November 3, just hours after Democratic vice-presidential hopeful John Edwards made a national announcement that he and John Kerry were not going to concede until all the votes were counted, Kerry grabbed the spotlight and conceded -- before all the votes were counted.

Kerry took the money and ran. Seems he couldn't stick around because he and the missus were spending Christmas at a holiday extravaganza in Sun Valley as personal guests of California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who just weeks before had fired up the Republican Convention at Madison Square Garden by declaring that "America is safer with George W. Bush as president."

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "The former candidate, largely AWOL post-election, was seen in intense conversation with Dennis Miller."

It would be another two months before Kerry got around to emailing his millions of stunned, exhausted, and much poorer supporters to let them know that, although he was committed to "ensuring that every vote in this election is counted," alas, he wouldn't be joining the protest of the Ohio Electors.

"I am deeply concerned about the issues being highlighted by my colleagues in Congress and citizens across the country and support their efforts to highlight the need to ensure voting rights," Kerry wrote, and admitted that the "troubling questions" gathered by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich), "have not yet been answered."

Kerry assured depressed -- many disenfranchised -- voters that one of his top agenda items in the coming months would be a national proposal to ensure transparency and accountability in the US voting process. He conceded he would use the information "gathered" by Conyers and others to guide his legislation. While we are waiting for the coming months and for Kerry to take a look at his agenda, he suggested we petition the Republican leadership to join us in our effort to act on election reform. Kerry then headed for the Middle East, where he visited with U.S. servicemembers in Iraq before standing tall and resolute in Israel until the last Palestinian vote was counted.

Meanwhile, back in the trenches, Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee and most dogged of investigators, continued to do much more than "highlight" issues and "gather" questions. Conyers faced stiff and often illegal opposition from Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who is also an elite Bush donor and co-chair of the Ohio Bush/Cheney '04 campaign.

Conyers was abandoned by Republican Judiciary Committee members, and ridiculed throughout the media as a looney conspiracy theorist. However, Conyers didn't look back, nor did he change course. He conducting hearings, investigations and interviews that ultimately proved something went terribly wrong in the state of Ohio.

The irregularities were so massive and widespread it took Conyers 102 pages to list them. His report, "Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio," was released on January 5, and is a clear indictment of the shameful lengths to which Republicans will go to derail democracy. At the same time, in a buoyant fund-raising letter to Ohians while the votes were still being counted, Blackwell made the case that he should be elected governor in return for saving the Great Buckeye State from "an unapologetic liberal named John Kerry," and for delivering the spoils to Bush.

According to the Conyers report, Blackwell's bragging is justified, for at the very minimum, he threw a monkeywrench into the electoral machine. Some of his actions, as well the Republican Party and election officials, just in the runup to Nov. 2 are:

Blackwell misallocating voting machines, which resulted in predominately minority and Democratic voters having to stand in line for long hours and disenfranchised thousands, even hundreds of thousands of voters. The conscious failure to provide sufficent voting machines was in direct violation of the Ohio Revised Code, which requires adequate facilities at each voting place.

Blackwell restricting provisional ballots. This also resulted in the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of minority and predominately Democratic voters.

Blackwell rejecting voter registration applications based on paper weight, thus resulting in thousands of new voters not being registered in time to vote.

Ohio Republican Party targeted 35,000 minority voters for intimidation and poll challenges. The Third Circuit Court found such intimidation to be in direct violation of consent decrees barring the Republican Party from such activity. This amounted to a hand-slap after the damage had been done.

Ohio Republican Party sending an army of partisan challengers to minority and Democratic areas to disrupt the voting process and to dissuade voters from standing in line while being harassed.

Blackwell prevented voters who had requested absentee ballots but did not receive them in time to vote from getting provisional ballots. This likely disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters, and Blackwell's order was found by a federal court to be illegal and in violation of the 2002 Help America Vote Act. Curses! Another handslap...

Many people worked tirelessly throughout the media-blacked-out Ohio fiasco, heroically attempting to salvage democracy and to preserve that portion of our Constitution which ensures that every American has the right -- and the opportunity -- to cast a ballot and that each ballot will be counted. There were also those who worked around the clock to get the word out, such as Bob Fitrakis, Steve Rosenfield, Harvey Wasserman, Will Pitt, Sam Parry, Robert Kuttner, Jesse Jackson, and on and on -- far too numerous to mention, but heroes all. Members of Congress who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Conyers and one lone Senator, Barbara Boxer, who courgeously withstood a veritable tsunami of ridicule and criticism to challenge the fraudulent electoral process deserve the heartfelt thanks of all Americans regardless of party.

It is significant that neither Conyers nor any of the patriots who stayed until the last vote was counted had a single negative thing to say to, or about, John Kerry for his hurried and premature exit. Significant because they had to know that by stepping boldly forward and demanding an open and honest vote count, Kerry would have given instant validity to their effort and the media would have been forced to expose the sleazy disenfranchisement of Ohio Democrats, most of whom were minorities.

And so, they took the heat and the hits because, for them, democracy was too important to abandon. Honor was too important for any among them to ask Kerry to be the last man to concede...

I wonder if Americans know, or appreciate, the gargantuan efforts made by Conyers on their behalf -- efforts to expose the administration's almost feral attempt to seize control of the election, our government and, ultimately, democracy itself. Like most Democrats, on that Nov. 3 morning as John Kerry stood before TV cameras and, with obvious relief, conceded the election before it was over, I was caught up in a vortex of depression, disappointment and outrage.

I was half-way out the door in search of a new party -- one that could be depended upon over the long haul -- one that knew the difference between right and wrong and had the courage to stand up for what was right, when I happened to look back. There Conyers was, the last man to concede, doggedly soldiering on for democracy in spite of the absence of his peers, the ridicule of the mainstream media and relentless attacks from Republicans.

Today, in a gracious thank-you letter to all those who worked to bring voting irregularities before the Congress, Conyers assured us he "remains steadfast" even though the election is over. He also expressed gratitude to internet activists and alternative media for investigating the voter fraud and for bringing it to light "when all but a handful in the mainstream media refused to examine the facts."

Like Kerry, Conyers says he will "introduce comprehensive election reform legislation in the coming weeks, and will fight for its passage at the earliest possible moment." He says he has not forgotten his investigation into the role of senior Bush Administration officials in "outing" Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA operative. "I will also continue to examine the sources of the fraudulent case for the Iraq war, which intersects with the outing of this operative," he promised.

So, unable to abandon Conyers, I came back. I am reminded of the words of former vice-president Al Gore, speaking of Kerry at the Democratic Convention in July, "He is a friend who will stand by you. His word is his bond. He has a deep patriotism that goes far beyond words. He has devoted his life to making America a better place for all of us."

That may be true, but for me, it is John Conyers to whom these words of praise should be directed. It is John Conyers who makes me proud to be an American, and if I'm ever proud to be a Democrat again, it will be because of him.

Nobody had to ask him. John Conyers chose to be the last man to concede.

Sheila Samples is an Oklahoma freelance writer and a former civilian US Army Public Information Officer. She is a columnist/regular contributor for a variety of Internet sites. Contact her at © 2005 Sheila Samples