A handful of progressive Democrats in the House and a lone Senator, Barbara Boxer of California, forced the Republican-dominated Congress to hear two hours of protest Thursday about how the 2004 presidential vote was replete with efforts to disenfranchise Democratic voters and suppress turnout in a torrent of tactics reminiscent of the Jim Crow era.

“We have spent our lives fighting for things we believe in – always fighting to make our nation better,” Boxer told the joint session. “We have fought for social justice. We have fought for economic justice. We have fought for environmental justice. We have fought for criminal justice. Now we must add a new fight – the fight for electoral justice.”

By invoking a law used twice since 1877, Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones, D-OH, and Sen. Boxer, stopped Congress’ ratification of the 2004 Electoral College vote by challenging the Ohio results. That forced Vice President Dick Cheney, the presiding officer, to order each chamber to debate the merits of the Ohio vote for two hours. A week earlier, Cheney refused to accept a notice of deposition in a lawsuit challenging the results of 2004 Ohio presidential vote.

"I raise this objection neither to put the nation in the turmoil of a proposed overturned election nor to provide cannon fodder or partisan demagoguery for my fellow Republican Members of Congress,” Tubb-Jones said. “I raise this objection because I am convinced that we as a body must conduct a formal and legitimate debate about election irregularities. I raise this objection to debate the process and protect the integrity of the true will of the people.”

“It is on behalf of those millions of Americans who believe in and value our democratic process and the right to vote that I put forth this objection today,” Tubbs Jones said. “If they are willing stand at the polls for countless hours in the rain as many did in Ohio, then I can surely stand up for them here in the halls of Congress.”

While the ratification of a second term for George W. Bush was not in doubt – because those protesting the Ohio vote did not claim they had evidence that John Kerry would have won - Tubbs-Jones’ and Boxer’s challenge unleashed a flood of impassioned speeches by liberal Democrats about Election Day abuses in Ohio and other states, and calls for significant election reform.

Ohio became the poster child for a broken election system. The Democratic Congressmen and Senators began reciting the same list of voting rights abuses first catalogued by the coalition of activists, attorneys and independent journalists – the team – in Ohio. They began with from rulings that disenfranchised voters before Election Day by Ohio’s highly partisan Republican Secretary of State, Kenneth Blackwell; they then cited widespread accounts of voter suppression on Nov. 2 stemming from a willful shortage of voting machines in minority- and student-dominated districts to an over-reliance on provisional ballots; they also recounted vote-counting irregularities from computer malfunction to erroneous turn-out reports.

Boxer said, “It seems to me that under the Constitution of the United States, which guarantees the right to vote, we must ask:

- “Why did voters in Ohio wait hours in the rain to vote? Why were voters at Kenyan College, for example, made to wait in line until nearly 4 a.m. to vote because there were only two machines for 1300 voters?

- “Why did poor and predominantly African-American communities have disproportionately long waits?

- “Why in Franklin County did election officials only use 2,798 machines when they said they needed 5,000? Why did they hold back 68 machines in warehouses? Why were 42 of those machines in predominantly African-American districts?

- “Why did, in Columbus area alone, an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 voters leave polling places, out of frustration, without having voted? How many more never bothered to vote after they heard about this?

- “Why is it when 638 people voted at a precinct in Franklin County, a voting machine awarded 4,258 extra votes to George Bush. Thankfully, they fixed it – but how many other votes did the computers get wrong?

- “Why did Franklin County officials reduce the number of electronic voting machines in downtown precincts, while adding them in the suburbs? This also led to long lines.

- “In Cleveland, why were there thousands of provisional ballots disqualified after poll workers gave faulty instructions to voters?

“Because of this, and voting irregularities in so many other places, I am joining with Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones to cast the light of truth on a flawed system which must be fixed now.”

The speeches and debate that followed in both chambers saw dozens of progressive Democrats – lead by Rep. John Conyers, Jr., the dean of the Congressional Black Caucus – fill a leadership void in the Democratic Party that has been lingering since John Kerry conceded the election on Nov. 3. A day before the progressives led the Electoral College challenge, Kerry wrote e-mail letter saying he would not join the Electoral College challenge, but urging his supporters to work for voting rights and improved elections.

“Tomorrow, members of Congress will meet to certify the results of the 2004 presidential election. I will not be taking part in a formal protest of the Ohio Electors,” Kerry wrote. “Despite widespread reports of irregularities, questionable practices by some election officials and instances of lawful voters being denied the right to vote, our legal teams on the ground have found no evidence that would change the outcome of the election.

“But, that does not mean we should abandon our commitment to addressing those problems that happened in Ohio. We must act today to make sure they never happen again.” Kerry was not present for Thursday’s Electoral College challenge. He was reportedly in Iraq with troops. Kerry’s letter disappointed many progressives who felt he had bowed out of the race before investigating the true extent of the GOP’s vote suppression efforts and vote-counting frauds in Ohio and other states.

The leaders of the Democratic Party in Washington have followed Kerry’s cue and said as little as possible about efforts to investigate the irregularities in Ohio and elsewhere. Their silence, a blatant disregard for their party’s rank-and-file who worked tirelessly during the summer and fall for Kerry and still hungered for answers about why their efforts apparently fell short – contributed to as leadership vacuum that ended with the progressive’s Electoral College challenge.

The national news media – particularly the major television networks---exercised a virtual blackout in the Jan. 6 evening news on the challenge. But what those watching on C-span, listening on public radio and the Internet saw and heard was the emergence of a new generation of Democratic leaders willing to fight for progressive causes – starting with the most fundamental tenet of American Democracy, the right to vote.

Even the Senate’s new Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, joined the challenge – a startling, unexpected but hopeful twist. Indeed, he spoke not of voting problems in Ohio but of problems in Nevada.

“Today, our brave men and women of the armed forces are working to bring the right to free and fair elections to Iraq,” Reid said. “Their sacrifice absolutely demands that we work to ensure our own elections are fair. That is what today’s debate is about.” Reid cited problems in his state, saying: “In this past election in my home state of Nevada, phone calls were made to heavily African American parts of Las Vegas to trick those voters into not voting. Those calls, which we were unable to trace, told voters that Election Day was November 3rd, not November 2nd. Our registration process in Nevada was also tainted by the proven destruction of Democratic voter registration forms. That fraud is still under investigation.”

The story of how a small band of activists, lawyers and independent journalists assembled a record and analysis that propelled a new generation of progressive Democratic leaders to emerge and hold the Republican-dominated Congress captive for two hours with a voting rights debate will be told in coming days.

Bob Fitrakis, Steve Rosenfeld and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of OHIO'S STOLEN ELECTION: VOICES OF THE DISENFRANCHISED, 2004, a documentary book and film project from Support is welcome via or the Columbus Institute for Contemporary Journalism, 1240 Bryden Road, Columbus, OH 43209.