The ballots and computerized voting records from the 2004 presidential election in Ohio constitute one of the most important historical artifacts in our nation's history. They must be preserved as part of the essence of our democratic rights and traditions, and in the patriotic interest of future generations of citizens, teachers, students and scholars. The fact that the state of Florida has preserved its presidential voting records from the election of 2000 adds important weight to the demand that Ohio do the same for 2004.

Since 1848, only five presidential elections have been close enough to have turned on the Electoral College votes of a single state. (In the presidential election of 1960, the true tally of the voting in Illinois has been widely questioned, but that state’s electoral votes were ultimately not decisive in the final outcome).

The presidential elections of 1916 and 1976 were close enough to have been turned by the electoral votes of a single state, but there were no serious challenges to the vote counts of any such state raised in those years.

In the presidential election of 1876, the electoral votes of Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana and Oregon were bitterly contested, and ultimately decisive. The disputed election sparked a five-month Constitutional crisis which resulted in the withdrawal of federal troops from the former Confederacy and the end of Reconstruction, one of the most significant events in all U.S. history.

Future generations may also argue that the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004 had similar impacts. We make no judgements on that here.

What is indisputable is that both the 2000 and the 2004 presidential elections turned on the electoral votes of a single state, and that in both cases that outcome has sparked serious controversy.

The state of Florida has wisely chosen to preserve its voting records from 2000. They reside in a temperature-controlled state facility, where future generations of scholars and researchers, as well as students and ordinary citizens, can see them and work with them. There may or may not come a day when a firm consensus is reached on what really did happen in Florida 2000. But at least there remains the chance to do so.

For this reason alone, it is essential that the computerized voting records and ballots from Ohio’s 2004 presidential election also be preserved. The outcome was clearly decisive. And serious questions continue to be raised about its true disposition.

Preserving these records allows for the possibility that, sooner or later, all doubts could be resolved and the nation can reach consensus, as it has not done about 1876 or 1960. If they are destroyed, the nation is doomed to endless divisive debate about the critical outcome of one of our most important historic events.

There is no compelling reason to destroy these records, and every reason to preserve them. Though some financial cost will be incurred, it can only be minimal when weighed against the sanctity of our electoral process. For historiographic, scholarly and patriotic reasons, I urge in the strongest possible terms that Ohio join Florida in preserving the right of future generations to see these crucial records for themselves.

Harvey Wasserman, B.A. (University of Michigan) and M.A. (University of Chicago) is Adjunct Instructor of History at Columbus State Community College. He is author or co-author of a dozen books, including America Born & Reborn: The Cycles of U.S. History, first published by MacMillan (NY: 1984), and Harvey Wasserman’s History of the United States,> first published by Harper & Row (NY: 1972). He is co-author, with Bob Fitrakis and Steve Rosenfeld, of What Happened in Ohio? To be published by the New Press in September.