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To Be Blunt, Missouri's Election Reeks of Conflicts of Interest and Warrantsa Recount

   

To Be Blunt, Missouri 's Election Reeks of Conflicts of Interest and Warrants

a Recount

 

by Matthew Fox

 Matt Blunt won the race for governor in Missouri while he was Secretary of State. I question the conflict of interest. Scrutiny of election results statewide and in Greene County raises graver questions about whether Matt Blunt may have exploited his position of electoral power to gain the governor’s seat.

 

In all the recent news hubbub about Ukraine’s fraudulent election, Guantanamo Bay tortures, the rare report about ongoing election showdowns in Ohio, and day by day new Bush appointees, each scarier than the last, here’s an AP headline you might have missed: “Blunt got bang for his buck in governor’s race” (David Lieb, AP, 12/3/04). The article’s opening one-liner says it all: “ Missouri ’s most expensive gubernatorial race was won by the candidate who spent the least.”

 

The article touches on (touches up? whitewashes?) one of the most under-the-radar coups that the GOP pulled off this year. Regional news stories on Wednesday, Dec. 1 marked an important stage in this coup: Matt Blunt, the Secretary of State, certified the election results. Some inevitable number adjustments had been made since the election, we are told, but no major race was affected. As Blunt is reported to have said, “I’m still the next governor. I checked that one myself.”

 

Whoa! Wait a minute—Governor!? Yes, you read it correctly, the current Secretary of State in Missouri, the guy in charge of elections, from code, procedures, ballots, precinct and voting maching placement, voting machine purchasing and certification, election results reporting and certification—the Ken Blackwell of Missouri, if you will—just won the highest elected seat in Missouri and will soon be sworn in as governor. Did anybody say conflict of interest? More importantly, didn’t anyone scream conflict of interest before the Nov. 2 election?

 

David Lieb doesn’t pause to expand on this point (indeed, he doesn’t even notice it), so I will. It is a basic rule of governmental ethics that public servants should uphold “the principle that even the appearance of preferential treatment or using one’s position for personal gain is not acceptable” (Amy Comstock, Director, US Office of Govt. Ethics).

 

By this very reasonable principle, Matt Blunt had every obligation to remove himself from the apparent conflict of interest. He could, and should, have done so by stepping down as Secretary of State when he decided to run for governor. That he did not do so, and that nobody raised a stink about it, and that he has—so far!—gotten away with it, is a sad testament to the state of (un)ethical oversight in our political arena today.

 

But wait, there’s more. First, some context. Matt Blunt is son of Roy Blunt, current House Majority Whip, whose job, as George Bush likes to say, is “to count the votes,” i.e. he is the guy who whips up formal support for party-backed measures and legislation. Blunt Sr. is also one of George Bush’s close buddies, and Bush was in Missouri several times during the campaign drumming up support for Matt Blunt’s governor’s race and other GOP candidates. Towards the end, Bush just started referring to Matt, even before the election, as “Governor Blunt.”

 

Maybe it was just a kind of “visualize it and it will happen” confidence ploy. Or maybe he knew something we don’t about Blunt’s solid hand on the electioneering machine. Remember, Matt Blunt was, all this time, the acting state official on elections. Maybe there was a reason they didn’t spend as much money as the opposition, Claire McCaskill, the current State Auditor. Is it possible there were other, more secretive reasons to give them confidence in the election’s outcome?

 

In the election results certified on Monday by Blunt, Bush won Missouri with 53.3% of votes. Roy Blunt regained his congressional seat with 70.4%. Matt Blunt himself did much worse, barely taking his opponent by a margin of 50.8% to McCaskill’s 47.9%.

 

The apparent handiness of that win is belied by closer scrutiny of Missouri voting trends. In a full 80% of Missouri ’s counties, both urban and rural, Matt Blunt underperformed George W. Bush, often by discouraging margins. For example, in Camden County , with 68% turnout, Bush garnered 67%, Blunt only 61%, of the vote. The pattern recurs in county after county.

 

Cass: turnout 65%, Bush 62%, Blunt 53.5%

Cooper: turnout 68%, Bush 67%, Blunt 61%

Grundy: turnout 68%, Bush 66%, Blunt 59%

 

And on and on. The average of Blunt’s statewide underperformance of Bush in those 80% of counties was a full 3.6%. Apparently, most Missourians thought less of Matt Blunt, his message and his state service so far, than they did of George Bush.

 

But this poor showing was, according to the final numbers, made up for by an incredible performance compared to Bush in the other 20%. In 23 counties Matt Blunt outperformed Bush, sometimes miraculously so. In Clark County , up in the state’s northeast corner, Bush just barely took the county with 50.8%.

 

Not Matt Blunt, he walked away with 67% of the vote!

 

Imagine that, 17% of Clark county residents who voted for the “liberal Massachusetts senator,” crossed the ticket and cast a vote for the son of one of George Bush’s closest buddies. Okay, it boggles the mind, but hey, I’m not from Missouri , so I won’t presume to know the mind of the “Show Me State” voter.

 

Apparently all across the north and northeast of Missouri there are voters of this sort—“anti-Dixiecrats” we might call them—who threw in their name for Kerry and presidential change, but then in the next penstroke voted for Matt Blunt. This also happened in Adair, Barton, Jasper, Knox, Lewis, Marion , McDonald, Mercer, Newton , Pike, Putnam, Ralls, Schuyler , Scotland , Shelby , Ste. Genevieve, Sullivan, Vernon, in all of which Blunt did far better than Bush (plus a couple others where he just matched Bush’s votes).

 

Perhaps the most curious of all is St. Louis City , where over 80% voted for Kerry; but in the governor’s race 2%, around 2800, of these diehard Democrats switched sides and voted for Matt Blunt.

 

Convinced yet that there is something strange going on in Missouri ? The results in Greene County and the city of Springfield may also raise eyebrows.

 

Springfield in southeast Missouri is Blunt’s hometown, so we might expect him to do well. But some suspicious patterns emerged when I culled precinct by precinct data from the county’s website and analyzed it. I found that the suburban and rural areas surrounding Springfield matched quite well the statewide pattern of Blunt’s underperformance compared with Bush. Only in the city precincts, where Democrats overall performed much better than in the surrounding county, did Blunt outperform Bush, sometimes by as much as 3% (as in Springfield 9-A). Again, urban Democrats voting for Kerry and Blunt, when rural or suburban Bush supporters voted more weakly for Blunt.

 

The other disturbing pattern in Greene County relates to voter turnout. The county-wide average turnout was around 70%. But dozens of the urban precincts had turnouts that were vastly below the average. We’re talking 20-30% below average! For example, 9-A, one where Blunt did so well, had a turnout of 40%. In that same precinct 30% of all votes were straight party Democratic, and John Kerry earned 55%. But in this same precinct Blunt beat Claire McCaskill 46.4% to 47%. (Incidentally, or not, Roy Blunt also did very well in these low turnout precincts, pulling in 47.5% in 9-A). In other statewide races 9-A gave the majority to Democratic candidates.

 

The numbers are most striking when seen altogether. The patterns are strong, and others who have looked at them are struck by them too. And the above is not the whole story. There is also a completely implausible occurrence involving sub-precincts, where voters were divided alphabetically into two or three groupings. In several cases voter turnouts were far lower in the second and third subsets than in the first.

 

In other words, in precincts countywide, it seems that voters with names A-L turned out to vote in far greater numbers than voters with names M-Z. I checked with the county BOE , and these were voters who went to the same polling place. The only difference was A-L names were in one poll book, M-Z in another. As one statistical analyst who has looked closely at this for me has said, “If one expects precinct turnout to fluctuate randomly about some average value, the pattern observed in Greene County is hugely improbable.”

 

Summary: the GOP just gained control of the governor’s office in Missouri , seating a key party player’s son there through an election for which he was, as the Secretary of State, the chief elections official. Conflicts of interest hardly run deeper, yet here we are. The votes are now certified, despite the fact that many things in the numbers, like those mentioned above but many others, still “smell fishy.”  

 

For the AP writer David Lieb, the story was that Blunt won despite having spent the least money on the campaign. But maybe the author missed the point, though he did catch that wonderful quote, straight from the horse’s mouth. “I’m still the new governor. I checked that one myself.”

 

Now maybe the “Show Me State” needs to live up to its motto. Missourians, show the rest of us, so that we might have the same confidence, that this gross conflict of interest was appearance only, and Mr. Blunt did not in fact abuse his power and position to gain a very tempting advantage in his victorious race to become Missouri ’s next governor.

 

(Note: All research on election numbers conducted by author using readily available online results from the Missouri Secretary of State and the Greene County Election Board websites.)

Matthew Fox.matfox@gmail.com has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Princeton and lives in New Jersey where he teaches ancient Greek and Latin literature and history at the college level. He’s been driven into activism after this election because of the dire signs of growing unconstitutionality in our great but beleaguered republic.

 

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