Transcript

276:

Swing Set
Transcript

Originally aired 10.29.2004

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/276

Prologue.

Ira Glass

Perhaps this question has occurred to you at some point during the last few months. How is it possible that there are people who haven't made up their minds in this election? How is it possible that someone actually hasn't formed an opinion at this point about whether or not they like George Bush? Little children in the most remote villages on Earth, children who don't speak our language or know our ways, have opinions about the president. What more information about him could our fellow American citizens possibly need, you know?

Well, for months, we've been looking into this question here at our radio show. And yes, there are lots of people who are undecided, because they just don't follow the news, they're too busy at their jobs, they're raising kids, they don't care. Whatever, it's not their thing. I talked to Martha [? Brennan ?] four months after John Kerry wrapped up the Democratic nomination, but before the convention, about what she thought of him.

I know ?] he was in the Navy. I'm pretty sure he was a senator. And I know he's tall and thin. And that's about all I know.

Ira Glass

But lots of people who are undecided do follow the news, do follow politics. Between 2% and 8% of likely voters are still undecided right now, depending on whose poll you look at. Millions of people, many of them apparently well-informed people who are unhappy with the president but just can't bring themselves to embrace John Kerry. They may decide this election.

And so, to understand them better, we've been following a few of them for months now as they try to decide. And we have a scoop. We can tell you how it is they decided. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. Our program today in four acts, two of them about very different undecided voters, one about somebody courting undecided voters, and one about somebody trying to sabotage undecided voters and all other voters. That story from Jack Hitt, and we swear it will get you yelling at your radio.

Act One. My Buddy, Hackett.

Ira Glass

Act One. James Hackett is one of those undecided voters who does follow politics. He gets his news from NPR and the Wall Street Journal, plus the Atlantic Monthly and Newsweek. He's a doctor in Cincinnati, a diagnostic radiologist, a lifelong Republican. He's never voted for a Democrat for president, and doesn't want to vote for a Democrat for president.

James Hackett

I have voted Republican every single time, mainly because I think they are more fiscally prudent. That's the main reason. And that's one of the reasons that I am so upset with Bush, one of many reasons.

Ira Glass

The Bush tax cut, for instance. If the idea was to stimulate the economy, he says, rich people like him shouldn't have gotten a tax break.

James Hackett

If he gives me more money off, it's not going to change my spending pattern at all. And I think that the amount of these tax cuts, if they are continued, if they are made permanent, is going to be ruinous, is going to be a phenomenal burden for my children and my grandchildren. And I feel betrayed in a way, and also I feel betrayed because he was promoting himself as a compassionate conservative, which I also really liked the sound of. And of course, that's obviously not what we got. I mean, you want to know everything that I dislike about what Bush has done?

Ira Glass

It turns out to be a long list. He disagrees with the president about the economy, gay marriage, abortion, health care issues, stem cell research. He's alarmed at how the president has alienated our traditional allies and eroded America's standing in the world. He doesn't fault the president for invading Iraq. Everybody thought there were weapons of mass destruction there, he says.

James Hackett

So I don't fault him for that, but I do fault him for what has happened afterwards. Before the war started, there were multiple think tanks that were talking about the difficulties of governing in Iraq, and he just completely ignored all of that, how you need more soldiers on the ground if you're going to do it. And I think that has been squandered.

Ira Glass

So Dr. Hackett, you sounds like a prime candidate for somebody who'd be voting for John Kerry. What's holding you back from going to Kerry?

James Hackett

Well, there are a number of things. Just as Bush is ultra-conservative, Kerry is ultra-liberal. I mean, I think some people would not call him ultra-liberal, but he's the most liberal man in the Senate. If the Democrats-- I don't know what the heck they were thinking of by nominating such an extreme liberal.

I know a lot of guys in my position who voted for Bush, and they don't like him, they don't like the way the country's gone, the way he's going. And if they would have nominated a moderate Democrat, I think this would have been a runaway election. For somebody like me, who has voted Republican all of my life, I shock myself by thinking that I long for the days of Clinton. I can't believe I'm saying this. I would vote for Clinton in a second. I would love to vote for Clinton again.

Ira Glass

You can't believe you're saying this, why? Did you used to hate his guts?

James Hackett

I disliked him. I thought he was-- you know, it depends on what the definition of is is, and you know, all that stuff. But I think what he did was great. I think what he did was very, very good for this country. And I think he actually went against a lot of the Democratic party by moving to the center. But that's how he did some very, very good things.

Ira Glass

Yeah. Listen to yourself.

James Hackett

Yeah, I know. I would never in a million years believe I would say that. It's just, I wouldn't believe it.

Ira Glass

And can I just ask you, when you say that John Kerry is so liberal, I know that that's said all the time, but do you have in mind any specific things that you know that he's voted for that are too liberal for you?

James Hackett

Well, to tell you the truth, I have not gone through his voting record. And I think that's something I should do. I think that's a good point. I think that's something I should do. But I cannot-- you know, actually, that's another problem I had. I went to his website to learn more about him, and actually they didn't talk about his voting record too much on his website. And I'm not sure where to go to get that.

Ira Glass

Well, listen, I think we're going to want to check back with you and just kind of see how it's going as things heat up.

James Hackett

That'd be OK. I'll probably be despairing by then.

[PHONE RINGING]

James Hackett

Hello?

Ira Glass

Hello, Dr. Hackett?

James Hackett

Yes.

Ira Glass

It's Ira Glass.

James Hackett

Oh, Ira, hi, how're you doing? It's Gig Hackett.

Ira Glass

Gig?

James Hackett

G-I-G. It's a nickname I've had forever, and it's just what I go by.

Ira Glass

So it's early September, it's the week after the Republican convention. You know, when I last talked to you, you said that the next time that I checked in, you would probably be despairing.

James Hackett

Yeah, and that is the case. That is the case. You asked me, the last time I talked to you, to give you a call if something happened that may precipitate my movement to one side or the other. And actually, shortly after you said that, I read in Newsweek where Bush had said to this one crowd that he wouldn't do anything different about Iraq. Now, I can't imagine him saying that. I mean, there's so many things after the war that were done poorly, the vast majority of things.

Ira Glass

You mean the whole post-war planning?

James Hackett

Exactly right. Anyway, that was one of the things that I thought, if he's really saying that, there's no way I can vote for him. There's no way. I mean, and as it is, I don't know, I am despairing. I hate both candidates. You know, I just cannot imagine casting a ballot for either one.

Ira Glass

You know, the next big thing that's going to happen is going to be the debates.

James Hackett

Oh, absolutely. Oh, debates, that is what I'm waiting for. That's where people get pinned down. That's where people have to take a stand.

James Hackett

Hi, welcome.

Ira Glass

Hi.

James Hackett

Come on in.

Ira Glass

September 30, the night of the first debate. Gig's house, in the Western Hills suburb of Cincinnati. We've spent enough time on the phone that, yes, now I'm calling him Gig.

James Hackett

Well, here, let me introduce you. This is my daughter, Molly.

Molly Hackett

Hello.

Ira Glass

Hi, Ira. Good to meet you. Written on your arm is?

Molly Hackett

Oh, I had a pep rally today at school. It says frosh.

Ira Glass

In retrospect, this first debate is now seen as one of the big turning points in this election, a decisive win for John Kerry and an embarrassing loss for the president. Poll numbers started rebounding for Kerry afterwards. But what I saw in Gig's basement rec room that night was almost the opposite of what happened in the country as a whole. And it's worth spending a minute talking about it here.

There were seven voters, three for Bush, two for Kerry, two undecided. Cincinnati is Bush country, and most of these seven voted for Bush in 2000. But now, all seven thought the president was doing a lousy job in Iraq and with the economy. Some find the president outright alarming on abortion and social issues. Even his supporters in the group were unhappy with the idea of voting for him again.

And they all sat down in front of the TV feeling like they still did not know John Kerry. They'd seen the ads, they'd seen the news, but they still didn't get it. What exactly was he going to do for the country?

Ed

I do have an indistinct feeling about Kerry. I'd like to know more about his views on the national security issues.

Well, ?] first I need to get to know him as a politician.

Ira Glass

There's Gig's brother, Ed, and his wife, [? Vicki, ?] friends Paul and Jill, Joy, who works with Gig at the hospital. Gig's wife, [? Joann ?], set up refreshments and red, white, and blue decorations on the ping pong table. And almost from the moment the debate started, this group was deeply skeptical of everything that Kerry had to say. When he accused the Bush administration of letting Osama bin Laden get away at Tora Bora, [? Vicki ?] jumped in.

I don't ?] believe that.

Ira Glass

When he said that UN inspectors should been given more of a chance in Iraq, Jill spoke up.

Jill

They'd continue inspections forever.

Ira Glass

When Kerry explained, correctly by the way, how missteps in the early years of the Bush administration led to North Korea expanding its nuclear program, nobody in the room believed him.

Ira Glass

Did you buy that?

Jill

No, I don't. I mean, I'd like to know more about it.

Ira Glass

As Gig put it--

James Hackett

Personally, the things Kerry has said in the past, he's said some things that are inconsistent and some things that are just outright false, in the past. And I mean, I really question. When he says something, I don't know if he really believes that or not.

Ira Glass

Republican leaning voters in Republican towns are probably inclined to be skeptical of any Democrat to start with, but combine that with the largest television ad campaign in political history-- $2 to $4 million dollars in Republican ads each week in Ohio alone, many of those ads calling Kerry a liar, and a flip-flopper, and a liberal-- the result is, even when Kerry says things that are absolutely true, nobody in the room buys it.

And because of that, when he lays out a plan, for the economy, for health care, they assume the worst. Gig points out, quite rightly, that John Kerry has still never answered the question from the debate, how would he pay for his health care plan and all the other things he wants to do, and cut the deficit in half, like he promises? He doesn't even believe Kerry's pledge to stick with the war and win the war in Iraq.

James Hackett

No, that's the whole point. That's the whole point I'm making. I think Kerry says things-- that's why I don't like Kerry, because I don't trust him. I don't trust what he says.

Ira Glass

I talked to Gig a lot about who he believed and why in the weeks after the debate. Gig was very aware of the whoppers that the president has told, denying, for example, how badly the war is going, even lying about the number of trained Iraqi security forces during the debates. Or how the president misled the public on the cost of his own prescription drug program. In Gig's view, both candidates lie, the president lies, but even if he lies, Gig feels, the president still has more integrity than John Kerry.

James Hackett

If you come down to, you know, somebody acting on their beliefs, I think Bush is more believable than Kerry. I mean, I think, for instance, Bush will make some decisions that are terribly unpopular, they're phenomenally unpopular-- stem cell research, for instance-- phenomenally unpopular, and he will do it because he believes that's the right thing to do.

Ira Glass

And I disagree with you, but again I would point out--

James Hackett

Well, give me an example.

Ira Glass

But again, I would point out to you that you probably agree with Kerry on this issue.

James Hackett

On what issue?

Ira Glass

Stem cell research.

James Hackett

Well, yeah.

Ira Glass

Yeah.

OK, let me just stop the tape of this interview right there. Gig pointed to examples like this one a lot, things where President Bush stuck to his convictions, like invading Iraq, or his tax cut, or stem cell research, and I found this a little confusing coming from Gig.

Ira Glass

You know, in all these things where you're saying the President has convictions, and they're unpopular things to do, you don't notice that you side with the other guy. And somehow, you're siding with the president because he's doing something that you don't like. It's crazy jujitsu. You're saying, you know what, you know what I like about that guy, you know why I'm going to vote for him? He take stands that I hate and I disagree with.

James Hackett

I can understand how that--

Ira Glass

It seems really crazy.

James Hackett

That seems odd. I can understand that. No, the reason is, I think-- I don't like Bush. I disagree with a ton of things he does, you're right. I think the thing that you have to have in your president, you have to believe in him. He has to say something, and you have to believe that he is going to do what he says, or that he believes what he says. And I don't agree with what he says a ton of times, but Kerry will not make a hard decision that is unpopular. I believe that.

Ira Glass

But you value that above somebody who's making popular decisions that you agree with?

James Hackett

I know, that sounds crazy, doesn't it? But I think Bush has more integrity than Kerry.

Ira Glass

But who cares if he has integrity from your point of view, if he has integrity in supporting policies that you disagree with?

James Hackett

Well, that's a very good point.

Ira Glass

In some sense, like, who cares if Kerry is a suck-up? He's a suck-up who's sucking up to you. He wants to do what you want.

James Hackett

That's a very good point. Well, see, I guess that's why I'm still not completely decided. I mean, I think that's an excellent point.

Ira Glass

You know, it strikes me, you keep saying, if only the Democrats had nominated anybody but Kerry, but don't you think, whoever they nominated, the Republicans would have painted them in some sort of way where you would be saying this about them?

James Hackett

No, I do not believe that.

Ira Glass

How?

James Hackett

No, absolutely not.

Ira Glass

But didn't they do exactly the same thing with Clinton? They painted him as a flip-flopper.

James Hackett

They went after Clinton big time.

Ira Glass

Yeah, and on the same grounds.

James Hackett

He was an excellent moderate president. There's an example of a moderate president. He was excellent. He was excellent.

Ira Glass

And you want to know why? Because he was a suck-up. Seriously, that's what--

James Hackett

He was, he felt everybody's pain.

Ira Glass

He did. He wanted to take the popular position, much like John Kerry. That's why he held all the positions that you held. That's why you like him in retrospect. Because all the things that you like, he looked at polling data, and he said, you know what, most people like that, so who cares what I, Bill Clinton, think, I'm just going to be for that stuff.

James Hackett

Absolutely, that's right. He tacked to the right. He co-opted a lot of the Republican issues.

Ira Glass

OK, so Bill Clinton did that. Bill Clinton basically said, I'm going to look at the polls, I'm going to suck up to whatever the majority of people want. In retrospect, you like him.

James Hackett

In retrospect, I like him a lot.

Ira Glass

OK, so if that's what Kerry turns out to be, he'll look at the polls every day, whatever the majority wants, he's going to give it to them. Well, eight more years of peace and prosperity.

James Hackett

Hmm. That's a good point. That's a good point.

Ira Glass

My conversations with Gig were a source of fascination for me, and I think for him too, because we agreed on so many things: the war, tax cuts, the deficit, social issues. We agreed that the Bush administration seems incompetent at conducting the war on terror. We agreed that John Kerry doesn't really seem to stand for much, and that when he voted for the war in Iraq, it was probably only because he was scared that voting against it would hurt his presidential ambitions, which shows an alarming lack of conviction on his part.

We agreed on all of this. And yet, Gig considers himself a Republican, and I consider myself a Democrat. It's perplexing, really. Anyway, weeks pass, more debates, then we get this message on our voicemail here at This American Life.

Voicemail

Voice call received Tuesday, October 19.

James Hackett

Hi, this is Gig Hackett. I've come to a final decision that I think is very well-reasoned and I'm comfortable with. I don't know if Ira is going to interview me again. I didn't want to bug him in case he wasn't.

Ira Glass

Right, I wouldn't be curious. Of course I call him, and Gig tells me that he's broken it down. On security, he trusts the president more. On the economy, both candidates are promising to cut the deficit by half in four years, and Gig, he doesn't believe either one, but he doesn't believe Kerry more.

James Hackett

I'm not voting, truly, I'm not voting on the basis of party line. I'm not. I would vote for almost any Democrat over Bush. But they've got the most liberal Democrat in the Senate.

Ira Glass

But actually Kerry isn't the most liberal Democrat in the Senate.

James Hackett

He's not?

Ira Glass

No. No.

James Hackett

How can they say that so many times without it being-- well, who is? How do you say that?

Ira Glass

This is an article from the Los Angeles Times.

This article, and a similar one that was in The Washington Post, point out that the most liberal label comes from the nonpartisan magazine, the National Journal. But the National Journal itself has said that the label is misleading. As I told Gig, it's based on Kerry's 2003 Senate voting record, when he missed a lot of votes while campaigning. When you look at his full voting record since coming into the Senate, you find that 10 current Senators rate as more liberal in the National Journal.

Kerry is liberal, there's no doubt about it, but he supported the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act. He supported free trade. He supported the Clinton welfare reform. All things that liberals oppose. The moderate Democratic Leadership Council counts him as one of their own.

James Hackett

I think that's really interesting. I'll look into it some more.

Ira Glass

We also talked about Gig's fears of what's going to happen if President Bush is in the White House, and Republicans are controlling the House and the Senate, as they are likely to do again.

James Hackett

That was the biggest stumbling block to voting for Bush, was that very thing.

Ira Glass

So what you're going to have is you're going to have President Bush, and then you'll have a Republican House, a Republican Senate, and then--

James Hackett

I know, I know. See, you're making me feel bad about--

Ira Glass

You're going to be OK with the one to three-- no, no, just to play this out-- you're going to be OK with the one to three Supreme Court justices who the president will appoint, probably overturn Roe versus Wade. You're good with that, too?

James Hackett

No, I'm not. I'm not. I'm not. I'm getting depressed again. You know, you're right, that is-- these are very good points. I guess it's up in the air again for me. I'm going to have to think about this.

Ira Glass

After that phone call, Gig decided on Kerry for a few days. And then, after weeks of, dare I say, flip-flopping, he came back to President Bush. I asked him over and over if, in the end, he's a Republican, he just feels more comfortable with the Republican. And he said, no. He said it was all about the issues. In the end, he thinks the president will keep us safer, despite the debacle in Iraq, and despite the fact that he disagrees with them on almost every other issue.

Act Two. Cold-cock The Vote.

Ira Glass

Act Two, Cold-Cock The Vote. There are saboteurs targeting undecided voters, and all other voters besides. Some of these things are so outrageous we felt like we had to devote some air time to it this week. Jack Hitt went to Democrats and Republicans alike to review what's happening.

Jack Hitt

There are already hundreds of alarming stories this election year, and as a public service, I've immersed myself in this hideous sump of pond scum. It's deep here. So deep, that to give you even a bare sense of the sheer profundity of this abyss, I'm going to have to resort to one of the oldest gimmicks in radio broadcasting. That's right, speeded up music.

Nevada. Dan Burdish, former director of the state's Republican party, filed a complaint to remove 17,000 voters from the rolls because they had failed to file a change of address card. State law doesn't require it, and in fact, allows you to vote after moving. When asked why he did it, Burdish told the press, I'm looking to take Democrats off the voter rolls.

Florida. Senior citizens in Democratic precincts are calling their election boards by the hundreds, reporting that strangers, claiming to be from the elections office, are offering to hand-deliver their absentee ballots for them, even though there is no such program.

Wyoming. Secretary of State Joseph Meyer interpreted the statutes there to outlaw voter registration drives, like the kind where a group sets up a card table in a mall or library. One of Meyer's oldest friends, a classmate in both high school and college, is Dick Cheney.

Philadelphia. Three weeks before the election, a white Republican alderman named Matt Robb requested that 63 polling stations in African-American neighborhoods be relocated, thereby making it more confusing for 37,000 Democrat-leaning voters.

Florida. Once again, as in the 2000 election, the state compiled a list of felons to be barred from voting. Throughout this election year, Governor Jeb Bush's administration struggled to keep this a secret. After a lawsuit forced it into the open, people quickly saw that, while some 23,000 Democrat-leaning black felons were barred from voting, almost the same number of Hispanic felons in Florida, who tend to vote Republican, were somehow not on the list.

There are some stories, though, where you really want to slow down and relish the details. Take New Hampshire. On Election Day two years ago, the Democrats offered their voters a hotline to call if they were disabled or aged and needed a ride to the polls. Early in the morning, the phones started ringing continuously, but when the volunteers answered, the callers would hang up. This jammed the lines, and legitimate callers couldn't get through.

The Democrats complained to Verizon, which immediately traced every one of the calls to a Virginia company called GOP Marketplace. After a police investigation, the president of that firm, and a former executive director of the New Hampshire Republican party, both pled guilty to criminal charges and admitted that they had hatched the plan to have callers from GOP Marketplace jam the line in order to prevent elderly and disabled Democrats from getting to the polls.

But that's not the end of the story. The court documents refer ominously to an unindicted co-conspirator, a national strategist who arranged the entire dirty trick. The Democrats launched a civil suit to find out how far up the line the order went. In October, the Democrats' lawyer, Steve Gordon, scheduled a routine deposition of one of those involved. 20 minutes before they were all to meet in Gordon's office, a call came in. It was the Justice Department of the United States in Washington, John Ashcroft's office, issuing an emergency halt to the deposition. The deposition would have to be postponed until after the election.

This federal intrusion into local politics was so ham-fisted and extraordinary that it got tongues wagging all over the state. And soon enough, the tongues shook loose the identity of the mystery phone jammer as one of President Bush's top strategists, Jeffery Tobin, the regional director of Bush/Cheney '04 for the entire Northeast. Two weeks ago, he resigned.

In the past, all these tactics would have been found out by the media weeks after the election, when the perpetrators would be long gone, and the damage done. But this year, the internet is ready. Every day, new accounts of political scamming surface on blogs like Atrios or Daily Kos. There's even an archive of dirty tricks maintained over at [? erepost.com ?].

And when you browse these sites, once hidden patterns suddenly appear. It's sort of like how historians say that serial murder was only discovered after the invention of the telegraph, which allowed cops to quickly share evidence. This year, the blogs have allowed us to see, for the very first time, the wide, wide world of serial vote suppression. For example, let's look at the accounts of two librarians who've never met, from opposite sides of the country.

In September, Megan O'Flaherty, a librarian in Medford, Oregon, got a letter.

Megan O'flaherty

The letter that came to me, it's on Sproul & Associates Incorporated letterhead. "Our firm has been contacted to help coordinate a national nonpartisan voter registration drive. We would like to be able to register people to vote in front of your location."

Jack Hitt

That name, Sproul & Associates, I want you to remember that. Now let's leave Oregon and fly off to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Holly McCullough, at the Carnegie Library, got a similar request. Nathan Sproul for a nonpartisan registration drive. But things weren't what they seemed. Holly, for example, had patrons complaining that the Sproul workers were quizzing them about who they would vote for.

So both Megan and Holly started digging. And here's what they found out. Sproul, it turns out, is a partisan group, run by Nathan Sproul, the former director of the Arizona Republican Party, and the state's Christian Coalition. Sproul has received more than $3 million in contracts this year, from no less than the Republican National Committee, to pump up party registration. And, these last two weeks, Sproul has been popping up everywhere, in as many as 10 states.

Let's soar off to one of them, West Virginia. Lisa Bragg is a temp worker there who signed on with a half dozen other temps for work described as customer service. She remembers it required a day of training.

Lisa Bragg

They presented us with some paperwork, and on one of the papers, on the top of the paper, it says Sproul & Associates. And it's a script, a voter registration script. And it gives you different scenarios, one is for Bush and one is for Kerry, as to how you would speak to people.

Jack Hitt

Do you remember sort of what those scripts were?

Lisa Bragg

It's right in front of me. I kept these forms.

Jack Hitt

Oh, really? Oh, great. Can you just, like, if you were approaching me on the street, how would you?

Lisa Bragg

OK. I would say, hello, we are doing a simple survey. If the election were held today, would you vote for President Bush or Senator Kerry? If you were to say Bush, I would say, great, well, this is a very important election year, are you registered to vote at your current residence? If you would say no, I would say, all right, can you please fill out this voter registration form?

Jack Hitt

If I had said Kerry, what would you have said to me?

Lisa Bragg

Thank you very much for your time. I will report this.

Jack Hitt

Oh, so you wouldn't hand the person a registration card at all?

Lisa Bragg

No.

Jack Hitt

Lisa says she quit. She didn't like all the secrecy and covert operations involved.

Lisa Bragg

On another sheet of paper, it says-- they were telling us, if the media approached us, to go to a pay phone and call this number. They didn't want us talking to the media.

Jack Hitt

And when you called that number, what were you supposed to just say?

Lisa Bragg

The media's coming. The media's coming. I don't know. Stop, the media's here. I don't know. I didn't want to be put in a position like that. Not only was I lying to people about what I was doing, but I was going to hide from the media? That's crazy.

Jack Hitt

OK, Tinkerbell, are you ready to fly off to the next spot? Look, there's Nevada. This week, though, what happens in Vegas isn't staying there. It's the latest chapter in the Sproul story, one that will soon get told in criminal court. A former Sproul worker has hired a lawyer named Paul Larson, who explains the upcoming case.

Paul Larson

This young man didn't do the screening process and just registered everybody who would let him do it. This is according to his sworn affidavit. The organization indicated to him that, we're not paying you to register Democrats, and actually tore up several of them in front of him, which he retrieved from the trash and we provided to the court as exhibits.

Jack Hitt

Two more former Sproul workers in Nevada, and others in Oregon, have stepped forward with allegations of more registrations being ripped up. No one knows how many may have been destroyed. So these people, all Democrats, will not be able to vote at all. They think they are registered, and may show up at the polls on Election Day to learn that there is no legal way, provisional ballot or not, that they could vote.

In response to the Sproul story, Republicans in Nevada have said that Democrats engage in similar tactics. Chris Carr, the executive director of the state party, made public three Democrat registration forms with nonexistent addresses. This is the way these stories go. Both sides make charges that seem roughly the same, but on this issue, there is a qualitative difference between Democrats and Republicans. I called both camps and asked them to give me their worst stuff about the other side. Here's what the Republican spokesman, Scott Hogenson, said.

Scott Hogenson

We have been compiling hundreds of pages of media reports from all over the country of documented cases, of investigations, of fraudulent voter registration cases, everything from police in Ohio investigating a pro-Kerry effort to submit faulty voter registration forms and pay the people with crack cocaine, to a gentleman in Denver, Colorado, who brags and laughs on television about having registered to vote 35 times. The number and degree of faulty, and questionable, and outright fraudulent registrations is really quite stunning in its depth and breadth.

Jack Hitt

He sent me a copy. It's all newspaper clips, many of them unverified charges. There are a few that check out. There really was, for example, this white guy working for an outfit affiliated with the NAACP, who registered voters under names like Mary Poppins and Jeffrey Dahmer. And it's true, he was paid in crack cocaine. Very bad, and a great story.

And then there was the Colorado guy who registered himself 35 times. Also true, also very bad. But the reason you're going to be hearing about these two examples over and over in the official Republican talking points in the next few days is that that's the best they've got in their hundreds of pages. Strange enough, reading the very stories they sent often undercut their main argument.

For example, that Colorado guy, here's a line from the article the GOP sent me. Quote, "Just because you register someone 35 times doesn't mean they vote 35 times," end quote. Let me repeat. These are quotes from the official Republican vote fraud press packet.

Where there are real cases of registration fraud in this compendium, they usually involve poor people getting caught, not trying to fix the vote, but trying to squeeze a few extra bucks, or, OK, a nice chunk of crack, out of these organizations that stupidly pay the temps a fee for each registration card turned in. But don't take my word for it. Again, the GOP's own clip file. Registration irregularities are, quote, "Not an attempt to commit fraud, but rather the result of greedy workers who get paid for every voter they sign up, or already registered voters who forget and register again," end quote.

Meanwhile, the incidents of vote suppression on the Republican side involve massive numbers, and soon enough, actual jail time for high-ranking officials connected directly to the party. Chuck McGee, the executive director of the New Hampshire GOP, is scheduled to be sentenced. Sproul is awaiting trial. Then this Florida's felony purge list, which almost knocked 23,000 African-Americans off the voting rolls, while keeping arguably the same number of Republican-leaning felons free to vote.

Recently, the Sarasota Herald Tribune broke the story that Governor Jeb Bush, the president's brother, ordered the state to proceed with the felony purge list, even though the database company that put it altogether informed him that it was so hopelessly flawed he should, quote, "Pull the plug."

So are they all the same? Is the crackhead faking a handful of registrations for Jeffrey Dahmer the same kind of thing as wiping 17,000 voters in Nevada, 23,000 voters in Florida, 30,000 voters in Ohio completely off the rolls? The other part of the ground war that's being waged this weekend is to make you think that they are.

Ira Glass

Jack Hitt in New Haven. Remember this number when you're voting if anybody tries any of these tricks on you, 866-OUR-VOTE. Dozens of democracy-loving lawyers standing by for free to help you. 866-OUR-VOTE.

Coming up, a Navy recruit has to decide on who his next boss will be, that is, who the Commander-in-Chief will be. That's in a minute, from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International, when our program continues.

Act Three. One Son, One Vote.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our program in this election week, undecided voters and others. We've arrived at Act Three of our show. Act Three, One Son, One Vote. Now an undecided voter who is just 18 years old, in the tiny town of Selma, Indiana, outside of Muncie. He just graduated high school and signed up for the Navy, hoping to become a Navy SEAL and fight in the war on terror. He doesn't follow politics. He's voting for the first time. His three big political influences, in no particular order, are TV, his brother, and his mom.

OK, TV you know. His brother was part of the invading forces that went into Iraq, served there until last August, now he's a financial adviser in Washington, DC. His mom is a nurse at a VA hospital and a major in the Air Force Reserve. She's volunteered to go into Iraq next year. One of the two is for Bush, one is for Kerry, TV is no help, which leaves Matthew in a pretty uncommitted place. Sarah Koenig dropped in to see how the decision making is going in this, Matthew's first presidential election.

Sarah Koenig

When I get to his house, it's around five in the evening on the day of the first presidential debate, and the ever encouraged youth vote is sitting on the sofa. The TV is on, a skateboarding show, but he's not really watching. Instead, he's inspecting a large mechanical disk that looks like, and in fact is, a robot.

Matthew Chasteen

I'm picking the string out of this Roomba because it's-- you know what this is?

Sarah Koenig

No I don't, what is it?

Matthew Chasteen

They roam around the house vacuuming, but I got it caught on this roll of string when I left it today, so now I've got to take it all out.

Sarah Koenig

If you talk to Matthew for a few minutes, you realize he's the perfect person for a vacuum that doesn't require you to get off the couch to use it. He's 18, living in his mom's house for the moment. He's not working. His job, he says, is getting in shape before basic training. His mom leaves him lists of things to do: clean his room, peel potatoes and put them in the crock pot, turn on the crock pot. But he kind of ignores the lists, he says.

Matthew Chasteen

I'm more of a lazy, kind of, try to get away with things.

Sarah Koenig

He's one of those undecided voters who's undecided because he doesn't follow politics. But his mother and brother have very strong opinions about politics. They spend hours on the phone debating, tossing around phrases like up-armored humvees, and intercontinental ballistic missile shields, and Donnie Rumsfeld. It's a little like those Sunday morning politics shows.

Monica Chasteen

I heard Kerry say-- and I thought this was a terrible thing to say-- he's going to pull all the troops out within three months of him being elected.

David Chasteen

He didn't say that. He said that he anticipated that they could begin the process.

Monica Chasteen

And so, whenever the terrorists that are over there hear that, they think, oh, all we have to do is hang in here for six more months and we're home free.

David Chasteen

Well, it's worth noting that the Iraqis--

Monica Chasteen

Don't get TV?

David Chasteen

Actually they do get TV. It's shocking.

Monica Chasteen

Yeah, that's the problem. So I think that that just makes them think, we can hang in there, and I feel like he put soldiers' lives in danger saying that.

Sarah Koenig

Overall, the Chasteens are a pretty typical Midwestern, Bible Belt family. Monica worked incredibly hard and raised her three sons in a comfortable, one-story house, with a big backyard bordered by a cornfield and a flag out front. They all went to the Nazarene church. David, the oldest, is 26 now. As a kid, all of his friends were from church. He didn't listen to secular music or swear.

And like many people in his family, he thought joining the military was the right thing to do, the honorable thing to do. Plus, his family didn't have money for him to go to college, and there aren't that many good jobs in Indiana. And in 2000, he liked George Bush for president. He gave money to the campaign, and he put a bumper sticker on his car. He especially liked the idea of compassionate conservatism.

David Chasteen

I remember the State of the Union after September 11, where Bush came out and said, we're going to do the hard right over the easy wrong. And the hard right is we're going to send special forces guys into these holes where these Al Qaeda guys are hanging out. We're going to kill them. And then we're going to double the size of the Peace Corps, and we're going to send young Americans out into the Middle East to demonstrate to the rest of the world that we're the good guys, and that we're here to help, and that we're not here to invade, we just want to make the world a better place.

And I remember, at that moment, I was talking to my wife about it, and I'm like, right there, that's the President Bush that I voted for. That's a brilliant idea. And in that moment I was so glad that I had voted for him.

Sarah Koenig

But then the president started talking about invading Iraq, which David thought was, and I quote here, "insane." He thought they should stay focused on Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. David was in the Third Infantry division, which would be the first to invade Iraq. He was a specialist in weapons of mass destruction. He saw the official intelligence on those weapons.

David Chasteen

So I start looking at the intelligence, which comes from the CIA and the DIA. And the analysis all said the same thing, which is, we're pretty sure they have chemical weapons, but we're real sure they're not a threat to the United States. Basically, the argument was Saddam Hussein is a little goofy in the gills, but he's a rational actor. We know what he wants. And what he wants is to stay in power. Nothing would guarantee him losing control of his country faster than using chemical weapons against the United States, or helping a third party use chemical weapons against the United States.

There's a long way between that and a mushroom cloud in Iowa, which was always the implication of the Bush administration. I remember sitting on the border of Kuwait, jokingly telling my commanding officer the day before the invasion, I'm still holding out for a diplomatic solution.

Sarah Koenig

He met CIA officers who told him they'd been pulled off looking for Al Qaeda to come to Iraq. He saw Iraqi kids whose legs had been blown off. And he saw the Peace Corps' budget cut, rather than doubled, as President Bush had promised. The problem is that on almost every other issue but Iraq-- taxes, abortion, the role of government in general-- David disagrees with John Kerry. But he's planning on voting for him anyway.

David Chasteen

I want to vote for Bush so bad. I want to vote for Bush the candidate. But he's just a completely different president than he was in 2000, than the guy that I voted for originally.

Sarah Koenig

That's about as pro-Kerry as it gets in Matthew's house. In the other corner, in the red trunks, is their mom, Monica, a tiny, attractive woman with long blond hair. She's on the official presidential prayer team, which means she gets notices through church or the internet to pray for the president's health and safety, and that he will be surrounded by wise counselors.

She doesn't know yet when she'll be deployed to Iraq next year, but she's also really disturbed by the war, not so much why we attacked in the first place, but how it's been managed: on the cheap, with bad planning, too few supplies. She's outraged by this story she heard during her training about medical people over there, people like her, who had to choose to let someone die because they didn't have enough IV fluid.

But she doesn't wholly blame the president for all that. She blames his advisers. She thinks Secretary Rumsfeld should be fired. David's been lobbying her to consider Kerry, flooding her with emails, but she can't vote for Kerry, or for any pro-choice candidate, period. And she actually thinks David is the one who might reconsider.

Monica Chasteen

If anyone budges, it'll be David.

David Chasteen

I want to budge. I want to budge so badly. But you know.

Monica Chasteen

Yeah, it'll be David. For one thing, his mother's praying for him, that the Lord will give him wisdom.

David Chasteen

Well, I think your prayers have been answered.

Sarah Koenig

And then there's Matthew, a sweet, dreamy kid, with huge brown eyes, who's afraid to be home alone at night on his quiet country street, and who loves animals.

Matthew Chasteen

Neptune.

Sarah Koenig

His cat.

Matthew Chasteen

Daisy.

Sarah Koenig

A friend's dog. Anyhow, this is the same Matthew who sleeps with a machete by his side for protection, and wants to go fight in Iraq someday as a Navy SEAL. When it comes to this year's election, Matthew is so new to it all, when I ask him about the political parties, he kind of gets them backwards.

But what's interesting is that even someone as politically unplugged as him is getting information, not always perfectly, but still, it's trickling in. So he doesn't know exactly how a bill becomes a law, but he knows George Bush's spotty National Guard record. And he's not quite sure what the president does for a living, but he knows that Kerry served in Vietnam, and that he protested afterward.

Matthew Chasteen

I don't think it's right just to vote out a president just because, you know, things aren't going our way really. I think he deserves longer than four years to kind of get what he needs to get done. But then again, that might be a huge mistake.

Sarah Koenig

He's anti-abortion, he doesn't like the Patriot Act, but mainly, he wants to vote for the man he likes better, the one who's just a better, smarter person. And his mom and David haven't been exactly helpful as he tries to figure out which one that is.

Matthew Chasteen

They lay out the facts in the best way they can to make whatever they want you to be convinced of sound very good, and everything else just sound ridiculous.

Sarah Koenig

So what's an issue where they've done that for you?

Matthew Chasteen

Well, one thing, and I'm still not sure, is Dave feeds me a good story about John Kerry's war record. And from what I've seen on TV, what he said was about right. And then I mention it to Mom, and Mom says, oh, he only served a month. And he killed women and children, and he ratted out all of his comrades.

And, you know, they'll argue and say, you're wrong, you're wrong, you're stupid, you're stupid, or something like that. And then, all right, I'm going to bed, I love you, good night. And they hang up. And I just kind of listen.

Jim Lehrer

Good evening from the University of Miami Convocation Center in Coral Gables, Florida.

Matthew Chasteen

They're on, Mom.

Jim Lehrer

--to the first of the 2004 presidential debates.

Sarah Koenig

All of us sat on the sofa watching. Monica agreed with a lot of things Kerry said about the war, but disagreed with other things.

John Kerry

When you know something's going wrong, you make it right. That's what I learned in Vietnam. And I'm going to lead those troops to victory.

Monica Chasteen

You know, we didn't have a victory in Vietnam, and I really think that Kerry would end this war the same way Vietnam was ended, which Vietnam was the only war we've lost. So he may get us out, but I don't think he'll get us out victoriously.

Sarah Koenig

Matthew was completely silent during the debate. I thought he wasn't paying much attention. At one point, he wrapped himself in a comforter and put on a winter hat with ear flaps, and I was sure he was going to fall asleep. But when it was over, it was clear he'd been listening closely.

Matthew Chasteen

I was really impressed by Kerry through the whole thing. I like the fact that he had mentioned something about trying to build the special forces, kind of trying to change our tactics on how we're fighting these people. And Bush just kind of sounded like an idiot, I thought, most of the time, just stuttering and he kept repeating himself. Kerry seems like he was a lot more competent, a lot sharper. I just liked him a lot more, just from listening to him talk.

Sarah Koenig

Did you get bored sometimes?

Matthew Chasteen

Yeah, I got real bored when I was listening to Bush.

Sarah Koenig

Really? Really, like Kerry actually held your interest and Bush didn't?

Matthew Chasteen

Yeah. I always played with the cats while Bush was talking.

Sarah Koenig

Do you feel like if you end up going to Iraq, you'd feel safer and sort of in better hands if Kerry were president?

Matthew Chasteen

Yeah. Because I believe he said that he's in favor of sending more troops there, which means, the more troops we have the safer we are. If I'm over there fighting, I'd definitely like to have better supplies and more guys watching my back.

Sarah Koenig

We called David, and he and his mom argued for nearly an hour about the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, about whether Kerry could pay for his proposals. Monica asked David if we would lose Iraq the same way we lost Vietnam if Kerry became president. David told her we'd already lost Iraq.

At the end of the night, though, David was so happy with Kerry's performance that he said, for the first time, he could vote for him with confidence. Matthew was for Kerry, too, but he said he'd keep his mind open a crack for President Bush, and watch the next debates. Monica said she still supported the president, but in a wobbly sort of way.

This week, nearly a month later, I talked to all three of them again. David was holding steady. Monica says she was considering not voting for president for the first time in her life. The sudden news of that 360-ton pile of explosives found missing in Iraq had especially ticked her off. And Matthew? In the space of one month, he'd gone from a Kerry leaner to an anti-Bush zealot. He sent me an email-- more like a screed-- after he'd seen the Michael Moore movie.

Here's part of what he wrote. "This man should never have taken a step in the White House in the first place, and it is our responsibility to make sure he doesn't ever take another step in it again after election night. With all this swirling in my brain, I'm forced to second guess the wisdom of adding my name to a group of poor fools fighting this weird personal vendetta in the Middle East. What sort of punishments will be laid down if I take a stand?"

Ira Glass

Sarah Koenig is one of the producers of our show.

Act Four. He's Got Legs.

Ira Glass

Act Four, He's Got Legs. Now our preview of the coming ground war on Election Day. We end today's program with someone trying to convince the unconvinced and get the convinced to the polls in Columbus, Ohio. Lisa Pollak has the story.

Lisa Pollak

Andy Mills is in his house, getting ready for his first day of door-to-door canvassing. He's never done anything like this before, and he's a little nervous about it. In his regular life, Andy is a college professor, used to speaking in front of audiences, never at a loss for words. But he doesn't like selling things, or the idea of intruding on people at home, asking nosy questions.

Luckily, MoveOn PAC, the anti-Bush group that Andy's canvassing for, has given him a script-- the rap, they call it-- to help him know what to say today. He's been practicing the rap all morning, playing both sides, alone in the kitchen. And before we leave, I make him do it for me without the script.

Andy Mills

OK, so I guess I'm supposed to knock on your door. And then, hi, is Lisa home? And then she'd say yes. I'm Andrew Mills, and I live in the neighborhood, and I'm working on the upcoming election, and I wondered if you've decided who you're going to vote for for president? And they'll say, John Kerry. And I'll say, oh, that's great, that's great. Well, I'm working with MoveOn PAC, and we're just collecting names and some contact information for Kerry voters for our Get Out the Vote campaign, I wondered if you would-- great, yeah, sure.

Lisa Pollak

Going real well.

Andy Mills

It's going well. It's great. In the kitchen it's fantastic.

Lisa Pollak

For voters who prefer the president, the rap is just a sentence, thanks, and have a nice day. And if they're undecided, well, the rap doesn't offer as much guidance here. No talking points on the war, no arguments about health care, no secret formula for closing the deal.

Andy Mills

Hadn't role played that as much as the easy one. But, so, have you decided who you're going to vote for for president? No, I haven't really made up my mind. Well, can I ask you what issues are important to you in the election? And I don't know really where to go from there.

Lisa Pollak

We head to Andy's assigned precinct, only five minutes from his house, a leafy neighborhood near the Ohio State campus. There are more Buckeye football banners than either Kerry or Bush signs. Andy's anxious to talk to his first non-imaginary voter.

Andy Mills

Well, this one's 2286.

Lisa Pollak

This is easier said than done.

Andy Mills

This one looks vacant. Yeah, I don't think anyone's living here.

Lisa Pollak

As we continue down the block, it becomes clear that many of the people on the MoveOn list have in fact moved on.

Andy Mills

Hi, is Cindy here? Does she not live here anymore? She moved on. OK, thanks. Is Kyle or Greg here? No, do they not live here? OK, I just have an old voter registration list. Hey, hi. Hi, is Michael or Nathan here? They're not? They don't live here anymore?

Lisa Pollak

At house after house, people come to the door. Statistically speaking, some of them must be voters, yet Andy does nothing to plug his candidate, or even start a conversation.

Andy Mills

I'm doing some canvassing for the election, do you have a second to talk?

Boy

Actually, I'm kind of in the middle of some homework.

Andy Mills

In the middle of some homework? OK, no problem. Thanks. Bye. I've got to respect that, being a professor. Working on homework.

Lisa Pollak

Do you believe it?

Andy Mills

He didn't look like he was in the middle of working on homework. If waking up is working on homework, then maybe. Let me see what you're working on. No class.

Lisa Pollak

When he does meet Kerry voters, it's a love fest. They sign the sheet pledging to vote for the senator, and they linger at the door with Andy, agreeing that Kerry won the debates, and that the war is a disaster, and Andy walks away thrilled, another one for his team. With the Bush voters, it's not a love fest, but everyone's cordial.

The biggest surprise, for me anyway, is our one undecided voter, a chatty guy named Joe, just out of college. Before today, I thought this was the whole purpose of canvassing, to persuade voters who are still on the fence, but when I actually see it happen, I realize why it's not the point at all, why Andy's script doesn't even bother with talking points.

Joe

While we're on the subject, I mean, you think back to like World War II, I mean, look at all those people in Germany, a lot of those people were-- not that it's happening here, but all that stuff can be going on, and we could be totally oblivious to it, because we're not informed, you know what I mean?

Lisa Pollak

Andy talks to the guy, and talks to the guy, for almost 20 minutes. But Joe's such a ramble of random and conflicting opinions, I honestly believe no one could have swayed him.

Later, an organizer tells me that this is exactly why the thousands of canvassers going out in the next few days aren't really trying to persuade. They're trying to rally the voters already on their side. Simply making face-to-face contact with people can boost turnout on Election Day up to 12%. Down the block, in a white duplex, we meet this woman. She's 76 years old, tiny, with thin gray hair.

Andy Mills

Hi, is Mary home?

Mary

That's me.

Andy Mills

Mary, hi, I'm Andrew Mills. I'm with MoveOn PAC. I wondered if you've decided who you're going to vote for in the election? Do you care to say?

Mary

ZZ Top.

Andy Mills

For president?

Mary

Mmhmm.

Lisa Pollak

Mary stays inside and presses her nose to the screen door while we talk. She's not a ZZ Top fan, she says, but she's got nine kids, and some of them are.

Andy Mills

He's not on the ballot in Ohio.

Mary

That's all right, it's a write-in.

Andy Mills

You're going to write-in ZZ Top?

Mary

I don't think we have much choice.

Andy Mills

You don't know think we have much choice?

Mary

No.

Andy Mills

You wouldn't rather see John Kerry in office, rather than President Bush?

Mary

No.

Andy Mills

It doesn't really matter that much, which one of them, to you?

Mary

Like I said.

Andy Mills

OK. And you've sort of made up your mind about that?

Mary

Oh yeah.

Lisa Pollak

At this point I can't help myself. I know I'm supposed to keep my mouth shut, but I don't understand her vote.

Lisa Pollak

Have you been happy with the way things are going in the country?

Mary

No. I don't think we've got any business in Iraq, and I don't believe in abortion, so, you know. I mean, that's my two main problems.

Lisa Pollak

And so it's really split, because it's kind of like one guy--

Mary

Yeah, one's got us into war, and the other one's, you know, kill babies. I can't handle that.

Andy Mills

That's tough. That's tough to decide which one's more important.

Mary

ZZ Top sounds like more fun to me.

Lisa Pollak

I've gone out with other canvassers for this election, and each time I was struck by how inefficient it seemed, how few people you reach for all the hours you spend. Today, Andy knocks on 60 doors, and talks to a grand total of 17 people, 10 for Kerry, four for Bush, one undecided, one who won't say, one ZZ Top. In four hours, Andy didn't persuade anyone of anything.

If anyone's been changed today, it seems to me, it's Andy. This morning, he was nervous, not just about knocking on doors, but about the election, what's going to happen if his guy doesn't win. But now he sounds relaxed, energized, even inspired. He's standing in the cluttered living room of a Kerry supporter named Marlene, who's sitting in a bathrobe, surrounded by prescription bottles, not sure if she's healthy enough to get to the polls.

Andy Mills

Well, you know, I think it's going to come down, every vote in Ohio's going to count. We can do it. I mean, it may be just a few hundred votes.

Marlene

Yeah, all pull together.

Andy Mills

You know, if we all turn out for him. It could be this neighborhood. It could be it's Columbus that's going to turn the election.

Marlene

Put him over the top. I hope so.

Andy Mills

Yeah. So I'll tell you what, I may come by again just to make sure you got your absentee ballot, and if you didn't, we can arrange for someone to get you to the polls on Election Day if you need a lift. You know, because I want to make sure you get your vote counted.

Lisa Pollak

Andy's the first to admit he might not have much to show for the day. But after all the worrying about what's going to happen on Tuesday, it was a relief to get out and actually talk to people who'll be voting. The Kerry voters were reassuring. The Bush voters weren't demons. The abstract, mean-spirited, frightening battle for the future of everything that we've been seeing on TV turned into the simplest, least threatening thing in the world: two people standing on a porch, talking things out.

Ira Glass

Lisa Pollak's a producer on our show.

Credits.

Lisa Bragg

The media's coming, the media's coming.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.