Ohio: None dare call it voter suppression and fraud Bob Fitrakis November/December 2004
The following are excerpts from a much longer article on the Nov. 2 elections in Ohio. This article and the author's other reports are available at www.freepress.org, the website of the Columbus Free Press.
November 7, 2004, Columbus, Ohio-Evidence is mounting that the 2004 presidential election was stolen in Ohio. Emerging revelations of voting irregularities coupled with well-documented Republican efforts at voter suppression prior to the election suggests that in a fair election Kerry would have won Ohio.
Democratic hopeful Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts conceded on November 3, based on preliminary postings by the highly partisan Republican Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell. These unofficial results showed Bush with 136,483 more votes than Kerry, although 155,428 provisional ballots, 92,672 "spoiled" ballots, additional overseas ballots, and some remaining absentee ballots remained uncounted.
The day after his concession, Kerry drew 3,893 votes closer to Bush when a computerized voting machine "glitch" was discovered in an Ohio precinct. A machine in ward 1B in the predominantly Republican Gahanna, Ohio, recorded 4,258 votes for George W. Bush when only 638 people cast votes at the New Life Church polling site. Buried on page A6 of the Columbus Dispatch, the story also reported that the voting machine recorded 0 votes in a race between Franklin County Commissioners Arlene Shoemaker and Paula Brooks. Franklin County Board of Elections Director Matt Damschroder told the Dispatch that the voting machine glitches were "why the results on election night are unofficial."
The nonpartisan Citizen's Alliance for Secure Elections (CASE) is investigating various other voting irregularities in Ohio, among them:
In Auglaize County, a letter dated October 21 under the signature of Ken Nuss, the county's former deputy director, alleges that Joe McGinnis, a former employee of Election Systems & Software (ES&S), violated election protocol with his unauthorized use of the county's central tabulating computer that creates ballots and compiles election results. Nuss, who resigned on October 21, alleges that McGinnis was improperly granted access to the computer the weekend of October 16.
In Miami County, with 100% of the precincts reporting at 9am EST Wednesday, Nov. 3, Bush had 20,807 votes (65.80%) and Kerry had 10,724 (33.92%). Miami reported 31,620 voters. Inexplicably, nearly 19,000 new ballots were added after all precincts reported, boosting Bush's vote to 33,039 (65.77%) to Kerry's 17,039 (33.92%). CASE is investigating why the percentage of the vote stayed exactly the same to three one-hundredths of a percentage point after nearly 19,000 new ballots were added. CASE members speculate that it's either a long-shot coincidence with the last three digits remaining the same, or that someone had pre-set a database and programmed a voting machine to cough up a pre-set percentage of votes. Miami County uses an easily hackable optical scanner with the central counter provided by the Republican-linked vendor ES&S. [...]
In Franklin County, where Franklin County Board of Elections Director Matt Damschroder is also the former Executive Director of the county's Republican Party, the county Board of Elections building looked like a bunker. Scores of city buses blocked parking spaces on the street outside, numerous concrete barricades surrounded the parking lot, and a metal detector was stationed at the only entrance. A phalanx of armed deputy sheriffs swarmed the only site where provisional voters could cast a guaranteed ballot.
The Columbus Dispatch confirmed an Election Day Free Press story that far fewer voting machines were present in predominantly black Democratic inner-city voting wards than in the recent primary election and the 2000 presidential election, with their lighter turnouts. The reduced number of machines caused voters to wait up to seven hours and wait an average of approximately three hours. One Republican Central Committee member told the Free Press that Damschroder held back as many as 2000 machines and dispersed many of the other machines to affluent suburbs in Franklin County. [...]
On Election Day, the Election Protection Coalition observers who covered 58 polling places in central Ohio, documented thousands of voter complaints over long lines and recorded numerous people leaving the polls for work or because they were elderly or handicapped and physically unable to wait for hours to vote. Professor James K. Galbraith, of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin, wrote the following summary of Election Day in Ohio: ". . . I drove a young African-American voter, a charming business student, seven months pregnant, to her polling place at Finland Elementary School in south Columbus. We arrived in a squalling rain to find voters lined up outside for about a hundred yards. . . . The real problem was a grotesque shortage of voting machines."
Ohio State University Law Professor Edward B. Foley told the New York Times, "When your lines get to two or three hours, it's system failure."
Other bizarre tactics emerged in the run-up to the election:
Under an archaic Ohio law, both the Republican and Democratic Parties, or any slate of five candidates, may embed official election challengers inside polling places. The New York Times reported on Oct. 23 that the Republican Party intended to place thousands of lawyers and other GOP faithfuls inside the polls to challenge voters. Republican insiders confide here that the key goal was to jam lines and frustrate new voters. After two federal judges rejected the GOP challengers, Republicans got a favorable ruling from the Sixth Circuit, which allowed them to place challengers in Ohio polling places. Michael Beaver, Deputy State Commander with the Election Protection Coalition says, "We now believe that the challengers were a smokescreen to hide the real plan to orchestrate a machine shortage in Democratic wards."
The Republican Party sent letters challenging thousands of Franklin County registered voters who requested absentee ballots. Franklin County is home to Columbus, the state's largest city and its capitol. Though it is also home to Ohio State University, thousands of local students go to schools outside the county or state. The GOP targeted young voters for challenges. The GOP pre-challenged an estimated 35,000 voters and rented arenas in Cleveland and Columbus to conduct the challenges. The GOP sent registered letters to registered voters' addresses and when they failed to pick up a letter from the Republican Party in primarily Democratic areas, they were challenged for fraud. A federal judge disallowed the challenges less than a week before the election.
The Franklin County Board of Elections has called or written an undetermined number of voters who obtained absentee ballots, challenging their addresses. In at least one case, after a series of angry phone calls, the Board admitted there was nothing wrong with the address in question and re-instated voting rights. The voter in question was a registered Democrat. His wife, an independent at the same address, was not challenged. It is unclear how many others have been wrongly knocked out.
Even if they are counted, Franklin County's absentee ballot forms are designed in ways strikingly reminiscent of those notorious butterfly ballots in the Florida 2000 presidential election. On Franklin County absentee ballot forms, Kerry is the third name on the list of presidential candidates on the left side of the ballot. But, the punch card is designed to fit in the middle, so the actual number you punch for Kerry is hole "4." If you mistakenly punch hole "3" you've just voted for Bush.
Damschroder, Franklin County's right-wing Elections Director is insisting on e-voting machines that have malfunctioned in at least two Congressional elections. The machines have no paper trail and one subtracted 3% from former Rep. John Kasich's and added 3% to Ed Brown, a six-point shift. The November issues of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics Magazines ran the following headlines on their covers, respectively: "E-vote emergency: And you thought dimpled chads were bad'" and "Could hackers tilt the election?" Vigorous protests against the paperless machines have been staged here, but many were used, rendering a meaningful recount impossible.
Twenty GOP-dominated Ohio counties have given wrong information to former felons about their voter eligibility. In Hamilton County, home of Cincinnati and the Republican Taft family, officials told numerous former felons that a judge had to sign off before they could vote, which is blatantly false.
Franklin County, which normally cancels 2-300 registered voters a year for felony convictions, has sent at least 3,500 cancellation letters to both current felons and ex-felons whose convictions date back to 1998. The list includes numerous citizens who were charged with felonies but convicted only of misdemeanors.
Republican Secretary of State Blackwell reversed a long-standing Ohio practice and is barring voters from casting provisional ballots within their county if they are registered to vote but there's been a mistake about where they are expected to cast their ballot. In this year's spring primaries, Blackwell allowed voters to cast provisional ballots by county, even if they were in the wrong precinct. But this fall, voters had to leave if they were in the wrong precinct and find their way to the right one even though they had waited in line two to three hours. Blackwell hopes to succeed Republican Bob Taft as governor, and has labored hard to install Diebold e-voting machines with no paper trail throughout Ohio. Blackwell is being widely compared to the infamous Katherine Harris, who handed Florida to George W. Bush in 2000 and was rewarded with a safe Congressional seat. Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones accused Blackwell of seeking "to disenfranchise the people of the state of Ohio." Tubbs Jones pointed out that the 2000 census had caused massive redistricting, particularly within inner city precincts, which would lead to many people ending up at the wrong voting site.
The October 22 Columbus Dispatch, which endorsed Bush, and WVKO Radio have both documented phone calls from people impersonating Franklin County Board of Elections workers and directing registered voters to different and incorrect polling sites. One individual was falsely told not to vote at the polling station across the street from his house, but at a "new" site, four miles away. Under Blackwell's new rules, such a vote would not be counted. Nor do the precinct locations make much sense in the inner city. Someone living on the northwest corner of Bryden and Wilson, instead of walking half a block to the polling site at Franklin Alternative School, must vote seven blocks northeast at the Model Neighborhood facility polling site. The previous polling site for the precinct was two blocks west before the Republicans consolidated several inner city polling places in the 1990s.
In Cincinnati, some 105,000 voters were moved from active to inactive status within the last four years for not voting in the last two federal elections. This is not required under Ohio law, but is an option allowed and exercised by the Republican-dominated Hamilton County Board of Elections.
Secretary of State Blackwell ruled that any voter registration form on other than 80-pound weight bond paper would not be accepted. This is an old law left over from pre-scanning days. Many voters who had registered on lighter paper, had their registration returned, even though the forms had been officially sanctioned by local election boards.
On Election Day, fliers littered the inner city telling voters that Republicans were to vote on Tuesday and Democrats on Wednesday.
Bob Fitrakis is a professor at Columbus State Community College in Ohio. He is the author of seven books, an investigative reporter, and Editor of the Columbus Free Press (freepress.org). He served as an international election observer in the 1994 presidential elections in El Salvador and was the co-author and editor of the report to the United Nations.
Turnout in U.S. federal elections as percentage of voting-age population: 50%.
Percent of voting age population needed to win a federal election: 26%.