Free Press FOURTH Thursday Theater Night at the Drexel East. 7:00 PM. “Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections.” Admission is $7 regular and $5 student/senior! Emmy-award-winning producer David Earnhardt will be featured for discussion.
Archive for month: March, 2008
by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman
March 22, 2008
Norman Baker is an American hero who has been detained against his will for more than three years.
His “crime”: owning too much property.
His sentence: a court-appointed guardianship on the brink of costing him everything he spent his life building.
His rights in this case: virtually none, significantly less in many ways than an actual law-breaking criminal.
His future if this continues: long-term de facto imprisonment, followed by abject poverty, if he has anything left at all.
A retired firefighter who once helped save a child’s life, Norman Baker is not suspected of terrorism. He has never been charged with any statutory infraction, and has never been in any kind of trouble with the law. But he has been stripped of his right to vote and access to his own assets, which appear to have been weel in excess of $1 million as little as three years ago.
Until he was placed in a nursing home against his will by the court-appointed attorney he is trying to reject, Norman Baker owned and managed two dozen rental properties, many of which he designed and built himself. He also owned a 33-acre farm, with four horses, an array of tractors and other heavy farm implements, a carefully preserved century-old barn, a restored farmhouse from which he drew steady rental income, and a 3,000-square-foot brick home, which he also designed and built.
All Norman Baker’s properties were free of any liens or mortgages. Before he was confined against his will to a nursing home, Norman Baker also had some $250,000 in cash and liquid investments above and beyond his real estate holdings. He rented his properties and lived a quiet, private life.
Today, without writing a check or using a credit card or making a single bad investment, Norman Baker has less than $20,000 in cash. Most of his rental properties are vacant. Some have been flooded. In one, a broken pipe has resulted in a water bill in excess of $19,000. Nearly all his properties, which were once entirely rented, are now vacant. Some have been seriously vandalized. A rental property business, which yielded a steady cash flow, is now bleeding cash every month.
Baker’s farm implements—including a tractor owned by his brother—were sold by his unwanted guardian without his permission. The guardian also sold the slate off the roof of Norman’s carefully preserved antique hay barn, which may now be ruined by rainwater. The roof of his farm house has also been damaged and left unmended.
The comfortable brick ranch home Norman built by hand is boarded up and rotting. Its plush carpeting has apparently been stripped out. Its interior fixtures are gone or rotting. The concrete backyard swimming pool whose construction Baker oversaw is cracked and in ruins. When we visited the property, Baker could only peer into the windows of his wrecked home. It is posted against “trespassers.”
At one point in his involuntary guardianship, a medical examiner hired at Norman’s expense found him competent and recommended that he no longer need a guardian. But the attorney running Baker’s guardianship refused to surrender control of Norman’s assets. He then brought back the same medical examiner for yet another examination. This doctor then proclaimed he “changed his mind” and that Norman needed a guardian after all. Norman was then billed some $2,000 for both examinations.
Since then, a Harvard-trained medical examiner has repeatedly tested Baker, who just turned 80. This doctor, whose most recent examination has been videotaped, has consistently found Baker competent to manage his own affairs and to hire his own professional help.
More than a year ago, a physician for the nursing home where Norman has been confined recommended that he be given an immediate discharge to the community. Baker walks three miles a day inside the home, and does his own laundry. He is dependent on no medications.
Norman Baker’s case is not an isolated one. Usually guardianships are necessary where someone has no assets or no family and there has been no estate plan appointing a fiduciary. However, throughout the United States, tens of thousands of elderly citizens with significant assets have been placed under court-appointed guardians.
Though regulations vary from state to state, the attorney-guardians are required to report periodically to the county probate court on the disposition of the assets. Commonly, the attorneys charge fees for “managing” the property of their wards.
The law requires a guardian to act in the ward’s best interests. But often that is a major issue between the guardian and his ward that must be balanced by the Probate Judge, who is expected to act as the “superior guardian”.
By and large, legal guardians are expected to pay regular visits to their wards. According to Baker, his court-appointed attorney has visited him just twice in more than two years.
Norman Baker has continuously requested that he have input in to the property management of his estate. But he has been ignored. Decisions have been made about Norman’s bank account and his properties without his knowledge or input, and over his continued objections and complaints.
Baker’s court-appointed guardian was recently more than six months late in providing the court with a report on the status of Norman’s assets. Such reports are required by the Fairfield County court every two years, although the better practice is an annual account. Baker’s cash assets have been drained, and many of his properties have been brought to the brink of ruin. But it is unclear whether or not all his bills have been properly paid.
Acting on his own, Baker has managed to contract with independent counsel. Susan Wasserman and Lewis E. Williams of Columbus have asked, on his behalf, that Fairfield County Probate Court Judge Stephen Williams set Baker free of his guardianship. But Judge Williams has refused and Norman Baker remains confined to a nursing home against his will.
Baker’s troubles began in January, 2005, when he suffered a urinary tract infection. Reports for elder abuse are confidential and it is unclear who made the recommendation that his affairs be turned over to a guardian.
Whatever the situation at that time, Baker has long since recovered. But he still remains under a guardianship established at a hearing in front of Judge Williams where Norman was not represented by legal counsel, and was not in the presence of a blood relative.
This fall, after numerous attempts to terminate the guardianship, Attorneys Wasserman and Williams moved in the Fairfield County court that Baker’s guardianship be vacated.
Ohio law stipulates that someone being subjected to a guardianship has the right to have his closest relative from within the state be present at the determination hearing. Norman Baker’s daughter was not notified because she was out of state, and notification to her was therefore not required by law. But it was mandatory under the law that Norman Baker’s brother Robert be noticed, as he lives in-state and is “next of kin.”
Because guardianships are invasive proceedings, strict requirements are meant to safeguard situations in which a probate court has such unfettered power over a human being. Norman’s brother, Robert Baker, of Celina, Ohio, has since stated under oath that he would have attended the hearing had he known about it, and that he would have argued then—as he does now—that his brother did not want or need a legal guardian then, and does not want or need one now.
Robert Baker also charges that the attorney appointed by the court to be his brother’s guardian sold his own personal antique tractor—inherited from his father—from his brother Norman’s farm, and has never accounted for the proceeds.
Norman Baker’s farm has also been stripped of many of its accouterments without a full accounting. Its buildings have been left to rot. The land itself may be worth a million dollars or more. Baker’s guardian has stated that he has gotten numerous calls from developers wanting to buy it.
Judge Williams has repeatedly refused to vacate the guardianship. Nor has he set for hearing the objections filed by Baker to the late and incomplete accounting as to what precisely the Guardian has accomplished on his behalf.
By Ohio law, such an accounting was many months overdue until Norman Baker demanded that the account be filed. In December, 2007, at Norman Baker’s behest, Attorneys Wasserman and Williams filed a motion with the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, Thomas Moyer, asking that Judge Williams be removed from the case. Baker’s chosen attorneys argued that Judge Williams’s handling of the case “gives the appearance” that there is little hope of Norman Baker escaping his unwanted guardianship, and regaining his freedom with due process of law as guaranteed under the Ohio and U.S. constitutions.
Chief Justice Moyer has recently established a high-level commission charged with looking into the guardianship system in Ohio. Nationwide, hundreds of cases similar to Norman Baker’s have been reported at places such as the www.stopguardianabuse.org web site. The Los Angeles Times ran a major expose several years ago which has resulted in reform in many states. Extreme as Baker’s case may seem, numerous state and local court records are filled with cases of guardianship discord.
Moyers turned down the request that Judge Williams be removed from the case. An appeal on Judge Williams’s denial of the motion to vacate the guardianship has been filed in the Ohio Court of Appeals, Fifth Appellate District.
Thus far, Norman Baker has been in constant litigation for three years against the guardian appointed over him by the court. Norman’s guardianship was imposed in a hearing at which he was unpresented by counsel, and had no relative at his side, even though his brother lives in the state. He is no longer allowed to drive a car or vote. He has been deprived of the management of his properties and of his cash accounts, which by all indications have been seriously mismanaged. The home Norman built with his own hands has been largely ruined through neglect. He has been unable to obtain a full accounting of what has been done with his assets.
In essence, someone who has committed a murder or robbed a bank has more rights than have been granted Norman Baker.
Though the furthest thing imaginable from a terrorist, Norman Baker has no access to habeas corpus, or to a speedy trial.
Every night, Norman Baker goes to bed in his unwanted nursing home, praying for his freedom. If anything, his case stands as a bizarre warning against getting inconveniently ill, even briefly, while being in possession of enough assets to attract a legal guardian to “protect” you in your later years.
As a Franklin County firefighter, Norman Baker worked to save lives. Now he must fight to save his own. “I never dreamed such a thing could happen in this country,” he told the Free Press. “I just want to go home.”
Letters of support for Norman Baker can be sent to Box 09683, Bexley, OH., 43209 or to email@example.com.
Robert Fitrakis is an attorney, and publisher of the Columbus Free Press. Harvey Wasserman is author or co-author of a dozen books, and senior editor of The Free Press . He is the spouse of attorney Susan Wasserman. Originally published by https://freepress.org.
by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman
March 17, 2008
At least 15 touch-screen voting machines that produced improbable numbers in Ohio’s 2006 statewide election are now under double-lock in an official crime scene. And the phony “Homeland Security Alert” used by Republicans to build up George W. Bush’s 2004 vote count in a key southwestern Ohio county has come under new scrutiny.
The touch-screen machines were locked up after Ohio’s new Democratic Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner, tried to vote last fall. On November 6, she spotted a gray bar with the words “candidate withdrawn” in a slot where the name of Democrat Jay Perez should have appeared. Her husband, voting nearby, told her Perez’s name did appear, as it was supposed to, on his machine.
Perez had been a candidate in the race for Franklin County Municipal Judge. He withdrew his name after the county had finalized its ballots. But it now appears the ES&S machines left his name on some machines but not on others. Perez, a Democrat, wanted to avoid playing a spoiler in the race. But the appearance of his name on some machines may have helped Republican David Tyack win.
Brunner now worries that the state will never find out what happened. County election officials ordered the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation to seize the machines. Ohio Attorney General Mark Dann is conducting an investigation that may cost the state $48,000. Brunner recently told WVKO 1580AM radio: “When you’re talking about democracy, it’s priceless.” In another interview with the Columbus Dispatch, Brunner noted “This is a huge problem. There is great concern that not every voter has the same ballot.”
Ironically, Brunner requested a paper ballot in the March 4, 2008, primary, but a poorly trained poll worker gave her a provisional ballot instead. Two other staffers from her office were also given the wrong ballots. Brunner has since pledged to upgrade the training for Buckeye State poll workers.
Brunner further announced that she’s banning the practice of so-called “sleepovers” where poll workers take the programmable and easily hackable voting machines home with them overnight prior to an election day.
Brunner succeeded Republican J. Kenneth Blackwell as Ohio’s Secretary of State. She has vowed to make sure the Buckeye State does not repeat the experience of 2004, when Blackwell choreographed the theft of Ohio’s 20 electoral votes for George W. Bush, giving him a second term in the White House. Since taking office Brunner has vowed to shift the entire state to voting on paper ballots, a move being fiercely resisted by numerous Republican-controlled Boards of Elections throughout the state. Thus far Brunner has forced the resignations of BOE chairs in two of Ohio’s most populous cities, Cleveland and Columbus.
Matt Damschroder was removed as Franklin County Board of Elections Director on the Sunday prior to Ohio’s 2008 primary election. Damschroder was previously suspended for a month without pay for accepting a $10,000 check from a voting machine salesman at the BOE building. The check, made out to the Republican Party, was delivered on the day the state’s contracts for electronic voting machines were open for bidding. Damschroder was former chair of the Franklin County Republican Party and the state’s leading foe of paper ballots. “Damschroder was very opposed to paper ballots and was stoking the fire against them,” Brunner told WVKO.
Dennis White, the new director of the Franklin County BOE was skeptical of the masking problem, but says if it happened, “it’s huge. We have a federal election coming up this November,” according to the Dispatch. White, who admits to having little knowledge of computers, is the former Ohio Democratic Party Chair.
That election may once again hinge on Ohio’s vote count. In 2006, Franklin County officials failed to conduct mandated tests on each machine, instead testing only one machine per precinct on a random bases. A report by SysTest Labs, a Colorado consulting firm, confirmed that what Brunner saw on her machine was “exactly what you’d see if someone masked a name,” the Dispatch reported.
Investigators also found that the “audit logs” on the voting machines were turned off by a board programmer in April, 2007, which has hindered investigators from reconstructing software changes. White says the vendor told a board employee how to disable the auditing system, allegedly to speed programming. Brunner said other vendors told her that “You’re never supposed to tell a (client) how to do that.”
In the primary this past March, the BOE allegedly did test all Franklin County’s machines. But some counties ran out of Democratic paper ballots as an influx of apparently Republican and Republican-leaning independents flooded the polls, apparently to vote for Hillary Clinton.
Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Enquirer has reported that a “casual conversation” between a “friendly” FBI agent and the county emergency services director in a parking lot may have contributed to the phony Homeland Security alert that prompted the Warren County BOE to lockdown the vote count in the 2004 election. The BOE declared the emergency and then moved the ballots from the publicly designated vote center to a nearby unauthorized warehouse. They also barred the public and media from witnessing the counting. Warren County, which is outside Cincinnati, then gave Bush 72% of the official vote count, far exceeding expectations. With neighboring Butler and Clermont Counties, Warren gave Bush a margin of 140,000 votes, which exceeded the 119,000 margin by which he allegedly won the election.
The Enquirer reports that “hundreds” of e-mailed complaints poured into the county BOE after the election, including one from an angry voter in the United Kingdom. “Stop destroying our democracy,” said one voter from South Carolina.
The Free Press has previously reported that Warren County BOE employees were told on the Thursday prior to the 2004 election day, that there would be a Homeland Security threat on election day. An examination of the ballots by a Free Press investigation team uncovered numerous irregularities in the Warren County vote that helped give Bush the presidency again.
Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman co-authored HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA’S 2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008 (www.freepress.org) and, with Steve Rosenfeld, WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO from New Press.
by Bob Fitrakis and Sally MacPhail
Last week, the University Area Commission, Campus Partners for Community Urban Redevelopment, the Columbus Development Commission and the Columbus Historic Resources Commission all adopted resolutions endorsing the University Neighborhoods Revitalization Plan, a 250-page document drafted by Campus Partners that addresses just about every aspect of off-campus life from trash collection to land use, from drinking and drug abuse to community schools. Intended to encourage reinvestment-financial and philosophical-by present and prospective businesses, residents, students, and the university itself, the plan has been a source of public debate for the last few months. Critics charge that the proposed clean-up will eradicate a unique multi-ethnic urban community.
Around the Ivory Tower It is the sweeping-some might say, overwhelming-way in which Campus Partners is approaching OSU’s role off-campus that has had some observers worried. One of the most vocal critics of the former Final Draft was Columbus Alive columnist, Bob Fitrakis, who called it former Campus Partners President Barry Humphries’ “mission to make the campus area safe for Max and Erma’s….In fact, in the original draft of the master plan revealed in November, yuppification north of campus and ghettoization south of campus were the twin pillars holding up the new campus fortress.”
Asked to react to Fitrakis’ comments that the plan might result in gentrification that would eradicate the campus counter-culture, Campus Partners’ Marc Conte said: “I think he’s pretty right. Those are pretty much my sentiments. When [other board members] ask for my opinion on retail, I say we can look at the record stores and see that the independent record stores survive, not the chain stores. People like the independent businesses, they like the uniqueness of the area; that’s one of the reason we’re shopping here, ’cause there’s no other reason. And the other thing is that there’s an incredible amount of retail diversity; now just because Target isn’t up as the main sign for the area doesn’t mean you can’t find everything that you find at Target.”
Among the major long-term projects for revitalization of the commercial strip along High Street are three theme areas-one at Lane, one at 15th, and one at 10th-that will be the “rooms” through which one progresses. At the north end, a widened and realigned Lane Avenue will mark an “expanded international village,” drawing upon the mixed uses and multi-ethnic restaurants in the area. There will be an Arts Gateway at 15th across from the Wexner Center. The last and most controversial component is an entertainment/retail/office/commercial development at High Street where E. 11th and W. 10th would be realigned to meet. Among the chain ventures suggested as possible occupants of the site are Max and Erma’s, The Limited, The Gap, and Urban Outfitters.
“All this talk about Max and Erma’s by Campus Partners, they really don’t understand the market or how to deal with the residents. What’s their college-trained manager going to do the first time a member of the rugby team comes in to their upscale restaurant and pisses in a corner? How are they going to handle that? What they don’t want to admit is that the bar owners know this area, we know this market and we’re professionals,” commented Brad Miller, owner of Maxwell’s.
Conte, too, is unwilling to give in yet to the notion of High Street as a mall with major retailers anchoring it. “The problem I know we’re going to run into when they want to build new structures or new businesses, to build those structures they’re going to have to have a national caliber retailer in order to convince the banks that they should get more money for it. …Wherever that happens, I’ve really been encouraging that that be our last resort.”
“High Street has enormous potential,” Campus Partners’ community liaison Steve Sterrett said. He maintained, though, that “It’s not working well now. Students are spending their discretionary funds elsewhere.”
A self-created war zone
Miller, for one, thinks the fault for that lies with the police. “This is the hardest place in the nation to own a bar… It’s a war zone. They’ve dehumanized the students. The police have to realize that the students are not the armies of darkness,” he said. Miller argued that the original Campus Partners rhetoric about “a dangerous neighborhood in decline,” has added to the south campus woes.
He pointed out that because of the conflict with the police, students are now “paying to get out of this area” and drink at places like Mekka. “It shouldn’t have to be that way,” Miller said.
The Columbus police take a drubbing in the Campus Partners plan, both for their lack of sensitivity toward students and their failure to follow through with the Park, Walk and Talk program designed to get officers out of their cruisers and onto the sidewalks. Mark Hatch, director of Community Crime Patrol and a member of the Campus Partners board, has already begun meeting with law enforcement and student representatives, according to Sterrett.
Campus Partners is seen by both south campus bar owners and residents as sort of a new temperance movement. At a December meeting of the Undergraduate Student Government Assembly, Humphries lectured students on partying “responsibly.” President E. Gordon Gee is quoted in the April issue of the Ohio State Alumni Magazine as saying: “I have no intention to make [student life] boring. . . [but] there will be no plebiscite on the fundamental issue of change.” Most of Gee’s envisioned “change” has focused from the beginning on downsizing the south campus bar strip.
Gee recently told students lobbying for domestic partnership benefits that change takes time and he used Campus Partners as his analogy. “When I first came here six years ago I knew something had to be done, so every year, six years ago, five years ago, four years ago, I asked for money to do something. I finally got the money….” Gee conceded that critics may correctly view his attack on the south campus bar strip as a return to the principle of in loco parentis, the notion that the university should act as a surrogate parent to students under the age of 21.
Certainly, even under the modified Final Final Draft, the university is expected to take a much greater responsibility for its students. It calls for students to be trained for community service, for the university to assess that service, for incentives to be provided to encourage service, and for students to follow the code of conduct anytime they are engaged in a university-related activity, a modified in loco parentis.
Campus Partners’ Conte agrees that the university “should definitely be taking a more active role; then how that’s done is the question.”
One way that the university could begin addressing the problem would start right on campus, with increased expenditures for student activities and health and counseling services. Mindbogglingly, the university spends about 10% of what similar institutions spend on alternative activities for students, according to the Campus Partners plan. As the instructional fee for students has risen, tuition costs have been controlled by keeping the general activity fee-that which pays for non-instructional programming-low. As a result, there is not much that the university provides students to divert them from haunting the High Street bars.
In the meantime, there is not one full-time person working on alcohol abuse on campus, according to Conte. “There’s nobody on campus that’s trying to coordinate activities to reduce alcohol usage and prevent alcohol abuse, and I think that’s why we have all the problems on 12th Avenue because there hasn’t been any planning…. This alcohol position was recommended to be funded as part of OSU’s budget process, but the last I heard from OSU vice president on Student Affairs [David Williams] was it wasn’t going to be funded.”
Williams was in Africa last week and could not be reached for comment.
Despite the university’s disinvestment, Conte thinks the students need to realize their responsibilities. He is encouraged by planning among off-campus student and year-round residents to meet and orient students new to the neighborhoods. The idea is to be pro-active with students moving off-campus “so you immediately make them partners in that neighborhood….. And the students need to realize that they might be here temporarily, but they’re stewards of the university and the university area.”
Extending its boundaries
Work by Campus Partners has not been limited to the East Campus neighborhoods. Language in the Final Final Draft is deliberately more inclusive than in earlier drafts in an attempt to extend the university’s responsibility to the north and south as well.
“There’s still a lot of things missing,” UAC’s Skubovius cautioned, “particularly in the northern third of the district. A little money could go a long way.” But he called the extensively revised document “more acceptable.”
In the north campus area, Campus Partners initially worked closely with the Glen Echo South Civic Association. That collaboration spawned an oppositional organization, The Common Ground Forum. The Common Ground folks objected to the original Campus Partners proposal to close and redirect area streets. Joe Demshar, the owner of Top Priority Pizza, emerged as the most vocal critic of the Campus Partners plan.
“It’s been mostly quiet up here since Barry Humphries’ departure,” he stated, although, at a May 22 meeting of the Civic Association, Demshar claimed that Campus Partners’ spokesperson Julie Boyland “discredited herself.” Boyland presented the Campus Partners perspective on the need for “traffic calming” and the closing of Fourth Street. “It was quite a fiasco,” Demshar declared. “Julie attempted to shout down the Common Ground attorney Laura Sharp. She kept yelling: ‘Where do you live? What are you doing here?'” while Sharp was presenting the less-intrusive Common Ground proposals calling for stop signs and speed bumps.
Demshar believes that the election of Jim Hubbard, of the Common Ground group, as vice president of the Glen Echo South Civic Association at a June 3 meeting signals the ability of the neighborhood to solve their traffic problems without Campus Partners’ intervention. “They have nothing to do with anything up here anymore. We can solve our own problems without their involvement,” he said.
The university in drag
Unlike the University Area Commission, Demshar is unwilling to endorse Campus Partners’ Final Final Draft. “Who is Campus Partners? It’s the university in drag. Why do they deserve the other side of High Street? It’s a land grab by the university using a not-for-profit entity as a diversionary tactic to get involved in commercial enterprises,” in Demshar’s analysis. He asked, “How well managed are they? They bury nuclear waste and cadavers under the Fawcett Center and forgot about it.”
Echoing the sentiments of the UAC, Demshar dashed off a list of what he sees as the real needs of north campus: “If Campus Partners, and I mean the university, wants to do something for us, let them fix our streets, improve the lighting, help us get new sidewalks and curbs, bury the utility lines, build green space, clean our streets, improve the landscape-that’s what this area needs. Not the Limited!”
” As a student, I’m concerned about the displacement of people and the problems. If the rents go up, everything gets nice, and people can’t afford to live here, where are they going to go?” Conte asked, raising the same concerns. “And again, [there’s] this feeling that there’s this assumption that there is no community here. But it is there and we threaten to destroy what communities we do have.”
“I’m torn because I understand the economics of it,” he continued, adding, though, “I know I don’t agree with everything that’s in [the plan], but I know something needs to be done,” Conte concluded.
by Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman
March 8, 2008
Hilary Clinton’s larger-than-expected victory in Ohio may have been won with votes from Republicans, and from independents who usually vote Republican.
Much has been made of Rush Limbaugh’s other far-right commentators’ pleas to Republicans to cast their ballots for her in open primary states like Ohio and Texas. Part of the strategy is to slow down Barack Obama, who analysts argue will be harder for John McCain to beat this fall. Others, like Ann Coulter, have gone so far as to say they actually PREFER Clinton to McCain. Such voters would certainly also prefer the former first lady to Obama.
Whatever the case, there is concrete evidence in Ohio that Republican cross-over voters did, in fact, play a significant role in delivering the Buckeye primary votes to the Senator from New York.
Ohio has a classic open primary. Party affiliation can be whatever a voter states upon entering the polls. Both of this article’s writers, who usually vote Democratic or independent, chose to vote Republican in the 2006 primary, essentially because of a desire to oppose J. Kenneth Blackwell, the sitting Secretary of State, because of his role in his voter suppression during the 2004 election. In 2006, though our previous party affiliations were Democratic, each writer merely informed poll workers that we wished to cast a Republican ballot. Raised eyebrows notwithstanding, there were no problems getting them. The same opportunity allowed voters to cross-over last week.
There is clear statistical evidence that many Republican voters did cross-over. The Democratic Party “won at least 141,785 new voters in the four-county region” of Warren, Clermont, Hamilton, and Butler counties according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner told the New York Times that in Clermont and Summit Counties, paper ballots ran out mostly due to a large number of independent and Republican voters crossing over to vote in the Democratic primary.
In Warren and Clermont counties, in southwestern Ohio, the number of votes cast in the Democratic primary are telling. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that in Warren County, for example, there were 12,440 registered Democrats (9.49%) and 41,377 registered Republicans (31.57%) and 77,237 nonpartisan voters (58.94%). In Tuesday’s primary, 27,855 voters (48.53%) asked for Democratic ballots, representing 223.91% of the registered Democrats in that county.
Warren County is notorious for a “homeland security” alert called by county officials on Election Day 2004, causing the ballots to be diverted to and counted in a restricted unauthorized warehouse.
In Clermont County, there were 14,496 are registered Democrats and 37,714 registered Republicans, as reported by the Enquirer. In the primary, 26,279 people voted Democratic. One Clermont County presiding judge reported running out of Democratic ballots and turning away at least 30 people, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Election observers on 2004 claimed that 100 or so ballots in Clermont County has stickers over John Kerry’s name, that would have caused the vote scanner not to register a marked Kerry vote.
In 2004, Warren, Clermont and nearby Butler County gave Bush some 140,000 more votes than Kerry. Bush’s entire margin of victory in Ohio was less than 119,000 votes.
Dr. Richard Gunther, professor of political science at Ohio State University suggests that other factors are in play in Ohio. He sees a likely shift of independent voters, similar to the elections of 1930, 1932 and 1934. In those elections, spurred by the Great Depression, independent and Republican voters shifted their loyalties to the Democratic Party and Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, causing a fundamental realignment in politics that lasted for fifty or so years.
There were some technical issues with voting machines in Tuesday’s election. The Enquirer reported on power outages in Darke and Hamilton counties and reports of electronic touch-screen voting machines problems in Montgomery County. Voters at one precinct in Lucas County (Toledo) voted on paper ballots after the electronic voting machines failed, according to the Toledo Blade.
Secretary of State Brunner has made significant strides toward guaranteeing freer, fairer and more transparent elections. In the wake of massive irregularities under Former Secretary of State Blackwell in the 2004 election, Brunner has committed the state to paper ballots. In Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), she forced the resignation of Republican Board of Elections (BOE) Chair Bob Bennett, along with the rest of the board. Bennett forced the county to spend $20 million on electronic touch-screen voting machines, which proceeded to crash in the 2005 primary. Among other things, they registered a 14% vote count error, according to a BOE study.
This spring Brunner ditched the machines in Cuyahoga County in favor of paper ballots. Ironically, the county ran out of the Democratic ballots, indicating a higher than expected turnout of voters for the Democratic primary. In response, a federal judge ordered several Cleveland polling stations to stay open until 9pm so everyone could vote.
In Franklin County (Columbus) a survey by the 16-member election protection team from the Columbus Institute for Contemporary Journalism showed that it took an average of 15 minutes to vote in inner city precincts such as ward #5 and #55. These two precincts had lines between three to seven hours long in 2004.
Restrictions on absentee and early voting were not present in this year’s voting as they had been in 2004. Co-author Harvey Wasserman got his absentee ballot in the mail without incident this year, whereas it took four phone calls in 2004. The Franklin County Board of Elections opened with extended hours on the Monday before the primary to give voters greater flexibility.
Two days before primary election day, Brunner forced the resignation of Franklin County BOE Chair Matt Damschroder. Election officials told the Free Press that Damschroder met with Bush, Blackwell and Karl Rove on election day 2004. Misallocation of voting machines and other irregularities caused inner city residents to wait up to five hours to vote in his bailiwick. Prior to that election, in his BOE office, Damschroder accepted a $10,000 check for the Franklin County Republican Party from a representative of the Diebold voting machine company. Inexplicably, after Damschroder resigned, the Franklin County BOE, including two Democrats, voted to retain him as a “consultant” at over $11,000 per month salary.
Anecdotal evidence from Texas, where Clinton won the popular vote in the Democratic primary, also indicates Republican and Republican-leaning independent cross-over voting may have had an impact. While losing the popular vote by a narrow margin, Obama won that state’s caucuses, and emerged from Texas with more Democratic delegates than did Clinton.
Evidence in general would suggest that the intrusion of normally Republican voters into the Democratic primary may signify what statisticians call an “asymmetrical entrance” of new voters. Such a phenomenon could signal malicious cross-over voters or signs of a Democratic realignment, or both. This would also cause errors in pre-election polls. The post-election exit polls may have been affected by the so-called “Bradley Effect,” in which white voters casting ballots in an election where a white candidate is running against a black one tend to mislead exit pollsters about how they cast their actual vote.
This fall it is virtually certain that Ohio will once again play a key role in choosing the next president. Except for John Kennedy in 1960, no candidate has won the presidency without carrying the Buckeye State since the 1840s.
This spring, the Buckeye State has also played a critical part in the race for the Democratic nomination. And it would appear that Ohio Republicans and independents who generally vote Republican were key in handing the state to Hillary Clinton.
Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA’S 2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008 (www.freepress.org). With Steve Rosenfeld they co-wrote WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO? from the New Press. This article was originally published by freepress.org.
March 6, 2008
Co-written with Ron Baiman
The good news is that visible strides were made in re-enfranchising Ohio’s Franklin County (Columbus) inner city urban voters in the March 4, 2008 primary. Voting machines and paper ballots were plentiful and equally distributed.
But the bad news is that the discrepancy between the preliminary exit poll data and the unofficial vote tallies was reminiscent of the improbable results of the 2004 presidential election in Ohio between John Kerry and George W. Bush.
While the Clinton-Obama results are more probable than the Kerry-Bush results of 2004, they are still highly suspect and suggest statistically significant flaws in the exit polling or in the recording of Ohio votes.
In their “day after” analysis, the Washington Post reported (on page A9) that the Ohio Democratic presidential primary “preliminary exit poll results show the makeup of the electorate and how it voted.”
The preliminary exit poll information showed Clinton beating Obama by 3.26% — Clinton with 51.13% and Obama with 47.87%.
The unofficial results posted on the website of the Ohio Secretary of State are: Clinton 54.29%, Obama 44.00% and Edwards 1.72%, which gives a Clinton to Obama gap of 10.29%. This gives us a difference of 7.03% from the exit poll results.
The odds of Obama’s Ohio results happening given the 4% margin of error mentioned by the Washington Post are one in every 35 elections. Clinton’s Ohio vote total is likely to occur once in every 16 elections.
The 4% margin of error included more than a 60% increase for a so-called “cluster factor.” Without the “cluster factor” adjustment, the margin of error on the sample size of about 1600 would be 2.5%. Without this “cluster factor” adjustment, the odds of Obama’s Ohio results happening are one in every 954 elections; Clinton’s Ohio vote total would occur once in every 165 elections.
Although the unexpected election results baffled election observers, they found that the polling places ran smoothly in Franklin County. Voters in Franklin County had the choice of voting on electronic voting machines or on a paper ballot.
Unlike the 2004 Ohio presidential election, inner city precincts in Columbus had plenty of machines. In Franklin County’s ward 55 precinct B that had three machines in the 2004 general election, there were six machines and a dedicated paper ballot voting table. Gone were the three to seven hour waits in the near east side’s 55th and 5th wards. The longest wait recorded by Free Press election observers in Franklin County’s inner city was 15 minutes.
In Cleveland, the wait was longer. Fifteen or so precincts remained open until 9pm by a federal judge’s order, after running out of paper ballots. In Cuyahoga County, voters voted primarily on paper ballots, although polling sites provided an electronic voting machine for voters with disabilities.
Election observers reporting to the Free Press attributed the Cleveland mess in part to increased voting by independents and registered Republicans crossing over to vote on a Democratic ballot.
Also, an election observer reported the failure to secure ballots after the polls closed in the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections vote counting area.
In a giant step forward, reversing the partisan policies of former Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, inner city voters at polling places with multiple precincts were allowed to vote at the shortest line and on any free voting machine.
In 2004 and 2006, poll workers failed to post early voting results by precinct. In this year’s primary, poll workers had a nearly perfect record in a dozen inner city precincts, posting results at the 6:30 opening of the polls and updating at 11:30am and 4pm. Free Press observers only found one polling site, the combined 55a and c that failed to post the 4pm results. Poll workers immediately turned over the poll list to the Free Press upon request and subsequently posted the results.
The end of the day tallies, which Blackwell failed to mandate, were posted at all but two of the 12 precincts observed, 5A and 5C.
A small number of problems emerged during primary election day. Poll workers seemed confused about procedures involving paper ballots versus provisional ballots. At various polling sites Franklin County voters who asked for a paper ballot had their ballots placed in a provisional ballot envelope. A Free Press editor who cast a ballot on paper was told that it “wasn’t worth as much” as the vote on the ES&S computer voting machine.
Some provisional voters were not given a sheet with phone numbers to call and dates when they could call to see if their vote was counted.
The observer team found one polling place switched at a late date. The Fifth Avenue Elementary School had a note on the door re-directing voters to vote at the Thompson Recreation Center, both in the same neighborhood in Columbus’ Short North.
Ohio’s Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner admitted the obvious on Ohio News Network – that there needed to be more poll worker training for Ohio’s general election.
Poll workers told a Free Press reporter that they were given six hours of training, but very little of it was “hands-on.”
The improvements in Franklin County’s election can be attributed to the relentless efforts of the election protection movement and new policies drafted by Secretary of State Brunner’s office. Controversial Franklin County Board of Elections Director Matt Damschroder was forced out by Brunner two days before the primary.
Damschroder openly defied Brunner’s directives, particularly one mandating that voters be allowed to vote on paper. Nevertheless, the ugly news is that Franklin County Democrats rewarded Damschroder, the former Republican Party Chair, by voting to keep him on as a “consultant” for the rest of the year at his full salary.
Bob Fitrakis has a Ph.D. in political science and was an election observer in the Ohio 2004 general election and Ohio’s 2008 primary. Ron Baiman has a Ph.D. in economics.
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Speaking on the potential theft of the 2008 election.
By Bob Fitrakis and Sally MacPhail
This week may mark a watershed in the history of The Ohio State University as the University Area Commission, Campus Partners for Community Urban Redevelopment, the Columbus Development Commission and the Columbus Historic Resources Commission are all slated to take action on sweeping recommended changes for the neighborhoods around the nation’s largest campus. If endorsed by those agencies, the proposal will be sent on to City Council and the OSU board of trustees for action later this summer.
On the table is the alternately bashed and ballyhooed University Neighborhoods Revitalization Plan, a 250-page document drafted by Campus Partners that addresses just about every aspect of off-campus life from trash collection to land use, from drinking and drug abuse to community schools. Critics say that what’s really behind the revitalization plan is gentrification and homogenization of a unique multi-ethnic urban community; proponents feel that the plan will encourage reinvestment-financial and philosophical-by present and prospective businesses, residents, students, and the university itself.
An indication of the heated dialogue surrounding this plan is that a Final Draft of the Revitalization Concept was issued April 1, 1996; on June 7, following over 20 hours of meetings in the month of May alone by the University Area Commission, Campus Partners issued a “Final Final Draft” that contains extensive changes.
Among those changes is one that exemplifies the purpose of the plan: “Recommendation 6.1.3: The Ohio State University should demonstrate its commitment to increased homeownership programs by considering the purchase of a residence for the university President within the University District.” To relocate the president from Bexley to what critics and residents alike say has become a problem area would be a bold move, and one that drafters of the Campus Partners plan say would show the university’s commitment to the area.
“I made this recommendation…that we should specifically mention in the housing area [of the plan] that we immediately begin to work to find President [E. Gordon] Gee a house in the district; that if OSU is really committed to this project then their president would live in the area,” explained Marc Conte, a member of the Campus Partners board of trustees who was recently awarded a master’s in public policy and management. “I’ve lived in the area since 1988 when I came here as an undergrad, and I’ve even seen the decline in those eight years. And…I’ve seen the university not invest-or disinvest really-much less than they have been.”
From de-investment to reinvestment
This theme of re-investment in the neighborhoods surrounding the campus is one that echoes throughout the latest draft of the Campus Partners plan. Statistics compiled by Campus Partners, and recent events in the off-campus area, show alarming evidence that maintaining the status quo is not working:
*A drop from 50 percent to 11 percent homeownership in the last 40 years;
*2,050 units of federally subsidized Section 8 housing, with one neighborhood claiming the highest concentration of such assisted housing in the city and the highest per capita violent crime rate in the city;
*14.2 percent more violent crime than in Columbus as a whole, and 21.6 percent more property crime;
*Three incidents in recent months on 12th Avenue involving police using riot-control tactics against students;
*The unsolved abduction and murder of a freshman in 1994;
*A drop from 49 to 39 percent in the number of students who live on- or off-campus in the 43201 ZIP code;
*A 20-year legacy of ineffective code enforcement and slum landlord exploitation resulting in unsafe, unhealthy living conditions.
While the city is obligated to address municipal problems such as crime and trash pick-up, what’s pushing the university into the mix is feedback from its potential customers-parents and students who could choose to attend OSU but are not because the area where most of the students live is now considered unsafe and uninhabitable compared to accommodations offered at other institutions of higher learning. “That’s the bottom line to the university,” commented Steve Sterrett, community relations director for Campus Partners. Not only are “prospective students and their parents, especially high-ability students, deciding not to attend Ohio State due to a setting that is perceived as disintegrating and unsafe,” as the plan states, presently enrolled “students are leaving the area; the area is not attractive to students,” Sterrett commented.
In the beginning
Whether compelled by moral or financial reasons, Mayor Greg Lashutka and President Gee announced in September of 1994 a joint commitment to the revitalization of the area known as the University Neighborhoods, the portion of the university district roughly bound on the south by King Avenue, north by Northwood Avenue, west by the alley behind High Street, and east by the Conrail corridor. With an initial outlay of $600,000 from OSU and $187,000 from the city, a dozen or so university trustees, administrators and city officials were named to the Campus Partners board, joined in recent months by two at-large citizens and students Conte and Jennifer Nelson.
The group was led by staff President Barry Humphries, who oversaw the plan through its initial phases before departing last spring as the first “Final Draft” was released, a time that some observers saw as the turning point in the Campus Partners’ planning process. What before were some isolated voices of criticism and gloom became a chorus of organized opposition when the University Area Commission got hold of the April 1 draft.
Not only did the UAC launch into a rewrite of the plan with a zeal, but for the first time, some commissioners assert, their efforts were welcomed, not rebuffed. Both Howard Skubovius, UAC president, and Commissioner Tim Wagner asserted that the whole tenor of the Campus Partners’ planning process changed after Humphries’ March resignation. The non-profit redevelopment corporation became much more receptive to community input, “from going through the motions to moving toward true collaboration,” as Skubovius sees it.
“Until recently we never met face-to-face, we basically communicated in writing after public forum,” he added. Skubovius recalled that the University Area Commissioners originally offered to serve as unpaid consultants to Campus Partners, but “Humphries never took us up on it.”
Commissioner Tim Wagner credited Sterrett for setting the new tone. “Steve’s done a marvelous job of redirecting and facilitating dialogue.”
Others like real estate developer Richard Talbott are not as critical of Humphries. “We saw the final draft and we didn’t like certain things in it. There’s nothing like a deadline to stimulate discussion. Most work in any plan is done primarily at the end. We on the commission became much more aggressive after the final draft. We asked for and got face-to-face meetings.” “One thing people need to understand is, Campus Partners doesn’t replace the university district commission organizations, which area an umbrella organization of organizations. It certainly doesn’t replace the UAC as an advisory body to the Columbus city government; it’s really primarily a vehicle through which Ohio State can be involved constructively in the neighborhood,” Sterrett said.
Campus Partners may have always intended to be that way, but its original Final Draft didn’t always reflect that outlook. Paternalistic language found in the first Final Draft such as “The Concept is intended to receive community support leading to its ultimate adoption by the Columbus City Council and The Ohio State Board of Trustees as the [sic] major policy document relating to decisions for the University District” are now preceded by: “It is intended to provide a vision of what the District can be, and how the community can realize that vision through clear actions. It is not, however, a detailed prescription meant to solve every problem that besets the District.” Another change includes the softening of term “blighted properties”-those targeted for removal-now termed “problem properties.”
Gone, too, is the implication that Campus Partners will have the power of eminent domain, essentially the public taking of private property. In the introduction to the June 7 Final Final Draft is new language explaining that only the city has the right to exercise and grant the powers of eminent domain. Prior to his departure, Humphries was making a lot of noise about using the power of eminent domain to take out private businesses he felt were unfit for his campus master plan.
One commissioner called Humphries’ rhetoric “inexcusable.” As Talbott is quick to point out, “We’re the only legally recognized body by the city; we’re the recommending authority by statute in this area.”
The UAC’s attitude on eminent domain powers became clear after a May 15 meeting between the University Area Commission and Campus Partners that is spoken of in nearly reverent tones. Participants report that it started at six p.m. and ended somewhere around three in the morning. Call it “Lashutka’s revenge” on Gordon Gee over the loss of a sports arena, as some commissioners suggest; whatever the case, it’s clear that the city’s stance at the May 10 public hearing hosted by the UAC emboldened the commissioners. Steve McClary, representing the City Planning Department, let it be known in no uncertain terms that the city would not be doling out its eminent domain power without “consensus” between the UAC and Campus Partners.
“I think there’s a great deal of confusion on the question of eminent domain…First I think there’s probably a great number of people that think Campus Partners has the power of eminent domain. At this point, they do not. The mayor has made no decision to support provision of that power to Campus Partners…. All this is to say that I think many people are under the belief that if this plan is approved that the next day, the next week, there may be somebody coming an taking their property and that simply is not the case. A great many provisions of this plan will require endless public meetings….,” clarified McClary.
What the Lashutka administration did by its insistence on consensus was to further slow the out-of-control Campus Partners’ bulldozing of community groups. “You know, when it finally came down to it, despite all the talk of community input, it was us, the University Area Commission with the University Community Business Association (UCBA), who did virtually all the negotiation with Campus Partners…and that was after the final draft,” reflected Skubovius. “There was never the intention of using eminent domain to acquire vast lands, residential housing, and redevelop all that…. What Barry was trying to do up front…was to make sure people understood that he was serious,” Sterrett said in defense of his former boss.
Whatever the purpose of the rhetoric, there seems general consensus among critics that the first Final Draft approached “redevelopment” with a “giant bulldozer,” as Talbott put it. “We had a lot of that removed, and when we confronted Jim Heid [Campus Partners’ San Francisco-based consultant] about demolishing up to 50 percent of the buildings on High Street, he took offense and said it was more like 45 percent. In reality it would have been well over 50 percent of the floor space on High Street,” he reflected.
Talbott also emphasized that approving the plan in principle is altogether different than approving the equally important implementation. “We’ve never seen an implementation plan, we’d like to see it,” said Talbott. Commissioners privately worry that if the plan is not phased in properly, but instead prioritizes High Street property acquisition, demolition and redevelopment, then the east campus area would follow the “Atlantic City model.” As Talbott puts it, “A nice facade with everything rotting in back of it.”
The Implementation Plan is the as-yet confidential companion volume to the Revitalization Concept Document. This document will outline the stakeholders in the revitalization project, the projects and their priority, their costs and a timeline, according to Conte. Though exact numbers are not yet forthcoming, OSU is trying to ward off sticker shock by allocating up to $28 million on the various projects over the next five years; $25 million is expected to be invested in certain projects, such as the acquisition of real estate, Sterrett said; $2.5 million is set aside for operating expenses and the remaining half-million is for development of the Campus Collaborative, an academic partnership involving several colleges and academic units at OSU that are charged with creating a model teaching community in the neighborhoods.
“One of the things that is critical to the success of this plan is to look at the university as a model of education,” Sterrett explained, adding that “Ohio State is an enormous asset to Columbus; it draws visitors from around the world, it draws students from around the world, and the neighborhood should reflect the quality of the institution.”
While OSU has long been recognized for its quality extension and agriculture programs, one of the key parts to the success of the Campus Partners plan is “to help the university understand it is an urban institution and it needs to be looking at urban problems,” Sterrett went on to say. “If we’re going to play a role [in the community], where better to start than in our own backyard?”
This is the first in a two-part analysis of reaction to the Campus Partners plan for revitalization of the university neighborhoods.
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