by Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman
September 9, 2008
The McCain/Palin GOP is already in the process of stealing the Ohio vote, as was done in 2004. Among those at the center of the GOP strategy is Bush Family computer operative Michael Connell, who programmed the key vote counting mechanisms that were used to give George W. Bush his second term.
Except for John Kennedy in 1960, no candidate since 1856 (James Buchanan) has won the White House without carrying the Buckeye State. No Republican has ever done it.
On October 27, 2004, we published “Twelve Ways Bush is Now Stealing the Ohio Vote” at www.FreePress.org. Despite four years of denial by the Democratic Party and the corporate media, all methods mentioned in that article (plus many more) were used in the theft that gave George W. Bush his second term.
Much has now changed in Ohio, including the transition from a Republican Governor (Robert Taft) and Secretary of State (J. Kenneth Blackwell) to Democrats Ted Strickland and Jennifer Brunner. Brunner has made strong public commitments to conducting a fair registration process, an orderly election and a reliable vote count this fall. She is being pushed by the King-Lincoln-Bronzeville federal civil rights lawsuit, filed originally against Blackwell.
To help guarantee an election that truly reflects the will of the voters, Freepress.org will convene a conference on election protection procedures web-cast from Columbus this September 26-8. It will reinforce the positive steps Brunner has taken, and will help train poll workers and judges to safeguard the vote in Ohio and around the nation.
But much of the electoral apparatus remains beyond public control. Serious questions remain about how reliable the final vote count will be, and how much of it the Republican party will cage, confuse and steal in its crusade to put John McCain and Sarah Palin into the White House.
Here are some of the key factors that still endanger the vote in Ohio and around the nation:
1) ILLEGAL DESTRUCTION OF EVIDENCE SURROUNDING THE VOTE COUNT
In a federal court decision delivered in August, 2006, Judge Algernon Marbley ruled that all materials related to the 2004 presidential vote in Ohio must be preserved. Standing federal law required that these materials be protected for 22 months dating from November 4, 2004. In response to the King-Lincoln lawsuit, Marbley’s decision came in time to make it a federal offense to destroy any poll books, ballots and other records relating to the 2004 election in Ohio at any time.
Around the time of the decision, GOP Secretary of State Blackwell, who also served as Ohio co-chair of the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign, issued ambivalent orders to the state’s 88 county Boards of Elections about preserving these materials.
Blackwell subsequently lost his 2006 campaign for governor of Ohio, and was replaced by Brunner as secretary of state. Brunner publicly announced that she would establish a repository in Columbus for all 2004 election materials. In accordance with the King-Lincoln lawsuit, a definitive recount would then establish what actually happened during the Bush re-election.
But in August of 2007, Ohio Attorney-General Mark Dann informed the King-Lincoln attorneys that 56 of the 88 county Boards of Elections had illegally destroyed all or some of their records and ballots from 2004. No repository has been established for what remains, and no definitive recount is now possible.
Ironically, Florida Governor Jeb Bush did preserve materials from the 2000 election there from all but one of the counties in that state. The materials are being held in a repository in Tallahassee. But no such resource—and no definitive recount—will be possible in Ohio.
There have been no state or federal prosecutions for the illegal destruction of these materials. Nor does there seem to be any guarantee similar destruction will not follow the 2008 election.
2) MASSIVE RESIDUAL ELIMINATION OF REGISTERED VOTERS:
In the run-up to the 2004 elections, GOP-controlled Boards of Elections in Ohio eliminated some 308,000 registered voters from the rolls used at the polls to determine whether or not citizens are eligible to vote. The purges were conducted in heavily Democratic districts in Cuyahoga (Cleveland), Lucas (Toledo) and Hamilton (Cincinnati) Counties. The numbers of voters eliminated represented more than 5% of the 5.4 million Ohioans who voted in 2004. The GOP also challenged the right of some 35,000 registered voters to cast ballots, based largely on letters the Republicans sent to voters which then came back undelivered, thus allowing them to claim the lack of a valid address. Challenges were also issued to prevent thousands of ex-felons from voting, even though there is no state law disenfranchising them.
Overall, the removals far exceeded Bush’s official victory margin of less than 119,000 votes. After the 2004 election, another 170,000 voters were eliminated in Franklin (Columbus) County, also now heavily Democratic.
Despite massive grassroots voter registration drives, those voters have never been restored to the registration lists. None were notified when they were eliminated, and no public accounting has been made of exactly who was disenfranchised. Parallel purges were used in Florida 2000, and throughout the US in 2004. There is every reason to believe the GOP will repeat them in 2008 wherever possible.
3) RENEWED ATTEMPTS TO ELIMINATE ADDITIONAL REGISTERED VOTERS:
Throughout Ohio’s 88 counties, GOP-controlled Boards of Elections have continued “caging” registered voters by sending them notices requiring that the post office return those that cannot be delivered. A loophole in Ohio law allows partisan challengers to then demand that the names of those whose forms come back be eliminated from the voter rolls. This practice has been used by the GOP throughout the nation to purge voter rolls in inner city precincts. In many cases those removed are soldiers currently serving in Iraq.
The Advancement Project has notified Brunner that it will challenge any mass purges in Ohio 2008. For her part, Brunner has ruled that returned notices cannot be used as a basis for eliminating voters from the registration rolls. She has further attempted to counter-act the purges by requiring that any registered voter fingered for removal be issued notice and given a pubic hearing by the purging BOE. But the process remains intimidating for prospective voters—especially the heavily-targeted list of those voting for the first time. With sixty days left to election day, the on-going impact remains unclear.
4-5) RESISTING UNIVERSAL ACCESS TO ABSENTEE BALLOTS WHILE RE-INTRODUCING CHAOS:
Brunner and voting rights advocates want the Boards of Elections in all 88 Ohio counties to mail absentee ballots to all voters. Previous restrictions on casting such ballots have been lifted. Brunner has strongly supported the practice of making these paper ballots available throughout the state. It would, among other things, help eliminate long lines at the polls, increase access for the infirm and disabled, and circumvent electronic voting machines, which her office has deemed to be easily corruptible. “As we prepare for Election Day,” Brunner has said, “we are promoting clear, consistent, statewide standards for absentee voting. Every Ohioan who requests an absentee ballot should have the same rights and responsibilities,” no matter what county they might be in.
Ohio’s GOP leadership has made a loud public show of supporting this universal access to absentee ballots. But the Republican-controlled legislature pointedly failed to authorize enough money to the Secretary of State’s office to pay for the full mailing. In a stunning display of public cynicism, the GOP leadership has since told Brunner, in a non-binding promise, that she should just go ahead and order the local BOE’s to do the mailings. The Legislature, they say, will then vote the additional money at some point in the future.
Brunner has refused to do this, pointing out that the potential shortfall would be in the millions, and that such an order—in essence, an unfunded mandate—might be illegal. As a result, using a calculation based on per capita postage rates, she has informed every BOE how much state money they can expect. She is encouraging those that have the additional money in their budgets to do the mailings on their own.
The GOP-sponsored shortfall has thus introduced chaos into what should have been the orderly, manageable process of providing every Ohioan with a paper ballot prior to election day. As it now stands, some counties will be mailing absentee ballots and others will not. The uneven distribution is expected to favor GOP voters in better-funded rural and suburban districts. Should problems arise as a result of this uneven distribution, the GOP will certainly blame Brunner.
6) RESISTING SAME-DAY REGISTRATION AND VOTING
A loophole in a recently passed Ohio election law allows voters to register to vote and then cast an absentee ballot at the same time by coming in person to their Board of Elections between September 30 and October 6. Ironically, the loophole was accidentally inserted into an otherwise highly repressive bill by Republican State Senator KevinDewine, second cousin of the former US Senator Mike DeWine, who lost his seat in 2006. By allowing voters to cast absentee ballots as they register, they can avoid long election-day lines and the perils of electronic voting machines. Furthermore, the only election ID required is the last four digits of the voter’s Social Security number.
The Ohio Republican Party has called on Brunner “to revoke a directive to allow residents to register to vote and cast an absentee ballot the same day.” The GOP says her directive is illegal. The party is expected to deploy a full attack on this provision that would otherwise allow thousands of Ohioans to participate in the process for the first time with relative ease and security.
7) THE PERSISTENT SPREAD OF ELECTRONIC VOTING MACHINES
In addition to mass elimination of Democratic voters, a principle method of stealing the 2004 election in Ohio was through the manipulation of electronic voting machines. Since then, the Ohio-based Diebold Company has admitted that its machines are vulnerable to manipulation and the dropping of significant numbers of votes. Decertification and lawsuits involving Diebold and other electronic machines in California and elsewhere have proliferated. Some 800,000 Ohio ballots—representing about 15% of the state’s vote—were cast on Diebold machines in 2004. Additional votes were cast in Ohio and nationwide on machines made by ES&S, Hart Inner-Civic,Triad and others, all of whom have come under serious legal and legislative scrutiny.
Studies by the Brennan Center, Princeton University, the Carter-Baker Commission, the Government Accountability Office, the Conyers Committee and others, have all concluded that results coming from such machines can be easily manipulated, and election outcomes reversed, with just a few keystrokes. A $1.5 million report to Brunner’s office concluded that electronic machines could easily have been used to steal the 2004 election in Ohio.
But because of the Help America Vote Act, authored by former Ohio Congressman Bob Ney (just recently released from Federal prison), electronic voting machines will be in far greater use in Ohio and around the nation during the 2008 election than ever before. The reinstatement of electronic voting machines has also been forced into effect in New York and elsewhere despite widespread attempts to require the use of paper ballots. Without a massive influx of absentee ballots, voters in 54 of Ohio’s counties are likely to be forced to use touchscreen machines, with parallel increases nationwide. This includes Ohio’s largest city, Columbus, and other major urban center such as Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown.
In 2004, the compiled tabulation of Ohio’s electronic vote was deisgned for Secretary of State Blackwell by Michael Connell, a Bush family loyalist who programmed the Bush-Cheney web site in the 2000 election. Connell directed the Ohio vote count to servers in a basement in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which also housed e-mail traffic for the White House. Thousands of emails from Karl Rove and other key Bush Administration operatives have mysteriously disappeared from servers in this basement. Many worked side-by-side with the Connell-designed ones to which Ohio’s official election results were outsourced, under supervision by Rove and Blackwell.
Like Rove, Connell now works for the McCain/Palin campaign. An IT associate, Steve Spoonamore, himself a McCain supporter, has stated that Connell’s IT apparatus can be used to steal elections. Attempts to force Connell to testify under oath have thus far been successfully resisted by the GOP.
Brunner has ordered a halt to some better-known e-voting abuses, such as “sleep overs” whereby electronic machines have been stored at the homes of poll workers prior to election day. At the behest of attorneys working through the King-Lincoln lawsuit, other potential abuses in the electronic apparatus are being exposed and eliminated by Brunner. She has issued the 2008-74 County Board of Elections Security and Risk Mitigation Plan which requires Boards of Elections to secure the machines and file plans that safeguard the hardware and software as well as establish chain of custody. Her 2008-73 memorandum, concerning “Minimum Security Requirements of Vote Tabulation Servers,” mandates that “Each board of elections shall develop and/or maintain a policy for account and password management for granting access to the server and access to related workstations, if any, for its election system.” The directive goes on to require that, “Each Board of Elections shall have a policy for maintaining sign-in documentation of server activity and related workstation activity…”
“We want Ohio’s voters and the rest of the nation to see that we have prepared a transparent process of transporting voting equipment, ballots and supplies,” Brunner says. “That begins with security practices at boards of elections and polling places, documented chain of custody, and now procedures to make secure voting machine delivery.”
But electronic touchscreen voting remains a black hole through which a close election could once again be stolen, in Ohio and throughout the nation.
8) RESIDUAL CHAOS FROM PRECINCT ELIMINATION AND MANIPULATION
In the lead-up to Ohio 2004, Blackwell eliminated numerous precincts where voters had cast their ballots for decades. Consolidation was uneven. Some 321 precincts have been shifted in Franklin County alone. Blackwell admitted to a Congressional hearing that false, misleading and out-of-date information was posted on the state’s official web site, misdirecting thousands of voters to the wrong polling stations. In many cases, they were then denied the right to vote altogether, or forced to cast provisional ballots which were never counted.
The chaos resulting from these precinct eliminations has not been entirely overcome. For financial and other reasons, Brunner has not restored all the precincts to pre-Blackwell levels. It is expected that her website will provide accurate information about precinct status and location. But it’s likely some problems will persist.
9) DATA MINING
Early indications are that the Republicans are heavily involved in data mining. Registered voters are already reporting strange letters from undisclosed senders or unidentified nonprofit organizations “welcoming” voters to the system. As in 2004, voters should expect a deluge of phone calls as well, telling them if they vote they’ll be arrested if they have outstanding parking and traffic tickets, back child support payments due, or are on parole, probation or reside in a halfway house. None of these are legal grounds for disenfranchisement. But we expect thousands of such calls will be made to keep first-time and uninformed voters away from the polls.
10) EXPANDED VOTER IDENTIFICATION REQUIREMENTS
A US Supreme Court decision has upheld an Indiana law, drafted and passed by the GOP, requiring photographic identification for voter registration. Because millions of young, poor, homeless, minority and elderly voters may not have voter ID, various state laws are expected to eliminate large numbers of mostly Democratic voters from casting ballots throughout the country. In key swing states like Ohio, which now require ID other than signature to vote (except by absentee ballot), the outcome of the election could be significantly affected. Attempts by voter registration organizations to help such voters obtain suitable ID are proceeding. But the law may still deprive crucial numbers of citizens their right to vote, and play a decisive role in the November 4 outcome.
Overall, there is no doubt that four years of intense public scrutiny, legal action and grassroots organizing have made the theft of the 2008 election in many ways a more difficult proposition. Widespread training of poll workers, poll judges and independent observers (including video teams) will add to the safeguards available during the registration process, voting and vote count. Should thousands of trained election protection activists committed to the democratic process come to the polls this year, it may prove impossible for the 2008 election to be stolen, as happened in 2000 and 2004.
But the Supreme Court approval of photo identification requirements and the proliferation of electronic voting machines will prove serious challenges to a fair registration, voting and vote count process. Given the number of ploys used by the GOP in Ohio and elsewhere in 2004, it’s certain additional methods of election theft will surface this year that no one has seen before.
Unless they are effectively countered, there is little doubt that John McCain and Sarah Palin will follow George W. Bush and Dick Cheney into the White House.
Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of four books on the electoral process, including AS GOES OHIO: ELECTION THEFT SINCE 2004, newly published at www.freepress.org and www.harveywasserman.com. They are attorney and plaintiff in the King-Lincoln-Bronzeville federal lawsuit, and co-convenors of the national election protection conference to be web-cast from Columbus September 26-28 through www.freepress.org. Their other books include HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA’S 2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008 (Freepress.org, harveywasserman.com) and WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO, co-authored with Steve Rosenfeld, from The New Press.