Win by a Thousand Cuts

Random Lengths News | November 29, 2004
A multi-faceted pattern of voter suppression?culminating in a shortage of voting machines in inner city precincts?may have given Bush an illegitimate election victory in Ohio and, thus, the nation. On November 19, a trio of public interest attorneys who announced their intention to contest the election before the Ohio State Supreme Court. If successful, they could overturn Bush?s election.

It?s a long shot?particularly given the politics of Ohio?s Supreme Court, which has been corrupted by illegal corporate campaign contributions over the past four years, according to Common Cause attorney Cliff Arnebeck, also a national leader of the Alliance for Democracy, who is on the forefront of both battles.

There have been so many citizen-initiated hearings to take testimony about election violations since the first one on November 13?when 32 people gave sworn testimony and 66 more provided written affidavits?that even Arnebeck is beginning to lose track. Only 25 people?s testimony is required for the election contest, as opposed to the recount being mounted by the Green Party and Libertarian Party, which can only consider votes that were cast?not votes that were improperly prevented from being cast.

To be considered, Arnebeck explained later, a challenge alleging election violations must account for enough votes to change the outcome. ?If that burden is met, the Chief Justice would have the power to set aside the election, or call for a new election.?

The same day, the League of Women Voters issued a statement in Washington, D.C., saying it was ?deeply concerned about voting irregularities in the 2004 election. The appropriate officials must fully investigate these concerns through open and public processes. Election officials should look into problems quickly and thoroughly and fix what proves to be wrong. Transparency and a willingness to look into potential problems will strengthen voter confidence and ultimately improve our electoral system.?

Arnebeck was joined by Susan Truitt , co-founder of Citizens' Alliance for Secure Elections in Ohio, and Robert Fitrakis, also a political science professor and publisher of the Columbus Free Press and Fitrakis helped organize several of the hearings. According to Arnebeck, Common Cause, the NAACP and People for the American Way have also been asked to join the challenge.

"Please make no mistake. There is nothing short of democracy at risk here," said Truitt.

The week before Election Day, published a list, ?Twelve ways Bush is now stealing the Ohio vote.? These included the planned use of election challengers to intimidate voters; blanket challenges to students registered to vote absentee; problematic electronic voting machines; false information denying felons their right to vote under Ohio law; the mass transfer of 150,000 Cincinnati voters from active to inactive status; phone calls misdirecting people to the wrong polling site; a ruling by Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell that would bar provisional votes cast in the wrong precinct; and two tactics reminiscent of Florida 2000: absentee ballot forms that misaligned Kerry?s name and the box to vote for him and a felon purge list that included people charged, but not convicted of felonies.

The use of challengers was greatly reduced by adverse publicity and a court ruling preventing the use of prepared lists. But an unforeseen thirteenth way of stealing the election more than compensated for it: a massive shortage of voting machines lead to long lines in heavily-Democratic areas, ranging up to 10-12 hours at Kenyon College.

The media noticed the long lines, but not their impact. For those who could not afford to remain in line for hours, due to work, classes, or family obligations, this constituted a de facto new form of poll tax.

A statistical analysis of voting machine distribution in Franklin County carried out by, showed more registered voters and more active voters per machine as Kerry support went up. There were lines in some affluent suburbs, but nothing like multi-hour lines seen by many blacks and students.

Werner Lange, a pastor from Youngstown, Ohio, was among those offering sworn testimony, citing a ?woefully insufficient number of voting machines? at Hillman Elementary School, ?which is a predominantly African American community.? Lange estimated a ?loss of over 8,000 votes from the African American community in the City of Youngstown alone... and that would translate to some 7,000 votes lost for John Kerry.?

Numbers are primary when it comes to challenging the election. But they can?t convey the human costs. Marion Brown of Columbus testified on behalf of a friend whose husband passed away while she was standing in line for four hours. ?My friend came to my home very upset,? Brown stated. ?Perhaps had she not stood so long in the line, she may have been able to save her husband.?

Adding insult to injury, Boyd Mitchell, also of Columbus, testified that city employees were ?sent in to stop illegal parking? at Driving Park Rec Center, where there were less than 50 legal parking spots, and hundreds of people in line.

?Thousands came to vote, saw the long lines and left,? summarized author Harvey Wasseman (Harvey Wasserman's History Of The United States), writing for ?How many thousands? Enough to turn the election? Almost definitely.?

It?s uncertain whether the case will be heard, however. As in Florida in 2000, the clock is ticking; state law deadlines aren?t written with Presidential elections in mind.

?One of the games Blackwell and Ohio Republicans will play is to delay that [election contest] process so that you don?t get a certified result until early December, and the challenge would not even start until its too late to bear fruit.?

Also like Florida 2000, the Secretary of State is co-chair of Bush?s statewide campaign. This time, however, the Democrats are nowhere to be seen.

?Right up to Election Day Kerry repeated his solemn vow to, in light of what happened in Florida 2000, guarantee everyone's right to vote,? Wasserman recalled. ?But now that another highly dubious election has occurred, where the hell is he??

Regardless of the election outcome, the problems in Ohio are serious, widespread, and?according to Arnebeck?criminal.

?Fraud is a crime and use of your office to suppress the votes of a protected class [such as minorities and students] is a crime,? Arnebeck stated. But the crimes aren?t isolated.

?What we?re seeing is a pattern in multiple counties. The sophistication of this and the fact that it?s multi-county suggests that it was developed statewide, and was implemented as possible, targeting blacks and students, to short them on machines to suppress the vote.?

Other tactics cited in the Freepress list could also be criminal. Asked about felons falsely denied the right to vote, Arnebeck replied, ?If that was deliberate misinformation that would be abuse of office.?

There was also testimony at one hearing which raised the specter of nation-wide organizing, in the form of Sproul and Associates, a GOP-employed firm already being investigated by Oregon?s attorney general.

?It?s fair to say there was a widespread voter suppression effort? in response to the massive registration drive among groups that traditionally don?t turn out, Arnebeck said. The effort ?was tremendously well organized. That?s what the Republican side was trying to counter.?

Some of what they did was clearly illegal. How much? Without a thorough investigation, we will never know.

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