Workers.org

Support
anti-war,
anti-racist
news

:: Donate now ::


Email this articleEmail this article 

Print this pagePrintable page


Email the editor

 

'Ohio's first poll tax'

Hearings expose conspiracy in November voting

By Martha Grevatt
Cleveland

"The last round was marked by significant fraud and that it therefore can't be upheld as a fair result."

What could this statement be referring to? State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher was directing his comments to the recent election in Ukraine. The real fraud took place much closer to home: in Ohio.

Public hearings in Cleveland, Akron, Columbus, Cincinnati and Washington, D.C. have torn off the veil of media and government denial. Hundreds of witnesses have given sworn testimony, pointing to a deliberate and coordinated effort to disenfranchise tens and maybe hundreds of thousands of Ohio voters, primarily African Americans.

The year 2004 saw an unprecedented number of new voter registrations among African Americans, and a record voter turnout was anticipated. The Bush campaign saw this as an obstacle to securing a critical win in Ohio. Thus began the construction of what one witness called "Ohio's first poll tax."

Tens of thousands of new registrations were not entered at all or not entered properly on the rolls. Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell withheld Help America Vote Act funds needed to maintain a current and accurate database and to train poll workers, whose job was further complicated by a new procedure on provisional ballots.

Provisional ballots are given to registered voters whose names do not appear on the rolls where they showed up to vote. The new rule required that they be submitted at the correct precinct or they would be discarded.

Blackwell, who also chaired the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio, didn't act alone. Ahead of the elections, the Ohio Republican Party, in collusion with the Republican National Committee, illegally profiled Black voters, seeking to have tens of thousands of urban voters disqualified. When that failed they secured a court's permission to have one challenger per precinct, or several at every poll, intimidating voters.

Racist poll challengers

Statutes permitting partisan challengers have been overlooked for decades. "The Ohio statute, originally codified in 1831, was amended in 1859 to permit challenges based upon a voter's possession of a 'visible admixture of African blood,'" testified Judith Browne, acting co-director of the Advancement Project.

"In 1868, the law was again amended to include questions for challenged voters about their racial identity and the racial composition of their neighborhoods. In 2004, there was serious concern that the discriminatory nature of these statutes would be resurrected."

These concerns proved to be well-founded. In Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati, only 55 percent of white voters had Republican challengers at their polling places, compared to 89 percent of Black voters. Voters in predominantly Black precincts were eight times more likely to be challenged than voters in predominantly white ones. The challenge rate was three times higher for Black voters in Cuyahoga County, which contains Cleveland.

Another racist tool involved the distribution and condition of voting machines, possibly discussed during a private meeting on Election Day between Bush, Blackwell and Franklin County Board of Elections Director Matt Damschroder.

Damschroder delivered an excess number of voting machines to the suburbs while inadequately supplying the predominantly Black precincts in Columbus. Of those precincts, 59 out of 74 had less than one machine per 300 voters; in the suburbs 58 out of 73 had more than one machine per 300 voters.

In Cuyahoga County fewer machines were available for the November election than were used in the primaries. All over the state machines were kept in storage while others malfunctioned. This led people to wait in line in driving rain as long as 10 hours. It may never be known how many had to leave without voting, but one poll watcher who testified suggested 8,000 in the Youngstown area alone were disenfranchised this way.

Rep. John Conyers, holding hearings on the issue in Washington, has blasted the Bush team for its "campaign of deception." Prior to the election, voters received bogus letters with Board of Elections letterheads and/or calls from impostors posing as elections officials, directing them to the wrong polls or telling them they couldn't vote. Fliers were spotted stating that only Republicans were voting on Tuesday, Democrats on Wednesday.

Misinformation that convicted felons could not vote was disseminated widely. Absentee voters received letters stating their ballots were no good because they had supposedly given the wrong address.

At the polls both new and longtime voters found their names missing. At least 500 such names were presented before a Cuyahoga County hearing sponsored by the AFL-CIO. Some people were sent from poll to poll, each time waiting in the rain to vote, and some gave up. Confusion reigned supreme when they were offered provisional ballots, not knowing if they were in the correct precinct or not, or if their vote would be counted.

One man was threatened with the charge of voter fraud because he had erroneously filled out a provisional ballot in the wrong precinct and, realizing it wouldn't be counted, was trying to fill out another in the correct precinct.

Adding to all of this were polls opening late or closing for lack of pencils, cars being ticketed or towed, leaflets threatening to arrest voters with outstanding traffic warrants or owing back child support, provisional ballots being trashed, and any number of unreported dirty tricks.

Now tens of thousands of the 155,000 provisional ballots disqualified on technicalities, along with 92,000 "spoiled" ballots, may never be counted. They were not included in the statewide recount completed Dec. 17 (after Bush electors were already sworn in).

In a classic Catch-22 situation, the disregarded ballots were not included in the recount because they were never counted in the first place!

Machine politics

This report would be incomplete without discussing the voting machines and the people who sell them.

In August 2003, Walden O'Dell, CEO of Diebold Inc., stated that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president." Ohio-based Diebold manufactures optical scan machines and the touch-screen electronic voting machines that were used in four Ohio counties. They give no paper receipt.

A Johns Hopkins University study reports that Diebold's software contains "stunning flaws" and that results can be altered at the polls or by remote control. Scores of voters were in fact stunned when they voted for Kerry and then saw the screen read a vote for Bush.

ES&S supplied a few Ohio counties with touch-screen machines and manufactures 60 percent of all the voting machines used in the U.S. ES&S began in the 1980s, when brothers Bob and Todd Urosevich founded DataMark with funding from William and Robert Ahmanson. The Ahmanson family has funded the Heritage Foundation; the Discover Institute, whose focus is un-discovering evolution; and the Chalcedon Institute, which advocates the death penalty "for homosexuals and drunkards."

DataMark became American Infor ma tion Systems, with Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel as chair. It then bought out Business Records Corp., partially owned by Carolyn Hunt of the right-wing Hunt oil family, to become ES&S. With Hagel at its helm, the company provided 80 percent of the voting machines used when Hagel first won the Nebraska Senate race.

Founder Todd Urosevich remains a top executive at ES&S, but not so his brother--Bob Urosevich now heads up Diebold Election Systems!

Diebold technicians were involved in questionable "servicing" of optical scanners in Toledo prior to the recount.

According to sworn testimony by the Hocking County Board of Elections deputy director, a technician from TriAd illegally tampered with computers and instructed her on how to create a "cheat sheet" to make sure the recount matches the official results. TriAd manufactured the punch card machines used in 41 of Ohio's 88 counties. Its founder, Tod Rapp, is a long-time contributor to Republican and right-wing causes.

Where's Kerry?

One would think Sen. John Kerry and the Democratic Party would be on the front lines of challenging this deliberate undermining of basic democratic procedures. Exit polls, which University of Illinois statistician Ron Baiman testified have a 55,000,000-to-1 chance of being wrong, showed Kerry the victor in Ohio. But in fact, the recount only took place after the Green and Libertarian parties challenged the official results.

Kerry has yet to speak at any of the rallies or hearings, but is halfheartedly backing the legal challenges, now that the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rep. John Conyers put the Ohio election in the national spotlight.

Kerry, Bush and their respective parties are both part of the same anti-democratic capitalist system. They both support the war against Iraq, and their positions on same-sex marriage, an issue instrumental in securing the Bush vote in Ohio, are almost identical. They both recognize that racism, including the denial of suffrage, is indispensable to maintaining capital's power over labor.

Kerry, like Gore in 2004, would sooner hold back the seething anger than mount a real challenge to centuries of racist oppression.

Despite Kerry's vacillation, none of these violations has gone unchallenged.

Packed hearings have brought to light the damning statistics but also the raw emotions around this horrible act of profiling. Hundreds of people from around the country volunteered and contributed over $100,000 for the recount.

A rally at the State House in November featuring the Rev. Jesse Jackson drew 900 outraged people. Activists continue to demonstrate, and have set up a tent city outside Secretary of State Blackwell's office.

Jackson was back in Columbus Dec. 13, while the Bush electors were being sworn in, for the filing of one of many lawsuits seeking to decertify the "official" Ohio election results.

The fight for the basic right of suffrage, to complete the unfinished revolution cut short by the defeat of Reconstruction, is a just fight deserving the utmost solidarity. Its best hope is to link up the fight over the Bush (s)election with the fight to overturn the whole Bush (and Kerry) program of war, bigotry and exploitation.

Reprinted from the Dec. 30, 2004, issue of Workers World newspaper

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011
Email: [email protected]
Subscribe [email protected]
Support independent news http://www.workers.org/orders/donate.php)

HOME :: U.S. NEWS :: WORLD NEWS :: EDITORIALS :: SUBSCRIBE :: DONATE