The man who stole Ohio for George W. Bush in 2004 is now
trying to steal it for himself in 2006. The question is: who will stop him, and
will he also affect the balance of power in the U.S. Congress?
As election day approaches, Blackwell's dirty tricks sink
Blackwell is now using "push polls" made infamous
by Karl Rove. True to form, child molestation charges are front and center. He
has also escalated the mass disenfranchisement of Ohio voters, trashing the
ballots of some 10 percent of absentee voters. He has eliminated the statewide
ballot initiative meant to save workers rights and wages. He's even tried to
strike the Democratic gubernatorial nominee from the ballot altogether. All of
which could affect not only his race for governor, but key U.S. Senate and
House races as well.
Blackwell is using Rove's notoriously deceptive push poll
device to spread an unsubstantiated smear against his Democratic gubernatorial
opponent, Ted Strickland. Push polls were rendered infamous when Rove used them
in South Carolina to falsely suggest that Senator John McCain had fathered a
mixed-race child. Often the impact of push polls is magnified by callers to
talk shows that spread additional street rumors, as in the lie that McCain
impregnated a black hooker. The reality in McCain's case: he had adopted a
child from one of Mother Teresa's orphanages and prominently displayed her in
his campaign literature.
In Strickland's case, the Free Press has obtained a
statement from Barbara Mooney of Fremont, Ohio, describing in detail the phone
call she received from the Blackwell for Governor campaign. On October 23,
Mooney picked up the phone and heard: "This is a 45-second survey. Please
answer yes or no."
Then came: "If you knew Ted Strickland had hired a
child molester would you still vote for him?"
The electronic voice continued: "Are you going to vote
for Ted Strickland?" and "Are you going to vote for Ken
Mooney answered yes for Strickland, so the next question was
"Are you black or white?" followed by "If you knew Ted
Strickland had hired a child molester who had gone on to a playground and exposed
himself to them, would you vote for him?"
A yes answer prompted: "Are you a Democrat?" and
"Are you a Republican?"
The push poll then asked: "How old are you?" and
"Are you male or female?"
The push poll then ended, identifying the Blackwell campaign
as the party responsible for the "survey."
On Tuesday morning, October 24, the Columbus Dispatch
confirmed Blackwell is using this push poll in Ohio. It reported that a former
Strickland aide had committed a misdemeanor for public indecency, but his
record had been expunged. There is no evidence Strickland knew of the expunged
charge when the aide was later hired.
At the final October 16 Ohio gubernatorial debate, freshly
scrubbed Republicans swarmed outside the Channel 10 studio in Columbus, chanting
for Blackwell. Members of the Ohio State University campus-based young
Republicans and fundamentalists gloated that Strickland's "child
molester" scandal would elect Blackwell. In the televised debate,
Blackwell tried to link Strickland to the North American Man-Boy Love Society.
The next day, The Dispatch revealed that when he was
treasurer of Ohio, Blackwell had on his payroll a felon convicted of cocaine
possession. The Dispatch said that when Blackwell learned of the conviction, he
kept the felon on staff. Three months after leaving the treasurer's office,
this same former Blackwell employee was sent to prison for four years for
sexually abusing a young girl.
Blackwell attained national notoriety after serving as state
co-chair of the Bush-Cheney Re-election Committee while also, as Ohio Secretary
of State, running the dubious vote count that gave Bush a second White House
This year Blackwell will count the votes in his own race for
governor, in the crucial U.S. Senate race between GOP incumbant Mike DeWine
versus Congressman Sherrod Brown, and in a number of critical House races hotly
contested for the first time in years.
As he does so, Blackwell is conducting the largest purge of
voter rolls since the apartheid nightmare of the post-Reconstruction Jim Crow
Since 2000, under Blackwell's supervision, Boards of
Elections in Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland and Toledo have eliminated some
500,000 voters from their registration rolls. Nearly all are in heavily
Democratic urban areas. In a state where some 5.6 million people voted for
president in 2004, this represents nearly 10 percent of the electorate. George
W. Bush's alleged majority in Ohio 2004 was roughly 118,000 votes.
Skeptics claim Ohio's 88 county boards of elections are
bipartisan, because each has two Democrats and two Republicans. But all
appointments, and all tie votes, are controlled by the Republican secretary of
state, meaning that all decisions by all Ohio BOEs are actually controlled by
Blackwell is now imposing restrictive voter ID requirements
aimed at crippling his opponents. Passed by the Republican legislature, these
strictures aim to eliminate from the 2006 vote count tens of thousands of
mostly poor and black -- and thus mostly Democratic -- voters who cannot or
will not obtain the required identification cards.
The Free Press has further learned that even at this early
date, some 10 percent of absentee votes are being trashed by Blackwell's BOEs.
Ohio's new "no-fault" rule allows anyone to vote absentee for this
election, so absentee voting is estimated to increase 20-30 percent. Many
Ohioans are opting for the absentee ballots to avoid electronic voting
machines, which are notoriously vulnerable to tampering.
But Democratic sources in the Ohio Board of Elections have
confirmed to the Free Press that about 10 percent of the absentee ballots cast
so far are being rejected because of a technicality involving obscure driver's
license numbers demanded on the ballot. Ohio driver's licenses contain two separate
numbers: an 11-digit number above the photo, and a much smaller eight-character
license number that begins with two alpha-numeric characters, followed by six
numbers. It is the eight-character license number the BOEs demand on the
absentee ballot. But many Ohio voters don't know that, and are using the wrong
number -- and thus having their ballot invalidated. Absentee ballots cast in
Ohio tend to be overwhelmingly Democratic.
This absentee vote purge echoes another Blackwell dirty
trick: the 2004 trashing of thousands of provisional ballots on which voters
had not included their birth date. There was no statutory requirement to
include the birth date, and thousands of provisional voters (and election
officials) were never informed of Blackwell's special requirement. But he thus
eliminated large numbers of mostly Democratic provisional ballots, benefitting
Bush -- a service he is now repeating for his own benefit with the absentee
Blackwell has also attempted to eliminate his Democratic
rival from the ballot outright. Seizing on a residency technicality,
Blackwell's attack has elicited widespread scorn, including a lead editorial in
the New York Times. Thus far, Blackwell has lost a series of court battles. The
Columbus Dispatch has reported that the woman who originally filed the
complaint -- allegedly a Democrat who supports Blackwell -- has asked that it
be withdrawn. It remains to be seen if Blackwell has defnitively given up the
The GOP has already eliminated a statewide referendum on
worker rights. Issue One would have rejected parts of the Ohio legislature's
vicious anti-labor Senate Bill 7, and was expected to draw pro-worker voters to
the polls. But Blackwell disqualified thousands of signatures from the ballot
petition, then sabotaged attempts to bring in more. On October 20, the
GOP-dominated Ohio Supreme Court killed Issue One altogether. Fittingly, it
will appear on many Ohio ballots, but will not count.
Overall, Blackwell currently trails Strickland by 20 points
and more in state polls. Ohio Democrats have begun to crow that Blackwell's
defeat is a done deal, just as they celebrated John Kerry's "victory"
But Blackwell's push polls, voter elimination campaigns and
ballot attacks cannot be underestimated. At the very least, they could tip the
balance in the state's hard-fought U.S. Senate and congressional races, any one
of which could help determine whether the Democrats retake control of the
Congress. Local pundits are already talking about a last-minute shift toward the
Republicans, and bracing for thousands of alleged fundamentalist voters who
will supposedly swarm the polls at the last minute.
In-depth studies of the 2004 ballots now cast serious doubt
on the actual existence of such alleged voters, then or now. But unless
Americans truly committed to tangible democracy are careful, J. Kenneth
Blackwell just might find the ways to steal Ohio 2006, as he did in 2004.
Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman are co-authors, with Steve Rosenfeld, of WHAT
HAPPENED IN OHIO?, just released by The New Press. They are of counsel and a
plaintiff in the King-Lincoln lawsuit that has preserved the Ohio 2004 ballots.
Fitrakis is an independent candidate for governor of Ohio, endorsed by the
Green Party. Wasserman is author of SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED PLANET, a.d. 2030, available via