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Elections & Voting Last Updated: Jan 4th, 2007 - 01:08:31

Ohio governor's race: The fox guarding the henhouse
By Evelyn Pringle
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Nov 7, 2006, 00:25

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Ken Blackwell is ready to cash in on the Republican promise of putting him in the governor's mansion in 2007 after he proved that he was indispensable in the successful plot to rig the 2004 presidential election in Ohio for George W Bush.

As secretary of state in 2004, Blackwell held broad powers for setting election standards in everything from the processing of voter registration to overseeing the distribution of voting machines and ballots. He was also simultaneously serving as co-chairman in the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio.

Which means, in 2006, with Blackwell still in the position of secretary of state, once again voters in Ohio have a fox guarding the voting henhouse. Only this time the stakes are even higher for Blackwell because his political future is on the line.

In 2004, long before election day, a major voter suppression scheme was successful when Blackwell issued an order saying voter registration forms would only be accepted if they were on 80-pound, unwaxed, white paper, and as many as 72,00 voters lost their right to vote due to an unavoidable registration error.

Printed registration forms in local newspapers provided to help citizens register to vote were rendered useless and one Ohio County had to post a notice online saying it could not accept its own registration forms.

Under the threat of court action, on September 28, 2004, six days before the registration deadline, Blackwell withdrew the order but the damage was done.

On election day itself, voters in Democratic precincts encountered a wide variety of obstacles in the path to the voter's booth. They faced Republican challengers at the polls, the purging of names from voter rolls, and the most obvious scarcity of voting machines, but only in Democratic neighborhoods.

In Republican precincts there were plenty of voting machines, but in urban precincts, where many African-Americans voted, and in other Democratic strongholds, such as polling stations around college campuses, there was a conspicuous absence of enough machines.

For instance, at Kenyon College where Democratic students had registered in record numbers, Blackwell allotted only two machines even though there was a 1,300 surge of voters, and the wait was up to 11 hours.

In contrast, Republican fundamentalist students at nearby Nazarene University had one machine for 100 voters and students faced no waiting lines.

Democratic voters at inner city precincts in cities like Cleveland, Columbus, and Toledo, who were voting for Kerry by a margin of nine to one, had to wait in line up to seven hours.

Due to a deliberate and well coordinated effort, at other polling station all over the state there were not enough machines and Democrats had to stand in line in the rain for as long as 10 hours, and, of course just as intended, in many cases it was impossible for people to wait that long, so many left without casting a vote.

By midmorning on election day, when it became clear that people were having to drop out of line without voting due to the long wait, precincts asked Blackwell for the right to distribute paper ballots to speed up the process and Blackwell denied the requests, claiming it would invite fraud.

In a desperate attempt to stop the madness, a lawsuit was filed, and the affidavits that were filed by voters and election officials in support of a plea to the courts for help, describe election fraud in motion. An affidavit by an official from Precinct 40 stated, ''I am serving as a presiding judge, a position I have held for some 15+ years in precinct 40. In all my years of service, the lines are by far the longest I have seen, with some waiting as long as four to five hours.

"I expect the situation to only worsen as the early evening heavy turnout approaches. I have requested additional machines since 6:40 a.m. and no assistance has been offered.''

By the time US District Judge Algernon Marbley issued an order requiring that voters be given paper ballots in early evening, it was too late. According to estimates by the Washington Post, as many as 15,000 voters in Columbus alone had given up and left without voting

When poll closing time came, some precincts illegally dismissed voters who had waited for hours in the rain, in violation of Ohio law, which requires that people waiting in line at closing time be allowed to vote.

Critics say there is no way to definitively estimate how many citizens lost their right to vote in Ohio, because they were forced to drop out of line to go to work or take care of their children.

The plot to steal the election involved other tactics as well. In the summer of 2004, the Toledo Blade reported that 28,000 voters were erased from the Lucas County voter registration rolls and that the purge included voters like Barbara and Ralph George "who first registered to vote for John F. Kennedy in 1960 and had lived in the same East Toledo house for 44 years."

In Gahanna Ward 1B, at a fundamentalist church, a so-called "electronic transfer glitch" gave Bush nearly 4,000 votes when only 638 people voted at that polling station.

Democratic Congressman John Conyers of Michigan, and the Democratic staff of the House Judiciary Committee launched an investigation into the Ohio election and received more than 50,000 complaints from Democratic voters. In stark contrast, there were no complaints filed by Republican voters in Ohio in 2004, alleging a deprivation of the right to vote in Republican precincts.

And make no mistake, the well coordinated statewide effort to steal the election involved a whole bag of dirty tricks. In Columbus, where 125,000 new voters had registered, more than half of them black, the board of elections predicted that it would need 5,000 machines to handle all the voters.

But instead of preparing for the large turnout by lining up more equipment, the House Judiciary investigation found that Matt Damschroder, the chairman of the Franklin County Board of Elections, and former head of the Columbus Republican party, decided to "make do" with 2,741 machines.

And even then, he distributed the machines to favor Republicans. According to the Columbus Dispatch, precincts that had voted 70 percent or more for Al Gore in 2000, received 17 fewer voter machines in 2004, while strong GOP precincts received eight more machines.

As a result, an investigation by the Columbus Free Press showed that white Republican suburbanites had average waits of only 22 minutes, while black urban Democrats waited on average three hours and 15 minutes.

During the election, inner city voting machines broke down and polls opened late. The Toledo Blade reported that the sole machine at the Birmingham polling site in east Toledo broke down at about 7 am, and that per order of Blackwell, there were no paper ballots available for backup.

The first major indication that serious voter fraud had been committed was when the wide unexplainable discrepancies began to appear between the exit polls and actual vote counts and they all favored Bush.

Experts say exit polling is the most reliable polling because unlike pre-election polls, in which voters are asked to predict future behavior, exit polls interview people leaving the voting box about an act that they just completed.

On the basis of exit polls in 2004, CNN predicted that Kerry would defeat Bush in Ohio by a margin of 4.2 percent, but in the end Bush supposedly won Ohio by 2.5 percent.

In fact, in precincts where Bush received at least 80 percent of the vote, the exit polls were off by an average of 10 percent, a pattern that experts say indicates Republican election officials stuffed the ballot boxes in those precincts.

Bush also tallied 6.5 percent more votes than the polls had predicted in Pennsylvania, and 4.9 percent more in Florida. According to Steven F Freeman, a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, who specializes in research methodology, the odds against all three of those shifts occurring in concert was one in 660,000.

"As much as we can say in sound science that something is impossible," he says, "it is impossible that the discrepancies between predicted and actual vote count in the three critical battleground states of the 2004 election could have been due to chance or random error."

Mr. Freeman made a point of telling Robert Kennedy, Jr., in an interview for an article in Rolling Stone Magazine that he's no Democrat lover. "I'm not even political -- I despise the Democrats," he said. "I'm a survey expert. I got into this because I was mystified about how the exit polls could have been so wrong."

But Mr. Freeman also said in Rolling Stone, "When you look at the numbers, there is a tremendous amount of data that supports the supposition of election fraud."

"The discrepancies are higher in battleground states," he points out, "higher where there were Republican governors, higher in states with greater proportions of African-American communities and higher in states where there were the most Election Day complaints."

According to Mr. Kennedy, the exit poll created for the 2004 election was designed to be the most reliable in history. Six news organizations hired Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International, whose principal, Warren Mitofsky, pioneered the exit poll for CBS in 1967

Shortly before 8 p.m., reporters at each of the major networks were briefed by pollsters and told that Kerry had an insurmountable lead with at least 309 electoral votes to Bush's 174, with 55 too close to call.

As the last polling stations closed on the West Coast, exit polls showed Kerry ahead in 10 of 11 battleground states, including Ohio, winning by a million and a half votes nationally overall. But to this day, the Bush gang would have voters believe that every single poll was dead wrong.

In January 2006, a group of mathematicians from the National Election Data Archive, a nonpartisan watchdog group, compared Ohio's exit polls to the certified vote count in each of the 49 precincts polled by Edison/Mitofsky and found that in 22 of those precincts the results differed widely from the official tally.

The wildest discrepancy came from a precinct that Mitofsky numbered "27," in order to protect the anonymity of people surveyed. According to the exit poll, Kerry should have received 67 percent of the vote, yet the certified tally gave him only 38 percent.

The statistical odds against such a variance are just shy of one in 3 billion, according to "The Gun is Smoking: 2004 Ohio Precinct-level Exit Poll Data Show Virtually Irrefutable Evidence of Vote Miscount," US Count Votes, National Election Data Archive, January 23, 2006.

Such results, the archive says, provide "virtually irrefutable evidence of vote miscount."

The discrepancies, the experts add, "are consistent with the hypothesis that Kerry would have won Ohio's electoral votes if Ohio's official vote counts had accurately reflected voter intent."

According to Ron Baiman, vice president of the archive and a public policy analyst at Loyola University, "No rigorous statistical explanation" can explain the "completely nonrandom" disparities that almost uniformly benefited Bush."

The final results, he said in Rolling Stone, are "completely consistent with election fraud -- specifically vote shifting."

After conducting an investigation of Ohio ballots, on July 29, 2005, another expert, Richard Hayes Phillips, PhD testified at an Election Assessment Hearing in Texas and said, "I have investigated the Ohio election results, precinct by precinct, and have found three categories of problems: voter suppression, ballots cast but not counted, and alteration of the vote count."

Statewide, he said, there were 35,000 provisional ballots and over 92,000 regular ballots that were not counted as votes for president.

These uncounted ballots, he reported, most of them punch cards, were highly concentrated in precincts that voted overwhelmingly for John Kerry, by margins of 12 to 1 in Cleveland, 7 to 1 in Dayton, 5 to 1 in Cincinnati, 4.5 to 1 in Akron, 3 to 1 in Lorain County, 2.7 to 1 in Stark County, and 2.3 to 1 in Trumbull County.

In Lucas County, Mr. Phillips said, other means of voter suppression led directly to lower voter turnout in Democratic precincts. The 88 precincts with the lowest turnout were all in Toledo and all were won by John Kerry and complaints were filed in 31 of these precincts.

Among the complaints he noted were: long-time residents removed from the voting rolls, broken voting machines, polling stations running out of ballots and turning people away, voters sent back and forth between polling places, and long lines not designated by precinct so that voters waited in the wrong line.

One-third of provisional ballots were not counted, he said, often because people voted at the wrong table in the right polling place.

But it appears like the chickens have come home to roost because Ohio politicians are now up to their necks in scandals, making its current Republican-led government a poster child for the term "culture of corruption."

The largest corruption probe in Ohio history has produced charges against Governor Bob Taft, convicted of four misdemeanors for accepting unreported gifts; and his side-kick, Tom Noe, co-chairman of Bush-Cheney 2004 Ohio reelection campaign.

On October 27, 2005, Tom Noe was officially charged with illegally funneling $45,400 to the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign at a $2,000-a-seat fund-raiser in Columbus, in a scheme where Noe made contributions by passing the money through 24 friends and associates, described as "conduits" by investigators.

Some of the known "conduits," included four current or former Ohio elected officials, including Toledo City Councilman Betty Shultz, Lucas County Commissioner Maggie Thurber, former state Representative Sally Perz, and former Toledo Mayor Donna Owens.

Court records show that two former aides to Governor Taft also served as funnels.

All of the conduits signed donor cards that stated they were the source of their donations even though each knew that Noe made the contributions, prosecutors said. Each politician faced state ethics charges for failing to disclose the money they received from Noe.

On May 31, 2006, Noe entered a guilty plea in the US District Court in Toledo to three felony charges related to violating campaign finance laws.

On June 1, 2006, the Toledo Blade reported, �State and federal politicians from Mr.. Taft to Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, the Republican nominee for governor, to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- have returned tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from Noe and his wife.�

In the summer of 2005, Tom Noe, was described by the Columbus Free Press, as a high-roller crony of Governor Taft, Ohio Senator George Voinovich and President Bush.

That said, at the time of Noe's indictment, a senior Justice Department official called the case the largest campaign money-laundering scheme prosecuted by the DOJ since the new campaign finance laws were enacted in 2002.

For many years Noe was the chairman of the Board of Elections in Lucas County and he was heavily involved in the procurement deals that brought Diebold voting machines into inner city Toledo and many of those machines suspiciously malfunctioned on election day in 2004. Sworn testimony in hearings conducted by the Free Press after the election confirm that thousands of inner city voters were disenfranchised due to Noe's decisions.

In now a widely publicized 2003 fundraising letter, Diebold CEO Wally O'Dell promised to deliver Ohio's 2004 electoral votes to Bush, and Noe and O'Dell were two of Ohio's 19 Bush Pioneers or Rangers, a group that includes only big money donors.

Before Noe got busted, Blackwell and Noe were practically kissing cousins. In the months before the 2004 election, when voting rights activists tried to challenge Blackwell's partisan handling of provisional ballots in court, Noe intervened on Blackwell's behalf.

While Tom handled the court duties, his wife Bernadette worked on the Board of Election in Lucas County to reverse the Ohio tradition of allowing provisional ballots to be cast in precincts other than the one in which voters were registered, which helped disenfranchise inner city Toledo Democratic voters.

And as a reward for their large contribution to the theft of the 2004 election, in January 2005, Noe and his wife co-sponsored Ohio�s inaugural ball in Washington, and according to the Toledo Blade, "Mr.. Bush and Mr.. Noe embraced. The President then hugged Mrs. Noe."

Noe had previously been appointed chairman for a committee of the US Mint that advises the US Treasury secretary on designs and themes for coins and congressional medals. According to a Treasury Department press release, Noe was recommended for the appointment by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill) and nominated by then Treasury Secretary John Snow.

For years Noe was called northwest Ohio's "Mr.. Republican." And his generosity to Ohio politicians did not go unrewarded. He was appointed to the Ohio Turnpike Commission, the Bowling Green State University board, and the Ohio Board of Regents.

But the grand prize came in 1997, when Noe gained access to $50 million from the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation fund and was given authority to invest in coins and other collectibles, and, under the contract, 80 percent of the profits were to go to the Worker's Compensation fund, and the remainder to Noe.

On April 8, 2005, the election theft celebration by the Noe couple came to an abrupt end, when an investigation into the Lucas County election turned up so much dirt that Blackwell was forced to fire the entire Lucas County Board of Elections, including Bernadette.

And then 20 days after Blackwell fired Bernadette on April 28, 2005, the Toledo Blade reported that the US attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, had confirmed that his office, in conjunction with the FBI, was looking into Noe's fundraising activities, as chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign in northwest Ohio.

Parallel to the federal probe, the Blade noted, was the investigation of the Lucas County and Franklin County Offices of the Prosecutor into Noe's inability to account for $10-12 million from the Workmen's Compensation fund.

Less than a month later, on May 26, 2005, state law enforcement officials raided Noe's company trying to find out what happened to the missing $10-12 million. The distinct possibility has been raised numerous times that Noe may have funneled some of the mysteriously missing money to politicians.

According to the May 31, 2006 Toledo Blade, the Noes have given more than $200,000 to politicians over the last 16 years and their �giving increased substantially," the Blade noted, "after the Bureau of Workers� Compensation in 1998 gave him the first of two $25 million payments to invest in his rare-coin funds."

In addition to Governor Taft, the investigation has led two of Taft's former aides to plead no contest to ethics charges. On July 29, 2005, Brian Hicks, Taft�s former chief of staff, and Cherie Carroll, Hicks' executive assistant, admitted that they took gifts from Noe.

On February 9, 2006, the Ohio Elections Commission referred two other former Taft aides for prosecution. H. Douglas Talbott admitted that he funneled money from Noe to three Ohio Supreme Court Justices and accepted a $39,000 loan from Noe, and J. Douglas Moorman was referred because he failed to report a $5,000 loan from Noe.

On February 13, 2006, Noe was indicted on 53 felonies counts related to the Workmen's Compensation fund after a grand jury charged him with 22 counts of forgery, 11 counts of money laundering, eight counts of tampering with records, five counts of grand theft, six counts of aggravated theft, and one count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

Noe is currently right smack in the middle of a jury trial on the above charges, the last thing that Ohio Republicans wanted in the news in the weeks before the mid-term elections.

The future does not look bright for Blackwell. According to a poll reported on November 2, in Columbus Business First, "a Democratic sweep [is] brewing in key state and federal political races."

"The survey," Business First said, "found 55 percent of those questioned said they would vote for Democrat Ted Strickland in the Ohio gubernatorial election Nov. 7, and 39 percent said they planned to cast their ballots for J. Kenneth Blackwell."

That said, if nothing else, the results of the 2004 election demonstrate that polls mean nothing in Ohio and critics say voters had better not underestimate the possibility of another stolen election with Blackwell still in charge of the process.

Evelyn Pringle is a columnist for OpEd News and an investigative journalist focusing on exposing corruption in government. She can be reached at:

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