A law that will make democracy all but moot in Ohio is about
to pass the state legislature and to be signed by its Republican governor.
Despite massive corruption scandals besieging the Ohio GOP, any hope that the
Democratic Party could win this most crucial swing state in future presidential
elections, or carry its pivotal US Senate seat in 2006, is about to end.
House Bill 3 has already passed the Ohio House of
Representatives and is about to be approved by the Republican-dominated Senate,
probably before the holiday recess. Republicans dominate the Ohio legislature
thanks to a heavily gerrymandered crazy quilt of rigged districts, and to a
moribund Ohio Democratic Party. The GOP-drafted HB3 is designed to all but
obliterate any possible future Democratic revival. Opposition from the Ohio
Democratic Party, where it exists at all, is diffuse and ineffectual.
HB3's most publicized provision will require positive
identification before casting a vote. But it also opens voter registration
activists to partisan prosecution, exempts electronic voting machines from
public scrutiny, quintuples the cost of citizen-requested statewide recounts
and makes it illegal to challenge a presidential vote count or, indeed, any
federal election result in Ohio. When added to the recently passed HB1, which
allows campaign financing to be dominated by the wealthy and by corporations,
and along with a Rovian wish list of GOP attacks on the ballot box, democracy
in Ohio could be all but over.
The GOP is ramming similar bills through state legislatures
around the US, starting with Georgia and Indiana. The ID requirements in
particular have provoked widespread opposition from newspapers such as the New
York Times. The Times, among others, argues that the ID requirements and the
costs associated with them, constitute an unconstitutional discriminatory poll
But despite significant court challenges, the Republicans
are forcing changes in long-standing election laws that have allowed citizens
to vote based on their signatures alone. Across the US, GOP Jim Crow laws will
eliminate millions of Democratic voters from the registration rolls. In swing
states like Ohio, such ballots are almost certain to be crucial.
The proposed Ohio law will demand a valid photo ID or a
utility bill, a bank statement, a paycheck or a government document with a
current address. Thousands of Ohio citizens who are elderly, homeless,
unemployed or who do not drive will be effectively disenfranchised. Many
citizens, for example, rent apartments where the utilities are paid by
landlords. In such cases, the number of people living in utilities-included
apartment rentals could actually determine an election.
During the 2004 presidential election, Ohio's Republican
Secretary of State, J. Kenneth Blackwell, also issued statewide threats against
ex-felons and people whose names resembled those of ex-felons. Thousands of
such threats were delivered to registered voters who were never convicted of
anything, or who were eligible to vote after being released from prison. In
2004 a "Mighty Texas Strike Force" came to Columbus with a specific mandate
to threaten ex-felons with arrest if they dared to vote.
It is legal for ex-felons in Ohio to vote, even if they are
in halfway houses or on parole. But HB3's identification requirement, combined
with the confusion Blackwell has introduced into the process, will intimidate
such Ohioans from voting in 2006 and beyond.
HB3 will also reduce voter rolls by ordering county boards
of elections to send cards to registered voters every two years. If a card
comes back as undelivered, the voter must rely on a provisional ballot. But
tens of thousands of provisional ballots were arbitrarily discarded in 2004,
and some 16,000 are known to remain uncounted to this day.
HB3 also imposes severe restrictions on voter registration
drives. It allows the state attorney general and local prosecutors wide powers
to prosecute vaguely defined charges of fraud against those working to sign up
voters. The restrictions are clearly meant to chill the kind of Democratic
registration drives that brought hundreds of thousands of new voters to the
polls in 2004 (even though many were turned away in Democratic wards due to a
lack of voting machines).
Those electronic machines will also be exempted from
recounts by random sampling, even in close, disputed elections like those of
2000 and 2004.
In 2004, scores of Ohio voters reported, under oath, that
they had pressed John Kerry's name on touchscreen machines, only to see George
W. Bush's name light up. A board of elections technician in Mahoning County
(Youngstown) has admitted that at least 18 machines there suffered such
problems. Sworn testimony in Columbus indicates that votes for Kerry faded off
the screen on touchscreen machines there. Other charges of misprogramming,
reprogramming, recalibrating, mishandling and manipulation of electronic voting
software, hardware and memory cards have since arisen throughout Ohio 2004.
For the 2005 election, some 41 additional Ohio counties (of
88) were switched to Diebold touchscreen machines. Despite polls showing
overwhelming voter approval, two electoral reform issues went down in
improbable defeat. Issue Two, meant to make voting easier, and Issue Three, on
campaign finance reform, were shown by highly reliable Columbus Dispatch polls
to be passing handily.
The Dispatch was within 0.5 percent on Issue One, a bond
issue, and has rarely been significantly wrong in its many decades of Ohio
polling. Even opponents of Issues Two and Three conceded that they were highly
likely to pass.
On the Sunday before the Tuesday 2005 election, the Dispatch
predicted Issue Two would pass by a vote of 59 percent to 33 percent, with
about 8 percent undecided. But Tuesday's official vote count showed Issue Two
failing with just 36.5 percent in favor and 63.5 percent opposed. For that to
have happened, the Dispatch had to have been wrong on Issue Two's support by
more than 20 points. Nearly half those who said they would support Issue Two
would have had to vote against it, along with all the undecideds.
The numbers on Issue Three are equally startling. The Dispatch
showed it winning with 61 percent, to just 25 percent opposed and some 14
percent undecided. Instead just 33 percent of the votes were counted in its
favor, with 67 percent opposed, an almost inconceivable weekend turnaround.
No other numbers were comparable on November 8, 2005, or
elsewhere in the recent history of Dispatch polling. The startling outcome has
thus raised even more suspicion and doubt about the use of electronic voting
and tabulating machines in Ohio, which account for virtually 100 percent of the
state's vote count.
The federal General Accountability Office (GAO) has recently
issued a major report confirming that tampering with and manipulating such
machines can be easily done by a very small number of people. Charges are
widespread that this is precisely what gave George W. Bush Ohio's electoral
votes, and thus the presidency, in 2004, not to mention the suspicious
referenda outcomes in 2005.
HB3 will make it virtually impossible for any challenge to
be mounted involving any votes cast or counted on electronic machines or
tabulators -- meaning virtually every vote cast in Ohio.
Indeed, HB3 will raise the cost of mounting a recount from
$10 per precinct to $50 per precinct. In 2004, Secretary of State Blackwell
forced citizen groups to raise private funds for a recount, which he proceeded
to sabotage. The process, which became a futile electronic charade, cost donors
committed to democracy more than $100,000. Three partial, meaningless faux
recounts resulted. To date more than 100,000 votes cast in Ohio remain
uncounted, including some 93,000 easily-read machine-rejected ballots. .
During the 2004 election process Blackwell, manipulated the
number of precincts in Ohio, and issued inaccurate information about their
location and boundaries, making a meaningful precise number hard to come by.
But with more than 10,000 precincts still in existence, HB3 would make funding
an attempt at another recount in 2006 or 2008 cost more than $500,000.
Such an effort might also result in official retaliation. In
2004, Blackwell and Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro -- both of whom are now
Republican candidates for governor -- tried to impose stiff financial sanctions
against attorneys who filed a legal challenge to the seating of the Ohio
electors who gave George W. Bush the presidency. The Ohio Supreme Court
disallowed the sanctions after the challenge was withdrawn. But HB3 would make
such a federal election challenge illegal altogether.
With the electoral process in Ohio all but disemboweled, those
hoping for a change of party in upcoming state and national elections are
probably kidding themselves.
The 2004 election in the Buckeye state was riddled with
deception, fraud, intimidation, manipulation and outright theft, all of which
were essential to the triumph of George W. Bush. In 2005, four electoral reform
ballot initiatives were allegedly defeated despite huge poll margins showing
the almost certain passage of two of them. The most credible explanation for
their defeat lies in electronic manipulation of voting machines, tabulators and
memory cards which the GAO confirms have no credible security safeguards.
With campaign finance, voter registration, electronic
voting, public recounts, district gerrymandering and overall electoral
administration now firmly in the pocket of the GOP, and with Democratic
opposition that is virtually non-existent on the issue of vote fraud and
election manipulation, there is little reason to believe the Republican grip on
Ohio will be loosened at any point in the near future.
In traditional terms, the scandal-ridden Ohio GOP would
appear to be more vulnerable than ever. Governor Robert Taft has become the
only Ohio governor to be convicted of a crime while in office. With an
astonishing 7 percent approval rating, he has been compared to Homer Simpson by
the state's leading Republican newspaper. Republican US Senator Mike DeWine
appears highly vulnerable. The GOP has never won the White House without
winning the Buckeye State.
But HB3 will solidify the GOP's iron grip on the electronic
voting process and all that surrounds it. Unless they break that grip,
Democrats who believe they can carry any part of Ohio in 2006 or 2008 are
When it comes to 2008, can you say "Jeb Bush?"
Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA'S
2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008, available at www.Freepress.org. Their WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO,
written with Steve Rosenfeld, will be published by the New Press in 2006.
Fitrakis was one of the attorneys targeted by Blackwell and Petro in 2004.