American democracy hangs by a thread in Ohio
By Bob Fitrakis, Steve Rosenfeld and Harvey Wasserman
Journal Guest Writers
Dec 17, 2004, 16:31
As the whole world watches, American democracy may be
hanging by a thread in Ohio.
Monday, December 13, saw a triple play that will live in
electoral infamy. But every new day brings still more stunning revelations -- this
time from Toledo -- of vote theft and fraud and a towering wall of resistance
and sabotage against a fair recount of the votes that allegedly gave George W.
Bush four more years in the White House.
Three major events made December 13 a monument to electoral
theft: a lawsuit filed in the morning at the Ohio State Supreme Court demanding
a recount of all Ohio ballots; a Congressional hearing held in Columbus City
Council chambers filled with angry, high-profile testimony of vote fraud and
disenfranchisement and the illegal sabotaging of a recount; and then, at noon,
a block away at the statehouse, the vote of Ohio's twenty illegitimate electors
designating their choice of George W. Bush to be president.
On Tuesday, demonstrators staged the latest in a long string
of protests at the statehouse. And at an evening hearing in Toledo, stunning
new sworn testimony revealed that Diebold technicians have tainted official
voting machines before a recount could be done, irrevocably compromising the
The December 13 lawsuit was filed in the presence of Rev.
Jesse Jackson, who compared it to the attempts to win voting rights for
African-American citizens in the era of Dr. Martin Luther King.
The suit seeks to overturn Ohio's presidential vote. It
asked an immediate court order to stop Republican presidential electors from
meeting and voting for George W. Bush.
Republican election officials prevented a vote count from
starting until that very morning. Supervised by Secretary of State Kenneth
Blackwell, co-chair of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, Ohio simply
ignored all challenges to the vote count and all requests for a recount. Within
hours the Bush electors cast their votes, even though the bitterly contested
ballots that allegedly gave them standing as electors had not been recounted.
In other words, while every legal remedy to determine who
won Ohio's presidential election was being pursued, the state's Republican
political machine blocked the rights of those seeking to verify the vote.
"Today, in the state capital of Ohio, we are witnessing
a crime against democracy, a crime against the right to vote and a crime
against the Constitution," said John Bonifaz, founder of the National
Voting Rights Institute and attorney for the Green and Libertarian Parties in
the recount. Ohio Republicans have " no right to convene a meeting of the
presidential electors prior to the completion of the recount," he said.
Bonifaz's remarks came amidst testimony at the second field
hearing on the 2004 election held by Democratic members of the House Judiciary
Committee. Last week in Washington, the committee opened what it said would be
the first in an ongoing series of investigations into what happened on Election
Day, when exit polls showed John Kerry heading toward victory but after
midnight the returns shifted and network television declared Bush the victor.
"At the outset of this hearing, I would like to
announce that 10 members of Congress, including myself, have written to (Ohio)
Gov. Taft asking him to either delay or treat as provisional the vote of Ohio's
presidential electors," Rep. John Conyers, the senior Democrat on the
Judiciary Committee said at the outset. "The closer we get to Columbus and
the Ohio presidential election, the worse it looks. Each and every day it
becomes increasingly clear that the Republican power structure in this state is
acting as if it has something to hide."
Ironically, Democratic State Senator Ray Miller of Columbus
had secured the North Hearing Room in the statehouse. But Republicans cancelled
that, and forced the gathering to convene at city hall, a block away.
Thus Ohio Republicans snubbed Conyers and Reps. Stephanie
Tubbs-Jones (D-OH), Ted Strickland (D-OH), Jerold Nadler (D-NY), Maxine Waters
(D-CA) as well as Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr (D-IL).
Packed to overflowing, the nearly four hour hearing hosted
new disclosures about election irregularities and fraud on Nov. 2, while also
pursuing remedies to account for the vote and delay the Electoral College
certification of the president.
Prime target in the hearings was GOP Secretary of State
Kenneth Blackwell, who supervised the state's elections while also serving as
co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign. Calls for Blackwell's removal were
Conyers noted that Blackwell has ordered local election
boards to not allow citizens to review poll registers of voters, a lockdown
that is an apparent violation of Ohio state law.
David Cobb, the Green Party presidential candidate, told the
panel that he had confirmed reports that an employee of one electronic voting
machine manufacturer had come to one county election office and had taken apart
the county tabulator of voting machine results, apparently replacing parts,
before that county had conducted its recount. Such an action would taint any
recount. "This could be a serious matter," Conyers replied, asking
Cobb to meet privately with committee staff to further investigate the matter.
Rev. Jesse Jackson told the congressmen that over the
weekend he had spoken to John Kerry, who has since sent a letter to each of the
state's 88 county election boards, saying he supported three areas of inquiry
in the recount. Jackson said Kerry wanted "forensic computer experts"
to examine voting machines, especially those using optical scan technology,
because in other states, notably New Mexico, Bush had won all the precincts
with that voting system in place. Kerry also wanted to examine 92,000 ballots
that recorded no vote for president, and 155,000 provisional ballots that were
But early responses from the counties to Freedom of
Information Act requests for their voting records indicate such an effort may
already have been sabotaged. Shelby County officials have admitted to
discarding key election data. One county referred requesters to the software
company that programmed the county's voting machines, saying the company's
permission would be required for access to a recount, as the code is
New reports of voter suppression and fraud corroborated the
Supreme Court filing, which presented a detailed analysis of where votes were
incorrectly counted for Bush instead of Kerry. An election challenge must prove
the wrong presidential candidate was declared the winner. The challenge lawsuit
asks the Ohio Supreme Court to declare Kerry the victor. Numerous witnesses
offered testimony to support that conclusion.
A second brief was also filed Monday, seeking a temporary
restraining order to block Republican presidential electors from meeting until
the recount was done and the challenge was litigated. It focused on "overwhelming
statistical evidence" that pointed to "statewide fraud allegedly
conducted at the direction of Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell."
The TRO filing was primarily based on national and statewide
exit poll data, which was the extensive, non-partisan polling done by a
consortium of the nation's major news organizations. Expert affidavits
accompanying the brief said an analysis of exit poll data found that the final
vote tallies in all but the most contested battleground states mirrored the
exit poll's predictions. The experts said it was unlikely the exit polls could
be so accurate in some states while significantly wrong in others. They said
election fraud was the only plausible explanation for the discrepancy.
The TRO filing identified exactly when they believe the
fraud occurred�at about 12.30 a.m.
on Wednesday, Nov. 3. At that time of night, Ohio's final voting returns were
being tabulated at regional and county offices. It was about this time that the
Ohio exit poll data�posted on websites such as CNN�put Bush ahead of Kerry,
even though the exit polls expected Kerry to win with 52.1 percent of the vote.
What experts like Steven Freeman, Ph.D. of the University of
Pennsylvania say happened was at this time the raw poll data, showing Kerry
ahead, was replaced online and on television by "calibrated" data.
This adjusted data was intended to reflect the total vote counts, once the
results came in from late-reporting precincts�if it didn't match the raw exit
poll results. Ohio's results didn't match, and the likely reason is because
across the state, in a variety of ways, the reported vote totals were being
manipulated. If Bush votes were added to the total, or votes were taken away
from Kerry, this shift was first noticed at about 12:30 a.m., when the networks started to report 'calibrated'
figures, not the raw data.
"The media has largely ignored this discrepancy
(although the Blogosphere has been abuzz), suggesting the polls were either
flawed, within normal sampling error, or could otherwise be easily explained
away," Freeman wrote in an article, cited in the TRO filing. Instead, it
simply reported Bush's final tally as 51 percent to Kerry's final tally of 48.5
As Rev. Jackson and election attorneys explained to the
packed hearing, the election challenge suit describes how votes were added to
Bush's total, or in many cases, taken away from Kerry�because they were added
to the totals of other Democratic candidates further down the ballot.
The Democrat whose totals were most likely to have been
boosted by this kind of 'vote-shifting' was C. Ellen Connally, an
African-American candidate for Ohio Chief Justice, who was little-known and
outspent in the southern part of the state, the challenge complaint says.
Because Secretary Blackwell has obstructed most efforts to examine ballots and
poll records, it has been almost impossible to investigate and explain
anomalies like Connally's strong showing in the southern part of the state.
"What are they hiding?" asked Rev. Jackson. One after
the other, witnesses argued that by making a recount virtually impossible,
Blackwell has offered firm indication that the Republicans have something to
"The secrecy of the ballot has been converted to the
secrecy of the vote count," added Ronnie Dugger, founder of the Alliance
for Democracy. Now based in Massachusetts, the legendary Dugger is founder of
the Texas Observer. He said when Texas Republicans heard complaints that voting
machines could be corrupted, "they knew that had found what they were
looking for." Voting machines, he said, are the "most anti-democratic
technology ever employed."
Dr. Ron Baiman, a statistician from the University of
Illinois, Chicago, confirmed that the odds on vote counts diverting from exit
polls as they did the night of November 2 were on the order of magnitude of
millions to one. Baiman told freepress.org that the odds of the exit polls
being wrong in the key battleground states of Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio
alone were "155,000,000 to one."
Dr. Norman Robbins of Cleveland testified that over 10,000
voters in Cuyahoga County alone were disenfranchised by various means, and that
nearly all were "youth, poor and minorities."
In one Cleveland ward, he said, 51% of the provisional votes
cast were thrown in the trash, virtually all of them from African-Americans.
Eve Roberson, a former election official from Santa Rosa,
California, testified that while working as observer at precinct 354 in
Wilberforce, home of Central State University, she witnessed conscious fraud
aimed at a student body that went 95% for Kerry. Election officials used an
inconsistent, discriminatory set of demands for Wilberforce students to
register as opposed to those used in white precincts in Greene County.
Roberson and others also testified that after the election
they discovered ballots sitting open, on unguarded tables where manipulation
and random disposal could easily have occurred. It was, she said "a
serious breech" of election security.
Riveting testimony followed from Clinton Curtis, a
Tallahassee-based computer programmer who told the hearing he had been hired by
US Rep Tom Feeney, then Speaker of the Florida House, to write a program that
would conceal the theft of an election. Curtis said Feeney was then a lobbyist
for a major computer company as well as Speaker. Curtis said Feeney wanted a
program that could use voting machines to "flip an election" without
being detected. Curtis said he wrote a prototype program, then quit.
Under questioning Curtis said a program could be written
that would protect the security of voting machines, but that it had not been
deployed in Ohio. He said it would be a simple matter, involving perhaps 100
lines of code and some simple switches, to turn an entire election.
"One person in a simple tab machine can affect
thousands of votes," Curtis testified. "There is absolutely no
assurance of anything on those machines."
Given what he had seen, he said, the Ohio election was "probably
The last hour of the Columbus hearing was filled with testimony
from local voters who were harassed, intimidated and made to stand in long
lines to cast votes that may well have been pitched in the trash.
Similar sworn testimony surfaced Tuesday at a citizens'
hearing in Toledo. Among other things eye witnesses confirmed that a Diebold
programming team entered the Lucas County (Toledo) Board of Elections to "reprogram"
the opti-scan voting machines on the day the recount began.
Catherine Buchanan, a Democratic Party observer, testified
that one of the sample precincts chosen as a control for the recount -- -Sylvania
Precinct 3 -- -had the programming card reprogrammed prior to the ballot
testing. While the observers watched, nearly seven out of fifteen test ballots
were rejected at least three times before the machine would read them.
Janet Albright told hearing officers she had been voting at
the same Lucas County polling place for fourteen years but that the polling
place was changed this year without notification to a station farther away.
Machines throughout Lucas County malfunctioned in tests through the week prior
to the election, and on election day. Thousands of Ohioans -- -primarily in
Democratic precincts -- thus lost their right to vote.
During the Lucas County reprogramming, election observers
were shocked when they were denied the right to look at sheets that had target
test results on them, or the reprogramming of the opti-scan machines used in
the recount. Diebold-leased machines and software malfunctioned in the weeks
prior to the election.
That echoed similar testimony from Green Party candidate
David Cobb in the Columbus hearing. Witnesses said an unauthorized programmer
from the Triad Corporation dismantled at least one voting machine in rural
Hocking County. Conyers referred to the incident as "pretty outrageous"
and asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and a county prosecutor, to
investigate "inappropriate and likely illegal election tampering" in
Hocking and perhaps several other Ohio counties.
Brett Rapp, president of Triad, told the New York Times it
might be unusual to do what was done in Hocking County, but that Triad was
involved in voting machines in 41 of Ohio's 88 counties.
The Hocking County investigation was spurred in particular
by testimony Sherole Eaton, the deputy elections director. Such testimony will
be transcribed and presented at www.freepress.org as it becomes available. But
in the interim the battle of Ohio rages on, machine by machine and hearing by
hearing. Because the recount process has been so severely tainted, the call for
a revote is growing.
On January 6, Congress is scheduled to vote on whether or
not to approve the tally of electors, including Ohio's tainted 20 votes.
Conyers and the other US Representatives present made it clear more public
hearings will be held before then.
In 2001, a host of US Representatives, most from the Black
Caucus, asked that the tainted Bush electors be challenged. This year at least
14 members of the House of Representatives will demand an immediate "investigation
of the efficacy of the voting machines and new technologies used in 2004
election, how election officials responded to the difficulties they
encountered, and what we can do in the future to improve our elections systems
Their action requires the consent of a single Senator, which
did not come in 2001. As the battle to save democracy rages in Ohio and
elsewhere, January 2005, could be very different.
Fitrakis, Steve Rosenfeld and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of the upcoming "Ohio's
Stolen Election: Voices of the Disenfranchised," 2004 (http://freepress.org).
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