Elections & Voting
Blackwell grabs governor nod while (surprise! surprise!) voting machines malfunction
By Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman
Online Journal Guest Writers

May 8, 2006, 00:20

Ohio's Republican Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell has grabbed the GOP nomination for governor in a vote count riddled with machine breakdowns.

In Franklin and Delaware Counties, election officials had to "shut down and recalibrate [machines] throughout the day," according to the Columbus Dispatch. Election officials use recalibration as a code word when machines are malfunctioning, including the recording of votes for wrong candidates.

Blackwell became infamous in 2004 for his role in swinging the Buckeye State, and the presidency, to George W. Bush, with whom he met with on Election Day in Columbus. Karl Rove also accompanied Bush on his visit to Columbus. Exit polls showed a clear victory for John Kerry until a massive mysterious late vote surge reversed the popular vote for Bush. The state was later the target of the first congressional challenge to an electoral delegation in US history.

Blackwell is the first African-American nominated by a major party for the Ohio governorship. The nod is widely considered a payback for his role in stealing the 2004 election, just as Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris was handed a safe congressional seat after handing the state to Bush in 2000. Harris, currently a US representative is now a candidate for the US Senate. Both Harris and Blackwell simultaneously oversaw their state's vote count while serving as co-chairs of the Bush-Cheney campaign.

Blackwell has courted the extreme right-wing fundamentalist church network in Ohio. He now advocates an absolute ban on abortion, even in the case of rape or endangerment of the mother. His Democratic opponent, Congressman Ted Strickland, is the first ever Methodist minister nominated for Ohio governor. Blackwell's campaign has deliberately flown under the radar. He has refused to disclose his public schedule as he nurtures a network of far right-wing theocrats with unannounced church and Christian school appearances.

Blackwell's pious stand against abortion was recently tainted by revelations that he has owned stock in Barr Pharmaceutical's morning-after pill. Blackwell also owned stock in Diebold while he was attempting to give the company a multimillion dollar no-bid contract.

But while Blackwell was handily defeating Attorney General Jim Petro for the nomination, Diebold and ES&S voting machines, both companies with partisan ties to the Republican Party, were at center stage. Electronic and mechanical breakdowns delayed poll openings throughout Franklin (Columbus) and Cuyahoga (Cleveland) counties. In some cases faulty plugs were blamed. In others the machines just did not seem to work.

As a result, Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Cleveland) went to court to demand that affected polling stations in Cuyahoga County stay open until 9:30pm, a demand that was granted. (Rep. Jones was the initial co-signer of the historic challenge to the 2004 Ohio Electoral College delegation.)

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported last Thursday that, "Cuyahoga County election workers continued to count votes Wednesday, with about 85 percent of the votes cast on the touch-screen machines counted by 11:15 a.m. But 70 memory cards -- with results from 200 precincts -- were missing. Cuyahoga County board of elections officials are checking the voting machines to see if the cards were inadvertantly left inside."

This is the second straight election where large amounts of memory cards that record the vote electronically have been lost or misplaced. In the November 2005 Ohio election, nearly 200 memory cards were lost in Montgomery County and in Lucas County contracted election workers, including a Republican mayoral candidate, could not be located for hours when transporting the memory cards.

In Franklin County, the Board of Elections acknowledges that 20 percent of the polling stations opened late. Republican BOE Director Matt Damschroder says at least 50 people left without voting, reminiscent of the tens of thousands that went home in 2004 as a result of inner city precincts being short-changed on voting machines.

Also in Franklin County, some voting machines were loaded without the option to vote on various school levies, a mistake reminiscent of ballots sent out in 2004 without John Kerry's name on them in Hamilton County.

Numerous poorly trained poll workers made mistakes that denied early-bird voters their ballots. Jammed printers, bad calibrations and other electronic and mechanical problems led to voting failures in other counties around the state, including Delaware and Union. Ironically, in Cuyahoga County the breakdowns forced the election board to issue paper ballots, which election protection advocates have been demanding all along. Blackwell's opponent Petro is from Cuyahoga County, perhaps the area with the greatest volume of Diebold voting machine malfunctions.

The most widespread complaint was a lack of privacy. New ES&S voting machines in Franklin County have come without curtains for secrecy. Thousands of machines stand open, with voter preferences clearly visible to poll workers. The lack of privacy and other problems led one Cuyahoga County voter to smash two machines, in a protest that may become a trend if such violations of basic voter rights continue.

Mentioned nowhere in the major media is the fact that since 2000, election boards under the tenure of Blackwell as secretary of state, have stripped nearly 500,000 citizens from the voter registration rolls, most of them from urban Democratic strongholds. Prior to November 2004, 170,000 were removed in the Cleveland area, 105,000 in Cincinnati and 28,000 in Toledo. After 2004 another 170,000 were purged in Columbus. In Cleveland, 24.93 percent of all voters were purged between the 2000 and 2004 election. There may well be more removals in other counties. But overall the numbers approximate 10 percent of the entire voting population of Ohio, nearly all of them Democrats. The total is more than three times the alleged 119,000 margin by which Bush took the state in 2004.

This was Ohio's first statewide election conducted entirely on electronic machines. Though the "glitches"-- the new media euphemism for massive breakdowns -- were numerous, the outcome was not unexpected. Blackwell led Petro in the polls throughout the campaign, and the results were consistent with most predictions.

Such was not the case in November 2005, when virtually impossible outcomes from vote counts coming from electronic machines resulted in the defeat of two state-wide election reform issues. No plausible explanation has ever been given for that shocking outcome, nor has anyone been able to explain why the historically accurate polls by the Columbus Dispatch and the University of Akron were monumentally flawed regarding the election reform issues only.

The widespread anger and distrust generated by yet another error-filled election in 2006 received the standard dismissal from Daniel P. Tokaji, who has become the voting machine industry "go-to guy." After the 2004 debacle Tokaji, an Ohio State University law professor, repeatedly defended Diebold and its cohorts against any hint of wrongdoing. He also dismissed and discredited the exit polls in the 2004 election in a story the AP sent worldwide, although he admits he has absolutely no training in polling and bills himself as a "election systems expert." A former staff attorney with the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, Tokaji said, "The kinds of problems we've been hearing about are the kind of problems you expect to happen when there's new voting equipment in place."

They are also what you would expect in a state where it's widely believed the secretary of state will never lose an election in which he is responsible for the vote count. Should that prove to be the case again in November, the Republicans will put in charge of America's most pivotal state a right-wing extremist guaranteed to deliver Ohio's electoral votes to the GOP, no matter what those who cast the ballots really want.

Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of "How the GOP Stole America's 2004 Election and Is Rigging 2008". They are co-editors, with Steve Rosenfeld, of "What Happened in Ohio?" soon to be published by The New Press.

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