Friday, October 13, 2006

Our Disappearing Right to Vote

From Louise Francis:

The day after election day, 2004, we woke up to news that 1) George Bush won the election for president and 2) the night before exit polls had predicted a landslide for Kerry. As pointed out by Mark Crispin Miller in Fooled Again, in most countries a significant discrepancy between exit polls and election results is generally considered evidence of tampering with the vote. In contrast, on the day after the elections, the media was replete with post-hoc assessments of the flaws in the exit polling procedures (i.e., democrats were differentially interviewed or were more likely to report how they voted). Indeed, the major polling organizations decided to abandon polling in future presidential elections. After a couple of days the issue disappeared from the newspapers and we all went about our business, assured that George Bush had won the presidency, and this time, even carried the popular vote. However, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania has put together some compelling statistics indicating that the discrepancy between exit polls and actual votes could not have happened by chance: they were evidence of systematic, widespread problems on election day intended to deprive voters of their right to vote. Now, two years after the election, coverage of what probably was a seriously tainted election is starting to appear, but it is not yet on the major networks (although Lou Dobbs of CNN covers the issue of voting machine malfunctions and voter fraud regularly). For instance Robert Kennedy Jr. writes in Rolling Stone “Across the country, Republican election officials and party stalwarts employed a wide range of illegal and unethical tactics to fix the election. A review of the available data reveals that in Ohio alone, at least 357,000 voters, the overwhelming majority of them Democratic, were prevented from casting ballots or did not have their votes counted in 2004(12) -- more than enough to shift the results of an election decided by 118,601 votes.” (http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/10432334/was_the_2004_election_stolen)

Shortly after the elections, Congressman Conyers convened hearings about the electoral shenanigans that took place in Ohio, and the results were published in What Went Wrong in Ohio: The Conyers Report on the 2004 Presidential Election. If you have a constitution that can tolerate reading about all the outrages that were committed in Ohio, I recommend the book (the report is in fact available for free on the internet, but you can also buy a paperbound copy from any major book retailer). The campaign to deny voters the right to vote in Ohio began before the elections, when Secretary of State Blackwell issued arbitrary rulings intended to frustrate the effort to register voters. For instance, if a registration was not supplied on white uncoated paper of not less than 80lb. text weight it was rejected (at least if it was a democratic registrations). Republican groups running voter registration drives were reported to have been seen shredding Democratic registrations. On election day, there were not enough voting machines in Democratic wards, where people stood on line for 5 hours (if they could last that long) in order to vote. However, machines were plentiful and lines short in Republican wards. The Republican party also engaged in a practice dubbed “caging” where targeted at newly registered voters in minority areas. The sent registered letters to the voters, and if they refused to sign them, the Republican operatives challenged the legitimacy of the person’s right to vote. On and after election day, more outrages were perpetuated. There were widespread allegations that machines had been tampered with. Among them, during a post election recount in one county, hand counts failed to match machine counts by a significant margin twice. A repair technician was summoned, and a hand count compared to the machine count of the “repaired” machine. It was deemed sufficiently close, so the rest of the “recount” was conducted by machine and a vote that was likely seriously in error, was validated.

Lest you think Ohio, a decisive state in the election, was the only one with voting fraud and voter suppression problems, I can assure you that this was not the case. Moreover, minority groups such as African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans were often targeted. In South Dakota, while Bush had a significant lead in the presidential election, a close senatorial race was taking place. Among the shenanigans, Republican party operatives harassed Native American voters by following them out of the polling place and writing down their license numbers and by photographing them. Flyers were circulated in white districts that said “the dogs are lining up to vote for Daschel (the Democrat).” The reference connecting “dogs” to Native Americans was related to a dispute between farmers and Native Americans over handling an overpopulation of prairie dogs.

Numerous activities are under way to address the problems of voting fraud and suppression. Among them are initiatives in Pennsylvania to require paper verification of the vote actually cast. It should be noted that a number of studies, including a GAO study, has found the new electronic voting machines to be error prone and subject to manipulation and security breaches. In fact, the old lever machines, which due to heavy lobbying by the manufacturers of electronic voting machines are widely being replaced, are among the most effective and accurate voting equipment. With a high profile senatorial campaign in our state, a campaign that threatens to unseat an important right-wing Republican senator, the importance of a clean and problem – free election is crucial this fall. Activists are also hoping to wake the media from its slumber and get it to begin covering the issue. Check out the web site www.saveourvote.com for resources on this issue and information on how you can help.

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