FOR AMERICANS, it’s bad enough that the 2000 election was such a fiasco that our government felt compelled to bring in international election monitors from Vienna, as though we were some Third World banana republic rather than the world’s oldest democracy. Worse, the monitoring group — the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) — left unimpressed.
The OSCE won’t issue a final report for another six weeks, but its preliminary findings (available at http://www.osce.org/documents/odihr/2004/11/3779_en.pdf) are a litany of "questions of possible conflict of interest," "widespread ... allegations of electoral fraud and voter suppression," "significant delays ... [that] may restrict the right to vote," "considerable confusion ... regarding the use of provisional ballots," "occasional faults and breakdowns of DRE [direct-recording equipment] machines," "concerns ... regarding the secrecy of the vote." Not only that, but "it was not clear that poll workers had generally received sufficient training to perform their functions."
On the plus side, the election "proceeded in an orderly and peaceful manner," the OSCE says. And according to many news reports, America was awfully glad, above all else, that there was no untidiness with this election. Once John Kerry conceded, it seemed, concerns about voter suppression, intimidation, and fraud could be safely ignored. The mainstream media refocused their attention on the Scott Peterson trial, while Internet bloggers chased phantom conspiracy theories into the void.
But there are at least two valid reasons why we should keep our eyes trained on November 2. First, a Phoenix analysis suggests that more Ohioans may have tried to vote for Kerry than for Bush, and couldn’t — in which case by rights W. should be packing his bags and shredding his files, rather than plotting his second-term agenda.
And besides — isn’t this kind of thing horrible even if it didn’t happen to tip the election this time?
BUSH HAS, at the moment, won Ohio by 136,483 votes, but a number of considerations throw that lead into serious doubt. For one thing, that number will likely diminish when the state’s approximately 155,000 provisional ballots are processed. Most of those who had to use provisional ballots probably were first-time voters whose names had not made it onto their precinct lists, observers say, and first-timers went 54-46 for Kerry in Ohio, according to exit polls.
Another 92,672 votes were discarded, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, mostly due to now-familiar problems with punch-card ballots. Those punch-card machines are — surprise, surprise — predominantly used in urban areas that tend to vote Democratic. In Cuyahoga County — two-to-one Kerry country — a voter reported misaligned holes and out-of-order pages on the punch ballots to Election Protection, a nonpartisan coalition of organizations led by People for the American Way Foundation, which was monitoring elections in select states, including Ohio.
Punch cards also probably slowed down the voting process, suggests Carlo LoParo, spokesperson for the Ohio secretary of state, as voters with memories of Florida made super-extra-sure to remove the chads they produce completely. "People were a little more methodical, making sure they didn’t leave any hanging chads," agrees Dan Trevas, communications director for the Ohio Democratic Party.
But wait — wasn’t the Help America Vote Act of 2002 supposed to help rid states of these machines? Why, yes — in fact, Ohio received $133 million from the federal government specifically to replace those old clunkers with new DRE and optical-scan machines. The state even contracted with venders. But then Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell — a Republican — had a change of heart. The technology was not sufficiently proven secure, he said. Nothing has been purchased. The $133 million stayed in the bank. "We weren’t going to spend it on more punch-card machines," says LoParo. Or on more poll workers, or training, or any of that nonsense.
"There should have been a lot of effort [put into], instead of talking about challengers, talking about getting enough machines and getting ready to handle the large turnout," Trevas says.
THE CHALLENGERS Trevas has in mind were, of course, the Republicans deployed to polling places to make voters prove they weren’t committing fraud. At the last minute, the state Republican Party finally won the right to carry out the plan from the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, after a lower-court judge had ruled that it would be too intimidating.
As it turns out, the Republican challengers were not especially disruptive, observers report. But they were one element in a broad pattern of alleged intimidation and deception. In Cuyahoga County, according to one Election Protection caller, black voters were asked to show ID, but white voters were not. In another area some African-Americans reportedly were redirected to incorrect polling places across town, says Scott Britton, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio. According to multiple reports, in the days leading up to the election, phone calls and leaflets directed low-income and minority voters to incorrect polling locations. (Although some might not have been dirty tricks — a Democratic get-out-the-vote group in Marion County was giving out a wrong address by mistake, Trevas says.)
There were cruder attempts at dissuasion as well, including leaflets seen in several parts of the state, including Columbus, informing voters that, due to high expected turnout, Republicans would vote Tuesday and Democrats would vote Wednesday. "I saw one of those leaflets," Trevas says. "There were a lot of dirty tricks."
Serious questions have also been raised about absentee ballots, which may have been withheld from those who requested them — a problem in the Bay State as well. The single biggest election complaint in Massachusetts came from college students who sent for, but never received, absentee ballots from their home states, says David Harris, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, in Boston. He received at least 50 such complaints from Harvard alone. The same problem reared its head at Boston University, says BU psychology professor Deborah Belle: more than a half-dozen of her students told her similar stories.
We don’t know yet how many of those students were trying to vote in Ohio, but we do know that the Republican-led Ohio legislature prevented the elections department from implementing expedited absentee balloting and early voting, says Trevas. Then, Blackwell barred those who never received their absentee ballots from casting provisional ballots in person — that is, until Election Day, when a Toledo woman filed and won a lawsuit against him in US District Court.page 1 page 2
Issue Date: November 12 - 18, 2004
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