Saturday, November 06, 2004

Outrage in Ohio: Angry Residents Storm State House! Massive Voter Suppression and Corruption - Democracy Failure

By David Solnit

November 3, Toledo Ohio -- Hundreds of angry Ohio residents marched
through the streets of Columbus, Ohio's Capital, this evening and stormed
the Ohio State House, defying orders and arrest threats from Ohio State
Troopers. "O-H-I-O, Suppressed democracy has got to go," they chanted.
After troopers pushed and scuffled with people, nearly a hundred people
took over the steps and entrance to the State's giant white column capital
building and refused repeated orders to disperse or face arrest. People
prepared for arrests, ready to face jail, writing lawyers phone numbers on
their arms, signing jail support lists and discussing non-cooperation and
active resistance (linking arms, but not fighting back).

A freshly painted banner held on the steps read, "ONE VOTE DENIED =
DEMOCRACY IN TROUBLE! 100'S OF 1000'S OF VOTES SURPRESSED = DEMOCRACY
FAILED. An unprecedented massive grassroots voter registration and get out
the vote effort and widespread opposition to Bush went up against the
massive coordinated Republican effort to suppress, intimidate and possibly
steal millions of votes. In addition to the voter suppression and
intimidation is the fact that Bush campaign co-chair Secretary of State
Kenneth Blackwell is in charge of the election and vote counting. But much
deeper questions about fundamental flaws in the system hang in the air.

STOLEN ELECTION?

CNN's exit poll showed Kerry beating Bush among Ohio women by 53 percent
to 47 percent. Kerry also defeated Bush among Ohio's male voters 51
percent to 49 percent. Investigative reporter Greg Palast in an article
today details how the deciding states, Ohio and New Mexico, if all votes
were actually counted, should have gone to Kerry. Palast explains,
"Although the exit polls show that most voters in Ohio punched cards for
Kerry-Edwards, thousands of these votes were simply not recorded. The
election in Ohio was not decided by the voters but by something called
"spoilage." Typically in the United States, about 3 percent of the vote is
voided, just thrown away, not recorded."
(http://www.tompaine.com/articles/kerry_won_.php )

TESTIMONIES OF DISENFRANCHISEMENT

The Ohio State House takeover was the culmination of an eight-hour long
afternoon of protest at the state capital by Ohio student and youth
groups, including the Columbus and Toledo Leagues of Pissed Off Voters,
Reach Out--Bowling Green, and the Central Ohio Peace Network. The earlier
speak-out featured a litany of people who experienced or witnessed voter
suppression, intimidation and disenfranchisement before and during the
election. Thousand of Ohio voters had been disenfranchised by partisan
poll challengers, intimidation incidents, voters polling places opening
late, lines up to four and five hours long--often in the rain.

Here are a few of their stories:

Holly Roach of Toledo, Ohio spoke of her 74-year-old father, Frank Roach
and her 89-year-old grandmother; Hazel Thompson requested absentee1s
ballots in early October. Hazel Thompson is homebound and Frank Roach has
been scheduled for heart surgery on November 2. Absentee ballots never
arrived. They were told by the County Voting Commission that they could
not vote with either regular or provisional ballots, because they had
already requested absentee ballots and Secretary of State Kenneth
Blackwell has issued a directive forbidding provisional ballots by people
who have applied for absentee ballots for them and not received them
(including some US service people who returned from Iraq). A lawsuit late
in the afternoon of November 2 by a voter in Lucas County led to a late
afternoon order by Judge David Katz of the Northern District of Ohio
instructing the Ohio Secretary of State to immediately advise all county
boards of election to advise polling precincts in their counties to issue
provisional ballots to voters in this situation.

Evan Morrison, a young get out the vote volunteer, told of polls opening
late. One poll at Glenwood Elementary in Toledo, OH opened more than half
and hour late.. During that time, from 6:30 to after 7AM, more than 50
people left without having voted. An hour and a half after the polling
site opened, the Republican election official said they had run out of
pencils, bringing voting to a halt. Evan ran to the store and bought a
bunch of number 2 pencils out of his own pocket so voting could resume.
Voting continued until 11AM, by which time up to 100 more people had
walked away.

Suzie Husami, a University of Toledo student said in a press conference
that her voter registration challenged by Republicans along with 35,000
other mostly newer registrants. She received a letter from the Board of
Elections reading NOTICE OF HEARING Pursuant to Ohio Revised Code Section
3503.24: your registration is being challenged. The reason stated as the
basis for this challenge is that you are unqualified to vote because you
are not a resident of the precinct where you can vote. A hearing has been
set at the above stated place and time. You have the right to appear,
testify and call witnesses and to be represented by an attorney. The
letter was addressed from Paula Hicks-Hudson, Director of the Toledo Board
of Elections. Although the challenges to her were thrown out in court the
day before her hearing received such letters were likely discouraged from voting.

Alli Starr, also being a get out the vote volunteer told about how 25
minutes before polls closed in Toledo, Ohio, Republican challengers were
witnessed harassing voters at the Mott Library, Central City polling
station, a low-income African-American community. Observers said that they
believed these challengers had repeatedly called the police producing
absurd stories in order to intimidate voters. One of the Republican
challengers was recognized as Dennis Lange, a prominent local business
owner who owns Pumpernickels. Mr. Lange aggressively tried to push
back African-American community members who were poll watching and voting
at the site. At one point more than four police and sheriffs officers,
including undercover officers, were witnessed at the site for no apparent
reason. For a photo go to
http://michiganimc.org/newswire/display/7580/index.php

PRE-ELECTION VOTER SUPPRESSION

But even before election day, the Baltimore Chronicle reported November 1
that "Through a combination of sophisticated vote rustling, ethnic
cleansing of voter rolls, absentee ballots gone AWOL, machines that
'spoil' votes---John Kerry begins with a nationwide deficit that could
easily exceed one million votes."

Troy, Michigan Republican State Rep. John Pappageorge, a Michigan Bush
campaign Co-Chair, was quoted in July 16 edition of the Detroit Free Press
as saying, "If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we're going to have a
tough time in this election." Blacks comprise 83 percent of Detroit's
population, and the city routinely elects Democratic candidates by
substantial margins. The British Broadcasting Company has also disclosed a
memo to top Republican officials in Florida identifying voters in
predominantly black precincts for possible challenge.

The secretaries of state, usually the chief election official at the state
level, in four battleground states--Michigan, Missouri, Florida, and Ohio
have all taken top campaign posts for Bush and have been accused of
manipulating state election laws to restrict voter access on behalf of
Republicans. Ultra-right Ohio Secretary of State, J. Kenneth Blackwell,
the co-chair of the Ohio Bush campaign, together with the Ohio Republican
Party are at the center of this nationwide effort to steal the election
through voter suppression, intimidation and corruption. In the months
leading up to the election, Blackwell attempted to require that
registration applications that were not posted on the correct weight paper
be cancelled. His efforts to suppress the vote have continued. Blackwell
sought to restrict access to provisional ballots: he challenged of the
validity of over 35,000 new voter registrations in the state (recently
thrown out by a Federal Judge): he issued unclear directives regarding the
right of ex-felons to vote.

"In state after state, Republican officials and operatives are working to
deny American citizens the right to vote," charges Wade Henderson,
executive director of Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (the country1s
largest civil and human-rights coalition). Miles Rapoport, former
Secretary of the State of Connecticut and President of the nonpartisan
public policy organization Demos, says "As the election approaches,
chilling reports continue to surface of major efforts to prevent people
from voting. Legions of partisan challengers' are being readied for the
polls on Election Day; Latino registrants in rural Georgia are being
targeted; and tens of thousands of new Ohio registrants have been
challenged. All appear to be organized campaigns. These anti-democratic
activities must be stopped."

TOUCH-SCREEN VOTING

Additionally, the new touch voting machines being used in 29 states and
the District of Columbia, have been widely criticized by elections
officials and computer scientists and as susceptible to hacking and
malfunction. Election Data Services, a consulting firm, predicted 29
percent of voters would use touch-screen machines on voting day.

According to the November 3 Globe and Mail, "several dozen voters in six
states -- particularly Democrats in Florida -- said the wrong candidates
appeared on their touch-screen machine's checkout screen, the coalition
said. In many cases, voters said they intended to select John Kerry but
when the computer asked them to verify the choice it showed them instead
opting for President Bush, the group said. Roberta Harvey, 57, of
Clearwater, Fla., said she had tried at least a half dozen times to select
Kerry-Edwards when she voted Tuesday at Northwood Presbyterian Church.
After 10 minutes trying to change her selection, the Pinellas County
resident said she called a poll worker and got a wet-wipe napkin to clean
the touch screen as well as a pencil so she could use its eraser-end
instead of her finger. Ms. Harvey said it took about 10 attempts to select
Mr. Kerry before and a summary screen confirmed her intended selection."

On November 9, 2003, the New York Times reported: "In mid-August, Walden
W. O'Dell, the chief executive of Diebold Inc., sat down at his computer
to compose a letter inviting 100 wealthy and politically inclined friends
to a Republican Party fund-raiser, to be held at his home in a suburb of
Columbus, Ohio. 'I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral
votes to the president next year,' wrote Mr. O'Dell, whose company is
based in Canton, Ohio. That is hardly unusual for Mr. O'Dell. A longtime
Republican, he is a member of President Bush's 'Rangers and Pioneers,' an
elite group of loyalists who have raised at least $100,000 each for the
2004 race. But it is not the only way that Mr. O'Dell is involved in the
election process. Through Diebold Election Systems, a subsidiary in
McKinney, Tex., his company is among the country's biggest suppliers of
paperless, touch-screen voting machines. Judging from Federal Election
Commission data, at least 8 million people will cast their ballots using
Diebold machines next November. ... Some people find Mr. O'Dell's pairing
of interests -- as voting-machine magnate and devoted Republican
fund-raiser -- troubling."
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/09/business/yourmoney/09...

*Co-founder of the Citizens Alliance for Secure Elections, Susan Truitt
said today: "Seven counties in Ohio have electronic voting machines and
none of them have paper trails. That alone raises issues of accuracy and
integrity as to how we can verify the count. A recount without a paper
trail is meaningless; you just get a regurgitation of the data. Last year,
Blackwell tried to get the entire state to buy new machines without a
paper trail. The exit polls, virtually the only check we have against
tampering with a vote without a paper trail, had shown Kerry with a lead.
... A poll worker told me this morning that there were no tapes of the
results posted on some machines; on other machines the posted count was
zero, which obviously shouldn't be the case."

NATIONWIDE RESPONSE

Across Ohio other demonstrations were held in Toledo, Cleveland, Oxford,
Athens and Cincinnati. Across the United States on both elections night
and November 3 people erupted in protest with marches, direct actions, civil disobedience, vigils, breaking of bank
windows in San Francisco and rallies were held in at least 40 cites and
likely many, many more. Many of the outreach flyers for November 3 actions
were headlined, "NOV 2: VOTE! NOV 3: MAKE IT COUNT!"

Most of the actions planned by groups were planned to take place
regardless of the election outcome and were focussed more on the deeper
issues of democracy not empire, healthcare, not warfare and education not
occupation.

The day of action was initially called for by the Beyond Voting network,
whose call for actions read in part, "When your government has troops
stationed around the world, lets big corporations write the rules of the
global economy and pushes racist policies that promote fear, undermines
civil liberties, and rips off working people, you are living in an EMPIRE!
Empire is as system of global control that combines international
aggression with domestic repression to create a deeply undemocratic world.
REAL DEMOCRACY means we the people have direct control over the decisions
and resources that matter in our lives. Real democracy means that we make
the decisions that impact our neighborhoods, workplaces, schools and the
state of the world we hand off to our children. This year the world is
counting on us to expand the election year debate beyond Democrats versus
Republicans to the larger issue of whether the U.S. will be a Democracy or
an Empire."

Two other networks, This Time We Are Watching (a project of the League of
Pissed Off Voters, the Truthforce Training Center and the Ruckus Society
with many other groups) and No Stolen Elections (Global Exhange, Code
Pink, United for Peace and Justice,labor organizers and others) had also
begun to prepare a people power response for November 3. No Stolen
Elections publicized a pledge of action to stop a stolen election, but on
election night they chose not to call on people to take to the streets.
The Election Protection Coalition an umbrella group of volunteer poll
monitors that set up a hotline and planned to monitor and make public
voting irregularities. They may have missed one opportunity to make a
difference when Ralph G. Neas, president of the People for the American
Way which helped form the coalition, said to the media,"Overall, the
problems of outright voter intimidation and suppression have not been as
great as in the past."

The massive grassroots participation and activism -- the highest levels of
activism since before the Iraq invasion-- are hopeful. But electoral work
and single-issue campaigns without a broader systemic analysis are a
recipe for disappointment or failure. Moveon.org has reportedly not
returned press calls for two days after the election, perhaps because they
had naively thrown all their hopes with Kerry and lacked a deeper vision
or longer-term strategy.

The League of Pissed Off Voters was one of the most hopeful efforts within
the massive grassroots efforts to unelect Bush. Catalyzing activism around
the election among youth, especialy youth of color, they had a vision of
building power and organization beyond the elections using creative
tactics and rooting themselves in hip hop and youth culture. Other local
grassroots efforts like Ithaca, New York1s Bush Must Go Coalition, used
the energy of anti-Bush election build their organization and campaigns
that started before and will continue after the election gone. http://indyvoter.org

Let1s be honest. Kerry would have been an improvement to Bush and sent a
much better signal to the world, but he is more reactionary than Nixon; a
pro-war, pro-corporate capitalism millionaire who wants a more
multi-lateral approach to wars and U.S. empire building. It1s also an
important to remember what makes deeper changes in the world is movements
and communities and people power, not politicians. And if we step back and
look at things globally, Bush and his gang are fringe extremists whose
empire is overextended, and lacks any global legitimacy. While we are part
of a global majority, an ever growing movement of movements that is
creating common sense alternatives that will undermine the empire from
below.

*Quote from the Institute for Public Accuracy
http://accuracy.org
Attached Photos by Alli Starr

-----
David Solnit volunteered with the Mobilization for Democracy Not
Disenfranchisement and local anti-bush groups in NW Ohio in late
October/early November and is the editor of Globalize Liberation: How to
Uproot the System and Build a Better World
http://www.globalizeliberation.org

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