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How the Ohio was Lost/Won

Here's some grist- where's the mill? Not that Kerry's my miller.
KERRY WON OHIO
JUST COUNT THE BALLOTS AT THE BACK OF THE BUS
In These Times
Friday, November 12, 2004

Most voters in Ohio chose Kerry. Here's how the votes vanished.

By Greg Palast

This February, Ken Blackwell, Ohio's Secretary of State, told his State Senate
President, "The possibility of a close election with punch cards as the state's
primary voting device invites a Florida-like calamity." Blackwell, co-chair of
Bush-Cheney reelection campaign, wasn't warning his fellow Republican of
disaster, but boasting of an opportunity to bring in Ohio for Team Bush no
matter what the voters wanted. And most voters in Ohio wanted JFK, not GWB. But
their choice won't count because their votes won't be counted.

The ballots that add up to a majority for John Kerry in Ohio -- and in New
Mexico -- are locked up in two Republican hidey-holes: "spoiled" ballots and
"provisional" ballots.

OHIO SPOILED ROTTEN
American democracy has a dark little secret. In a typical presidential election,
two million ballots are simply chucked in the garbage, marked "spoiled" and not
counted. A dive into the electoral dumpster reveals something special about
these votes left to rot. In a careful county-by-county, precinct-by-precinct
analysis of the Florida 2000 race, the US Civil Rights Commission discovered
that 54% of the votes in the spoilage bin were cast by African-Americans. And
Florida, Heaven help us, is typical. Nationwide, the number of Black votes
"disappeared" into the spoiled pile is approximately one million. The other
million in the no-count pit come mainly from Hispanic, Native-American and poor
white precincts, a decidedly Democratic demographic.

Ohio Republicans, simultaneously in charge of both the Bush-Cheney
get-out-the-vote drive and the state's vote-counting rules, doggedly and
systematically insured the spoilage pile would be as high as the White House.

Vote spoilage comes in two flavors. There are "overvotes" -- too many punches in
the cards -- and "undervotes." Here we find the hanging, dimpled and "pregnant"
chads created by old, dysfunctional punch card machines, in which the bit of
paper covering the hole doesn't fall out, but hangs on. Machines can't read
these, but we humans, who know a hole when we see one, have no problem reading
these cards ... if allowed to. This is how Katherine Harris defeated Al Gore, by
halting the hand count of the spoiled punch cards not, as is generally believed,
by halting a "recount."

Whose chads are left hanging? In Florida in 2000 federal investigators
determined that Black voters' ballots spoiled 900% more often than white voters,
mainly due to punch card error. Ohio Republicans found those racial odds quite
attractive. The state was the only one of fifty to refuse to eliminate or fix
these vote-eating machines, even in the face of a lawsuit by the ACLU.

Apparently, the Ohio Republicans like what the ACLU found. The civil rights
group's expert testimony concluded that Ohio's cussed insistence on forcing 73%
of its electorate to use punch card machines had an "overwhelming" racial bias,
voiding votes mostly in Black precincts. Blackwell doesn't disagree; and he
hopes to fix the machinery ... sometime after George Bush's next inauguration.
In the meantime, the state's Attorney General Jim Petro, a Republican,
strategically postponed the trial date of the ACLU case until after the
election.

Fixing a punch card machine is cheap and easy. If Ohio simply placed a
card-reading machine in each polling station, as Michigan did this year, voters
could have checked to ensure their vote would tally. If not, they would have
gotten another card.

Blackwell knows that. He also knows that if those reading machines had been
installed, almost all the 93,000 spoiled votes, overwhelmingly Democratic, would
have closed the gap on George Bush's lead of 136,000 votes.


JIM CROW'S PROVISIONAL BALLOT
Add to the spoiled ballots a second group of uncounted votes, the 'provisional'
ballots, and -- voila! -- the White House would have turned Democrat blue.

But that won't happen because of the peculiar way provisional ballots are
counted or, more often, not counted. Introduced by federal law in 2002, the
provisional ballot was designed especially for voters of color. Proposed by the
Congressional Black Caucus to save the rights of those wrongly scrubbed from
voter rolls, it was, in Republican-controlled swing states, twisted into a
back-of-the-bus ballot unlikely to be tallied.

Unlike the real thing, these ballots are counted only by the whimsy and rules of
a state's top elections official; and in Ohio, that gives a virtually ballot
veto to Secretary of State Blackwell.

Mr. Blackwell has a few rules to make sure a large proportion of provisional
ballots won't be counted. For the first time in memory, the Secretary of State
has banned counting ballots cast in the "wrong" precinct, though all
neighborhoods share the same President.

Over 155,000 Ohio voters were shunted to these second-class ballots. The
election-shifting bulge in provisional ballots (more than 3% of the electorate)
was the direct result of the national Republican strategy that targeted
African-American precincts for mass challenges on election day.

This is the first time in four decades that a political party has systematically
barred -- in this case successfully -- hundreds of thousands of Black voters
from access to the voting booth. While investigating for BBC Television, we
obtained three dozen of the Republican Party's confidential "caging" lists,
their title for spreadsheets listing names and addresses of voters they intended
to block on any pretext.

We found that every single address of the thousands on these Republican hit
lists was located in Black-majority precincts. You might find that nasty and
racist. It may also be a crime.

Before 1965, Jim Crow laws in the Deep South did not bar Blacks from voting.
Rather, the segregationist game was played by applying minor technical voting
requirements only to African-Americans. That year, Congress voted to make
profiling and impeding minority voters, even with a legal pretext, a criminal
offence under the Voting Rights Act.

But that didn't stop the Republicans of '04. Their legally questionable mass
challenge to Black voters is not some low-level dirty tricks operation of local
party hacks. Emails we obtained show the lists were copied directly to the
Republican National Committee's chief of research and to the director of a state
campaign.

Many challenges center on changes of address. On one Republican caging list, 50
addresses changed from Jacksonville to overseas, African-American soldiers
shipped Over There.

You don't have to guess the preferences registered on the provisional ballots.
Republicans went on a challenging rampage, while Democrats pledged to hold to
the tradition of letting voters vote.

Blackwell has said he will count all the "valid" provisional ballots. However,
his rigid regulations, like the new guess-your-precinct rule, are rigged to
knock out enough voters to keep Bush's skinny lead alive. Other pre-election
maneuvers by Republican officials -- late and improbably large purges of voter
rolls, rejection of registrations -- maximized the use of provisional ballots
which will never be counted. For example, a voter wrongly tagged an ineligible
"felon" voter (and there's plenty in that category, mostly African-Americans),
will lose their ballot even though they are wrongly identified.


KERRY BLACKS OUT
It was heartening that, during his campaign, John Kerry broke the political
omerta that seems to prohibit public mention of the color of votes not counted
in America. "Don't tell us that in the strongest democracy on earth a million
disenfranchised African Americans is the best we can do." The Senator promised
the NAACP convention, "This November, we're going to make sure that every single
vote is counted."

But this week, Kerry became the first presidential candidate in history to break
a campaign promise after losing an election. The Senator waited less than 24
hours to abandon more than a quarter million Ohio voters still waiting for their
provisional and chad-spoiled ballots to be counted.

While disappointing, I can understand the cold calculus against taking the fight
to the end. To count the ballots, Kerry's lawyers would, first, have to demand a
hand reading of the punch cards. Blackwell, armed with the Supreme Court's Bush
v. Gore diktat, would undoubtedly pull a "Kate Harris" by halting or restricting
a hand count. Most daunting, Kerry's team would also, as one state attorney
general pointed out to me, have to litigate each and every rejected provisional
ballot in court. This would entail locating up to a hundred thousand voters to
testify to their right to the vote, with Blackwell challenging each with a
holster full of regulations from the old Jim Crow handbook.

Given the odds and the cost to his political career, Kerry bent, not to the will
of the people, but to the will to power of the Ohio Republican machine.

We have yet to total here the votes lost in missing absentee ballots, in
eyebrow-raising touch screen tallies, in purges of legal voters from registries
and other games played in swing states. But why dwell on these things? Our
betters in the political and media elite have told us to get over it, move on.

To the victors go the spoils of electoral class war. As Ohio's politically
ambitious Secretary of State brags on his own website, "Last time I checked,"
Blackwell said, "Katherine Harris wasn't in a soup line, she's in Congress."



NEW MEXICO GOES KERRY - BUT WHO'S COUNTING?
Why single out Ohio? So it also went in New Mexico where ballots of Hispanic
voters (two-to-one Kerry supporters) spoil at a rate five times that of white
voters. Add in the astounding 13,000 provisional ballots in the Enchanted State
-- handed out "like candy" to Hispanic, not white, voters according to a
director of the Catholic Church's get-out-the-vote drive -- and Kerry wins New
Mexico. Just count up the votes ... but that won't happen.