Palast: Kerry Won Ohio, New Mexico
JUST COUNT THE BALLOTS AT THE BACK OF THE BUS
Most voters in Ohio chose Kerry. Here's how the votes vanished.
Friday, November 12, 2004
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
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
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
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
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 Bush-Cheney campaign co-chair, 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,
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.
Investigative reporter Greg Palast is author of The Best Democracy Money Can
Buy (Penguin 2004).
Oliver Shykles and Matthew Pascarella of GregPalast.com contributed to this
View Greg Palast's BBC Television film, "Bush Family Fortunes," now
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