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Hearings on Ohio voting put 2004 election in doubt

by : Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman
Thursday November 18, 2004 - 16:43

Highly-charged, jam-packed hearings held here in Columbus have cast serious doubt on the true outcome of the presidential election.

On Saturday, November 13, and Monday, November 15, the Ohio Election Protection Coalition’s public hearings in Columbus solicited extensive sworn first-person testimony from 32 of Ohio voters, precinct judges, poll workers, legal observers, party challengers. An additional 66 people provided written affidavits of election irregularities. The unavoidable conclusion is that this year’s election in Ohio was deeply flawed, that thousands of Ohioans were denied their right to vote, and that the ultimate vote count is very much in doubt.

Most importantly, the testimony has revealed a widespread and concerted effort on the part of Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell to deny primarily African-American and young voters the right to cast their ballots within a reasonable time. By depriving precincts of adequate numbers of functioning voting machines, Blackwell created waits of three to eleven hours, driving tens of thousands of likely Democratic voters away from the polls and very likely affecting the outcome of the Ohio vote count, which in turn decided the national election.

On November 17, Blackwell wrote an op-ed piece for Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Washington Times, stating: “Every eligible voter who wanted to vote had the opportunity to vote. There was no widespread fraud, and there was no disenfranchisement. A half-million more Ohioans voted than ever before with fewer errors than four years ago, a sure sign on success by any measure,” Blackwell wrote. Moon’s extreme right wing Unification Church has long-standing ties to the Bush Family and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Additional testimony also called into question the validity of the actual vote counts. There are thus serious doubts that the final official tally in Ohio, due December 1 to Blackwell’s office, will have any validity. Blackwell will certify the vote count on December 3.

While Blackwell supervised the Ohio vote he also served as co-chair of the Ohio Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, a clear conflict of interest that casts further doubt on how the Ohio election and vote counts have been conducted.

At the Columbus hearings, witness after witness under oath gave testimony to an election riddled with discrimination and disarray. Among them:

Werner Lange, a pastor from Youngstown, Ohio, who said in part: “In precincts 1 A and 5 G, voting as Hillman Elementary School, which is a predominantly African American community, there were woefully insufficient number of voting machines in three precincts. I was told that the standard was to have one voting machine per 100 registered voters. Precinct A had 750 registered voters. Precinct G had 690. There should have been 14 voting machines at this site. There were only 6, three per precinct, less than 50 percent of the standard. This caused an enormous bottleneck among voters who had to wait a very, very long time to vote, many of them giving up in frustration and leaving. . . . I estimate, by the way, that an estimated loss of over 8,000 votes from the African American community in the City of Youngstown alone, with its 84 precincts, were lost due to insufficient voting machines, and that would translate to some 7,000 votes lost for John Kerry for President in Youngstown alone. . . .”

“Just yesterday I went to the Trumbull Board of Elections in northeast Ohio, I wanted to review their precinct logs so I could continue my investigation. This was denied. I was told by the Board of Elections official that I could not see them until after the official vote was given.”

Marion Brown, Columbus: “I am here on behalf of a friend. My friend came to my home very upset while she was away standing four hours in the voting, her husband passed away. The funeral was on yesterday, November 13th, at 2:00. Perhaps had she not stood so long in the line, she may have been able to save her husband.”

Victoria Parks: “In Pickaway County, oh, my goodness, in Pickaway County, I entered there, I was shown a table, 53 poll books were plunked down in front of my. I noticed there were no signature on file in any of the poll books, in any of the poll books, and furthermore, a minute later the director of the Board of Elections of Pickaway County came into the room and snatched the books away from me and said you cannot look at these books. I said are you aware that what you are doing is against the law? She said I have been on the phone with the Secretary of State and he has instructed me to take these books away and you cannot see them. I paraphrase very slightly here. She took them away. I was persona non grata. I did not want to risk arrest, and I left. . . . There were no signatures, and furthermore, the writing in the book seemed to have been written in the same hand, because that is a requirement.”

Boyd Mitchell, Columbus: “What I saw was voter intimidation in the form of city employees that were sent in to stop illegal parking. Now, in Driving Park Rec Center there are less than 50 legal parking spots, and there were literally hundreds and hundreds of voters there, and I estimated at least 70 percent of the people were illegally parked in the grass around the perimeter of the Driving Park Rec Center, and two city employees drove up in a city truck and said that they had been sent there to stop illegal parking, and they went so far as to harass at least a couple of voters that I saw, and when they were talking to us, they were kind. But when they didn’t realize we were overhearing them talking to voters, they were trying to keep people from parking where they were parking. They went so far as to set up some cones, trying to block people from getting into a grassy area...”

“I calculated that I maybe saw about 20 percent of the people that left Driving Park D and C, I personally saw and talked to about 20 percent of them as they left the poll between 12:30 and 8 p.m. And I saw 15 people who left because the line was too long. The lines inside were anywhere from 2 1/2 to 5 hours. Most everybody said 4 hours, and I saw at least 15 people who did not vote, and I heard a gentleman who was earlier making some mathematical calculations, well, if this is going on across town, and, you know, in a precinct where it was going so heavily for Kerry, and me only seeing 20 percent of the people coming out, I saw 15. We could just do the math and extrapolate that out into a huge number of people who might have voted had they had a chance.”

Joe Popich (entered into the record copies of the Perry County Board of Election poll book): “There are a bunch of irregularities in this log book, but the most blatant irregularity would be the fact that there are 360 signatures in this book. There are 33 people who voted absentee ballot at this precinct, for a total of 393 votes that should be attributed to that precinct. However, the Board of Elections is attributing 96 more votes to that precinct than what this log book reflects.”

Derek Winsor, Columbus: “Out of the six total voting machines that were at 14 C, three of them showed some type of malfunction that at one point or another during the three our so hours that we were waiting, and between my wife and me, we had asked poll workers individually if they could explain what was going on and what kind of reassurances they could give us that, for one machine in particular that the votes had already been posted on, that machine would be counted, and the response was just, oh, they will be counted. And how can you be sure of that? What storage mechanism do they use to ensure that the votes are stored, and, again, the response was just, well, they just are. And that was a bit of a concern here.”

Carol Shelton, presiding judge, precinct 25 B at the Linden Branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library: “The precinct is 95 to 99 percent black. . . . There were 1,500 persons on the precinct rolls. We received three machines. In my own precinct in Clintonville, 19E, we always received three machines for 700 to 730 voters. Voter turnout in my own precinct has reached as high as 70 percent while I worked there. I interviewed many voters in 25 B and asked how many machines they had had in the past. Everyone who had a recollection said five or six. I called to get more machines and ended up being connected with Matt Damschroder, the Director of the Board of Elections. After a real hassle — and someone here has it on videotape, he sent me a fourth machine which did not dent the length of the line. Fewer than 700 voted, although the turnout at the beginning of the day would cause anyone to predict a turnout of over 80 percent. This was a clear case of voter suppression by making voting an impossibility for anyone who had to go to work or anyone who was stuck at home caring for children or the elderly while another family member voted.”

Allesondra Hernandez, Toledo: “What I witnessed when I had gotten there about 9 A.M. was a young African American woman who had come out nearly in tears. She was a new voter, very first registered, very excited to vote, and she had said that she had been bounced around to three different polling places, and this one had just turned her down again. People were there to help her out, and I was concerned. I started asking around to everyone else, and they had informed me earlier that day that she was not the only one, but there were at least three others who had been bounced around. Also earlier that day the polls had opened an hour late, did not open until about 7:30 A.M. The polling machines were locked in the principal’s office. Hundreds of people were turned away, were forced to leave the line because they needed to be at school, they needed to be at work, or they needed to take their children to school. The people there who were assisting did the best they could to take down numbers and take down names, but I am assuming that a majority of those people could not come back because of work and/or because of school, because they had shown up to vote, and that was the time that they could vote, and that is why they were there. Also along the same lines, they ran out of pencils for those ballots.”

Erin Deignan, Columbus: “I was an official poll worker judge in precinct Columbus 25 F, at the East Linden School. We had between 1100 and 1200 people on the voter registry there. We had three voting machines. We did the math. I am sure lots of other people did too. With the five-minute limit, 13 hours the polls were open, three machines, that is 468 voters, that is less than half of the people we had on the registry. We stayed open three hours past 7:30 and got about 550 people through, but we had one Board of Elections worker come in the morning. We asked if he could bring more machines. He is said more machines had been delivered, but they didn’t have any more. We had another Board of Elections official come later in the day, and he said that in Upper Arlington he had seen 12 machines.”

Matthew Segal, Gambier: “In this past election, Kenyon College students and the residents of Gambier, Ohio, had to endure some of the most extenuating voting circumstances in the entire country. As many of you may already know, because they had it on national media attention, Kenyon students and the residents of Gambier had to stand in line up to 10 to 12 hours in the rain, through a hot gym, and crowded narrow lines, making it extremely uncomfortable. As a result of this, voters were disenfranchised, having class to attend to, sports commitments, and midterms for the next day, which they had to study for. Obviously, it is a disgrace that kids who are being perpetually told the importance of voting, could not vote because they had other commitments and had to be put up with a 12-hour line.”

Blackwell characterized Ohio’s Election Day as “tremendously successful” in the Washington Times. Several people at Saturday’s hearing said they’d like to hear Mr. Blackwell testify under oath, preferably under a criminal indictment.

—  Bob Fitrakis, Ph.D, J.D., a legal advisor for the Election Protection Coalition, convened and moderated the public hearings. Harvey Wasserman is Senior Editor of the Columbus Free Press and freepress.org. Audio from the hearings can be found at:

www.theneighborhoodnetwork.org.



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