11.30.2004

Something's Fishy in Ohio
by Jesse Jackson

In the Ukraine, citizens are in the streets protesting what they charge is a fixed election. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell expresses this nation's concern about apparent voting irregularities. The media give the dispute around-the-clock coverage. But in the United States, massive and systemic voter irregularities go unreported and unnoticed.
Ohio is this election year's Florida. The vote in Ohio decided the presidential race, but it was marred by intolerable, and often partisan, irregularities and discrepancies. U.S. citizens have as much reason as those in Kiev to be concerned that the fix was in. Consider:
In Ohio, a court just ruled there can't be a recount yet, because the vote is not yet counted. It's three weeks after the election, and Ohio still hasn't counted the votes and certified the election. Some 93,000 overvotes and undervotes are not counted; 155,000 provisional ballots are only now being counted. Absentee ballots cast in the two days prior to the election haven't been counted.
Ohio determines the election, but the state has not yet counted the vote. That outrage is made intolerable by the fact that the secretary of state in charge of this operation, Ken Blackwell, holds -- like Katherine Harris of Florida's fiasco in 2000 -- a dual role: secretary of state with control over voting procedures and co-chair of George Bush's Ohio campaign. Blackwell should recuse himself so that a thorough investigation, count and recount of Ohio's vote can be made.
Blackwell reversed rules on provisional ballots in place in the spring primaries. These allowed voters to cast provisional ballots anywhere in their county, even if they were in the wrong precinct, reflecting the chief rationale for provisional ballots: to ensure that those who went to the wrong place by mistake could have their votes counted. The result of this decision -- why does this not surprise? -- was to disqualify disproportionately ballots cast in heavily Democratic Cuyahoga County.
Blackwell also permitted the use of electronic machines that provided no paper record. The maker of many of these machines, the head of Diebold Co., promised to deliver Ohio for Bush. In one precinct in Franklin County, an electric voting system gave Bush 3,893 extra votes out of a total of 638 votes cast.
Blackwell also presided over a voting system that resulted in quick, short lines in the dominantly Republican suburbs, and four-hour and longer waiting lines in the inner cities. Wealthy precincts received ample numbers of voting machines and numerous voting places. Democratic precincts received inadequate numbers of machines in too few polling places that were often hard to locate; this caused daylong waits for the very working people who could least afford the time.
In Ohio, as in Florida and Pennsylvania, there was a stark disconnect between the exit polls and the tabulated results, with the former favoring John Kerry and the latter George Bush. The chance of this occurring in these three states, according to Professor Steven Freeman of the University of Pennsylvania, is about 250 million to 1.
In one of dozens of examples, Ellen Connally, an African-American Supreme Court candidate running an underfunded race at the bottom of the ticket, received over 257,000 more votes than Kerry in 37 counties. She ran better than Kerry in the areas of the state where she wasn't known and didn't campaign than she did where she was known and did campaign.
There should be a federal investigation of the vote count in Ohio, with the partisan secretary of state removing himself from the scene.
In Cleveland, as in Kiev, Ukraine, citizens have the right to know that the election is run fairly and every vote counted honestly. Citizens have the right to nonpartisan election officials. Citizens have the right to voting machines that keep a paper record and allow for an independent audit and recount.
This country needs no more Floridas and Ohios. This shouldn't be a partisan issue. We call for a constitutional amendment to guarantee the right to vote for all U.S. citizens and to empower Congress to establish federal standards and nonpartisan administration of elections. Harris and Blackwell are insults to the people they represent, and stains upon the president whose election they sought to ensure. Democracy should not be for export only.

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