Article — From the August 2005 issue
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Article — From the August 2005 issue
On January 5, Representative John Conyers of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, released Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio. The report was the result of a five-week investigation by the committee’s Democrats, who reviewed thousands of complaints of fraud, malfeasance, or incompetence surrounding the election in Ohio, and further thousands of complaints that poured in by phone and email as word of the inquiry spread. The congressional researchers were assisted by volunteers in Ohio who held public hearings in Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo, and Cincinnati, and questioned more than two hundred witnesses. (Although they were invited, Republicans chose not to join in the inquiry.)3
3. The full report can be downloaded from the Judiciary Committee's website at www.house.gov/judiciary_ democrats/ohiostatusrept1505.pdf and is also, as of May, available as a trade paperback, entitled What Went Wrong in Ohio. I should note here that, in a victory for family values, the publishers of that paperback are my parents, Jordan and Anita Miller
Preserving Democracy describes three phases of Republican chicanery: the run-up to the election, the election itself, and the post-election cover-up. The wrongs exposed are not mere dirty tricks (though Bush/Cheney also went in heavily for those) but specific violations of the U.S. and Ohio constitutions, the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the National Voter Registration Act, and the Help America Vote Act. Although Conyers trod carefully when the report came out, insisting that the crimes did not affect the outcome of the race (a point he had to make, he told me, “just to get a hearing”), his report does “raise grave doubts regarding whether it can be said that the Ohio electors selected on December 13, 2004, were chosen in a manner that conforms to Ohio law, let alone Federal requirements and constitutional standards.” The report cites “massive and unprecedented voter irregularities and anomalies” throughout the state—wrongs, moreover, that were hardly random accidents. “In many cases,” the report says, “these irregularities were caused by intentional misconduct and illegal behavior, much of it involving Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, the co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio.”4
4. When contacted by Harper's Magazine, Blackwell spokesman Carlo LoParo dismissed Conyers's report as a partisan attack. “Why wasn't it more than an hour's story?” he asked, referring to the lack of media interest in the report. “Everybody can't be wrong, can they?”
The first phase of malfeasance entailed, among many other actions, several months of bureaucratic hijinks aimed at disenfranchising Democrats, the most spectacular result of which was “a wide discrepancy between the availability of voting machines in more minority, Democratic and urban areas as compared to more Republican, suburban and exurban areas.” Such unequal placement had the predictable effect of slowing the voting process to a crawl at Democratic polls, while making matters quick and easy in Bush country: a clever way to cancel out the Democrats’ immense success at registering new voters in Ohio. (We cannot know the precise number of new voters registered in Ohio by either party because many states, including Ohio, do not register voters by party affiliation. The New York Times reported in September, however, that new registration rose 25 percent in Ohio’s predominantly Republican precincts and 250 percent in Ohio’s predominantly Democratic precincts.)
At Kenyon College in Gambier, for instance, there were only two machines for 1,300 would-be voters, even though “a surge of late registrations promised a record vote.” Gambier residents and Kenyon students had to stand in line for hours, in the rain and in “crowded, narrow hallways,” with some of them inevitably forced to call it quits. “In contrast, at nearby Mt. Vernon Nazarene University, which is considered more Republican leaning, there were ample waiting machines and no lines.” This was not a consequence of limited resources. In Franklin County alone, as voters stood for hours throughout Columbus and elsewhere, at least 125 machines collected dust in storage. The county’s election officials had “decided to make do with 2,866 machines, even though the analysis showed that the county needs 5,000 machines.”
It seemed at times that Ohio’s secretary of state was determined to try every stunt short of levying a poll tax to suppress new voter turnout. On September 7, based on an overzealous reading of an obscure state bylaw, he ordered county boards of elections to reject all Ohio voter-registration forms not “printed on white, uncoated paper of not less than 80 lb. text weight.” Under public pressure he reversed the order three weeks later, by which time unknown numbers of Ohioans had been disenfranchised. Blackwell also attempted to limit access to provisional ballots. The Help America Vote Act—passed in 2002 to address some of the problems of the 2000 election—prevents election officials from deciding at the polls who will be permitted to cast provisional ballots, as earlier Ohio law had permitted. On September 16, Blackwell issued a directive that somehow failed to note that change. A federal judge ordered him to revise the language, Blackwell resisted, and the court was forced to draft its own version of the directive, which it ordered Blackwell to accept, even as it noted Blackwell’s “vigorous, indeed, at times, obdurate opposition” to compliance with the law.
5. Let it not be said that the Democrats rose wholly above the electoral fray: in Defiance County, Ohio, one Chad Staton was arrested on 130 counts of vote fraud when he submitted voter-registration forms purportedly signed by, among others, Dick Tracy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Michael Jackson, and Mary Poppins. Of course, depending on party affiliation, the consequence of election misdeeds varies. Staton, who told police he was paid in crack for each registration, received fifty-four months in jail for his fifth-degree felonies; Blackwell, for his part, is now the G.O.P. front-runner for governor of Ohio.
Under Blackwell the state Republican Party tried to disenfranchise still more Democratic voters through a technique known as “caging.” The party sent registered letters to new voters, “then sought to challenge 35,000 individuals who refused to sign for the letters,” including “voters who were homeless, serving abroad, or simply did not want to sign for something concerning the Republican Party.” It should be noted that marketers have long used zip codes to target, with remarkable precision, the ethnic makeup of specific neighborhoods, and also that, according to exit polls last year, 84 percent of those black citizens who voted in Ohio voted for Kerry.5
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