Article — From the August 2005 issue
SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
Article — From the August 2005 issue
The second phase of lawlessness began the Monday before the election, when Blackwell issued two directives restricting media coverage of the election. First, reporters were to be barred from the polls, because their presence contravened Ohio’s law on “loitering” near voting places. Second, media representatives conducting exit polls were to remain 100 feet away from the polls. Blackwell’s reasoning here was that, with voter turnout estimated at 73 percent, and with many new voters so blissfully ignorant as to have “never looked at a voting machine before,” his duty was clear: the public was to be protected from the “interference or intimidation” caused by “intense media scrutiny.” Both cases were at once struck down in federal court on First Amendment grounds.
Blackwell did manage to ban reporters from a post-election ballot-counting site in Warren County because—election officials claimed—the FBI had warned of an impending terrorist attack there. The FBI said it issued no such warning, however, and the officials refused to name the agent who alerted them. Moreover, as the Cincinnati Enquirer later reported, email correspondence between election officials and the county’s building services director indicated that lockdown plans—“down to the wording of the signs that would be posted on the locked doors”—had been in the works for at least a week. Beyond suggesting that officials had something to hide, the ban was also, according to the report, a violation of Ohio law and the Fourteenth Amendment.
Contrary to a prior understanding, Blackwell also kept foreign monitors away from the Ohio polls. Having been formally invited by the State Department on June 9, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an international consortium based in Vienna, had come to witness and report on the election. The mission’s two-man teams had been approved to monitor the process in eleven states—but the observers in Ohio were prevented from watching the opening of the polling places, the counting of the ballots, and, in some cases, the election itself. “We thought we could be at the polling places before, during, and after” the voting, said Søren Søndergaard, a Danish member of the team. Denied admission to polls in Columbus, he and his partner went to Blackwell, who refused them letters of approval, again citing Ohio law banning “loitering” outside the polls. The two observers therefore had to “monitor” the voting at a distance of 100 feet from each polling place. Although not technically illegal, Blackwell’s refusal was improper and, of course, suspicious. (The Conyers report does not deal with this episode.)
To what end would election officials risk so malodorous an action? We can only guess, of course. We do know, however, that Ohio, like the nation, was the site of numerous statistical anomalies—so many that the number is itself statistically anomalous, since every single one of them took votes from Kerry. In Butler County the Democratic candidate for State Supreme Court took in 5,347 more votes than Kerry did. In Cuyahoga County ten Cleveland precincts “reported an incredibly high number of votes for third party candidates who have historically received only a handful of votes from these urban areas”—mystery votes that would mostly otherwise have gone to Kerry. In Franklin County, Bush received nearly 4,000 extra votes from one computer, and, in Miami County, just over 13,000 votes appeared in Bush’s column after all precincts had reported. In Perry County the number of Bush votes somehow exceeded the number of registered voters, leading to voter turnout rates as high as 124 percent. Youngstown, perhaps to make up the difference, reported negative 25 million votes.
In Cuyahoga County and in Franklin County—both Democratic strongholds—the arrows on the absentee ballots were not properly aligned with their respective punch holes, so that countless votes were miscast, as in West Palm Beach back in 2000. In Mercer County some 4,000 votes for president—representing nearly 7 percent of the electorate—mysteriously dropped out of the final count. The machines in heavily Democratic Lucas County kept going haywire, prompting the county’s election director to admit that prior tests of the machines had failed. One polling place in Lucas County never opened because all the machines were locked up somewhere and no one had the key. In Hamilton County many absentee voters could not cast a Democratic vote for president because county workers, in taking Ralph Nader’s name off many ballots, also happened to remove John Kerry’s name. TheWashington Post reported that in Mahoning County “25 electronic machines transferred an unknown number of Kerry votes to the Bush column,” but it did not think to ask why.
Ohio Democrats also were heavily thwarted through dirty tricks recalling Richard Nixon’s reign and the systematic bullying of Dixie. There were “literally thousands upon thousands” of such incidents, the Conyers report notes, cataloguing only the grossest cases. Voters were told, falsely, that their polling place had changed; the news was conveyed by phone calls, “door-hangers,” and even party workers going door to door. There were phone calls and fake “voter bulletins” instructing Democrats that they were not to cast their votes until Wednesday, November 3, the day after Election Day. Unknown “volunteers” in Cleveland showed up at the homes of Democrats, kindly offering to “deliver” completed absentee ballots to the election office. And at several polling places, election personnel or hired goons bused in to do the job “challenged” voters—black voters in particular—to produce documents confirming their eligibility to vote. The report notes one especially striking incident:
In Franklin County, a worker at a Holiday Inn observed a team of 25 people who called themselves the “Texas Strike Force” using payphones to make intimidating calls to likely voters, targeting people recently in the prison system. The “Texas Strike Force” paid their way to Ohio, but their hotel accommodations were paid for by the Ohio Republican Party, whose headquarters is across the street. The hotel worker heard one caller threaten a likely voter with being reported to the FBI and returning to jail if he voted. Another hotel worker called the police, who came but did nothing.
More from Mark Crispin Miller: