Ohio: A Crime Against Democracy
By Stuart Comstock-Gay / Tom Paine
The Bush electors in Ohio have cast their votes, even though the bitterly contested ballots that allegedly gave them standing as electors have not been recounted. When asked, the mainstream media will admit that there were rampant problems with this election. But there's no juicy story for them to cover because they don't believe a recount would change the outcome of the election. Thus, they neglect what's happening in Ohio. Here Comstock-Gay explains why it matters. For the best of TomPaine.com's coverage of the problems with election 2004, click here.
Stuart Comstock-Gay is executive director of the National Voting Rights Institute.
Electoral votes have been submitted by all states and the national news media has moved on, but a test of U.S. voting rights continues in Ohio. After the Ohio delegation to the Electoral College cast its votes for President Bush last week, election officials in Ohio counties began the recount of votes cast in the election. Concerns about the integrity of the 2004 election continue to surface. Something's wrong with this picture.
We at the National Voting Rights Institute—on behalf of Green Party Candidate David Cobb and Libertarian Party candidate Michael Badnarik—are providing legal representation in the recount effort. We also want to find out what went wrong. Because clearly things went wrong. And whether in the end they are serious enough to change the outcome of the election, they create a cloud over the elections of 2004.
Too many commentators continue to claim the recount effort is the result of bad losers. Some have even gone so far as to say that if the Republicans lost, there would be no recount—that Republicans “play fair.” In fact, concern about "fairness" is in part what is driving the recount. These commentators overlook the fact that this effort is not only about verifying the outcome of the vote. More importantly, it’s about ensuring accountability of a highly fallible elections process.
As long as any votes are miscounted, misplaced or misdirected, our elections cannot be said to be properly working. And with an electoral system that provides no consistency in how votes are counted—and some election officials hostile to a full accounting— there remains work to be done to restore voters' faith in the system.
What Went Wrong On Nov. 2
The number of complaints in Ohio numbers thousands upon thousands—lines into the hours at polling places; shortages of poll workers and machines; electronic voting machines that malfunctioned; voters being required to show identification even though they were not first-time mail-in registrants; erroneous purges of voters from the voter rolls; and voters who requested absentee ballots but never received them and were nevertheless barred from voting in person. In one precinct in Franklin County, Ohio, an electronic voting system gave George W. Bush 3,893 extra votes out of a total of 638 votes cast. In addition, approximately 93,000 ballots were not counted and Ohio election officials may have improperly disqualified thousands of 155,000 provisional ballots cast.
Now the problems are escalating. In Hocking County, Ohio, Deputy Elections Director Sherole Eaton describes a troubling incident on December 10, three days before the recount was to begin. An employee of the Tri Ad company came into the office to check out the tabulator and computer and prepare voting officials for the recount, so that “the count would come out perfect and we wouldn’t have to do a full hand recount of the county.” He asked which precincts would be recounted, and made sure to focus on them. Voting machine expert Doug Jones from the University of Iowa believes this threatens the integrity of the entire recount. Now Congressman John Conyers has asked the FBI to investigate this incident.
What’s Going Wrong With The Recount
But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. With the recount underway, we learn that counties are handling the process in different ways, depending on the whims of county officials. Every county was instructed by the Secretary of State to do a recount of 3 percent of the votes, followed by a hand recount of every vote if there any discrepancy appears. Some counties, however, have said they would do their recounts by machine only, and not by hand. Some have made space for observers, and allowed them to review voting polls and other materials. Some counties have kept observers—whether from the Green Party, Libertarian Party, DNC or Republican Party—out of the counting rooms entirely.
And this only after some elections officials tried to stop the recount in its tracks. Delaware County sued NVRI, Cobb and Badnarik, seeking to stop the recount, even though the law was followed. He said the recount was too expensive and frivolous. Delaware County has finally decided to conduct a recount, but only after a series of hearings.
On January 5, Congress will receive the votes of the electoral college votes and the election—for all intents and purposes—will be considered concluded.
Meanwhile the Ohio recount will continue well into January. As of this writing, results are not in, but we expect full recounts in most counties.
It is shocking that the cherished right to vote, which should be a major issue in this country, has become an invisible one. Even in the Ukraine, there will be a new election because of widespread irregularities in the presidential election. As the Supreme Court stated over a century ago, the right to vote is "a fundamental political right, because preservative of all rights." Now, more than ever, we must fight for this right.
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