Vote barriers, theft charges swirl around election

Investigation, overhaul of process demanded

Charges of possible vote theft, vote suppression and systemic voting problems are swirling around the Nov. 2 elections, with three congressmen calling for investigation of voting irregularities.

In a letter to the the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Democratic Reps. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, Jerrold Nadler of New York and Robert Wexler of Florida asked the watchdog agency to “immediately undertake an investigation of the efficacy of voting machines and new technologies used in the 2004 election, how election officials responded to difficulties they encountered and what we can do in the future to improve our election systems and administration.”

One example of the problems spurring their call was a precinct in Gahanna, Ohio, just outside Columbus, where 4,258 votes were posted for George W. Bush although only 638 people voted at the polling site.

Blackboxvoting.org, “a nonpartisan, nonprofit consumer protection group for elections,” charges that electronic voting fraud took place last week. Founder Bev Harris warned before Election Day that these systems could be easily hacked. She plans to file the largest Freedom of Information Act suit in history, seeking the internal logs from electronic voting machines in every county that used them.

News outlets, independent researchers and nonpartisan vote groups are reporting disturbing patterns of disenfranchisement for African American and other minority voters. The NAACP reported numerous phony letters and fliers targeting Black and Latino communities and elderly voters. In Pennsylvania and other battleground states, registered voters received fraudulent phone calls and letters telling them their registrations had expired. Fliers were circulated falsely telling voters that if they had unpaid parking tickets and went to vote they would be arrested and their children taken away, the NAACP said.

Racist voter suppression plans by the Republican Party came to light before Election Day. A “smoking e-mail” from a Florida state official implicated Gov. Jeb Bush in approving improper felon voter purges. In Ohio, the GOP sued to place challengers in polling places with the express purpose of challenging and intimidating registered Democratic voters.

Hours-long lines, machine malfunctions, and lack of uniformity in carrying out election laws, especially with regard to provisional ballots, scarred the elections.

“When your lines get to two or three hours, it’s system failure,” Ohio State law professor Edward Foley told reporters.

In Toledo, Ohio, the People’s Weekly World reported at least 50 voters were turned away in one precinct because polls had moved, absentee ballots weren’t received or other system failures. “Even the most massive army of ‘voter protection,’” wrote PWW reporter Roberta Wood, “wasn’t able to overcome the built-in disenfranchisement of voters in African American, Latino and other working class neighborhoods” like this one in Toledo.

“Voting in 2004 was more problematic than in 2000,” Common Cause, a nonpartisan advocacy group, said in a Nov. 4 press release. “Thousands of people waited in lines as long as eight hours to cast a ballot. Many more thousands were turned away at the polls due to registration issues and still thousands more who requested absentee ballots never received them.” Common Cause and other nonpartisan “election protection” groups ran toll-free hotlines on Election Day. Together they received over 400,000 calls nationwide reporting voting problems.

“There were huge systemic problems,” Common Cause President Chellie Pingree told an Election Day press conference. In Franklin County, Ohio, a “five minute rule” was implemented although it typically takes at least nine minutes to vote, Pingree said. The most complaints came from Broward County, Fla. Thousands of voters there applied for absentee ballots but did not receive them, and then they were listed as having voted when they went to the polls.

To avoid a repeat of the 2000 “Florida fiasco” in 2004, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, which among other things provided for a “provisional ballot” for voters whose names do not appear on registration rolls. But lack of national uniformity in the use of provisional ballots, under-funding of HAVA and inadequate funding for voting apparatus, including staffing and training, created more problems in the voting system. In addition, HAVA allowed for electronic voting machines without a verifiable paper trail that could be audited if questions arose.

Common Cause said, “We will work at the federal and state level to ensure that the delayed and limited promises of the Help America Vote Act are implemented, and that some of the problems created by HAVA are remedied.”

“Electronic voting without a paper trail is the Bush administration’s equivalent of ‘faith-based’ voting,” Communist Party Executive Vice Chair Jarvis Tyner told the World. “There cannot be another election without a verifiable paper trail.”

The author can be reached at talbano@pww.org.