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Amid Charges of Vote Suppression, Activists Look for Larger Fraud


There is little dispute that voters all over the country encountered problems before and while they cast their votes on November 2. Watchdog organizations across the US have compiled hundreds of thousands of complaints. But many are asking whether all the problems add up to a different electoral outcome and whether there were more systemic problems not yet uncovered.

Evidence of Suppression

“There may not have been fighting in the streets, and an election decided by the courts, as some officials feared,” said Chellie Pingree, president of the voter advocacy group Common Cause, in a press statement. “But that can’t be our standard for a successful election. Voters not included on registration lists, tens of thousands of absentee ballots never received and lines that snake for blocks are just as large impediments to voting as hanging chads, and they must be addressed.”

Pingree’s organization said it deployed over 1,000 Election Day monitors nationwide, concentrated in Ohio and New Mexico; the group’s voter alert line received nearly 200,000 calls and its website recorded 1,700 stories from people filling out a web form.

A statement put out by the group said Common Cause will be working with other organizations to compile and analyze the collected information and will report to the public and election officials.

According to the group’s observation so far, voting in 2004 was “more problematic than in 2000.”

Watchdog groups like Common Cause as well as local media organizations have documented a wide range of obstacles on Election Day that made voting difficult or, in some cases, impossible. From reports that voters left the long lines without voting because of time constraints or other issues, to allegations that electronic touch screen voting machines recorded votes incorrectly, anecdotal evidence of massive disenfranchisement is mounting.

Voters’ rights groups have blasted the electoral system, citing polling places that did not open on time, broken and malfunctioning ballot equipment, badly trained and unhelpful poll workers, illegal ID requests, problems with registration lists, shortages of provisional ballots, tardiness of absentee ballots, and voter intimidation.

So far, the groups have said that they have not found voting suppression or other problems to be so widespread as to affect the outcome of the election, but they say election reform is still needed.

“Our democracy rests on the trust and comfort level Americans have with voting,” said Pingree. “Unfortunately, we saw on Election Day that many problems still persist and new problems have arisen in the past four years. The welcome surge in new voters we witnessed this year is likely to evaporate if citizens continue to face obstacles to getting their vote cast and counted.”

Another group that documented problems encountered by voters is the Verified Voting Foundation. The group says it has so far compiled over 30,200 “incidents” in its tracking system and will continue to gather and analyze the data.

“Although we received no reports substantiating e-voting machine fraud or tampering, we received many e-voting incident reports, indicating systemic problems with a wide variety of machines in various locations nationwide,” commented Verified Voting Foundation executive director Will Doherty, in a press statement. Doherty’s group estimates that there were about 1,200 problems with electronic voting machines recorded by their Election Incident Reporting System.

The Foundation says it has not yet seen evidence that e-voting machine problems could actally change the presidential election results, although state or local election results may have been affected to a more significant extent.

Meanwhile e-voting machine proponents have declared victory. Bob Cohen, senior vice president of Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), told the International Data Group News Service that he believes skepticism over the security of voting machines will “diminish” after their apparent success last week.

A “small number of largely unsubstantiated reports of problems with machine implementation by self-appointed and often overtly political critics of reform” did not damage electronic voting machines’ reputation, he said.

Nevertheless, Matt Zimmerman, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a donor-sponsored membership organization advocating civil rights in the digital age, disagrees. “What we’ve been trying to say rather forcefully over the past couple of months is [that] the things we’re worried about are the things you can’t see,” Zimmerman told IGN News Service. “A mechanism needs to be put in place where we can see what’s going on [inside the machines].”

Looking for a Tampering Conspiracy

Other voices have echoed Zimmerman’s concerns this week. The lack of a verifiable paper trail to check the accuracy of votes cast on electronic voting machines, coupled with the potential for computer hacking and tampering, was a major concern expressed by voting rights activists going into last Tuesday’s election. Now, with a final result that defied both mainstream predictions and exit polling data from Election Day, some journalists, commentators and academics are crying foul.

Claims that exit polls were more accurate in states using conventional ballots than in states that employed electronic voting methods have flown around the internet, leading many people to believe that electronic voting tallies were hacked or somehow tampered with. Pundits and analysts also point to incidents in Florida where counties using optical scanners to determine the vote seem to show an extraordinary number of Democrats voting Republican.

But for all the rumor and conjecture, hard proof of vote tampering has yet to emerge. And many of the claims that at first glance seem to point to foul play are later tempered with a variety of possible explanations.

For instance, one of the most popular theories is based on alleged discrepancies between exit poll data and reported election results. But proponents’ claim that exit poll data was less accurate only in states using electronic voting machines is not entirely true. New York, for instance, where voters cast ballots using mechanical lever machines, had one of the largest discrepancies between exit polls and actual results. New Hampshire, which uses paper ballots read by optical scanner machines, also had a large margin between exit polls and results.

Most of the states used in the graphical analysis pushed by people trying to prove that fraud occurred use some form of electronic voting in some counties. Many used them in a small minority of counties. The NewStandard has found no analysis based on the percentage of voters who used electronic machines in those states. Additionally, exit polls from a number of states sufficient to show a clear trend have not been released.

Some activists are calling for a full release of the exit polling data, broken down by county. With that kind of detailed information, analysts could compare what voters said to the method they used to vote, instead of making comparisons on the state level — which includes voters using a variety of ballot types.

However, that data is controlled by research companies Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International, which conducted the exit polls, and by big media companies ABC, CBS, Fox News, NBC, CNN and the Associated Press, who purchased the data. In an email interview with The NewStandard, Public Relations spokesperson for Edison/Mitofsky, Edie Emery, said the data would be publicly archived in early 2005 at the Roper Center for Public Research.

But the kind of detailed information necessary for a true comparison may not even exist. According to Emery, “precinct samples are picked to represent the entire state — they are not selected in order to estimate the vote in each county — in fact there are many counties throughout the country in which we do not have a single exit poll precinct.”

When asked how her organization explains the apparent inaccuracy of the exit poll data, Emery said: “Based upon the evidence that we have now, our best hypothesis is that we saw a ‘differential non-response’ in the exit poll last Tuesday. That is, Kerry voters were more likely to accept our questionnaires than Bush voters.” She went on to say that this has occasionally happened with previous exit polls “in races with high passion levels.” She said, for instance, Howard Dean’s vote was overstated in the New Hampshire Democratic Primary exit poll earlier this year.

Another analysis touted as “evidence” of malfeasance is a comparison of registered voters by party to final results in Florida counties using optical scanners to count the vote.

An analysis by Kathy Dopp, who runs the website www.ustogether.org, found that in counties that use electronic touch screen ballots, there was a high correlation between the ratio of registered Republicans and Democrats to the ratio of Bush and Kerry voters. But in several counties that used optical scan machines, there were many more Bush voters than there were people registered Republican. Analysts looking for fraud point to this discrepancy and see a scam.

However, a group of professors who examined voting and registration patterns in those counties since 1992 found a “Dixiecrat” phenomena in which voters in those areas tend to be registered Democrat but vote overwhelmingly Republican in national elections.

Writing about their findings in a letter to the alternative news and commentary outlet Common Dreams, which published an article by Thom Hartman citing Dopp’s numbers, Walter Mebane, a professor at Cornell’s Government Department, said that he had looked into the matter with Jasjeet Sekhon of Harvard and Jonathon Wand of Stanford and concluded that the “allegation is baseless.”

Mebane has written papers arguing that Al Gore won the most votes in Florida and should have become president. But this time around, Mebane and his colleagues do not buy Dopp’s analysis. Instead, wrote Mebane, “the pattern in which counties that have high Democratic registration had high percentage increases in the vote for Bush reflects the fact that all those counties have trended strongly Republican over the past twelve years. The counties are mostly in the Florida Panhandle. Given the voting history and registration trends, these counties seem to have many old-style southern Democrats who have not bothered to change their registration.”

Meanwhile, investigative journalist Greg Palast, whose acclaimed reporting on the 2000 Florida felon purges helped bring to light massive voter disenfranchisement during the last presidential election, has been examining the Ohio vote. In an article entitled simply “Kerry Won,” Palast claims to have uncovered yet another stolen election.

While Palast’s analysis is inconclusive, despite the self-assured title, he points out that there are almost 250,000 uncounted ballots in Ohio. Palast claims that voters who cast most of these ballots were likely to be Kerry supporters, which, by his estimate, means that if they were counted, Kerry would overtake Bush’s 136,483 vote lead in that state.

Palast’s claims are far from decisive. There is no way to tell what those uncounted ballots would show, if counted.Many of those ballots will not be counted. Most of the more than 155,000 provisional ballots cast in Ohio will be counted, but the more than 92,000 “spoiled” ballots reported to exist by the Ohio Plain Dealer will likely not be counted unless there is an official recount.

But there is some credence to Palast’s assertion that many of the spoiled ballots are likely to be cast by historically Democratic voters. A US House of Representatives study entitled “Income and Racial Disparities in the Undercount in the 2000 Presidential Election” found that “voters in low-income, high-minority districts were significantly more likely to have their votes discarded than voters in affluent, low-minority districts.” In fact, the report found that in some such districts, votes were 20 times as likely to be discarded.

Another popular Ohio miscount story is the matter of precincts showing more votes cast than there were registered voters. This discrepency, however, turned out to be nothing more than a glitch in how the results are displayed on the Cuyahoga County Election Board website and will not be reflected in the final results. County officials added a large, red disclaimer to the vote tally page, explaining that “in even-numbered years, the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections tallies absentee ballots by Congressional, House, and Senate district combinations. Because of this, the ballots cast totals for municipalities on this web page and on the summary report needs to be derived” looking at other places on the site. It then directs users to those other locations.

Going After the Whole Truth

But the lack of concrete, public evidence of widespread vote tampering has not deterred voting rights activists in their search for answers. The consumer protection group Black Box Voting, headed by Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century author Bev Harris, has taken the position that vote tampering occurred and is working to “compile the proof, based not on soft evidence — red flags, exit polls — but core documents.”

Under the authority of the Freedom of Information Act, Harris is asking election officials provide her organization with any correspondence pertaining to problems experienced with the voting systems, copies of results slips from all polling places for the November 2 election, internal audit logs from the central tabulating computers, transmission logs of votes sent or uploaded to the central computers, etc.

Other organizations, like the Democratic activist organization MoveOn.org are calling for a full investigation into allegations of voter suppression and fraud. The group’s website hosts an online petition that people can sign to send to members of Congress.

For their part, six congressional representatives have called on the Government Accountability Office 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.”

The No Stolen Election campaign — a joint project of United for Peace & Justice, Global Exchange, Code Pink, and The Liberty Tree Foundation — has put out a call for protest and vigilance. The group, along with many others, has organized public hearings in Columbus, Ohio, where they have invited voters and voting rights organizations to testify about voter disenfranchisement during this year’s election.

Meanwhile, third party candidates who were on the ballot in Ohio have called for a recount there and are raising money to pay the estimated $150,000 filing fee and associated expenses. Citing “widespread reports of irregularities in the Ohio voting process,” Green Party candidate David Cobb and Libertarian Party candidate Michael Badnarik, said they were requesting the recount because the “integrity of the democratic process is at stake.”

On Friday, the campaign of Ralph Nader announced that New Hampshire has approved a recount request made by the independent candidate, who raised questions about the discrepancy between John Kerry’s gaping lead in exit polls and his narrow win in the northeastern swing state. Nader’s spokesperson told United Press International that the recount will span eleven New Hampshire counties.

In a joint statement, Cobb and Badnarik wrote, “When people stand in line for hours to exercise their right to vote, they need to know that all votes will be counted fairly and accurately.”

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