(This article was put together with much assistance from colleagues who have been deeply involved in the Ohio recount.)
â€œOur next governor should enter office without any doubt about the legitimacy of his or her office. The people of Washington deserve to know that their governor was elected fair and square. Unfortunately, the events of the past few weeks now make it impossible for you or me to take office on January 12 without being shrouded in suspicion.â€
-Dino Rossi, Republican candidate for Governor of Washington, in open letter to Democratic candidate Christine Gregoire Rossiâ€™s argument is equally applicable to the Presidential election. Following an extremely flawed and probably illegal â€œrecountâ€ in Ohio, no one can say for sure who won that stateâ€™s 20 Electoral College votes, and these 20 votes are necessary for either George Bush or John Kerry to claim a victory in the 2004 election.
Following the example of the people of the Ukraine, we should demand that Ohioâ€™s 5.5 million voters be given a chance to vote for president again in a fair and transparent process.
What Happened in Ohio?
Many thousands of duly-registered African American voters did their civic duty and went to the polls in Ohio on Election Day.
Many stood for three, four or even eight hours in the cold and rain with tired, hungry children and sick or elderly relatives.
These people, whose children are disproportionately represented in the U.S. military and the Iraq war, suffered disproportionately from misallocation of voting machines, biased application of voting standards, outright harassment, and the ultimate indignity for a voter:
unbeknownst to them, many of their votes were not even counted.
Concerns that the votes of African Americans and other Ohio voters were not fairly counted were one of the main reasons that David Cobb of the Green Party and Michael Badnarik of the Libertarian Party demanded a recount of the votes in Ohio. Now that the recount is finished, the picture is a lot worse than any of us thought. Not only were African Americans in huge numbers denied the right to vote on Election Day, but something even more shocking was discovered: we have no idea who won the presidential vote in Ohio.
And because we have no idea who won the vote on November 2, we must immediately raise the call for an Ohio re-vote.
The vote totals we are seeing in the newspapers assume that there has been no tampering with the vote totals.
While no one has as yet proven definitively that there was vote tampering, any impartial observer can say with certainty that it would be impossible to say that there was NO tampering.
How can we say this so unequivocally? Private company technicians from Triad and possibly Diebold had unsupervised access to ballots and vote counting machines after the initial vote counting and before the recount.
In some counties, ballots were not locked up in ways that would preserve their integrity.
In almost all counties, the recounts did not comply with the dictates of Ohio election law that the precincts re-counted must be â€œrandomlyâ€ selected.
Whether in the interest of hiding something, or merely in the interest of wanting to go home for the Christmas holiday, pre-selecting the precincts to be re-counted could lead to re-counting precincts without problems instead of those where machines failed, ballots were soiled, or other problems occurred.
Thankfully, the Ohio recount fulfilled its purpose. It helped us to see the extent of the problems in Ohioâ€™s voting processes.
It reminded us that many Ohio state and local elections officers should either be fired for incompetence or criminally indicted for allowing voters to be disenfranchised on Election Day.
It provided a way to keep the reform process in public view so that changes can be made in time for the 2006 election season.
Most importantly, however, the Ohio recount has led us to a conclusion that should be obvious to fair-minded people of any political party:
no one can claim victory in a contest when the score-keeping system was broken.
If you take a few minutes to read County Recount Reports from the observers who monitored the recount in Ohio’s 88 counties, you will see why Ohioâ€™s Electoral College votes are tainted and must be rejected by Congress.
For example, in Fairfield County, Ohio, a full recount should have been ordered when the 3% test sample required under Ohio election law did not match the official vote totals. Instead, based on what county officials said was a recommendation from Secretary of State Blackwell’s office, the recount was “suspended” so that they would not have to do a full recount.
In Champaign County, a precinct signature book, necessary to verify that the number of votes that were cast, will not be made available to recount observers until after January 10 (four days after Congress has counted the Electoral College votes), per orders of the Secretary of State.
Meanwhile, in Van Wert County, an observer reported:
“When asked if Triad had serviced the machine, the deputy director and a board member stated that they had serviced the machine over the phone via modem on December 9th.”
Many other counties used vote tabulation machines that were â€œservicedâ€ by technicians outside the supervision of anyone else between the November 2 election and the recount date.
In Ashland County, there were other security issues: “The cast ballots are stored by precinct in open cubicles along one wall of this room, completely open and visible to anyone who enters this room….Piled on top of the cubicles holding the vote are baskets, Doritos, paper plates, mugs, cleaning products, Fresh-n-Soft, Glad Wrap, etc.”
These “chain of custody” issues are especially important when you consider that, as reported in the New York Times, “Voting machine companies and their supporters have been given a large say in the process [of setting federal standards for electronic voting machines], while advocates for voters, including those who insist on the use of voter-verified paper receipts, have been pushed to the margins. The chairman of the working group preparing the standards for voting machines is a top executive of Election Systems and Software [ES&S], a large and controversial voting machine maker.” http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/27/opinion/27mon1.html
Didnâ€™t Impartial Democrats Monitor the Process?
Yes, both Democrats and Republicans supervised the voting and recounting processes.
According to the Columbus (Ohio) Free Press, however, their impartiality is not a given, because Ohio election law calls for directors, deputy directors, and members of all county boards of elections to be assigned by the Secretary of State.
â€œThey hold these paying jobs at his discretion regardless of whether they are Democrat or Republican. A major argument of those who claim Ohioâ€™s 2004 presidential election was fraud-free centers on the myth that local precincts are run as bipartisan operations, deflecting charges of partisan interference while failing to account for the fact that the principals all owe their jobs to the Secretary of State, who in this case served as co-chair of the state’s Bush-Cheney campaign.â€
The Constitution calls for a convening of Electors in each state, who cast ballots that then are opened and read by Congress.
This year, the Electors met on December 13, 2004, and Congress receives and counts their votes on January 6, 2005.
The problem we have this year is that the 20 Electoral votes cast by Ohio Electors are fundamentally flawed because they were cast before the recount even began, and because it was a seriously problematic recount.
Therefore, John Kerryâ€™s concession has no legal meaning. If a re-vote results in his winning the Ohio popular vote, he will win Ohioâ€™s 20 Electoral votes and the presidency.
The issue facing us now, however, is not the election of Bush, Kerry, or even the Green or Libertarian presidential candidates. The issue is that we do not know who won Ohio.
And as the people of the Ukraine have shown us, a re-vote is possible.
Indeed, there are 48 million voters in the Ukraine and only 5.5 million in Ohio, so the process would be ten times easier.
How Could a Fair Re-Vote Take Place?
If the voting processes are so fundamentally flawed, you ask, how could we trust a new re-vote?
paper ballot can be easily produced with the names of the presidential candidates on it.
Every voter will hand in one piece of paper with a check mark next to one candidateâ€™s name, and another piece of paper with his or her name, address, and other necessary voter registration information.
These two piles will be kept in case a recount is needed.
Observers from the various presidential campaigns should be allowed to monitor the 88 county election proceedings, and we also may want to bring in some international election observers comparable to those who supervised the election in the Ukraine.
President Bush can issue a call for a re-vote himself, following the lead of Dino Rossi in Washington State. He can declare that he wants to be elected by a fair and transparent process.
Or Congress can demand a re-vote when it convenes to receive the Electoral votes on January 6, 2005. If neither of those take place, it is imperative that the mushrooming pro-democracy movement that has been developing since the elections escalate its pressure and its tactics to reflect the urgency of what is at stake. We must assert out Tenth Amendment power to reclaim our right to a fair election in Ohio and a fairly elected President of the United States.
If we let this one go by without the political fight of our lifetimes, we just might have kissed whatâ€™s left of our democracy goodbye.
Ted Glick is the outgoing National Coordinator of the Independent Progressive Politics Network (www.ippn.org) and is very active with the Winter Democracy Campaign. He can be reached at [email protected]