Dr. David Shevin photograph

THE INSPECTOR –- I MEAN, ATTORNEY GENERAL

August, 2005

It was not long ago that I was documenting the rage and exasperation of my students who were disenfranchised by the Ohio electoral process last November. The Central State student population upset every canard about youth apathy. Volunteering in large numbers to “get out the vote” in nearby Dayton, many were among those caught in the “provisional ballot” debacle. In brief, the federal laws requiring the availability of “provisional” ballots allows voters to cast ballots on election day at polling stations other than the one assigned to the home address.

On the morning of Election Day 2004, Ohio’s courts ruled that provisional balloting must be done in the same county as the registration address. Thus did my Greene County students, mostly registered on campus, get their voting franchise denied in nearby Montgomery County.

Now the book is out on the Ohio election, and it underlines that my community only witnessed a tiny fraction of the chicanery and election fixing that sealed the second Bush term. Congressman John Conyers, a ranking Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee, led a team of eleven congressmen to investigate the election in Ohio. The resulting report WHAT WENT WRONG IN OHIO: THE CONYERS REPORT ON THE 2004 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, should be required reading for anyone interested in our constitutional process. No further evidence than this careful study is necessary to assure readers that the 2004 election was stolen, just as was the previous national plebiscite. The villainy this time out moved from Tallahassee to Columbus, and the heavy this time out was Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, rather than Katherine Harris.

An article published by President Jimmy Carter last fall described the very heart of the electoral crisis we faced in Ohio last November. Carter was responding to queries over whether the Carter Center would oversee elections in the United States. In response, he pointed out that the first requisite for his Center to accept an invitation for oversight of an election was nonpartisan control over the electoral process. Our system fails that. In a country where the electoral process in the control of fifty partisan attorneys general, abuses will be inevitable. Conyers’s book provides the extent to which that authority was abused by Attorney General Blackwell, state co-chair of the Bush reelection campaign. The process here in my state stunk. In fact, it still smells pretty bad several months after the debacle.

Looking locally, my campus is cited among the urban and minority sites where voting machines were scarce and created long delays; additionally, my county is one where access to voting records was denied to the congressional investigating committee. According to the Greene County Director of Elections, “all voter records for the State of Ohio were ‘locked down’ and were now ‘not considered public records’”; this ruling was phoned in directly from the attorney general’s office.

Students also reported incidents of misinformation being deliberately distributed on campus to fluster the polling process, and of being disproportionately challenged by Republican Party legal “challengers” sent to polls to oversee voting credentials. Conyers reports that registered “challenge” lists included 15 percent of new white registered voters, and 97 percent of new black voters. (James Crow, I see your fingerprints.)

This local picture is only a small measure of the sickening vote fixing that marked our results statewide. Warren County barred reporters from the vote counting process. Mahoning County had electronic machines crashing from “calibration problems”, and machines that registered more votes than voters. Butler County reported over 5,000 registered Democrats who failed to cast a presidential preference. One of my favorite anomalies involves the Peroutka rout in Cleveland:

“Precincts in Cleveland have reported an incredibly high number of votes for third-party candidates who have historically received only a handful of votes from these urban areas. For example, precinct 4F in the 4th Ward cast 290 votes for Kerry, 21 for Bush, and 215 for Constitution Party candidate Michael Peroutka. In 2000, the same precinct cast fewer than eight votes for all third party candidates combined.”

The Gahana precinct of Franklin County, with its 800 registered voters, managed to cast 4, 258 votes for George Bush. Another highly Republican district, Miami County, turned out a highly improbable 98.55 percent of their voters. The list of voting anomalies is long. Even more disturbing is the cult of secrecy that quickly surrounded the process and obscured accountability. County by county, investigation and oversight was denied, and records were obscured and even destroyed.

The Conyers Report makes a number of recommendations that would help to restore constitutionality to the process in our state. It also rightly vilifies the attorney general’s vote-fixing role in the 2004 election, clarifying once and for all why Ohio’s exit polls heavily favored Kerry while the electoral prize was handed to Bush.

The rest of the answer is in President Carter’s analysis. Until our elections are no longer managed by partisans, we will not have an open accounting of how we really vote. WHAT WENT WRONG IN OHIO is available from Academy Chicago Publishers, www.academychicago.com.

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