Wednesday, December 28, 2005

What John Kerry definitely said...

...about 2004’s stolen election and why it's killing American democracy
by Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman
November 10, 2005

The net is abuzz about what John Kerry may or may not be saying now about the stolen election of 2004.

But we can definitively report what he has said about New Mexico and electronic voting machines soon after his abrupt "abandon ship" with 250,000 Ohio votes still uncounted.
And we must also report that what he's not saying is having a catastrophic effect on what's left of American democracy, including what has just happened (again) in Ohio 2005.

In recent days Mark Crispin Miller has reported that he heard from Kerry personally that Kerry believes the election was stolen. The dialog has been widely reported on the internet. Kerry has since seemed to deny it.

We have every reason to believe Miller. His recent book FOOLED AGAIN, has been making headlines along with our own HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA'S 2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008.

As in his campaign for president, Kerry has been ambivalent and inconsistent about Ohio's stolen vote count. Soon after the presidential election, Kerry was involved in a conference call with Rev. Jesse Jackson and a number of attorneys, including co-author Bob Fitrakis. In the course of the conversation, Kerry said "You know, wherever they used those [e-voting] machines, I lost, regardless if the precinct was Democratic or Republican."

Kerry was referring to New Mexico. But he might just as well have been talking about Ohio, where the election was decided, as well as about Iowa and Nevada. All four of those "purple" states switched from Democratic "blue" in the exit polls as late as 12:20am to Republican "red" a few hours later, giving Bush the White House.

A scant few hours after that, Kerry left tens of thousands of volunteers and millions of voters hanging. With Bush apparently leading by some 130,000 votes in Ohio, but with a quarter-million votes still uncounted here, Kerry abruptly conceded. He was then heard from primarily through attorneys from Republican law firms attacking grassroots election protection activists who dared question the Ohio outcome.

In the year since that abrupt surrender, Theresa Heinz Kerry has made insinuations that she thought the election might have been stolen. But there has been no follow-up.

Now we have this report from M. C. Miller that Kerry said he knew the election was stolen, and then denied saying it. Coming from Kerry, the inconsistency would be entirely consistent.
But those committed to democracy and horrified by the on-going carnage of the Bush catastrophe still have no credible explanation as to why Kerry abandoned ship so abruptly. He had raised many millions specifically dedicated to "counting every vote," which clearly never happened in Ohio. More than a year after the election, more than 100,000 votes are STILL uncounted in the Buckeye state.

And now, tragically, we have had another set of stolen elections. Four statewide referenda aimed at reforming Ohio's electoral process have been defeated in a manner that is (again) totally inconsistent with polling data, One statewide referendum, aimed at handing the corrupt Taft Administration a $2 billion windfall, has allegedly passed, again in a manner totally inconsistent with polling data, or even a rudimentary assessment of Ohio politics.

We will write more about this tomorrow. But suffice it to say these latest "official" vote counts make sense only in the context of a powerful recent report issued by the Government Accounting Office confirming that electronic voting machines like those used in Ohio can be easily hacked by a very few players to deliver a vote count totally at odds with the will of the electorate.

We have seen it in the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, in at least three Senatorial races in 2002, and now in the referenda in Ohio 2005, and possibly elsewhere.

How could this have happened?

By and large, the nation is in denial, including much of the left.
Miller recently debated Mark Hertsgaard over a Mother Jones review of both our books. The idea that the 2004 election could have been stolen has also been attacked by others on the left.

Some reporters have briefly visited here or made calls from the coasts and then taken as gospel anything that mainstream Democratic regulars utter, even if it’s totally implausible and counter-factual.

For example, they would have you believe that, in direct contradiction to how elections have gone in Ohio for decades, it’s now routine for boards of elections to record that 100% of the precincts are reporting, and then suddenly add 18,615 more votes at 1:43 a.m. after the polls have been closed since 7:30 p.m. and 100% of the precincts had been reporting since approximately 9 p.m.

Or that 18,615 Miami County votes could come in late with an impossibly consistent 33.92% for Kerry, as if somebody had pushed a button on a computer with a pre-set percentage---just as the GAO says it can be done.

Or that it's ok for a Democratic county election official, with a lucrative contract from the Republican-controlled Board of Elections (BOE), to admit he doesn't really know whether the vote count had been doctored.

Or it's fine for BOE officials take election data home to report on from their personal PCs. Or for central tabulators to run on corporate-owned proprietary software with no public access. Or for BOE officials to hold up vote counts late into the night that time and again miraculously provide sufficient margins for GOP victories, as with Paul Hackett's recent failed Congressional race in southwestern Ohio.

Or for one precinct to claim a 97.55% turnout when a Free Press/Pacifica canvass quickly found far too many people who didn't vote to make that possible.

There is clearly no end to this story, and there is no indication the dialog on the net will diminish, even though the mainstream media---like the mainstream Democratic Party---absolutely refuses to touch this issue.

But ultimately, whatever John Kerry or the bloviators or even the left press say about these stolen elections, America is very close to crossing the line that permanently defines the loss of our democracy.

As we will show tomorrow, this week's theft of five referendum issues in Ohio is yet another tragic by-product of the unwillingness of John Kerry and so many others to stand up for a fair and reliable electoral process in this country.

--Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA'S 2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008, available at http://www.freepress.org/, and, with Steve Rosenfeld, of WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO, to be published this spring by The New Press.

Monday, December 26, 2005

An open letter to the Election Assistance Commission

by John Gideon, Executive Director of VotersUnite.Org and Information Manager for VoteTrustUSA.Org
December 25, 2005

Dear Elections Assistance Commission

Today I write to express my disappointment with the non-responsiveness of the commission to the needs of the voters. You do well when it comes to the needs of the voting machine vendors, it seems, but the voters are being ignored.

You say that "the Commission serves as a national clearinghouse and resource for information and review of procedures with respect to the administration of Federal elections". I'm sorry to say that you fail as both a national clearinghouse and as a resource for information.

Let me give you a few examples of the failures. On October 17, 2004 a letter from VotersUnite.Org was given to, you, the commissioners. This letter expressed an idea that VotersUnite.Org had concerning your mandate to be a national clearinghouse and resource. It was VotersUnite.Org's idea that a communications network be established between all state, county, and local elections officials for the purpose of wide promulgation of information about voting system problems, solutions, and other issues that would have wide-spread interest. To this date VotersUnite.Org has never received a response to this letter even though I have personally spoken with your spokesperson about it and another copy of the letter was transmitted to this person for a response. It is, apparently, sitting on some EAC Counsel's desk for action; or being ignored.

The letter was also given, months later, to members of the Government Accountability Office as testimony prior to their report on your successes and failures since you were formed. I'm sure you have noticed that the clearinghouse idea was mentioned several times in their report. It is hoped that you will not treat the GAO as you have treated the public and ignore their advice.

In mid-August of this year your spokesperson told a newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania, "[S]tates must require that the disabled have the ability to vote, and that machines meet certain auditing and accuracy requirements. But there's nothing in the act saying that decades-old lever voting machines must go, she said; that's a decision for the states to decide." To be fair, the spokesperson told me that she was misquoted; but that misquote caused an almost immediate action because on September 8 you issued an advisory that clarified that lever voting machines do not meet the mandates of the Help America Vote Act of 2002. It is clear that the advisory was quickly issued to clear-up the 'misquote'.

I would think that you would be just as interested in clearing up the rampant misinformation regarding punch card voting systems. As you are aware, HAVA clearly gives means for states, counties, and local jurisdictions to keep their punch-card systems. However, the voting machine vendors have spread the false information that these systems are not legal for use after 1 January 2006. Unlike your action to clear-up a 'misquote' from your spokesperson, you have allowed the vendors to continue to spread this misinformation unchecked.

On September 7 a group of 15 voter advocacy groups representing thousands of voters across the country and signed by the Executive Director of VoteTrustUSA, an umbrella organization representing these 15 local or state groups, sent you a letter requesting clarification of HAVA language concerning lever machines and punch card voting systems. The action requested of you by these groups was to provide guidance regarding these voting systems and HAVA. Fortuitously you cleared-up the question about lever machines the same day that this letter was in the mail.

Unfortunately, again, your staff seems to have lost the letter and there has never been a response to the punch-card issue. I have called more than once and talked to your spokesperson who searched for the original letter but was not able to find it. I sent her, via email, another copy of the letter on October 13. I was then told on October 14 that this email'd letter was forwarded to the appropriate staff person for response. I have since called and asked for a status of that response and I have been given excuses such as that the appropriate staff person is "out with the flu".

Joan Krawitz, the signer of the original letter and the Executive Director of VoteTrustUSA, called your spokesperson and left a message on her voice mail asking for a call back. That return call has never been made.

It is unfortunate that by your inaction you have allowed the voting machine industry, and their lobbyists, to misinform counties and jurisdictions into thinking that HAVA mandates a replacement of their punch-card voting systems. Counties that have never had problems with their elections and that have budgetary problems are now reluctantly spending tax payers' funds to purchase new technology that they do not want. It is clear that you have not done your job in this instance.

Finally, rather than take a simple action to provide the "Qualified Voting Systems" list on your own website, you have left it for the National Association of State Elections Directors to do this task. This list is public information; not proprietary. However, until I made many calls over a period of two months to the ITA Secretariat, Brian Hancock, that list was not updated. The list went without being updated from August 30 until November 18. That is an egregious failure to get public information to the public. To be fair Mr. Hancock did make calls to NASED when I called him, and finally he had to call the Chair, Linda Lamone, in order to finally get that vital information made public.

It is clear from the above that you are a failure as an information clearinghouse. It could also be argued that you are reticent to do anything that might damage the voting machine industry. That is an unfortunate perception, I realize, but it is one that you have done nothing to fight. I am disappointed that a government agency that is supposed to ensure fair elections seems to have lost its way. I am disappointed that a government agency that should be giving the voters more confidence in their election process has done nothing to give anyone confidence. Instead, you have stood idly by, watching the voting machine industry make hundreds of millions of dollars at the expense of the taxpayers.

I sincerely hope that actions are taken to immediately assuage my disappointment in your lack of any action on the above matters.

John Gideon
Executive Director www.votersunite.org and
Information Manager www.votetrustusa.org

VotersUnite! is a national non-partisan organization dedicated to fair and accurate elections. It focuses on distributing well-researched information to elections officials, elected officials, the media, and the public; as well as providing activists with information they need to work toward transparent elections in their communities.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

With new legislation, Ohio Republicans plan holiday burial for American Democracy

by Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman
December 6, 2005

A law that will make democracy all but moot in Ohio is about to pass the state legislature and to be signed by its Republican governor. Despite massive corruption scandals besieging the Ohio GOP, any hope that the Democratic party could win this most crucial swing state in future presidential elections, or carry its pivotal US Senate seat in 2006, are about to end.

House Bill 3 has already passed the Ohio House of Representatives and is about to be approved by the Republican-dominated Senate, probably before the holiday recess. Republicans dominate the Ohio legislature thanks to a heavily gerrymandered crazy quilt of rigged districts, and to a moribund Ohio Democratic party. The GOP-drafted HB3 is designed to all but obliterate any possible future Democratic revival. Opposition from the Ohio Democratic Party, where it exists at all, is diffuse and ineffectual.

HB3's most publicized provision will require positive identification before casting a vote. But it also opens voter registration activists to partisan prosecution, exempts electronic voting machines from public scrutiny, quintuples the cost of citizen-requested statewide recounts and makes it illegal to challenge a presidential vote count or, indeed, any federal election result in Ohio. When added to the recently passed HB1, which allows campaign financing to be dominated by the wealthy and by corporations, and along with a Rovian wish list of GOP attacks on the ballot box, democracy in Ohio could be all but over.

The GOP is ramming similar bills through state legislatures around the US, starting with Georgia and Indiana. The ID requirements in particular have provoked widespread opposition from newspapers such as the New York Times. The Times, among others, argues that the ID requirements and the costs associated with them, constitute an unconstitutional discriminatory poll tax.

But despite significant court challenges, the Republicans are forcing changes in long-standing election laws that have allowed citizens to vote based on their signature alone. Across the US, GOP Jim Crow laws will eliminate millions of Democratic voters from the registration rolls. In swing states like Ohio, such ballots are almost certain to be crucial.

The proposed Ohio law will demand a valid photo ID or a utility bill, a bank statement, a paycheck or a government document with a current address. Thousands of Ohio citizens who are elderly, homeless, unemployed or who do not drive will be effectively disenfranchised. Many citizens, for example, rent apartments where the utilities are paid by landlords. In such cases, the number of people living in utilities-included apartment rentals could actually determine an election.

During the 2004 presidential election, Ohio's Republican Secretary of State, J. Kenneth Blackwell, also issued statewide threats against ex-felons and people whose names resembled those of ex-felons. Thousands of such threats were delivered to registered voters who were never convicted of anything, or who were eligible to vote after being released from prison. In 2004 a "Mighty Texas Strike Force" came to Columbus with a specific mandate to threaten ex-felons with arrest if they dared to vote.

It is legal for ex-felons in Ohio to vote, even if they are in half-way houses or on parole. But HB3's identification requirement, combined with the confusion Blackwell has introduced into the process, will intimidate such Ohioans from voting in 2006 and beyond.

HB3 will also reduce voter rolls by ordering county boards of elections to send cards to registered voters every two years. If a card comes back as undelivered, the voter must rely on a provisional ballot. But tens of thousands of provisional ballots were arbitrarily discarded in 2004, and some 16,000 are known to remain uncounted to this day.

HB3 also imposes severe restrictions on voter registration drives. It allows the state attorney-general and local prosecutors wide powers to prosecute vaguely defined charges of fraud against those working to sign up voters. The restrictions are clearly meant to chill the kind of Democratic registration drives that brought hundreds of thousands of new voters to the polls in 2004 (even though many were turned away in Democratic wards due to a lack of voting machines).

Those electronic machines will also be exempted from recounts by random sampling, even in close, disputed elections like those of 2000 and 2004.

In 2004, scores of Ohio voters reported, under oath, that they had pressed John Kerry's name on touchscreen machines, only to see George W. Bush's name light up. A board of elections technician in Mahoning County (Youngstown) has admitted that at least 18 machines there suffered such problems. Sworn testimony in Columbus indicates that votes for Kerry faded off the screen on touchscreen machines there. Other charges of mis-programming, re-programming, recalibrating, mishandling and manipulation of electronic voting software, hardware and memory cards have since arisen throughout Ohio 2004.

For the 2005 election, some 41 additional Ohio counties (of 88) were switched to Diebold touchscreen machines. Despite polls showing overwhelming voter approval, two electoral reform issues went down improbable defeat. Issue Two, meant to make voting easier, and Issue Three, on campaign finance reform, were shown by highly reliable Columbus Dispatch polls to be passing handily.

The Dispatch was within 0.5% on Issue One, a bond issue, and has rarely been significantly wrong in its many decades of Ohio polling. Even opponents of Issues Two and Three conceded that they were highly likely to pass.

On the Sunday before the Tuesday 2005 election, the Dispatch predicted Issue Two would pass by a vote of 59% to 33%, with about 8% undecided. But Tuesday's official vote count showed Issue Two failing with just 36.5% in favor and 63.5% opposed. For that to have happened, the Dispatch had to have been wrong on Issue Two's support by more than 20 points. Nearly half those who said they would support Issue Two would have had to vote against it, along with all the undecideds.

The numbers on Issue Three are equally startling. The Dispatch showed it winning with 61%, to just 25% opposed and some 14% undecided. Instead just 33% of the votes were counted in its favor, with 67% opposed, an almost inconceivable weekend turnaround.

No other numbers were comparable on November 8, 2005, or elsewhere in the recent history of Dispatch polling. The startling outcome has thus raised even more suspicion and doubt about the use of electronic voting and tabulating machines in Ohio, which account for virtually 100% of the state's vote count.

The federal General Accountability Office (GAO) has recently issued a major report confirming that tampering with and manipulating such machines can be easily done by a very small number of people. Charges are widespread that this is precisely what gave George W. Bush Ohio's electoral votes, and thus the presidency, in 2004, not to mention the suspicious referenda outcomes in 2005.

HB3 will make it virtually impossible for any challenge to be mounted involving any votes cast or counted on electronic machines or tabulators---meaning virtually every vote cast in Ohio.
Indeed, HB3 will raise the cost of mounting a recount from $10 per precinct to $50 per precinct. In 2004, Secretary of State Blackwell forced citizen groups to raise private funds for a recount, which he proceeded to sabotage. The process, which became a futile electronic charade, cost donors committed to democracy more than $100,000. Three partial, meaningless faux recounts resulted. To date more than 100,000 votes cast in Ohio remain uncounted, including some 93,000 easily-read machine-rejected ballots. .

During the 2004 election process Blackwell, manipulated the number of precincts in Ohio, and issued inaccurate information about their location and boundaries, making a meaningful precise number hard to come by. But with more than 10,000 precincts still in existence, HB3 would make funding an attempt at another recount in 2006 or 2008 cost more than $500,000.
Such an effort might also result in official retaliation. In 2004, Blackwell and Ohio Attorney-General Jim Petro---both of whom are now Republican candidates for governor---tried to impose stiff financial sanctions against attorneys who filed a legal challenge to the seating of the Ohio electors who gave George W. Bush the presidency. The Ohio Supreme Court disallowed the sanctions after the challenge was withdrawn. But HB3 would make such a federal election challenge illegal altogether.

With the electoral process in Ohio all but disemboweled, those hoping for a change of party in upcoming state and national elections are probably kidding themselves.

The 2004 election in the Buckeye state was riddled with deception, fraud, intimidation, manipulation and outright theft, all of which were essential to the triumph of George W. Bush. In 2005, four electoral reform ballot initiatives were allegedly defeated despite huge poll margins showing the almost certain passage of two of them. The most credible explanation for their defeat lies in electronic manipulation of voting machines, tabulators and memory cards which the GAO confirms have no credible security safeguards.

With campaign finance, voter registration, electronic voting, public recounts, district gerrymandering and overall electoral administration now firmly in the pocket of the GOP, and with Democratic opposition that is virtually non-existent on the issue of vote fraud and election manipulation, there is little reason to believe the Republican grip on Ohio will be loosened at any point in the near future.

In traditional terms, the scandal-ridden Ohio GOP would appear to be more vulnerable than ever. Governor Robert Taft has become the only Ohio governor to be convicted of a crime while in office. With an astonishing 7% approval rating, he has been compared to Homer Simpson by the state's leading Republican newspaper. Republican US Senator Mike DeWine appears highly vulnerable. The GOP has never won the White House without winning the Buckeye State.

But HB3 will solidify the GOP's iron grip on the electronic voting process and all that surrounds it. Unless they break that grip, Democrats who believe they can carry any part of Ohio in 2006 or 2008 are kidding themselves.

When it comes to 2008, can you say "Jeb Bush"?