"Cheated!" written by Sheri Myers illustrated by Sophie Goldstein, published by Wake Up and Save Your Country, 2006

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I’m fascinated by process, and love to learn about the genesis of creative ideas. The story of how "Cheated!" came about is just as interesting as the book’s plot. Sheri Myers, a transplanted Ohioan, downheartedly returned to California after the 2004 election to find that her West Coast neighbors were clueless about what had just happened in the heartland of the country. She was frustrated by the media blackout (which continues to this day with a few notable exceptions – CNN’s Lou Dobbs, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, and Court TV’s Catherine Crier, and Tribune Media Services syndicated columnist, Robert Koehler). Myers was motivated to do investigate vote fraud and disenfranchisement in her birthplace. Although not an expert, when she began spouting off, one woman responded that because she wasn’t familiar with the jargon, her eyes glazed over and she tuned out. Taking this voter’s comment to heart, Myers spent time thinking about how to effectively convey to people the huge story that  our elections are being stolen.

She came up with what she calls a “graphic account” – a format that resembles a full-length comic, but which is neither light nor amusing. Video the Vote was the record of Columbus on Election Day, 2004, and was one of the first video renderings of its kind. It was so powerful that Representative Conyers submitted it with his report, What Went Wrong in Ohio, which went out to his fellow members of Congress. Myers was very affected by that footage and aspired to make "Cheated!" a sort of “illustrated Conyers Report.” People familiar with the cast of characters will recognize a number of the figures in these pages. But, newcomers need not be intimidated. Myers’s goal was to take the material and serve it up in educational yet entertaining bite-sized pieces. She and daughter, Sophie, have succeeded in accomplishing that goal and more.

Ohio 2004 is a story of defeat, but also one of tremendous courage and commitment. Ordinary people did extraordinary things. One example is Reverend Moss and his wife, Ruth, who became lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in the Ohio Supreme Court against the President, Vice President, and Ohio Secretary of State Blackwell. A Columbus civic leader and member of the school board for 30 years, Moss became a minister later in life. The former DJ/radio producer used his charismatic personality to motivate his flock and community. Already an elderly gentleman in 2004, the lawsuit and ultimate certification of the Ohio delegates broke Moss’s heart, and he died a few months later.

"Cheated!" is the story of what happened in Ohio – how the will of the voters was thwarted by misinformation, massive and intentional disenfranchisement, voter intimidation, the purging of voting rolls, misallocation of voting machines, and inexplicable electronic tallies that bucked the odds and benefited only one side. The voters of Ohio stood in the rain for hours on Election Day, and afterwards they protested, went to Washington, and stood up for democracy. These voters were left out in the cold by the “willful blindness” of the Democratic leadership, its presidential candidate, and the media. With no resources, they nevertheless came together and planted the seeds for a national movement whose roots are planted deep in Ohio.

This story inspires us to ask ourselves how we ourselves can become active and engaged. Myers says that the answer lies in being willing to do uncomfortable things, getting up off the couch, and moving outside our comfort zone. There is much to learn from these Ohioans and their supporters who fought for democracy and fair elections. Ohio 2004, just like Florida 2000, is the prototype for what we will surely see in a few short weeks. Various tactics for disenfranchisement have been perfected in the interim. More people are voting on electronic voting machines that have proved, again and again, to be faulty, insecure, inaccurate, and expensive. George Santayana wisely asserted that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." This is a perfect case in point. We ignore this unsavory history at our peril.

Here are two new developments for the last few days that give an up-to-the-minute context to "Cheated!" The first involves Reverend DeForest Soaries, the first chair of the EAC, who gave an interview on a major broadcast network that was never aired. BradBlog got a hold of a partial transcript and, let me tell you, it is pretty damning (http://www.bradblog.com/?p=3491#more-3491). Soaries is highly critical of Congress and the White House, and casts doubts upon their dedication to voting integrity. This is important because Rev. Soaries is a Republican, hand-selected by “W” himself for his role in this drama. While his resignation would have been more meaningful if I had happened before the 2004 election (thus highlighting the whole election mess), what is clear is his frustration with a government that was clearly uninterested in protecting the vote. In the interview, Soaries excoriates both Congress and the President, referring to their dedication to reforming American election is sues as "a charade" and "a travesty," and says that the system now in place is "ripe for stealing elections and for fraud."

With the media totally AWOL from its traditional “watchdog of democracy” function, it’s easy to understand how this interview got canned. This article takes the wind out of the sails of those who would deem as a conspiracy theorist anyone who is critical of the electronic voting machines and their dangerous flaws. Seeing how whistleblowers have been treated up to now by this administration, there’s no reason to think that Soaries’ words will be greeted with concern or seriousness of purpose. As Soaries put it so well in this censored piece, “Someone in America has got to hold America accountable for protecting the most fundamental right in a democracy, and that is the right to vote."

The other story is from the Daily Kos http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/10/18/85915/109 and is about a Republican insider who bucked up a bunch of moderate Republicans who were sitting around, bemoaning the fate of their party in the upcoming elections. They were reassured that there’s nothing to worry about. According to him, four key states, including Ohio, have done massive vote purging to assure a Republican victory. It’s part of a partisan strategy to keep control of Congress. This administration cannot afford Congressional oversight and will do whatever it takes to prevent it. “The purge generated names and test letters sent out to 1.2 million Ohio addresses with a focus on universities, [a]partment addresses with high turnover…The Insider warmed and said that Blackwell was brilliant in how he did this. The letter went on for a long time about changes in Ohio voting and security and suggested people who might have any concerns about their voting status could come by county offices and confirm their continued voting eligibility before election day.

He further added, that since it was conducted as a "test" they only sent letters to a limited number of suspect addresses and "I suspect Blackwell chose criteria very very favorable for us."

Further the insider stated that Blackwell had only purged the lists after a full 60 days was given for people to respond. Which means even if a voter was on the "termination" list, they would still have been eligible to vote in the primary.

He told the table they believe the purge has probably caught up "hundreds of thousands of students, activists and wanderers with no real job" (who) would show up at the polls and have to vote provisionally.”

Ohio was in the thick of things in 2004 and it looks as if it will remain so in 2006. There will be no ‘smoking gun’ now with the paperless electronic voting machines and the near impossibility of meaningful audits or recounts.

Beyond the politics, "Cheated!" is also the story of a mother and daughter. I was particularly interested in this aspect because I have two grown daughters, one of whom edits my articles for me. Our professional relationship is rewarding and makes our interactions more complex and multi-layered. While this project came out of Sheri’s angst about the 2004 election, it was taken over by her daughter, Sophie, a student at NYU who provided the illustrations for the book. Sophie was the right person for the job – she started the Comic Book Club on campus and wants to write graphic novels when she graduates. While she was home this summer, the twosome collaborated on this project. Somehow, in the midst of all this, they also found time to move from one home to another, a feat that I find utterly amazing. Their collaboration works well, and the text and graphics form a seamless whole.

Myers admits that she sees “democracy ready to fall off a cliff.” While what’s about to happen this November is Ohio, 2004 multiplied many times over, the prognosis is not totally grim. All of us can get off that couch and educate ourselves, get out to vote, work to protect the vote and voters, and communicate the urgent message of democracy at risk to our neighbors. Emerging from our individual foxholes to join others makes us stronger and less isolated, and we can, in turn, encourage and empower one another.

I found "Cheated!" to be an ultimately hopeful book. It is a salute to the brave people of Ohio, and a tutorial on how we can and should face stolen elections in our (very near) future. At the end of the book are notes and links for people to learn more, such as video clips of interviews and sworn testimony, articles, and informative websites. Please check them out. This election may take place in a few weeks, but the battle for our democracy will continue for quite a while, until there is victory or no one left standing.

Myers was just a regular person who was enraged and energized by what happened. She (along with We Do Not Concede) organized “Get Up on the Bus,” which brought 52 people who represented a cross section of Columbus to speak in Washington DC. Beyond telling their individual stories, they spoke to the press, lobbied and buttonholed Congressional aides. Ohioans enlisted Senator Boxer of California to stand up for them and for all disenfranchised voters by contesting the validity of the election. This action has only happened once before since 1877 and can be viewed as a major accomplishment. "Cheated!" not only reminds us of what happened last time around but gives us some concrete ways to work towards change. As Myers asserts, “the right to vote is the frontline for everything.” I couldn’t agree more.

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Joan Brunwasser of Citizens for Election Reform is a citizen activist working hard to restore and preserve free and fair elections. Her main focus is distributing "Invisible Ballots" through her lending library project. Since mid September, she has loaned the DVD to 'borrowers' in 37 states, DC, Puerto Rico, Canada, Holland, England, Ireland and Japan. She has now enlisted 2,048 individuals and groups in her project and is always looking for new contacts. Her latest target is the local press, local elected officials and other community movers and shakers. She is the Voting Integrity Editor for Op Ed News. You can contact her at Joan@OpEdNews.com.