Following four community public hearings in Ohio about election irregularities and voter suppression – two in the capitol, Columbus, and one each in Cincinnati and Cleveland – a clear pattern and practice of voter disenfranchisement is emerging.
In order to understand the extent of the voter suppression in the inner city of Columbus and Franklin County, overwhelmingly Democratic wards, start with the phrase: “Machines Placed By Close Of Polls” on the last page of the county’s 17-page voting machine allocation report.
This phrase at the end of the spreadsheet may be the key in unraveling a deliberate and unprecedented plan to repress African American and poor central city voters. In statistics, when you see a bizarre definition or measurement, it sends up red flags. Why doesn’t the Franklin County Board of Elections have a number for “Machines Placed By Opening Of Polls”?
It now appears that the Franklin County BOE placed scores of machines too late in the day to alleviate the long lines of voters who gathered to vote before work and at lunchtime.
To better understand what the BOE did on Election Day, consider the following analogy. The near east side of Columbus needs four buses to move the population to the downtown business district. Each bus will move 100 people. At the start of the business day at 6:30am, there are only two buses running and another one with a dead battery. After a few hours, the third bus is put into use. Finally, towards the close of the work day at 6pm, a fourth bus is deployed. The Central Ohio Transit Authority then reports it had four buses operating by the end of the business day. What matters is not how many buses, or voting machines, were operating at the end of the day, but rather how many were there to service the people during the morning and noon rush hours.
Questions remain as to where these machines were placed and who had access to them during the day.
Pacifica reporter Evan Davis reported that a county purchasing official who was on the line with Ward Moving and Storage Company, documented only 2,741 voting machines delivered through the November 2 election day. The county’s own documents reveal that they had 2,866 “Machines Available” on Election Day. This would mean that amid the two to seven hour waits in the inner city of Columbus, at least 125 machines remained unused on Election Day. Ward holds the exclusive three-year contract to deliver voting machines in Franklin County.
If the BOE only had 2,741 placed initially, this would explain the long lines in Columbus and voters leaving the polls during the morning voting rush.
According to the Franklin County Board of Elections (BOE), in the city of Columbus, where voters waited in the heavily Democratic wards between 2-7 hours to cast the vast majority of their votes for John Kerry, voter turnout was 52.7%. In the affluent white suburbs of Columbus, with far more voting machines available, the turnout figure was 76.15%.
By contrast, 66.31% of registered voters went to the polls in Cincinnati and turnout was 76.82% in the suburbs. In Cincinnati, where more voting machines were available, the difference between the city and suburbs was only 10.5% compared to 23.45% in the Columbus area. Cincinnati and Columbus have similar demographics.
The Franklin County Board of Elections reported that 68 voting machines were never placed on Election Day. In addition, Franklin County BOE Director Matt Damschroder admitted on Friday, November 19, that 77 machines malfunctioned on Election Day.
Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy criticized Damschroder for calling the elections “well-funded and well-planned and that problems could not have been averted, . . .” according to the Columbus Dispatch.
Damschroder, the former Executive Director of the Franklin County Republican Party, told the Franklin County Commissioners, “From our perspective, this election was a success.”
Despite an increased registration of more than 167,253 new voters, Damschroder admits he ran the election with a “fixed and exhausted” pool of voting machines, the Dispatch reported. Kilroy pointed out that Damschroder and Franklin County election officials told her “We’re fine, we’re fine” and never requested additional money over the initial allocation.
The Washington Post reported “Franklin is the only Ohio county to use Danaher Control’s ELECTronic 1242, an older-style touchscreen voting system.” Franklin County’s voting machine allocation report shows that Damschroder deployed his Danaher (formerly Shooptronics) voting machines, which have been in use since 1992, in a formula that favored Bush over Kerry.
In precinct 55-B on Columbus’ near east side, there were 1,338 registered voters and, according to Franklin County Board of Elections estimates, 956 active voters who had voted in the last two federal elections. Despite voter registration being up 17%, and by the BOE’s own guidelines the polling place requiring ten machines (one per 100 voters), the polling site had only three machines, one less than for the 2000 elections.
The Election Protection Coalition that visited the voting site between 7:30-8:30 a.m. documented a dozen people leaving the polls, six to go to work and six who were either elderly or handicapped.
But things were worse in other areas of Columbus.
In precinct 1-B where there were 1,620 registered voters, a 27% increase in voter registration, the precinct had five voting machines in 2000 and only three in 2004. Where did they go? Out to Republican enclaves like Canal Winchester, where two machines were added since 2000, for a total of five to service 1,255 registered voters? Or were they re-routed to Dublin 2-G where 1,656 registered voters apparently needed six machines, twice the number of Columbus’ 1-B?
Nearby in Dublin precinct 3-C, 910 registered voters were allocated four voting machines. No doubt machines were shifted from precincts like Columbus 44-G with 1,620 voters and registration up 25%, which lost one machine from the 2000 elections to 2004.
In Cleveland, where a public hearing was held on Saturday, November 20, there was a different pattern of voting irregularities. These include heavily Democratic wards with abnormally low reported rates of voter turnout, three under 20%. In Precinct 6-C where Kerry beat Bush 45 votes to one, allegedly only 7.1% of the registered voters cast ballots. In precinct 13-D where Kerry received 83.8% of the vote, only 13.05% reportedly voted. In precinct 13-F where Kerry received 97.5%, the turnout was reported to be only 19.6%.
One explanation comes from Irma Olmedo, who provided the Free Press with a written statement of her activities in the heavily Hispanic ward 13, which contained the three low voter turnout precincts.
“Ohio does not have bilingual ballots and this disenfranchises many Latino voters who are not totally fluent in English . . . there were 13 poll workers at the school and none knew Spanish. Some could not even find the names of the people on the list because they couldn’t understand well when people said their names. . . . Some people put their punch card ballots in backwards when they voted and discovered that they couldn’t punch out the holes. They had not read the instructions which were in English, that they had to turn the card around in order to vote,” Olmedo stated.
Olmedo translated at precinct 13-O, where 90% of the votes were for Kerry and only 53 votes were counted. The turnout of 21% was due to the lack of Spanish instructions and the misspelling of names: “I noticed that one named Nieves was misspelled as Nieues and the pollworkers were not able to find his name, these people were told to complete a provisional ballot because their names were not on the list.”
In Cuyahoga County, according to the Secretary of State’s website there are 24,788 provisional ballots, most of them from the city of Cleveland, not its surrounding suburbs. Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell served as Co-Chair of the Bush/Cheney Ohio reelection committee.
There also seems to be an abnormally high vote count for third party candidates who received less than one-half of one percent of the statewide vote total combined. For example, in precinct 4-F, the right-wing Constitutional Law candidate Peroutka received 215 votes to Bush’s 21 and Kerry’s 290. In this precinct, Kerry received 55% of the vote where Gore received 91% of the vote in the year 2000. These numbers suggest that Kerry’s votes were inadvertently or intentionally shifted to Peroutka.
In Cincinnati, sworn testimony was taken on vote buying, the lack of machines in African American neighborhoods and the deliberate destruction of new voter registration cards by a private company hired to process the forms.
Exit polls on Election Day from both the polling firm Zogby International and CNN projected John Kerry winning the state of Ohio. University of Pennsylvania Professor Steven Freeman calculated the odds that the exit polls in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania all being wrong are 250,000,000 to one. Pollster John Zogby, President of Zogby International, is quoted as telling the Inter Press Service of Stockholm that “something is definitely wrong.”
Zogby commented that he was concerned about the discrepancy between the exit polls and the official vote tallies stating “We’re talking about the free world here.”
The Alliance for Democracy-Ohio is preparing a lawsuit challenging the outcome of Ohio’s election results due to the massive voting irregularities that have emerged in sworn testimony and affidavits.
Bob Fitrakis has a Ph.D in Political Science and a J.D. He is a lawyer working with the Alliance for Democracy-Ohio and the Editor of the Columbus Free Press. Reporting in this article also came from Richard Hayes Phillips, Ph.D and Joe Knapp (http://copperas.com/fcelection/wardbubble.jpg). For additional documentation, visit http://freepress.org/departments/display/19/2004/900.