The Republican "November Surprise" to steal the 2004 election is in full force here in Ohio. With polls showing a dead heat, the GOP is staging an all-out attack on a fair vote count in the Buckeye State.
Here are a dozen ways they're doing it:
* Under an archaic Ohio law, both the Republican and Democratic Parties, or any slate of five candidates, may embed official election challengers inside polling places. The New York Times reported on Oct. 23 that the Republican Party intends to place thousands of lawyers and other GOP faithfuls inside the polls to challenge voters. Republican insiders confide here that the key goal is to jam lines and frustrate new voters. The GOP apparently figures many voters in key Democratic precincts won't wait in line more than 15 minutes to vote. This is certain to be a major tactic in Cleveland's Cuyahoga County and other Democratic strongholds. The GOP is not planning to challenge voters in Republican districts.
* The Republican party has sent letters challenging thousands of Franklin County students who are registered to vote absentee. Franklin County is home to Columbus, the state's largest city and its capitol. Though it is also home to Ohio State University, thousands of local students go to schools outside the county or state. The GOP apparently does not want their votes counted. This unprecedented mass challenge has prompted the Franklin County Board of Elections, whose director is a conservative Republican, to reserve the large Veterans Memorial Auditorium downtown to process the challenges this Thursday, as John Kerry comes to town with Bruce Springsteen. The County has told thousands of students that if they don't appear in Columbus to answer the GOP challenges, they may lose their right to vote.
* The Franklin County Board of Elections has called or written an undetermined number of voters who obtained absentee ballots, challenging their addresses. In at least one case, after a series of angry phone calls, the Board admitted there was nothing wrong with the address in question and re-instated voting rights. The voter in question was a registered Democrat. His wife, an independent at the same address, was not challenged. It is unclear how many others have been wrongly knocked out.
* Even if they are counted, Franklin County's absentee ballot forms are rigged in ways strikingly reminiscent of those in Florida 2000. On many absentee forms, Kerry is listed third on the list of presidential candidates. But the actual number you punch for Kerry is "4." If you punch "3" you've just voted for Bush. Sound familiar?
* Franklin County's right wing Elections Director is insisting on e-voting machines which have malfunctioned in at least two Congressional elections, and which have no paper trail. The November issues of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics Magazines ran the following headlines on their covers, respectively: "E-vote emergency: And you thought dimpled chads were bad'" and "Could hackers tilt the election?" Vigorous protests against the paperless machines have been staged here, but many will be used, rendering a meaningful recount impossible.
* In four other Ohio counties, the notorious Diebold company, whose CEO Wally O'Dell has pledged to deliver Ohio's votes to Bush, will provide the e-voting machines to count votes without any paper trail while using proprietary "secret" software. O'Dell lives in the wealthy Columbus suburb of Upper Arlington and is a major Bush donor.
* Twenty GOP-dominated Ohio counties have given wrong information to former felons about their voter eligibility. In Hamilton County, home of Cincinnati and the Republican Taft family, officials told numerous former felons that a judge had to sign off before they could vote, which is blatantly false.
* Franklin County, which normally cancels 2-300 registered voters a year for felony convictions, has sent at least 3500 cancellation letters to both current felons and ex-felons whose convictions date back to 1998. The list includes numerous citizens who were charged with felonies but convicted only of misdemeanors.
* Republican Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell has reversed a long-standing Ohio practice and is barring voters from casting provisional ballots within their county if they are registered to vote but there's been a mistake about where they are expected to cast their ballot. In this year's spring primaries, Blackwell allowed voters to cast provisional ballots by county, even if they were in the wrong precinct. But this fall, such voters will have to leave the wrong precinct and find their way to the right one. Blackwell hopes to succeed Republican Bob Taft as governor, and has labored hard to install e-voting machines with no paper trail, to give the statewide contract to Diebold, and to take a long series of steps apparently designed to help hand Ohio to George W. Bush. Blackwell is being widely compared to the infamous Katherine Harris, who handed Florida to George W. Bush in 2000 and was rewarded with a safe Congressional seat.
* The Columbus Dispatch (which has endorsed Bush) and WVKO Radio have both documented phone calls from people impersonating Board of Elections workers and directing registered voters to different and incorrect polling sites. One individual was falsely told not to vote at the polling station across the street from his house, but at a "new" site, four miles away. Under Blackwell's new rules, such a vote would not be counted.
* In Cincinnati, some 150,000 voters were moved from active to inactive status within the last four years for not voting in the last two federal elections. This is not required under Ohio law, but is an option allowed and exercised by the Republican-dominated Hamilton County Board of Elections.
* Secretary of State Blackwell ruled that any voter registration form on other than 80-pound weight bond paper would not be accepted. This is an old law left over from pre-scanning days. Many voters who had registered on lighter paper, had their registration returned, even though the forms had been officially sanctioned by local election boards.
No Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying Ohio. This year the GOP seems determined to win it, no matter what they have do to the electoral process.
Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of GEORGE W. BUSH VERSUS THE SUPERPOWER OF PEACE and IMPRISON GEORGE BUSH, from www.freepress.org.