A former Montague resident and plaintiff in a federal class-action lawsuit says he's "100 percent certain" that the 2004 presidential election was stolen, and believes the Republican Party is attempting to steal the 2008 election as well.

Harvey Wasserman, who lived in Montague for 14 years and is now editor of the online as well as author of four books on vote-tampering and disenfranchisement in Ohio four years ago, predicts that Democratic candidate Barack Obama will need a 10 percent vote margin to compensate for election manipulation and racism if he's to win the presidency.

"There have been political shenanigans throughout history," said Wasserman, who authored an alternative history of the United States in 1972 and 11 other books, including "How the GOP Stole America's 2004 Election & Is Rigging 2008." But in 2000, 2004, "and here again in 2008," the Republican party has been working "to disenfranchise as many potential Democratic voters as possible." Wasserman, who returned to the area last weekend to speak at an anti-nuclear rally in Brattleboro, Vt., warns that electronic voting machines are "perfectly designed to steal elections," and advocates for all voting machines replaced with paper ballots.

Already this year, in West Virginia and Tennessee, voters have complained of "vote flipping," with electronic voting machines recording their votes for Obama as votes for Republican candidate John McCain, as well as some cases of Republican votes showing up as votes for the Democratic candidate. What's at stake, says Wasserman, is not only the presidency, but "the future of American democracy. If we can't conduct fair, open, widely participated elections, we don't have any right to claim to be a democracy."

A study released this week by the Pew Center on the States pointed to about a dozen states that face a high probability of facing significant polling problems on Election Day, as a crazy quilt of new machines, election laws and registration and voting procedures combine with what's widely expected to be a record turnout at the polls.

Meanwhile, battles are well under way between Democratic efforts to enroll armies of new voters and Republican efforts to require those new registrations to be checked against motor vehicle registrations, Social Security and other data over concerns about fraud.

In Ohio, where the U.S. Supreme Court this month unanimously blocked a Republican effort to force provisional ballots for 200,000 newly registered voters if their registrations show discrepancies with other data, the Bush administration this week asked the Justice Department to push the issue despite opposition from Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.

"We've argued that's an unfair deprivation of the right to vote," said Wasserman. He added that "slight discrepancies" involving use of middle names, addresses and typographical errors in bureaucratic databases are common, but that voter fraud is extremely rare, with only six Ohio convictions over the past half-century.

Similar battles over checking newly registered voters against immigration status have also taken place in Georgia and Wisconsin, while an Indiana law requiring voters to show photo identification — resulting in 10 retired nuns being turned away from the primary balloting in May — amounts to a "poll tax," contends Wasserman.

Wasserman is a plaintiff in a federal class action suit filed in 2006 charging that J. Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio's secretary of state at the time — who also co-chaired the Bush-Cheney 2004 re-election campaign — engineered a purge of voters from the statewide voter registration database and failed to maintain proper custody of ballots. It alleges ballot cancellation and tampering, long poll lines and mechanical difficulties with voting machines.

"We saw them essentially manipulate and steal the vote in a way that made it clear they were going to try it again in 2008," said Wasserman, who grew up in Columbus, Ohio and returned there to live 25 years ago but was told in 2004 that his absentee ballot had been rejected because of a discrepancy over the address where he'd lived since the mid-1980s.

He charges that 2004 Democratic candidate John Kerry should have won Ohio by 250,000 votes, but that the GOP succeeded in knocking people off the voter rolls, causing exhaustive delays at polling places and electronically tampering with votes.

"You can flip an election with a wi-fi" wireless device, said Wasserman, pointing to corroborative research by Princeton University and other institutions. "Some 15-year-old kid can drive by a polling station and flip an election."

In some Ohio counties, Kerry's name did not even appear on 2004 absentee ballots, the Cincinnati Inquirer reported. In other, inner-city polling places, inadequate pencils were provided for scanning devices or inferior paper contributed to jamming of machines, Wasserman said. Many Ohio voters were improperly told they had to leave the polls when they closed at 7:30, even though they'd been on lines for hours; in other cases, ex-felons were warned they had no right to vote, while Democrats were told their voting would take place Wednesday, following Election Day.

He added that 56 of the state's 88 counties violated federal law by destroying voting records before the federally mandated 22-month period when they must be preserved, so there can never be a recount, as has been done in Florida's contested 2000 race.

The ongoing court case, Wasserman says, has contributed toward changes in Ohio's elections process that have been implemented by Brunner.

Wasserman, who covered the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago for the radical Liberation News Service — which he co-founded — admits that Democrats also have a history of stealing elections, with the late Chicago Mayor Richard Daley paid to throw the 1960 presidential race to John F. Kennedy to win Illinois.

The only reason there were no riots in 2004 in Ohio, Wasserman says, is that Kerry walked away from a formal challenge.

Although he believes that as many as one-quarter of the state's voters may have voted before Tuesday with absentee ballots or early polling, Wasserman says voters now are less intimidated than they were four years ago — and forewarned that of possible tampering with their votes or challenges to their trying to cast ballots.