Special to The BRAD BLOG by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman of The Columbus Free Press
ED NOTE: The following feature was originally published in the Autumn '07 print version of the Columbus Free Press. The comprehensive aerial overview --- connecting dots from 2000 to 2004 to the outlook for 2008, as based on a wide body of years-long investigative reportage and exposés as collected from a variety of sources, including The BRAD BLOG and many others --- offers such a useful round-up of "our story until now" that we thought running the piece in its entirety here would be a very good idea. We hope you agree.
With record low approval ratings for the Bush/Cheney regime and the albatross of an unpopular war hanging from the GOP's neck, do you think that a Democratic presidential candidate will win the White House, get us out of Iraq, and end our long national nightmare?
Think again – the mighty election theft machine Karl Rove used to steal the US presidency in 2000 and 2004 may be under attack, but it is still in place for the upcoming 2008 election.
With his usual devious mastery, Rove has seized upon the national outrage sparked by his electoral larceny and used it as smokescreen while he makes the American electoral system even MORE unfair, and even EASIER to rig. Thus the administration has fired federal attorneys when they would not participate in a nationwide campaign to deny minorities and the poor their access to the polls. It has spent millions of taxpayer dollars to install electronic voting machines that can be "flipped" with a few keystrokes. And under the guise of "reforming" our busted electoral system, it is setting us up for another presidential theft in 2008.
Thus it should come as no surprise that our exclusive investigations into the firings of eight federal prosecutors who refused to execute Rove’s plans for massive disenfranchisement of Democratic voters reveal a pattern of illegalities and fraud aimed at reducing the number of minority, poor and young voters at the core of Democratic support. In the wake of major news breaks, two felony convictions have come from the rigging of the illegal Ohio 2004 vote count and recount that gave George W. Bush a second illegitimate term. Stunning new admissions from county election boards that illegally destroyed voter records will almost certainly lead to new convictions. And the multi-million-dollar electronic voting machine scam that made possible the biggest electoral frauds in US history is under massive new attack, with key states moving to scrap the machines altogether in a desperate attempt to restore American democracy – but with the job far from done.
Rove, Ney and the Undead
Indeed, the Rovian theft engine is far from dead. The media groundwork has already been laid out for the Republicans to claim that hordes of illegal aliens have registered to vote. The Bush administration has been caught ordering public agencies – possibly in violation of the law – to cease registering voters. In an April, 2006 speech to the Republican National Lawyers Association, Rove openly alluded to the strategy of demanding photo ID and purging voter roles of poor, minority voters just as had been done in 2000 and 2004. And, as always with Bush/Rove, there is much more beneath the surface.
All that has happened to challenge the GOP death grip on the American vote count has been reported in the pages of Hustler and on the internet at FreePress.org, The BRAD BLOG and elsewhere, and is being seized upon by a national grassroots movement determined to restore American democracy next year.
Nowhere has that movement been more in evidence than with the high profile firestorm surrounding Bush administration Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ firing of eight federal prosecutors without legitimate cause.
Evidence continues to surface from throughout the United States about this blatant Bush abuse of executive power. But we have traced the roots of the firings to an obscure Congressional hearing held at the statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, on March 21, 2005, and to a shadowy GOP operative named Mark F. "Thor" Hearne.
The hearing was conducted by none other than former US Rep. Bob Ney (R-18th OH). The once-powerful Ohio Congressman (who is now behind bars) was the godfather of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), the national boondoggle that mandated electronic voting machines for the American electoral process.
That the machines would cost taxpayers billions was a big plus for Ney. They would come from Diebold and other companies that poured money into Republican coffers. Thanks largely to the manipulations of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, these e-voting machine companies would help guarantee the GOP’s ability to steal elections.
Ney’s hearing featured a marquee appearance by J. Kenneth Blackwell, the Secretary of State responsible for delivering Ohio’s decisive 2004 electoral votes to Bush. Blackwell was a key operative for the Bush election campaign in Florida in 2000 and co-chaired the Bush-Cheney 2004 re-election campaign in Ohio...
Congressional protocol required that Ney allow Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Cleveland) to question Blackwell. Soon Blackwell and Jones were yelling at each other in a legendary exchange that ended with Jones telling Blackwell to "haul butt" out of the chamber.
Not quite so high profile was the ensuing testimony by Hearne, who identified himself as the head of the American Center for Voting Rights (ACVR). Hearne is a long-time GOP dirty trickster, with a Rovian rap sheet dating to the 1970s. He did not explain that the ACVR had a post box in a Dallas mall, but no office, few staff, a board stacked with GOP operatives, no grassroots mailing list or much else to confirm the functioning of a real organization. Nor did Ney clarify that Hearne had served as election counsel to the Bush-Cheney campaign, and had founded ACVR the previous month, at the urging of Karl Rove.
While the press corps rushed to report the Jones-Blackwell dust-up, Hearne laid out for Ney and the few of us left listening the essential template for the new GOP strategy for disenfranchising millions of suspected Democrats from voting in future elections. In classic Rovian terms, Hearne bemoaned a litany of "voter fraud" abuses allegedly committed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Association for Communities Organizing for Reform Now (ACORN) and other multi-racial coalitions working to register millions of new voters across the United States.
Among other things, Hearne told Ney the voter registration campaigns were using "crack cocaine" as an "incentive" for registering new voters. Adding the AFL-CIO and ACT-Ohio to his list of evil-doers, Hearne warned that millions of "fraudulent" ballots would be cast in future elections unless something was done to curb the ability of ordinary citizens to vote without extensive identification papers.
Hearne’s testimony drew little press. But it has led directly to the national Bush/Rove push for new laws requiring voters to show picture IDs at the polls and other methods of mass disenfranchisement – and the firing of eight US prosecutors who apparently refused to go along.
References to Hearne’s ACVR have now mysteriously disappeared from the internet. But the McClatchy Newspapers have reported that Hearne’s ACVR and the Republican Lawyers Association have actively campaigned – with a war chest of at least $1.5 million – in at least nine battleground states. They stump for voter ID laws and rigid registration restrictions and other tactics aimed at radically reducing the ability of Democrat-leaning organizations to register new voters.
The ACVR agenda embraces the Administration’s illegal demand that public agencies stop registering new, mostly poor voters. And the pressure to rid our democracy of such voters has carried over to the offices of the nation’s federal prosecutors, even in the face of widespread investigations showing the numbers of people illegally trying to register and vote have been miniscule.
Emblematic of the firings is the case of David Iglesias of New Mexico. Iglesias has testified to Congress that Albuquerque lawyer Patrick Rogers pressured him to prosecute alleged vote fraud perpetrators. When he resisted, Iglesias was fired by Gonzales.
Rogers is listed as "secretary" of Thor Hearne’s American Center for Voting Rights, as well as a former general counsel to the New Mexico Republican Party.
Meanwhile, the Bush Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has reversed its mandate by fighting to narrow rather than broaden the voting rights of minorities, and to prosecute voter registration operations without just cause. An ACVR director, Cameron Quinn, is now the Division’s voting counsel.
A key target has been Project Vote, which registered 1.5 million voters in 2004 and 2006. Five days before the 2006 election, Bush’s interim US attorney in Kansas City issued indictments against four ACORN workers under contract with Project Vote. Prosecutions that close to election day have traditionally been discouraged by the Justice Department. Acorn officials had notified the federal officials when they noticed the doctored forms. But ACVR’s "job was to confuse the public about voter fraud and offer bogus solutions to the problem," said Michael Slater, the deputy director of Project Vote, They used "deception and faulty research" to help Rove’s GOP.
The common denominator in the firings of the federal attorneys has been an unwillingness to pursue prosecutions on the basis of such research. Iglesias, for example, told Newsweek magazine he "had been repeatedly pushed by New Mexico GOP officials to prosecute workers for ACORN" who were registering voters.
Media Missed it Again
The media has missed what DID happen when the attorneys complied with the Bush/Rove game plan. Just four days prior to the 2004 vote, Assistant Attorney-General Alex Acosta, the civil rights chief of the Bush Justice Department asked a federal judge in Ohio to sign off on policies that would disenfranchise thousands of black voters. The move almost certainly had a significant impact on Bush’s subsequent victory in the Electoral College. Joseph Rich, a former chief of the Justice Department’s Voting Rights Section, has called the Ohio scheme "vote caging," which is illegal.
The case arose when Republicans allegedly sent "caging" letters to thousands of registered voters in inner city districts. The letters had "do not forward" stamped on them, with a return receipt requested. When some 23,000 came back as undeliverable, GOP operatives demanded the right to get the names removed from voter rolls. Acosta argued in his letter that restricting such challenges would "undermine" the electoral process.
But an exclusive investigation by FreePress.org found that at least 25% of the people being removed from the voter rolls were in fact still living at their registered address. Greg Palast has reported that the GOP deliberately targeted black soldiers still fighting in Iraq.
Acosta says his letter endorsed the GOP challenges as "permissible" as long as they were not racially motivated, and that anyone whose eligibility was challenged could still get a provisional ballot.
But due to the actions of former Ohio Secretary of State Blackwell, more than 16,000 provisional ballots from the 2004 election remain uncounted. Independent observers have testified that thousands more may have been discarded right at the polling stations. (Bush’s official margin of victory in Ohio was less than 119,000 votes.)
Robert Kengle, who served under Acosta at the Justice Department’s Voting Rights Section, says Acosta’s unsolicited letter to the courts was "cheerleading" for the GOP. "It was doubly outrageous," he said, "because the allegation in the litigation was that these were overwhelmingly African-American voters that were on the challenge list," precisely those whose right to vote the Justice Department was charged to protect.
Acosta was not among the attorneys fired by Bush. In fact, he is now the federal attorney in Miami.
Eyewitness testimony from throughout the state confirms that scores of GOP activists did challenge voters in numerous inner city polling stations. Many carried Blackberries and used sophisticated lists that may have included those illegally garnered caging rosters. The challenges did lead to numerous voters being turned away, and increased the long delays suffered by inner city voters throughout the state.
Surveys show it took blacks nearly an hour to vote on average in Ohio in 2004, while whites voted in less than fifteen minutes. In the inner city of Columbus, black voters waited between three and seven hours to vote, while in the nearby suburb of Bexley it took just five minutes. The delays in Columbus alone may have cost Kerry up to 60,000 votes.
Similar challenges were also endorsed by White House operative Tim Griffin, who has been widely accused of trying to cage mostly black voters in Florida. Rich says the scheme became public before the election, and the GOP apparently dropped the idea.
But as he was firing the federal attorneys who refused to cage, Bush appointed Griffin to be US attorney for Arkansas. Griffin has since resigned the post under fire. But along with Ohio, the administration used similar tactics in the key swing states of Florida and Pennsylvania, as well as in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Texas and Washington. Bush’s Justice Department also supported former California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson’s rejection of 20,000 voter registration forms, a move later reversed in court. And it has helped push photo ID requirements – again rejected in court – devised by Georgia to restrict black and poor voter access.
A 35-year veteran of the Justice Department’s Voting Right Sections, Rich told the McClatchy papers that he quit over political appointees who "skewed aspects of law enforcement in ways that clearly were intended to influence the outcome of the elections." Thus Thor Hearne’s original blueprint for disenfranchising minorities and the poor is now established administration policy, supported by Bush’s Justice Department, and backed by his firing of federal attorneys – illegal or otherwise – who refuse to go along. Whether the Democrats in Congress do anything about it, and whether the GOP successfully uses these tactics again in 2008, remain to be seen.
Alongside the Bush/Rove commitment to mass disenfranchisement, the key to the outcome of the 2008 election may be the rise and incomplete fall of electronic voting machines.
Unmonitorable DRE (Direct Record Electronic) voting machines and computerized central tabulators with secret software have been center stage at every Bush-era stolen election. In Florida 2000, some 16,000 votes that "disappeared" from Al Gore’s tallies in Volusia County helped turn the tide for Bush at a key election night moment, even though they were later reinstated. In 2002, fraudulent electronic vote counts in Georgia almost certainly deprived Vietnam war hero Max Cleland of his US Senate seat in a race which all credible polls showed him winning by a substantial margin.
The spread of DREs is at the core of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) pushed through by then-Congressman (now jailbird) Bob Ney. High-powered studies from the likes of the Government Accountability Office, the Brennan Center on Voting Rights, the Carter-Baker Commission on Voting Rights, Princeton University and US Representative John Conyers all conclude that DRE’s can be easily manipulated, with entire elections illicitly shifted by a few keystrokes.
The GOPs HAVA means to put the nation on DREs as thoroughly as possible by 2008. But a public rebellion has slowed that plan. In Ohio, grassroots campaigners stopped Blackwell from giving Diebold an unbid $100 million contract to put virtually the entire state on DREs. Elsewhere, state and local election boards rebelled against the high cost of maintaining the machines, which often must be kept air conditioned around the clock, resulting in huge electric bills. Programming and other costs make administering elections on DREs far more expensive than doing it on paper ballots. The DREs have become infamous because of widespread testimony in Ohio that 2004 voters were pushing John Kerry’s name, only to see George Bush’s name light up, or to have their Kerry vote simply disappear moments later.
In response to nationwide opposition, US Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) proposed federal legislation that would have forced all electronic voting machines to be fitted with devices that would produce a paper trail. An accredited scientist, Holt also wanted to force manufacturers to make public the software that ran their machines.
Holt’s proposed House Bill 811 divided the election protection movement, much of which saw it as an endorsement of DREs. And as the bill progressed, the GOP gutted it, killing the software transparency requirements and settling for unworkable paper trail provisions.
The governors of Florida and Maryland have already moved to ban DREs in 2008, and to use paper ballots instead. Grassroots confrontations over how to cast and count votes will rage right up to election day.
The need for electronic safeguards has been confirmed to the hilt by an astonishing flood of revelations from Ohio. To report Ohio’s 2004 election-night vote count, Blackwell contracted with the same GOP computer programmer who created the Bush-Cheney web site in 2000. Those GOP-programmed results were then run through servers housed in the basement of a bank in Chattanooga, Tennessee which also housed the servers for the Republican National Committee (through which Karl Rove ran his off-the-record e-mails, now being sought by Congress).
Supervised by Blackwell, those results showed a substantial victory for John Kerry until about 12:20 at night, when reporting inexplicably stopped. When it resumed about 90 minutes later, Ohio’s margin – and the presidency – suddenly switched to Bush.
After the election, a citizen-based federal lawsuit (in which we are attorney and plaintiff) was filed, aimed at preserving all of Ohio’s 2004 election materials for further investigation. Those materials were protected by federal law until September 2, 2006, when Blackwell intended to destroy them. But a week prior, we won a federal court decision barring the counties from destroying any of these materials. Ohio’s new Secretary of State (SOS), Jennifer Brunner, then ordered the boards of election to deliver this evidence to her.
But in July 2007, 56 of Ohio’s 88 county BOEs admitted to illegally destroying all or some of their records. John M. Williams, Director of Elections in Hamilton County (Cincinnati) told Brunner he was "...unable to transfer the unvoted precinct ballots and soiled ballots" essential to an accurate audit because they "...were inadvertently shredded between January 19th and 26th of ’06 in an effort to make room for the new Hart voting system."
In Clermont County, a key Republican stronghold permeated with election irregularities, Director Mike Keeley told Brunner that "in interviewing the staff, no one could remember the disposition of said ballots," meaning the actual number of votes cast remains a mystery. In neighboring Butler County, Director Betty L. McGary informed the SOS on May 9, 2007 that they had lost the "ballot pages" thus making it impossible to confirm how votes were counted.
Delaware County, where the last 359 votes cast in one precinct were all counted for Bush, informed Brunner that they had 29 boxes of ballots, but then delivered only 26. The Delaware BOE initially reported 1872 provisional ballots, but the official number is now 1462, feeding suspicions the boxes were stuffed.
Two election officials in Cleveland have thus far been convicted of felonies stemming from rigged recount procedures after 2004. Now a solid majority of Ohio’s election boards face potential federal criminal action. They have made a reliable reconstruction of the true 2004 outcome virtually impossible.
Brunner has pledged to preside over a fair election in Ohio 2008. Like Debra Bowen, California’s new Secretary of State, Brunner is running extensive tests on the state’s electronic voting machines. Most or all of California and Ohio’s DREs could be gone by 2008, possibly to be replaced by paper ballots counted by electronic scanners.
But even those are not immune to fraud. In 2004, Diebold technicians provided inner city precincts with malfunctioning opti-scan machines. Throughout the state, more than 90,000 ballots were never counted because of voting machine malfunctions. At a mostly Democratic precinct in Toledo, poll workers handed out pencils whose marks could not be read by the electronic counters, thus voiding the votes cast there.
Overall, our nation’s history has been filled with stolen elections. Most have been robbed with paper ballots and stuffed ballot boxes. But under Bush/Rove, electronics are at center stage.
Bush/Rove stole the 2000 and 2004 elections by intimidation, vote caging, rigged machines, rigged recounts, and much more. Bush’s firing of the eight federal attorneys only underscores the fraud perpetrated by those who weren’t fired.
Whether Congress gets to the bottom of those firings remains to be seen. But there is little doubt the Democrats were able to retake the House and Senate in 2006 only because of the increased vigilance of a national grassroots voter protection movement.
Though Democrats carried Ohio in the off-year elections of 2006, our research indicates that the GOP still stole as much as 12% of the vote, and is still intent on disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of minority, poor and young voters. In a single election in Franklin County in 2006, a magistrate found that more than 83% of all the precincts were miscounted on the DRE machines.
And though DRE machines are under intense attack, their presence in 2008 will still be substantial, and will still subject the election to GOP theft.
The lessons of 2000 and 2004 are in the terror imposed on the registration process and the error perpetrated in the vote count. Only by saying "never again" can Americans hope to see a return to actual democracy.
Bob Fitrakis is the editor and publisher of The Free Press. Harvey Wasserman is their Senior Editor. Together, and with Steven Rosenfeld, they have published a number of books on the 2004 Presidential Election in Ohio, including How the Gop Stole America's 2004 Election & Is Rigging 2008 and What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election.
A version of the above article was also published online by New Zealand's Scoop.