This is the tenth blog in our election integrity series

Last month’s blog about Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell’s role in rigging the 2004 election focused on the tactics used to prevent potential Democrats from registering and, of those already registered, getting as many as possible off the rolls by purging and caging. This month we will focus on techniques that were used to prevent successfully registered voters from casting a ballot or from having their ballot count. Next month’s blog will focus on post-election tactics: fraud and irregularities in the count and recount, and violations of federal law by destroying election records.  The person in charge of all these tactics in Oho was Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell.

Ohio has 88 county boards of election (BOEs). Each BOE has two Democrats and two Republicans, with the Secretary of State’s vote as the tie-breaker.  In 2004, this meant that all 88 counties were controlled by Blackwell. Aided by GOP partisans in administrative positions, Blackwell was able to dismiss any members for not following his orders, so he had absolute authority over the BOEs.

Voter suppression typically occurs in two stages.  Stage One occurs before the election and includes attempts to suppress voter turnout using misinformation and intimidation. For example, notices are sent, flyers are posted, and phone calls are made to voters telling them to vote in the wrong place or on the wrong day.  Sometimes the notices include threats of arrest for unpaid parking tickets or child support, or confrontation by immigration authorities.

Stage Two takes place on Election Day and can take the form of election challengers, or fake “officials” asking for certain types of ID. There can be shortages of voting equipment in minority areas, denial of absentee or provisional ballots, voting machine malfunctions, spoiling ballots with undervotes and overvotes, and denying access to legitimate election monitors and the press.

Misinformation and Intimidation

John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary committee at the time, conducted an extensive investigation of the Ohio 2004 election, which was published in book form: What Went Wrong in Ohio: The Conyers Report on the 2004 Presidential Election. The following instances were reported in the book.

The NAACP testified that it received more than 200 complaints about voter misinformation and intimidation, including:

  • A report that someone was going door to door telling people they were not registered to vote
  • Mail identified as being from the State of Ohio, telling the voter that he would have to vote by provisional ballot because he had moved, when in fact he had not moved
  • Poll workers who asked African American but not white voters for their addresses
  • Partisan challengers at the precinct
  • Demands by vote challengers that voters present various types of identification

In Franklin County, a team of 25 people calling themselves the Texas Strike Force used pay phones to make intimidating calls to voters, especially targeting those who were on probation or parole.  A hotel worker overheard a caller threatening a likely voter with being reported to the FBI and likely jailed if he voted.  The worker called the police; they came, but they did nothing.  The hotel accommodations of the Texas Strike Force were paid by the Republican Party, whose headquarters were across the street.

Other reported incidents included:

  • Letters on Board of Election letterhead informing voters that their polling place had changed or that they were not properly registered
  • Fake voter bulletins posted at voting locations, and flyers distributed in the inner city, telling Republicans to vote on Tuesday and Democrats to vote on Wednesday
  • In Cleveland, people showed up at voters’ doors, offering to collect and deliver their absentee ballots
  • Door hangers directing African American voters to the wrong precinct
  • Flyers falsely informing voters that they could vote on November 3
  • Phone calls from callers identifying themselves as from the County Board of Elections, falsely telling voters that their voting locations had been changed
  • Officers ticketing cars that were lawfully parked at polling stations, and sometimes having them towed. (Conyers, pp. 55-57, 61-62).

These instances of voter misinformation and intimidation were illegal.  They violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013), the Civil Rights Act of 1968, Constitutional protections of Equal Rights and Due Process, and the Ohio Constitution’s guarantee of the right to vote.

Long lines at Democratic polling places

In 2004, Ohio did not provide any early in-person voting opportunities to reduce lines on Election Day, and it also did not issue sample ballots.  Sample ballots can help voters make their decisions before arriving at the polling place, and therefore shorten the lines.

Due in part to massive voter registration drives, there were about 400,000 more registered voters in Ohio on 2004 than there were in 2000, and a New York Times analysis showed that new registrations in Democratic parts of the state vastly outnumbered those from Republican areas.  Republican officials responded by slashing the number of precincts in 20 counties favorable to Democrats by at least 20%. For example, Franklin County’s Board of Election (BOE) was headed by a former Republican county chairman, who consolidated inner-city Columbus precincts into single polling locations, but left suburban precincts as they were. The combination of massive turnout and fewer locations led to a huge lines and long waits in Democratic but not in Republican areas.

The long lines were made even longer by the misallocation of voting machines. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) provided federal funds for states to acquire voting machines and distribute them in a nondiscriminatory manner among precincts.  However, in Ohio in 2004 there was a big difference in the allocation of voting machines to Democratic vs. Republican districts.  The Conyers Report includes an investigation by the Washington Post, which found that “in Columbus, Cincinnati, and Toledo, and on college campuses, election officials allocated far too few voting machines to busy precincts, with the result that voters stood on line as long as ten hours—many leaving without voting.”  The Election Protection Coalition testified that the majority of complaints they received about long lines came from heavily Democratic districts.  The Washington Post reported that in Columbus alone, the misallocation of voting machines reduced the number of voters by about 15,000.  Statewide, the shortage of voting equipment could have caused the loss of hundreds of thousands of mostly Democratic votes (Conyers, p. 22).

A New York Times investigation found that in Franklin county, in which 102,000 new, mostly African American voters had registered, election officials reduced the number of machines in urban Democratic precincts and increased the number in Republican suburbs.  The Franklin County BOE had requested 5,000 new machines, but Blackwell vetoed the purchase, forcing the election to be conducted with half the number of machines needed. The Washington Post reported that the most machines per registered voter were in precincts that voted for Bush, and the fewest machines per voter were in precincts that voted for Kerry.  It was also reported that in Democratic districts, polling places were moved from large spaces where voters could wait inside in relative comfort to smaller locations where voters had to wait outside in the freezing rain.  Testimony before the House Judiciary Committee charged Franklin County election officials with holding back a truckload of 75 voting machines while people were waiting for hours to vote.  (Conyers, pp. 18- 20).

Registrations had surged at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, but the Gambier polling place had only two machines for a population of 1,300 people, and voters were forced to stand outside in the rain for up to 12 hours.  Nearby Republican-leaning areas had a machine for each 100 people and no lines (Conyers, pp. 20-21). Students at a fundamentalist Bible college nearby only waited five minutes to vote but students at left-leaning Oberlin College had to wait eight hours.

Blackwell failed to provide Spanish-speaking poll workers as required by law in heavily Hispanic precincts, especially in Cleveland.

The NAACP testified that approximately “30 precincts did not have curbside voting machines for seniors and disabled voters” and that one polling place in Cuyahoga County had to “shut down” at 9:25 A.M. because there were no working machines at all (Conyers, p. 21).

By the middle of the morning on Election Day, with voters dropping out of line, several precincts appealed for the right to distribute paper ballots to speed up the process. Blackwell denied the applications.  A lawuit ensued, and a temporary restraining order was issued requiring that voters be offered paper ballots.  However, it came in the evening, which was too late: According to bipartisan estimates, as many as 15,000 voters in Columbus alone had already left without voting.

When it came time for the polls to close, some precinct workers sent away citizens who were still waiting, in violation of Ohio law, which requires that those still in line at closing time be allowed to vote.

Although Blackwell had been in charge of a $2.5 million voter education program, he had failed to inform voters and poll workers that they were allowed to vote at their local Board of Election Offices if their local precincts were too busy.

The Conyers Report concluded that the misallocation of voting machines likely violated federal laws, including the Voting Rights Act and the Constitutional safeguards of Due Process and Equal Protection, especially in view of the evidence of racial disparites.  State laws were also violated: the Ohio Constitution guarantees all eligible adults the right to vote, and the Ohio Revised Code requires the Boards of Elections to provide adequate facilities at each polling place. State law also requires investigation of any irregularities, but Blackwell refused to investigate even though there was evidence of citizen disenfranchisement.  (Conyers, p. 22-24).

Shortages of voting machines and other factors that led to long delays, combined with voter misinformation and intimidation, took its toll.  In 2005, the Democratic National Committeed did an analysis of the Ohio vote and concluded  that 3% of Ohio voters who went to the polls on Election Day were forced to leave without casting a vote, and the vast majority were in urban, minority, and Democratic areas.  Three percent is more than 174,000 votes.  Bush won the Ohio election by 118, 601 votes.

Partisan challengers

Citizen volunteers, referred to as election monitors, observers, or poll watchers, were allowed in every state except West Virginia in 2004.  Historically, there has usually been at least one citizen monitor from each party at each polling location on Election Day.  In most states, monitors are not supposed to speak to voters or observe how they vote, but they can collect data about who is voting, and report irregularities, such as long lines or problems with machines, that can help improve election efficiency. They are knowledgeable about election law, and they can intervene if necessary to help a voter or a poll worker clarify the law or procedures. They are supposed to help insure that every eligible voter can cast a ballot, and that no one is wrongly turned away.

In Ohio in 2004, however, partisans were deployed for the purpose of challenging the eligibility of voters, with the apparent goal of preventing minority voters from casting their ballots. Republicans announced in October, 2004 their plan to place poll watchers in battleground states on Election Day, including 3,600 in Ohio. Instead of being volunteers, however, they were each  paid $100 for the day. In Ohio, they were concentrated in largely African American, Hispanic, and working class precincts in urban areas. The Republican plan provoked an editorial in the New York Times, which noted: “There is a real danger that these challengers could be used to block eligible voters from casting their ballots or, just as bad, to drastically slow down voting in some parts of the state…. Election Day voting is far more fragile than people realize. A small number of challengers, strategically placed and up to no good, could disenfranchise thousands of voters, and even change the outcome of a presidential election.”

Ohio state law permitted challenges if the challenger had doubts about the voter’s legal age, citizenship, or residency in the precinct. The Advocate, a newspaper in central Ohio noted the level of intimidation involved:  “Voters who are challenged will be asked to fill out a two-page form stating their name, whether they are a US citizen, where they were born, if they have resided in the state 30 days, the names of two persons who know where they live, the county and precinct in which they live, and if they are of legal voting age. The bottom of the form contains the following warning in bold type: ‘Whoever commits election falsification is guilty of a felony of the fifth degree.’”  Assuming an election official agreed that the challenge was valid, voters who refused to answer were denied the right to vote.

In some cases, voters were prevented from voting because they lacked the requested ID.  In other cases, the addresses on the ID were checked against the addresses on the registration, and if they did not match, voters were turned away, sometimes including those with addresses in the same precinct.  Some of these voters were not offered a provisional ballot.

As a result of the intimidation, many eligible voters left without voting.  Many others were prevented from voting because of long delays that mainly impacted working class voters, who were unable to wait in line for hours. As the New York Times editorial noted: “One of the gravest dangers is that partisan teams will challenge many, if not all, voters in selected precincts, with the goal of slowing voting to a standstill. In Ohio, every challenge will require a deliberation over whether the person in question should be allowed to vote. In presidential elections, lines in urban polling places are often hours long under normal conditions. If the challengers can add 10 minutes per voter, waiting times may become so long that thousands of voters will simply give up.”

One Ohio state court and two federal courts blocked the challenges, finding the procedure to be tantamount to voter disenfranchisement, especially in view of the racial disparity.  Both federal courts noted that challengers were not needed because Ohio law already required that four election judges staff each polling place, and the presiding judge of each group is empowered to make decisions concerning voter qualifications.  However, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court opinions, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider the case because there was not enough time to review the filings and submissions (Conyers, pp. 37-39).  By the end of Election Day, the Republicans had even gotten permission to use the list of 35,000 names from its illegal caging effort, described in last month’s blog.  The Conyers Report (p. 40) estimates that the challenges suppressed the minority vote by at least tens of thousands.

Provisional ballots

Voters who were not allowed to cast ballots because they were not on the registration rolls or because they did not pass a partisan challenge, should have been given provisional ballots.  Voters with provisional ballots were supposed to have 10 days to produce whatever information was required, and county election officials would then determine whether those provisional ballots would be counted.

However, in September, 2004, Blackwell issued a directive that restricted the ability of voters to use provisional ballots.  The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) provides that voters whose names do not appear in the poll books can sign affidavits certifying that they are in the correct jurisdiction, and then receive provisional ballots. Blackwell narrowed the definition of “jurisdiction” to mean “precinct” instead of “polling place.”  Many polling places had several precincts confusingly located at different tables.  In prior elections, including the 2004 primaries, voters could cast their ballots anywhere in their county.

Blackwell’s new rule took on extra importance in view of the confusion Blackwell’s office had created about Democratic precincts. in the months leading up to the election “In several of the state’s pro-Kerry cities,” according to the authors of What Happened in Ohio?: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election, “the secretary of state [Blackwell] effectively engendered a classic ‘Catch-22’ situation: as boards of election changed long-standing Democratic precinct locations shortly before the elections, Blackwell simultaneously disseminated out-of-date voter rolls to county officials, ensuring that many new voters would not be on the precinct rolls given to poll workers. Then, to people who were confused as a result and did not end up at the correct precinct, he offered provisional ballots, but subsequently refused to count provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct–which was often simply the wrong table in the correct building and room … Because of voting machine shortages, misinformation sent out by the secretary of state’s office and/or improper signage at the precincts, many people waited for hours in the wrong precinct line in a newly relocated precinct. Often, these people found themselves ineligible to receive a provisional ballot unless they stood again in a different line” (pp.16-17).

The Sandusky County Democratic Party filed a federal lawsuit claiming that Blackwell’s order was discriminatory for two reasons: first, low-income people were more likely to move and therefore appear in the wrong precinct, and second, that first-time voters would be disenfranchised because many of them would not know where to vote.  The U.S. District judge ruled for the plaintiffs and ordered Blackwell to issue directives that complied with HAVA.  Blackwell appealed, and the appeals court reversed the decision, allowing Blackwell to proceed with the more restrictive interpretation.  Blackwell cited a resolution by the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) as an authority for his decision, but EAC Chair DeForest Soaries said that Blackwell had misinterpreted the ruling and that the EAC did not “agree that a person in the wrong precinct shouldn’t be given a provisional ballot…The purpose of provisional ballots is to not turn anyone away from the polls…We want as many votes to count as possible.”  (Conyers, pp. 25-27)

Several of Ohio’s County Boards of Elections also disagreed with Blackwell’s interpretation and questioned his motivations.  The Cuyahoga County Board Chair Bob Bennett, who was also Chair of the Ohio Republican Party, stated that the Board would not refuse provisional ballots to voters who wanted them.  Blackwell then threatened to remove election officials who did not comply with his directive. (Conyers, p. 28)

Election officials in Hamilton County complied with the Blackwell directive. Of the 1100 provisional ballots judged invalid because they were cast in the wrong precinct, about 40% were at the right polling place but poll workers had directed them to the wrong table (Conyers, p. 28).

In other areas, poll workers refused to issue any provisional ballots, and in one precinct, voters were incorrectly told they could cast their ballot in any precinct, which led to their ballots being invalidated (Conyers, p. 28).  Some polling places ran out of provisional ballots, and some never had any to begin with (Conyers, p. 62).

Ohio Governor Bob Taft estimated that Blackwell’s decision could have affected more than 100,000 voters. (Conyers, p. 24)

Blackwell instituted similar roadblocks to absentee voting.  In 2004, Ohio voters who wished to vote absentee had to provide a reason, such as disability, religious observance, absence from the country, or military service. In addition, many people requesting an absentee ballot were incorrectly told that they were not properly registered and were required to show up in person to correct this. In Franklin County, where Columbus is located, the Board of Election (BOE) issued a blanket challenge to students who were studying away from home and wanted to vote absentee.  They were told they had to attend a mass hearing the Thursday before the election.  A court overruled the BOE, but the confusion had increased (What Happened in Ohio?, pp. 17-18).  In Hamilton County (Cincinnati) some absentee ballots were delivered lacking an option to vote for Kerry and, similar to the butterfly ballots used in Florida 2000, absentee ballots in Ohio 2004 were often deliberately confusing.  Those who overcame all the hurdles were supposed to receive an absentee ballot, but many ballots were lost or never processed; thousands of absentee ballots did not arrive until after Election Day.  Voters who did not receive their absentee ballots, according to HAVA, should be issued provisional ballots if they went to the polls.  Blackwell, however, issued a directive barring anyone who requested an absentee ballot, whether or not it was received, from getting a provisional ballot.  A lawsuit was filed, and Blackwell was ordered to advise all Boards of Elections to issue provisional ballots.  However, the ruling came late in the afternoon on Election Day, and thousands of voters had already been turned away. (Conyers, p. 41). We don’t know how many eligible voters were denied provisional ballots, but it was reported that 34,617 provisional ballots that were issued were not counted in Ohio in 2004 (What Happened in Ohio, p. 18).

In December 2004, Ranking Member Conyers and eleven other members of the Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Blackwell asking 34 questions about election day irregularities.    Blackwell did not answer any of the questions (Conyers, p. 29).

Confusing ballots

Another tactic for suppressing the Democratic vote was to make the ballot as confusing as possible in Democratic districts, so a large number of ballots would be disqualified.

In 2004, Ralph Nader had to contend with legal challenges and other difficulties, mainly from Democrats, in an effort to keep him off the ballot.  After he failed to qualify in Ohio, Blackwell did not have Nader’s name removed from the ballot.  In most states, the ballots would be reprinted to reduce confusion, but Blackwell instead increased voter confusion by giving each of the 88 Boards of Election (BOEs) total discretion about how to handle the issue.  They could block out Nader’s name or, if the BOE determined that it was not feasible to remove Nader’s name, they could leave it on the ballot so long as they posted a notice somewhere in the precinct informing voters that any vote cast for Nader would not be counted. Increasing voter confusion provided a greater opportunity for ballots to be spoiled and disqualified.  In one Ohio county, the BOE placed stickers over Nader’s name which covered Kerry’s name as well (What Happened in Ohio?, p. 18).

There were some third-party candidates who did qualify for the Ohio ballot in 2004, and in some cases they received impossibly high counts. To keep elections fair, Ohio rotates candidates’ names, so that everybody is at the top of the ballot an equal portion of the time. However, when several different precincts share a polling place, this rotation can create an opportunity for fraud. One way this can happen is if voters punch their ballots with another precinct’s voting machine. For example, Cuyahoga County, which is the most important source of Democratic votes in Ohio, had different precincts at the same polling places, with each precinct having a different ballot order.   In some of these polling places, voters were directed, either accidentally or intentionally, to insert their ballots in any open machine, when they should have been directed to the machine that matched their precinct. When ballots were fed into the wrong machine, Kerry votes were switched to third-party votes.  For example, Benedictine High School, a heavily Democratic polling place in Cuyahoga County, had one precinct that  gave the Libertarian Party candidate 32% of the vote, and a different precinct that gave the Constitution Party candidate 40% of the vote (Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen?, pp, 12-13).

In certain ballot orders, Kerry and Bush alternated positions, so Kerry votes went to Bush, and vice versa.  Since Cuyahoga County is overwhelmingly Democratic, this resulted in a big loss for Kerry and gain for Bush.

In Cuyahoga County and Franklin County, which both vote heavily Democratic, the arrows on the absentee ballots were not aligned with the punch holes, so numerous votes were miscast. In Hamilton County, workers who took Ralph Nader’s name off the absentee ballots also removed John Kerry’s name, so many absentee voters were not able to cast a vote for Kerry.

Undervotes and overvotes

In 2004, Ohio had about 93,000 spoiled ballots. These are ballots on which either no vote for president was recorded (undervote) or more than one vote was recorded (overvote). Some of these were caused by confusing ballots, but there are other reasons as well.  For example, someone might have filled in the presidential choice too lightly for the optical reader to read, although it could be read in a hand count. For example, in Toledo in 2004, undervotes were caused by the wrong markers being distributed for marking optical-scan ballots, so that the votes could not be read by the machine (What Happened in Ohio, p. 85).

Sometimes a punch card voter might not have punched all the way through, leaving a “chad” that could not be read by the tabulator but could be read in a hand count.  Ohio counts a chad as a valid vote if two corners are detached. Of the 88 counties in Ohio, 68 relied on the outdated punch-card system. In 2000, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris engineered the defeat of Al Gore by halting the hand count of the spoiled punch cards (not, as is generally believed, by halting a “recount”).

In Florida in 2000, federal investigators found that black voters’ ballots spoiled 900% more often than white voters’ ballots, mainly due to punch card error. Although I was not able to find a good reason for it, research has nevertheless determined that, as a rule, minority voters are much more likely to have spoiled ballots than nonminority voters when they use punch card systems. When they use other systems, the racial gap is reduced.   Ohio was the only state that refused to eliminate or fix punch card machines, even though fixing the problem is cheap and easy.  Ohio could have done the same as Michigan did, placing a card-reading machine in each polling place, so voters could check to make sure their vote would tally; if it did not tally, they could get another card.  If those card-reading machines had been installed, many of the 93,000 mostly Democratic spoiled votes would have gone a long way toward closing the gap on Bush’s lead over Kerry. The ACLU sued Ohio, based on its finding that Ohio’s insistence on forcing 73% of its electorate to use punch cards had an “overwhelming” racial bias, where votes were voided mostly in African American precincts, but Ohio’s Republican attorney general postponed the ACLU trial date until after the election.

As predicted, the New York Times found that the undervote problem occurred mainly in minority areas which vote Democratic.  For example, in Cleveland, where nearly 13,000 ballots were spoiled, the Times found that black precincts had more than twice as many spoiled ballots as white precincts.  In Dayton, precincts that went for Kerry had almost twice the number of spoiled ballots as those that went for Bush.  Nearly 77,000 of the spoiled ballots were punch cards. (Conyers, p. 64).  In April 2006, long after the election, a federal court ruled that Ohio’s use of punch-card machined violated citizens’ equal-protection rights.

Some Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) voters said they were given punch cards that were pre-punched for Bush-Cheney.  This meant that if the voter selected Bush, the vote would count for Bush, but if she punched Kerry or any other candidate, there would be an overvote which would disqualify the ballot (What Happened in Ohio, p. 85).

The undervote problem was particularly acute in two precincts in Montomery County, which each had a rate of more than 25%, which would mean that around 16,000 voters stood in long lines to vote but declined to vote for president, a scenario which seems very unlikely.  Montgomery County had a 2% undervote rate overall, which means that predominately Democratic precincts had a 75% higher undervote rate than predominantly Republican precincts did (Conyers, p. 63-64). Nationally, the number of people who leave the vote for president blank is in the range of one half of one percent (0.5%).

One way to figure out the intent of the voters is to hand count the spoiled ballots.  However, thanks to a corrupt recount process, only one Ohio county did a hand recount of the 2004 election. Overall, the spoiled ballot rate amounts to tens of thousands of disenfranchised, mostly Democratic, voters (Conyers, p. 65).

Ranking Member Conyers and the House Judiciary Committee asked Secretary of State Blackwell how these problems could have occurred—equipment or poll worker error, or manipulation—but Blackwell did not respond (Conyers, pp. 64-65).

Election fraud in rural counties

Although voter disenfranchisement was rife in urban, minority areas, there is evidence of a different type of voter theft in twelve rural counties: Auglaize, Brown, Butler, Clermont, Darke, Highland, Mercer, Miami, Putnam, Shelby, Van Wert and Warren. For example, Ellen Connally, an underfunded, liberal, black Democratic candidate who lost her race for chief justice of Ohio’s Supreme Court, received 5,000 more votes than Kerry did for president (59,532 vs. 54,185) in rural Butler County.  Statewide, Kerry won 667,000 more votes for president than Connally did for chief justice, but in the 12 rural counties, Connally beat Kerry’s total by 19,621 votes — a margin of 10%.  According to former Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich:  ”Down-ticket candidates shouldn’t outperform presidential candidates like that,” he says. ”That just doesn’t happen. The question is: Where did the votes for Kerry go?”

In the case of rural counties the votes were not lost by spoiling.  The evidence instead points to fraud.  The Republican judge who defeated Connally was Thomas Moyer. Statewide, Bush outpolled Moyer by 21%.  Yet in the 12 rural counties, Bush’s margin over Moyer was 51%.  Robert F. Kennedy Jr. maintains that  “If Kerry had maintained his statewide margin over Connally in the twelve suspect counties, as he almost assuredly would have done in a clean election, he would have bested her by 81,260 ballots. That’s a swing of 162,520 votes from Kerry to Bush — more than enough to alter the outcome.”

Ohio, like several other states in 2004, had an initiative on the ballot to outlaw same-sex marriage, which was more popular than President Bush. It outpolled Bush statewide by 470,000 votes, but in six of the twelve rural counties, as well as in six other small counties, Bush outpolled the ban on gay marriage by 16,132 votes.  This would mean that thousands of Ohio voters voted both for Bush and for gay marriage, which seems very unlikely

Steven F. Freeman, a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania who specializes in research methodology, analyzed the data in Ohio in 2004 and concluded that ”This is very strong evidence that the count is off in those counties….” ”By itself, without anything else, what happened in these twelve counties turns Ohio into a Kerry state. To me, this provides every indication of fraud.”

In fact, there is evidence of ballot tampering.  In Clermont County, election observers provided sworn affadavits to the House Judiciary Committee stating that marks for Kerry on optical scan ballots were covered by white stickers and marks for Bush were filled in to replace them.

Voting machines

Ballot tampering can be done either by hand or electronically, under the guise of computer “glitches.” Real glitches would happen randomly, but in Ohio in 2004, the glitches overwhelmingly favored Republicans. In some cases, we know how the tampering was done; in other cases we can’t be sure.  For example, In rural Miami County, where Connally beat Kerry, one precinct showed a turnout of 98.55%, which would mean that all but 10 voters showed up at the polls.  However, the Columbus Free Press obtained affidavits from 25 registered voters who swore that they did not vote.  In this case, we know that too many votes were recorded, but we don’t know how it happened.  The reason we don’t know is that, although The Secretary of State is required by law to investigate issues like this, Ken Blackwell elected not to investigate.  There has been no independent audit of the machines, no questioning under oath of employees of the vendors of the machines or of election officials.

Ohio in 2004 provided ample opportunity to rig elections electronically.  About 15% of the Ohio votes were recorded by electronic voting machines with no paper trails, so there was no way to accurately monitor them or do recounts. These machines accounted for about 700,000 votes in an election won by 118,000 votes.  According to a study reported in the Columbus Free Press, “a shift of a mere six votes in each of Ohio’s 11,000 plus precincts would have given Kerry the White House.”

Fraud was facilitated by the fact that in 2004 the voting machine companies, Diebold, ES& S, and Triad, were owned. by highly partisan Republicans.  Perhaps the most well known was Wally O’Dell, head of Diebold, who famously promised that he would deliver Ohio’s electoral votes for Bush.  Most of the voting machines used in Ohio were made by Diebold, and Diebold also controlled the software that would count the votes.

Following are some issues that occurred in Ohio in 2004:

  • Rural Auglaize County, in which Connally outpolled Kerry, used touch screen machines made by ES&S. Two weeks before the election, a the Deputy Director of the Board of Elections  saw an employee of ES&S making an unauthorized log-in on the computer that would be used to compile election results.
  • In rural Miami County, after 100 percent of precincts had already reported their official results, an unexplained additional 18,615 votes were added to the final tally, 12,000 of them for Bush.
  • In Mahoning County (Youngstown), there was sworn testimony from voters whose votes for Kerry had recorded for Bush.  A Washington Post investigation in Youngstown found 25 electronic voting machines flipping votes from Kerry to Bush. Between 20 and 30 ES&S/Votronic voting machines had to be recalibrated in the middle of Election Day. The Mahoning County BOE admitted that 31 of their machines were recording votes for the wrong candidate, and  the Election Protection Coalition confirmed these reports. The House Judiciary Committee also received allegations that in several precincts there were more votes counted than the number of voters who signed the poll books, even though the poll books also included absentee voters.  (Conyers, pp. 46- 47).

Due to lack of cooperation from Secretary of State Blackwell, we have not been able to ascertain the number of votes that were impacted or whether the machines malfunctioned due to intentional manipulation or error. This would help us determine if the Voting Rights Act wa also violated.  Ascertaining the precise cause as well as the culprit could help ensure that the error does not occur in the future.  Secretary of State Blackwell’s apparent failure to initiate any investigation into this serious computer error would seem inconsistent with his statutory duty to review these matters (Conyers, p. 47).

In Franklin County, voters reported that votes for Kerry disappeared from the screens of the voting machines, an effect that they called the “Franklin County Fade.”

In Franklin County, a computerized voting machine recorded 4258 votes for Bush and 260 for Kerry, but there were only 800 registered voters in that precinct, and only 638 voters cast their ballots.  This “glitch” was noticed, and Bush’s total was adjusted to 365 (Conyers, pp. 50-51).

The voting records of Perry County show significantly more votes than voters in some precincts, significantly fewer ballots than voters in other precincts, and voters casting more than one ballot. (Conyers, p. 53)

Given the lack of any explanation to date, and the absence of willingness by Secretary Blackwell or any other authorities to explain or investigate these irregularities, it is not inconceivable that some sort of vote tampering has occurred.  If so, that would constitute a denial of the Constitutional guarantees of Equal Protection and Due Process, the Voting Rights Act, and Ohio election laws.  (Conyers, p. 55)

In Trumbull County, there were more absentee votes than absentee voters (Conyers, p. 53)

It’s important to recognize that rigging of voting equipment is only noticeable when something violates probability.  If the tallies are at all plausible, there would be no way to know that the fraud had occurred.

Observers and reporters barred

In October, 2004 Blackwell issued two directives.  First, reporters were barred from the polls.  Second, representatives of the media who were conducting exit polls were required to be 100 feet away.  The publisher of the Beacon Journal daily newspaper sued for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction because the directives abridged their First Amendment rights to freedom of the press.  The suit was denied by the district court but granted by the court of appeals, which observed that “democracies die behind closed doors.” The court ordered access to the polling place for purposes of news gathering and reporting.

Blackwell also kept international election monitors away from the Ohio polling places and threatened to arrest a distinguished team from the United Nations if they tried to observe inside any Ohio polling place.  This is the sort of action that is condemned when U.S democracy advocates monitor elections in other countries.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an international consortium based in Vienna, had been formally invied by the State Department to witness and report on the election in eleven states.  However, in Ohio the observers were barred from watching the opening of the polling places, the counting of ballots, and in some cases the election itself.  Søren Søndergaard, a Danish member of the team said, “We thought we could be at the polling places before, during, and after the voting.  After they were denied admission to the polls in Columbus, he and his partner went to Blackwell, but he refused to give them letters of approval, so they were forced to “monitor’ the election from a distance of 100 feet.

Blackwell succeeded in keeping reporters away from post-election ballot counting in Republican Warren County by claiming that the FBI had issued a level 10 terrorist warning that required the building to be locked down.  Not only did the FBI deny ever issuing the warning, but the Cincinnati Enquirer later reported that emails had been found that planned the whole lockdown a week before the election.  The ban was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and Ohio law.  Warren County was one in which Bush’s vote count was much higher than the exit polls had predicted.

The secrecy in Warren County led to the suspicion that Republicans had used a classic trick:  Results are delayed until it becomes known how many votes the favored candidate needs to win, and the totals are then adjusted to produce that number.  Warren County was one of the last counties in the state to announce its official results, and the results were a huge departure from statewide patterns.  Warren as one of the counties in which Ellen Connally received 2.426 more votes for chief justice than Kerry did for president. The Conyers report concluded that “It is impossible to rule out the possibility that some sort of manipulation of the tallies occurred on election night in the locked-down facility” (Conyers, p. 45).