[Dayton, Ohio. Tuesday November 6, 2012]
Several thousand African-American voters in Dayton, Ohio, may find their ballots left uncounted, and they, and America, wonâ€™t know itâ€“â€“even if the lost votes change the presidency.
First, you need to know, there are two elections for President in Ohio held on two days and in two colors.
Today, White Ohio will vote: Evangelicals, rurals, small businessmen, big and bigger businessmen, the whole Rotary Club.
Black Ohio already voted. More African-Americans vote early than on the official Election Day.
The big day for African-Americansâ€“â€“and for Barack Obamaâ€™s hopes for reelectionâ€“â€“was on Sunday, â€œSouls to the Pollsâ€ day, when church buses filled with the ladies of the choir and their men vote as a group.
This Sunday, I joined the Freedom Faith Missionary Baptist Church group, with cameraman Daniel Russel, following a feast of sweet potatoes, banana pudding and gospel and headed to the one and only Sunday polling station in all of Dayton and Montgomery County â€¦ as they stood in a line with nearly one thousand voters.
The line, about 80% African-American, snaked through the state building then out, through and around the buildingâ€™s parking complex.
After the hours of waiting, the patient citizens got their ballotsâ€”or thought they did. They didnâ€™t get ballots. They got this: â€œAPPLICATION FOR ABSENT VOTERâ€™S BALLOT.â€
In prior elections, and in some other counties in this current polling, early voters got ballot ballots, not absentee ballots.
I immediately got voting rights attorney Robert Fitrakis, on the phone. I told Fitrakis, also a professor at Columbus State College, about handing voters absentee ballots instead of regular, vote-now ballots.
â€œThatâ€™s insane!â€ he said, â€œCompletely wrong.â€ And stone cold dangerous to the vote count.
Itâ€™s simple: Not all absentee ballots get counted. Indeed, as I pointed out in Billionaires & Ballot Bandits, the US government data indicates that 488,136 mail-in ballots were rejected after they were cast in 2008. The New York Times puts it at two or three million cast and not counted. Not incidentally, the US Civil Rights Commission found that African Americans are 900% more likely to cast â€œspoiledâ€ votes (those cast and not counted) than a white voter.
Fitrakis had a hard time believing Republican officials would pull a stunt this raw. So, I shot off from Dayton to Columbus to show the professorÂ my smoking gun.
Sure enough: an absentee ballot application. The voters filled it out, stuck it in an envelope, sealed it, handed it to a clerk who ripped it open and gave them an absentee ballot to mark and sealâ€“â€“and leave to be counted on Election Night. Maybe. Maybe counted.
This is not the same as the ballot ballot given to voters on Election Day, i.e. the white voters.
â€œAn Absentee ballot is not an early ballot.â€ On a real ballot, when you cast a vote, the law requires it be counted. Not so for absentee ballots. There are a gazillion ways for officials to discard your absentee ballot. Unlike with the normal Ohio voting machines, if you put an â€œXâ€ or check the box next to your candidateâ€™s name, your ballot goes in the dumpster. (The bubble next to the candidateâ€™s name must be blackened inâ€“â€“enough but not too much.)
In Ohio, there are extra tricks to trash your absentee ballot. â€œSee this form? See all these blank spaces?â€ Fitrakis explained that Ohioâ€™s Republican Secretary of State, Jon Husted, requires absentee voters to fill out these long â€œapplications,â€ the ones handed out in Dayton to early voters. Failure to include even picayune information on the application or its envelope, or use a â€œsuspiciousâ€ signature (whatever that is), and your ballot goes bye-bye.
How many? Enough ballots were rejected and voters purged in Ohio in 2004 to re-elect George Bush as President.
I asked Fitrakis if many of these voters would lose their vote. â€œAbsolutely,â€ he replied. â€œJon Husted is the most partisan Secretary of State in America.â€
I asked the elections manager at early voting why early voters were given absentee ballots, not allowed to use voting machines, as in prior elections.
â€œIn case there is a need to re-count votes.â€ Huh? Then why not have white-day voters also use these not-quite-ballots?
Whatâ€™s this all about? After all, these â€œabsentâ€ voters on Sunday werenâ€™t absent at all. One thousand were lined up right outside his office.
This absentee ballot game was only the latest attack on the right of citizens of color to vote. He noted that Ohio had purged a million and a quarter voters from the voter rolls in the past two years. Which voters? In some rural white counties, not one name was purged. But in Cleveland, Ohio, some Black precincts suffered the removal of more than half the votersâ€™ names from the rolls.
And those crazy long lines? We would have hoped this Block-the-Black vote game had ended after the notorious 2004 election when another Ohio Republican Secretary of State, Kenneth Blackwell, finagled the allocation ofÂ voting machines to keep Black voters in line an average of 4.5 hours, while white voters waited 15 minutes. (Experts measured it.)
In 2008, a Democrat held the Secretary of Stateâ€™s office, and there were no lines. Ohio held a month of early voting, including a full month of Sundays.
This time, GOP vote chief Husted tried to end early voting completely. When a federal court stopped that scheme, he simply cut the days and hoursâ€“â€“only one Sunday, and then for only four hours for Souls to the Polls.
Where cities usually had several early polling stations, Husted allowed only one per county, including just one for 1.5 million Cleveland residents. The Rev. Jesse Jackson was there with the hungry voters near midnight, waiting since before the polls closed at 5pm.
â€œItâ€™s the New Jim Crow,â€ Fitrakis said.
Back at the early voting station in Dayton, I asked the Freedom Faith group in the church van how they were doing. They were in a terrific mood, happy they got to cast ballots, some for the first time.
I didnâ€™t have the heart to tell them that those votes may never be counted.
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Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestsellerÂ Â Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps, , including a comic book by Ted Rall and chapters by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Author’s proceeds from the book go to the not-for-profit Palast Investigative Fund for reporting on voter protection issues.
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