by Greg Palast
Sean Hannity called me a putz. Oh, my! And soft-porn-site scribe Frank Salvato put me in with the “black helicopter” conspiracy league. Golly!
I can live with that. But when Salon disses my report of vote suppression in Ohio ( “Was the Election Stolen?” by Farhad Manjoo), I have to respond. Manjoo went after my article, “Kerry Won,” the latest in my series of investigations of our manipulated election system first published in America by … Salon: “Florida’s Flawed ‘Voter-Cleansing’ Program.”
Now, the facts. Most voters in Ohio cast their ballots for John Kerry, which should, in accordance with Mrs. Gordon’s civics lessons from sixth grade, have given Kerry the Electoral College majority and the White House. Trouble is, those votes won’t be counted.
So where are these uncounted, but winning, votes? When I went to sleep the night of Nov. 2, Kerry was down in Ohio by 136,000 votes. But over a quarter million ballots had yet to be counted. Those abandoned ballots, overwhelmingly Democratic, sit in two piles, one called “spoiled” and the other “provisional.”
The ugly, secret shame of American democracy is that 2 million votes are “spoiled” in presidential elections — tossed away untallied as “unreadable.” And the nasty part is that roughly half are cast by African-Americans. To learn of this astonishing Jim Crow thumb on the U.S. electoral scales, you have to hunt through the appendixes of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission report on the Florida 2000 race. The government’s demographers concluded that of the 179,855 votes “spoiled” in Florida that year, 54 percent were cast by blacks. All other credible studies tell us that Florida is horribly typical of the nation.
On November 2, in Ohio, Republicans played the spoilage game for all it was worth. Over 93,000 ballots were chucked on the spoilage pile, almost all of them generated by those infernal chad-making punch-card machines.
Whose votes were lost in the chad blizzard? According to a recent ACLU analysis of Ohio’s system, votes stolen away by punch-card machine error are “overwhelmingly” found in African-American — read “Democratic” — precincts.
After the swindle of 2000, who would have the nerve to keep these machines in operation? Answer: the co-chair of Ohio’s Bush-Cheney reelection campaign, J. Kenneth Blackwell, who also happens to have the convenient post of Ohio secretary of state. Blackwell, who makes Katherine Harris look like Thomas Jefferson, concedes the racially bent effects of punch-card voting; but in spite of this — or because of this — he refused to replace or fix these machines for the 2004 election.
The result: 93,000 votes spoiled, uncounted. Salon’s Manjoo, ignorant of the ACLU’s precinct-by-precinct studies, simply dismisses out of hand the assertion that most of those were Kerry votes. But given that Ohio’s spoiled ballots are concentrated in black and poor communities, it is hardly a wild leap to discern which candidate got punched out by the punch cards.
Now, on to the second pile of no-count ballots, the provisionals. And guess who got these second-class, back-of-the-bus ballots? Once again, Ohio’s African-American voters.
The Republican Party declared the hunting season open for dark-skinned voters in October, announcing a plan to challenge “fraudulent” voters on a mass basis, the first such programmatic attack on the franchise since the days of the Night Riders.
And the tactic was very much the same as that used by the allies of the White Citizens Councils and Bull Conners in the early ’60s: targeted and unequal application of picayune registration and voting requirements. The Ohio courts were not amused, slapping down the Republican Party’s challenge lists before Election Day.
However, the party kept secret lists and a secret program in its back pocket to ambush black voters on Election Day, a scheme outed by BBC television the week before the election.
Majoo has an answer for that, too. On Oct. 27, Manjoo wrote an entire column defending the po’ widdle Republicans from BBC’s mean and unfounded attack, subtitled, “Investigative reporter Greg Palast discovers a ‘secret’ voting list, but the document doesn’t necessarily prove Republican wrongdoing.” Ace reporter Manjoo’s entire investigation of the matter comes down to three quotations from a Republican Party flack, Mindy Tucker Fletcher, who — surprise! — denied the BBC’s findings. I was never contacted nor was a single one of our experts.
Here’s what we discovered at the BBC: several lists of voters, every one of them in an African-American precinct. Fletcher’s official explanation (her third variant, by the way) was that these were returned undeliverable fundraising solicitations. Odd, that: Many of the addresses were those of homeless men’s shelters, not where I’d expect a lot of Bush-Cheney donors. And why were the Republicans sending solicitations only to black voters? Is that their normal funding group?
More suspicious is that these lists of “undeliverable addresses” were sent, not to some clerk at a direct-mail house, but to the chief of research for the Republican National Committee in Washington as well as the executive director of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Florida. I guess they handle the clerical overflow work.
Or maybe, as every expert told us, these were hit lists meant to stop, impede, intimidate and slow down voters in African-American precincts. The Republicans have more than embarrassment to motivate them to mislead us about the true purpose of these lists: Profiling citizens of one race to block their voting, even if each challenge itself has merit, is a criminal violation of the Voting Rights Act.
Whatever their ultimate use of these lists, whatever the Republican game plan, we have the result: In Ohio, an astonishing 155,000 voters were shunted to provisional ballots, where their votes would be vulnerable to the partisan predation of GOP Secretary of State Blackwell. And once again, the provisionals were concentrated in the minority — that is, Democratic — areas.
Blackwell wasted no time in jiggering the rules to make sure as few provisional ballots as possible would be counted. He began by announcing that, for the first time in Ohio history, provisional ballots would not be counted if cast by a legal voter in the “wrong” precinct, even though the president remains the same for voters of all precincts. Furthermore, to increase the number of provisional ballots subject to challenge, Blackwell and other Republican office holders in Ohio went on a voter-roll-purging frenzy prior to the election. A favorite, first practiced in Florida in 2000, is to tag them ineligible “felon” voters. If a voter is wrongly purged, the registration is restored, yet the ballot will still be binned.
Add it up and the demographics of the spoiled and provisional ballots — if they were all counted — would overtake George Bush’s teeny lead.
Why Kerry Had to Concede
Lacking evidence to refute the hard stats and demographics that the uncounted votes are mostly Kerry’s, Manjoo ducks behind this tautological rock: He can “prove that Kerry couldn’t have won in Ohio: He conceded.”
Kerry did not concede because he did not have the votes. He conceded because he could not get them counted. Kerry would have to demand a hand count of the spoiled punch cards. But the hard fact is that, just as Katherine Harris stopped the hand count of the punch cards in Florida, Blackwell would undoubtedly do the same in Ohio. And face it: In a legal showdown, Blackwell could count on the help of that pus-hole of partisanship, the U.S. Supreme Court. Been there, done that. Add in the ballot-by-ballot litigation required to force a count of all the provisional ballots under rules — la Blackwell, and Kerry, realistically, didn’t stand a chance.
Unfortunately, neither did democracy.
Greg Palast, the author of “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: New Election
Edition,” investigated the 2004 race for BBC television’s “Newsnight” and
Harper’s magazine, for which he is a contributor.