J. Kenneth Blackwell: The “J” is for Judas
January 23, 2005
Ohio Secretary of State J.
Kenneth Blackwell is perhaps
the single most opportunistic politician in the history of Ohio. His career began in Cincinnati in the 1970s and progressed to statewide office until today. Along the way, he metamorphed from a charter reform Democrat, into a Carter Democrat, then a New Democrat, then an Independent, then a moderate Republican, then a conservative Republican, and is now the state’s leading reactionary right-wing Republican.
Blackwell has always represented opportunism in search of a political position. His flamboyant rhetorical style has never changed, as he has gone from arguing for civil rights to recently comparing himself to Gandhi and King as he offered himself up for arrest in defiance of a federal court ordering him to count provisional ballots cast within a voter’s county.
Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell has come under intense fire for his role in officiating the disputed Ohio balloting and vote count. Blackwell served as co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign while running an election he says went “smoothly.” The fact that the vast majority of voters he disenfranchised are poor and minorities is lost upon the born-again Blackwell who has staked out the far right-wing of Ohio politics populated by intolerant bigots and white supremacists.
Blackwell will gladly do their bidding if they will anoint him governor.
In many ways, Blackwell is similar to George Wallace, who decided that in order to be governor of Alabama he would have to be the greatest racist in that state’s history. Blackwell relished the position as co-chair of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign in Ohio. His partisan activities are now notorious.
A fund-raising letter he sent out following the election pointed out how he had helped “deliver the great Buckeye state for George W. Bush” while denouncing Kerry as an “unapologetic liberal.” A front page Columbus Dispatch story on January 8 told the rest of the story: “Letter asks for illegal money.” Blackwell’s letter directly solicited corporate checks for his gubernatorial campaign, which is illegal under Ohio campaign law. Blackwell claimed that the solicitation of corporate checks was “an oversight and that criticism of his partisan activities for Bush is ‘misdirected,’” according to the Dispatch.
How could anyone call Blackwell a partisan? Let’s recap some of the Secretary of State’s activities prior to the 2004 election.
¨ Under an archaic Ohio law, both the Republican and Democratic Parties, or any slate of five candidates, may embed official election challengers inside polling places. The New York Times reported on Oct. 23 that the Republican Party intended to place thousands of lawyers and other GOP faithfuls inside the polls to challenge voters. Republican insiders confide here that the key goal was to jam lines and frustrate new voters. The GOP apparently figured many voters in key Democratic precincts wouldn’t wait in line more than 15 minutes to vote. This is certain to be a major tactic in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County and other Democratic strongholds. The GOP was not planning to challenge voters in Republican districts.
¨ The Republican Party sent letters challenging thousands of Franklin County students who were registered to vote absentee. Franklin County is home to Columbus, the state’s largest city and its capitol. Though it is also home to Ohio State University, thousands of local students go to schools outside the county or state. The GOP apparently does not want their votes counted. This unprecedented mass challenge prompted the Franklin County Board of Elections, whose director is a conservative Republican, to reserve the large Veterans Memorial Auditorium downtown to process the challenges. The County told thousands of students that if they don’t appear in Columbus to answer the GOP challenges, they might lose their right to vote. The Vets Memorial event was eventually cancelled.
¨ The Franklin County Board of Elections called or wrote to an undetermined number of voters who obtained absentee ballots, challenging their addresses. In at least one case, after a series of angry phone calls, the Board admitted there was nothing wrong with the address in question and reinstated voting rights. The voter in question was a registered Democrat. His wife, an independent at the same address, was not challenged. It is unclear how many others have been wrongly knocked out.
¨ Even if they are counted, Franklin County’s absentee ballot forms were rigged in ways strikingly reminiscent of those in Florida 2000. On many absentee forms, Kerry was listed third on the list of presidential candidates. But the actual number you punch for Kerry is “4.” If you punch “3” you’ve just voted for Bush. Sound familiar?
¨ The Franklin County Board of Elections Director insisted on e-voting machines which have malfunctioned in at least two Congressional elections, and which have no paper trail. The November issues of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics Magazines ran the following headlines on their covers, respectively: “E-vote emergency: And you thought dimpled chads were bad’” and “Could hackers tilt the election?” Vigorous protests against the paperless machines have been staged here, but many will be used, rendering a meaningful recount impossible.
¨ In four other Ohio counties, the notorious Diebold company, whose CEO Wally O’Dell has pledged to deliver Ohio’s votes to Bush, provided the proprietary “secret” e-voting software to count votes without any paper trail. O’Dell lives in the wealthy Columbus suburb of Upper Arlington and is a major Bush donor.
¨ Twenty GOP-dominated Ohio counties gave wrong information to former felons about their voter eligibility. In Hamilton County, home of Cincinnati and the Republican Taft family, officials told numerous former felons that a judge had to sign off before they could vote, which is blatantly false.
¨ Franklin County, which normally cancels 200-300 registered voters a year for felony convictions, sent at least 3500 cancellation letters to both current felons and ex-felons whose convictions date back to 1998. The list included numerous citizens who were charged with felonies but convicted only of misdemeanors.
¨ Blackwell reversed a long-standing Ohio practice and is barring voters from casting provisional ballots within their county if they are registered to vote but there’s been a mistake about where they are expected to cast their ballot. In the 2004 spring primary, Blackwell allowed voters to cast provisional ballots by county, even if they were in the wrong precinct. But this fall, such voters had to leave the wrong precinct and find their way to the right one.
¨ The Columbus Dispatch (which endorsed Bush) and WVKO Radio have both documented phone calls from people impersonating Board of Elections workers and directing registered voters to different and incorrect polling sites. One individual was falsely told not to vote at the polling station across the street from his house, but at a “new” site, four miles away. Under Blackwell’s new rules, such a vote would not be counted.
¨ In Cincinnati, some 150,000 voters were moved from active to inactive status within the last four years for not voting in the last two federal elections. This is not required under Ohio law, but is an option allowed and exercised by the Republican-dominated Hamilton County Board of Elections.
¨ Blackwell ruled that any voter registration form on other than 80-pound weight bond paper would not be accepted. This is an old law left over from pre-scanning days. Many voters who had registered on lighter paper, had their registration returned, even though the forms had been officially sanctioned by local election boards.
Blackwell also chaired the Issue One initiative in Ohio that constitutionally outlawed gay marriage and various forms of domestic partnerships. He toured the state with the Reverend Rod Parsley of the World Harvest Church, a right-wing Pentecostal church that provides a variety of religious services in exchange for money, to promote the ballot issue. Under Ohio law, gay marriage is already illegal under the Defense of Marriage Act, nor was there any chance that Ohio’s Republican-dominated Supreme Court was going to declare gay marriage a constitutionally-protected civil right.
Blackwell was officially censured for running a “get out the vote” operation in the Secretary of State’s office which included making calls and leaving messages on voters’ phones on Election Day.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that Blackwell allowed county election officials to move voting machines up to a month ahead of time into polling places, like the New Life Church in Gahanna. You may remember that at this polling site there was the great miracle of faith-based voting where 628 voters were registered and 4258 votes went to George W. Bush during the election eve tally. Blackwell explained this away as just another computer glitch.
When asked to explain why he forced Franklin County Board of Elections officials to run an election with only 2798 machines when they needed 5000, he pointed to the Board’s bipartisan nature and the Democrats serving as Chair and Deputy Director and claims he had nothing to do with the decision.
Of course, if you go to the Ohio Secretary of State website and click past the progressive-sounding phrases “Change our world” and his personal motto “A passion for truth, a quest for excellence,” you will find that he admits that he “appoints the members of Boards of Elections in each of Ohio’s 88 counties.” The Democrats that work in these highly-prized and well-paid jobs all serve at Blackwell’s pleasure and can be fired in an instant.
William Anthony, the Chair of Franklin County Board of Elections, told Charles Traylor at WVKO 1580AM radio in Columbus, that the Board had requested backup paper ballots to accommodate the long lines of voters anticipated, since there was more than a 25% voter registration increase. Blackwell, who by state law, “supervises the administration of election laws,” refused, holding that while it would be okay for provisional voters and absentee voters to use punch card paper ballots, it wouldn’t be proper for the remaining voters to use the punch card ballots as a backup in case of long lines. Each precinct already had a punch card machine in place to accommodate provisional voters.
In a March 15, 2004 speech to the Ohio League of Women Voters, Blackwell outlined his plan to electronically integrate all the information systems between the Secretary of State’s office and all 88 county Boards of Elections. Blackwell’s opposition to any transparency for private software and computer systems used in the elections caused critics to wonder whether he could be trusted with complete control of Ohio’s election database. Blackwell saw it differently: “We want to provide Ohioans with the most comprehensive and expeditious election results reporting system possible. This can only be achievable if county election agencies and the Secretary of State function as a modern information sharing unit.”
How much information Blackwell shared or altered on Election Day remains unknown.
When noticed for deposition by attorneys for contesters challenging Ohio’s election results in December, Blackwell claimed his deposition was not necessary and, according to the AP, accused the contesters of “frivolous conduct.” The Republican-controlled Attorney General’s office sought a protective order to keep Blackwell from testifying under oath.
New affidavits point to possible criminal activity by top Ohio election officials, raising yet more questions about the 2004 vote. Rhonda J. Frazier, a former employee of the Secretary of State’s office, has confirmed in an affidavit taken by Cynthia Butler, working with freepress.org, that the Office had secret slush funds. Frazier says it also failed to comply with the requirements of “The Voting Reform Grant” that required all the voting machines in Ohio to be inven-toried and tagged for security reasons.
“I was routinely told to violate the bidded contracts to order supplies from other companies for all 17 Secretary of State offices throughout the State which were cheaper vendors, leaving a cash surplus differential in the budget,” Frazier states, “After complaining about the office’s repeated practices of violating grants and contracts, I was fired.”
Blackwell plans to speak at the exclusive Scioto Country Club on January 12 about the issue of ethics.
Bob Fitrakis is Editor of the Free Press and was on the legal team that recently filed Moss v. Bush and Moss v. Moyer to challenge the election results in Ohio.
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