February 12, 2013
Before you get overly excited about last week's Pew Charitable Trust study that indicated Ohio ranked 29th out of the 50 states in the quality of election administration, note that the data is from the years 2008 and 2010. The Columbus Dispatch put the story on the top of page A5 on February 7 with an accurate headline: "Flaws in U.S. elections widespread, Pew study shows."
Readers should remember that Ohio's elections were administered by a reform-minded secretary of state, Jennifer Brunner, in those years, not by the notorious Republican secretaries of state J. Kenneth Blackwell and Jon Husted. Both made practices out of disenfranchising young, elderly, poor and minority voters.
The Pew study used 15 criteria including unrecorded votes, waiting time, and uncounted absentee and provisional ballots.
There are serious flaws in the Pew study that weren't picked up in their assessment of the 2008 presidential election and continued to be a major problem in 2012, as reported by the Columbus Free Press. Public records obtained by the Free Press from the 88 county boards of elections document that 1.25 million voters were purged in Ohio between the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections. Also, another 1.1 million were purged between the presidential elections of 2008 and 2012.
Virtually all the purges were done in the nine key urban areas of the state that vote overwhelmingly Democratic.
For example, in the Cleveland area, 267,000 voters were purged. In the Columbus area, 93,600 disappeared from the voting rolls. In the Cincinnati area, 65,500 were purged. These "disappeared" or purged voters are disproportionately from the inner city or urban centers.
John Kerry would have won the 2004 election in Ohio had 24.96% of registered voters in Cleveland not been purged. In a few African American wards, over 50% of the voters were wiped off the voting rolls.
This is done through interpreting the National Voting Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993 that each state makes a reasonable effort to remove the names of ineligible voters. One legal method for purging urban voters is to remove anyone who hasn't voted in the last two federal elections.
If voting is a Constitutional right like the First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly, why don't we purge anyone who hasn't demonstrated in the last two years?
A quick contrast between the Pew study and BBC investigative reporter Greg Palast's investigation reveals more than "flaws" in the U.S. election system, but a system that is broken, biased toward the rich, and racist.
Prior to reading the Pew report, readers should consult Palast's "Billionaires and Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in Nine Easy Steps" (Seven Stories Press, 2012). Palast points out that if you combine the 2008 presidential election national numbers of 767,000 provisional ballots cast and not counted along with the 488,000 absentee ballots mailed in but uncounted – plus the 1,451,000 ballots spoiled, usually meaning they were mangled or rejected by some counting machine – the figures for uncounted ballots in the 2008 presidential election in the whole country is 2.7 million.
Palast also demonstrates that nationally, nearly 2.4 million voters had their registrations rejected. Additionally, almost 500,000 were wrongly purged from the rolls in the U.S.
The Free Press has documented how partisan, for-profit companies tied to the Republican Party have been involved in controlling the electronic poll books in Ohio. Companies like ES&S and Triad – the former once owned by Republican Chuck Hagel and the latter owned by the Rapp family who are heavily tied to the right-to-life movement – were involved in the development of voter logs in Ohio at both the county and state levels.
Palast, not Pew, reminds us in "Billionaires and Ballot Bandits" that an estimated 320,000 registered voters were turned away from voting by election workers who refused to accept their ID.
If we include the more than 250,000 provisional ballots that were only partly counted, as Palast documents, then we've got up to 6 million Americans who fully or in part lost their right to vote in the 2008 presidential election.
The Pew study does reveal how the new Jim Crow works in terms of waiting time differences between black and white voters. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology analysis determined that black and Hispanic voters were in line nearly twice as long.
The New York Times noted in their Pew study article that, "A separate analysis, by an Ohio State University professor and the Orlando Sentinel, concluded that more than 200,000 voters in Florida ‘gave up in frustration' without voting."
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, by restricting the hours of early voting sites and limiting the county boards of elections to having only one early voting location – created 5-hour long lines in Cleveland in the last election. There were also similar lines in Cincinnati.
A well thought-out plan for early voting by the Franklin County Board of Elections in Columbus limited the time voters spent in line to 45 minutes, as observed by Free Press reporters. However, these waits were still longer than those in the Republican rural strongholds.
A New York Times/CBS news poll conducted shortly after Election Day 2012 found that 18% of Democrats said they had waited at least a half hour to vote, while only 9% of Republicans made that claim.
In order for the United States to demonstrate its belief in democracy as a core value, the right to vote must be enshrined in the Constitution and a non-partisan national election commission must take over registration, including the pre-registration of high school voters guaranteeing their voting right when they turn 18.
As long as we allow 50 different state systems controlled by the whims of secretaries of state and county boards of election officials, we will remain a broken democracy.
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