A law that will make democracy all but moot in Ohio is about to pass
the state legislature and to be signed by its Republican governor. Despite massive
corruption scandals besieging the Ohio GOP, any hope that the Democratic Party
could win this most crucial swing state in future presidential elections, or
carry its pivotal US Senate seat in 2006, is about to end.
House Bill 3 has already passed the Ohio House of Representatives and is about
to be approved by the Republican-dominated Senate, probably before the holiday
recess. Republicans dominate the Ohio legislature thanks to a heavily gerrymandered
crazy quilt of rigged districts, and to a moribund Ohio Democratic Party. The
GOP-drafted HB3 is designed to all but obliterate any possible future Democratic
revival. Opposition from the Ohio Democratic Party, where it exists at all,
is diffuse and ineffectual.
HB3's most publicized provision will require positive identification
before casting a vote. But it also opens voter registration activists to partisan
prosecution, exempts electronic voting machines from public scrutiny, quintuples
the cost of citizen-requested statewide recounts and makes it illegal to challenge
a presidential vote count or, indeed, any federal election result in Ohio. When
added to the recently passed HB1, which allows campaign financing to be dominated
by the wealthy and by corporations, and along with a Rovian wish list of GOP
attacks on the ballot box, democracy in Ohio could be all but over.
The GOP is ramming similar bills through state legislatures around the US,
starting with Georgia and Indiana. The ID requirements in particular have provoked
widespread opposition from newspapers such as the New York Times. The Times,
among others, argues that the ID requirements and the costs associated with
them, constitute an unconstitutional discriminatory poll tax.
But despite significant court challenges, the Republicans are forcing changes
in long-standing election laws that have allowed citizens to vote based on their
signatures alone. Across the US, GOP Jim Crow laws will eliminate millions of
Democratic voters from the registration rolls. In swing states like Ohio, such
ballots are almost certain to be crucial.
The proposed Ohio law will demand a valid photo ID or a utility bill, a bank
statement, a paycheck or a government document with a current address. Thousands
of Ohio citizens who are elderly, homeless, unemployed or who do not drive will
be effectively disenfranchised. Many citizens, for example, rent apartments
where the utilities are paid by landlords. In such cases, the number of people
living in utilities-included apartment rentals could actually determine an election.
During the 2004 presidential election, Ohio's Republican Secretary of State,
J. Kenneth Blackwell, also issued statewide threats against ex-felons and people
whose names resembled those of ex-felons. Thousands of such threats were delivered
to registered voters who were never convicted of anything, or who were eligible
to vote after being released from prison. In 2004 a "Mighty Texas Strike
Force" came to Columbus with a specific mandate to threaten ex-felons with
arrest if they dared to vote.
It is legal for ex-felons in Ohio to vote, even if they are in halfway houses
or on parole. But HB3's identification requirement, combined with the confusion
Blackwell has introduced into the process, will intimidate such Ohioans from
voting in 2006 and beyond.
HB3 will also reduce voter rolls by ordering county boards of elections to
send cards to registered voters every two years. If a card comes back as undelivered,
the voter must rely on a provisional ballot. But tens of thousands of provisional
ballots were arbitrarily discarded in 2004, and some 16,000 are known to remain
uncounted to this day.
HB3 also imposes severe restrictions on voter registration drives. It allows
the state attorney general and local prosecutors wide powers to prosecute vaguely
defined charges of fraud against those working to sign up voters. The restrictions
are clearly meant to chill the kind of Democratic registration drives that brought
hundreds of thousands of new voters to the polls in 2004 (even though many were
turned away in Democratic wards due to a lack of voting machines).
Those electronic machines will also be exempted from recounts by random sampling,
even in close, disputed elections like those of 2000 and 2004.
In 2004, scores of Ohio voters reported, under oath, that they had pressed
John Kerry's name on touchscreen machines, only to see George W. Bush's name
light up. A board of elections technician in Mahoning County (Youngstown) has
admitted that at least 18 machines there suffered such problems. Sworn testimony
in Columbus indicates that votes for Kerry faded off the screen on touchscreen
machines there. Other charges of misprogramming, reprogramming, recalibrating,
mishandling and manipulation of electronic voting software, hardware and memory
cards have since arisen throughout Ohio 2004.
For the 2005 election, some 41 additional Ohio counties (of 88) were switched
to Diebold touchscreen machines. Despite polls showing overwhelming voter approval,
two electoral reform issues went down in improbable defeat. Issue Two, meant
to make voting easier, and Issue Three, on campaign finance reform, were shown
by highly reliable Columbus Dispatch polls to be passing handily.
The Dispatch was within 0.5 percent on Issue One, a bond issue, and has rarely
been significantly wrong in its many decades of Ohio polling. Even opponents
of Issues Two and Three conceded that they were highly likely to pass.
On the Sunday before the Tuesday 2005 election, the Dispatch predicted Issue
Two would pass by a vote of 59 percent to 33 percent, with about 8 percent undecided.
But Tuesday's official vote count showed Issue Two failing with just 36.5 percent
in favor and 63.5 percent opposed. For that to have happened, the Dispatch had
to have been wrong on Issue Two's support by more than 20 points. Nearly half
those who said they would support Issue Two would have had to vote against it,
along with all the undecideds.
The numbers on Issue Three are equally startling. The Dispatch showed it winning
with 61 percent, to just 25 percent opposed and some 14 percent undecided. Instead
just 33 percent of the votes were counted in its favor, with 67 percent opposed,
an almost inconceivable weekend turnaround.
No other numbers were comparable on November 8, 2005, or elsewhere in the recent
history of Dispatch polling. The startling outcome has thus raised even more
suspicion and doubt about the use of electronic voting and tabulating machines
in Ohio, which account for virtually 100 percent of the state's vote count.
The federal General Accountability Office (GAO) has recently issued a major
report confirming that tampering with and manipulating such machines can be
easily done by a very small number of people. Charges are widespread that this
is precisely what gave George W. Bush Ohio's electoral votes, and thus the presidency,
in 2004, not to mention the suspicious referenda outcomes in 2005.
HB3 will make it virtually impossible for any challenge to be mounted involving
any votes cast or counted on electronic machines or tabulators -- meaning virtually
every vote cast in Ohio.
Indeed, HB3 will raise the cost of mounting a recount from $10 per precinct
to $50 per precinct. In 2004, Secretary of State Blackwell forced citizen groups
to raise private funds for a recount, which he proceeded to sabotage. The process,
which became a futile electronic charade, cost donors committed to democracy
more than $100,000. Three partial, meaningless faux recounts resulted. To date
more than 100,000 votes cast in Ohio remain uncounted, including some 93,000
easily-read machine-rejected ballots. .
During the 2004 election process Blackwell, manipulated the number of precincts
in Ohio, and issued inaccurate information about their location and boundaries,
making a meaningful precise number hard to come by. But with more than 10,000
precincts still in existence, HB3 would make funding an attempt at another recount
in 2006 or 2008 cost more than $500,000.
Such an effort might also result in official retaliation. In 2004, Blackwell
and Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro -- both of whom are now Republican candidates
for governor -- tried to impose stiff financial sanctions against attorneys
who filed a legal challenge to the seating of the Ohio electors who gave George
W. Bush the presidency. The Ohio Supreme Court disallowed the sanctions after
the challenge was withdrawn. But HB3 would make such a federal election challenge
With the electoral process in Ohio all but disemboweled, those hoping for a
change of party in upcoming state and national elections are probably kidding
The 2004 election in the Buckeye state was riddled with deception, fraud, intimidation,
manipulation and outright theft, all of which were essential to the triumph
of George W. Bush. In 2005, four electoral reform ballot initiatives were allegedly
defeated despite huge poll margins showing the almost certain passage of two
of them. The most credible explanation for their defeat lies in electronic manipulation
of voting machines, tabulators and memory cards which the GAO confirms have
no credible security safeguards.
With campaign finance, voter registration, electronic voting, public recounts,
district gerrymandering and overall electoral administration now firmly in the
pocket of the GOP, and with Democratic opposition that is virtually non-existent
on the issue of vote fraud and election manipulation, there is little reason
to believe the Republican grip on Ohio will be loosened at any point in the
In traditional terms, the scandal-ridden Ohio GOP would appear to be more vulnerable
than ever. Governor Robert Taft has become the only Ohio governor to be convicted
of a crime while in office. With an astonishing 7 percent approval rating, he
has been compared to Homer Simpson by the state's leading Republican newspaper.
Republican US Senator Mike DeWine appears highly vulnerable. The GOP has never
won the White House without winning the Buckeye State.
But HB3 will solidify the GOP's iron grip on the electronic voting process
and all that surrounds it. Unless they break that grip, Democrats who believe
they can carry any part of Ohio in 2006 or 2008 are kidding themselves.
When it comes to 2008, can you say "Jeb Bush?"
Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of
HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA'S 2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008, available at
Their WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO, written with Steve Rosenfeld, will be published
by the New Press in 2006. Fitrakis was one of the attorneys targeted by Blackwell
and Petro in 2004.