November 9, 2004
|MAUREEN FARRELL ARCHIVES|
Another Rigged Election? The Elephant in the Voting Booth
by Maureen Farrell
"Citing concerns about potential terrorism, Warren County officials locked down the county administration building on election night and blocked anyone from observing the vote count as the nation awaited Ohio's returns. County officials say they took the action Tuesday night for homeland security, although state elections officials said they didn't know of any other Ohio county that closed off its elections board. Media organizations protested, saying it violated the law and the public's rights. The Warren results, delayed for hours because of long lines that extended voting past the scheduled close of polls, were part of the last tallies that helped clinch President Bush's re-election." -- The Cincinnati Enquirer
"Bush was to supposed to have watched the election from Crawford but was spirited back to Ohio today [election day] by his jittery advisors. Now he's in Washington. "(Why?!)" -- Max Blum, Nov. 2, 2004
On election night, Peter Jennings looked measurably surprised when he learned that President Bush had provided a tape of himself, sitting in the White House, commenting on his impending victory. It was an unprecedented move. No sitting president had ever addressed the nation while polls were still open. It was just not done. But there was George, exuding confidence, offering an election day reminder of our leader's legitimacy.
It was all so perfectly Rovian, too. And why not? The Bush family filmed a similar made-for-TV moment in 2000, you might recall, when they assured America that Florida belonged to George. "There was one exact moment, in fact, when I knew for sure that Al Gore would Never be President of the United States, no matter what the experts were saying, and that was when the whole Bush family suddenly appeared on TV and openly scoffed at the idea of Gore winning Florida," Hunter S. Thompson wrote, two weeks before the Supreme Court's fateful decision." Of course Bush would win Florida. Losing was out of the question. Here was the whole bloody Family laughing & hooting & sneering at the dumbness of the whole world on National TV."
Election night 2004, however, was not punctuated by any such hooting. It was the end of a long and grueling journey for the President of the United States and his supporters. Tales of voter intimidation, computer glitches and "partisan mischief," were reported during early voting in Florida, but somehow those things usually worked in the President's favor. (Would anyone have complained, do you suppose, if John Kerry's brother had been running the show?).
And luckily for Mr. Bush, he had friends in high places in the Buckeye State, too. After all, Walden "Wally" O'Dell," head of the voting machine company Diebold, had already expressed a commitment "to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the President" and Ohio Secretary of State Ken "Paper Weight" Blackwell appeared to have Bush's back, as well.
Good thing, too. As early as March, 2004, Ohio had been crowned the #1 potential election day hotspot. "Ohio could become as decisive this year as Florida was four years ago, " Mother Jones reported. "Which is why the state's plan to use paperless touch-screen voting machines has so many up in arms."
In late October, a letter written by former deputy director of Ohio's Auglaize County Board of Elections Ken Nuss revealed why electronic voting machine concerns were well founded. It seems that "against election protocol," former Election Systems and Software (ES&S) employee Joe McGinnis had been "on the main computer that is used to create the ballot and compile election results." < Insert your own fox, hen house and/or "stinking to high heaven" cliche here>.
Why do you suppose Bush's "jittery" advisors whisked him away to Ohio on election day and then back to the White House that night? Why did he appear on TV to assure Americans that victory was his? And why did the federal government advise Ohio's Warren County to prevent the media from watching the vote count? Did it have anything to do with the fact that the Warren results were among the last tallies to help Bush "win"? These questions are as much of a mystery as the bump on Bush's back during the debates.
But the unraveling saga of election 2000-style fraud, suppression and disenfranchisement is becoming clearer by the day.
Everything Old is New Again
"Kerry may never be allowed to be president. All of the plots that were in line during the 2000 election are still there, from the purge list of supposed felons to computer touch screen voting and so on." -- Gore Vidal, Buzzflash, election eve
Despite recent calls for unity, it's impossible to overlook Mr. Bush's past abuses -- particularly since evidence of vote fraud and tampering have yet to be addressed from the last election -- and early warnings about this one have already proven prescient.
Of course, this time, international monitors were dispatched across the country, while thousands of lawyers and more than 1,200 filmmakers traveled to Florida and Ohio to catch signs of voter fraud and corruption.
But, while hacking is not the sort of activity that's readily caught on tape, old-fashioned ballot pilfering is and photos of possible nefarious activity in Ohio made their way to the Internet Wednesday morning. But larger questions of fraud centered mostly on inconsistencies in electronic voting machines -- discrepancies that many had come to expect. Stanford computer specialist David Dill, for example, told Newsweek that the risk of a stolen election was "extremely high," while exit polls raised suspicions that Zogby and the Washington Redskins had gotten it right after all.
The White House, you might recall, discounted early exit polls which showed Kerry winning because they were too heavily skewed by heavy female turnout. Yet Bush supposedly won the election largely thanks to support of married women in the suburbs. Wouldn't the early female vote count in his favor, then? Who was more likely to be voting during the day? Working women or so-called "security moms"?
"First of all, this election was definitely rigged. I have no doubt about it." -- Mark Crispin Miller, Salon.com, Nov. 4, 2004
On Sunday, the New York Times ran an editorial which touched upon the risks associated with voting via computer. "For voters to trust electronic voting, there must be a voter-verified paper record of every vote cast, made public so it can be widely reviewed," the Times noted, calling for other democracy-ensuring changes, including measures to make certain that voting roll purges are "accurate and transparent" and that election administrators are "impartial."
In 2000, however, when journalist Greg Palast uncovered the shameful Database Technologies voter roll purge in Florida, the Times refused to carry the story. A little more than three years later, however, the paper admitted: "In 2000, the American public saw in Katherine Harris’s massive purge eligible voters in Florida, how easy it is for registered voters to lose their rights by bureaucratic fiat." Why didn't they publish this information when it might have done some good?
By now, most fair-minded folks realize that the 2000 Florida debacle involved deliberate disenfranchisement of voters and massive civil rights violations and that because of Katherine Harris's efforts, America crowned the wrong king. This time, with all eyes on Ohio, people are wondering: Could it be that the wrong guy once again occupies our White House?
Between iffy e-voting, voter purges, deliberate disinformation, voter intimidation "spoilage" and other kinks, democracy has taken a direct hit. "Web wonders if electronic voting machines stole the election," Slate announced early on, as election day oddities were being reported across the country -- with this election's two most important states, Ohio and Florida leading the way.
While more is sure to come, one week out of the gate, some eyebrow-raising pieces of information have already surfaced:
Mr. Nader's stymied attempt aside, lawyers in Ohio and elsewhere are working diligently to compile cases of vote fraud and disenfranchisement. And as previously mentioned, the GAO and FBI have been made aware of the problem. "Spurred by the unwillingness of the broadcast media to report voting problems during the 2004," citizens are also attempting to expose irregularities themselves.
But chances are, this story, like Florida's 2000 debacle, will remain on the back burner, if it gets much mainstream exposure at all. Because that's how it is in our brave new world, where networks are compromised, journalists are neutered and in comparison to current corruption, Watergate really does seem like a third rate burglary.
In Wednesday's wee hours, before John Kerry conceded, reaction to morning news shows felt all too familiar -- it was like watching a rerun of pre-Iraq invasion WMD hype. There was a story line about unity and concession and doing what’s best for the country – and it pretty much felt like a mushroom cloud lie. How can we possibly overlook the lying and cheating and incompetence of the past four years? Thanks, but no thanks.
Despite Orwellian broadcasts from "Democracy Plaza," it's obvious that democracy is not doing just fine. And more and more, it looks like something is rotten in the state of the union.
Pundits have been asking how exit polls, which have historically been accurate, could have been so wrong. Well, that's easy: There's an elephant in the voting booth. Now, will someone please alert the media?
Maureen Farrell is a writer and media consultant who specializes in helping other writers get television and radio exposure.
© Copyright 2004, Maureen Farrell