A critical US Supreme Court decision against GOP voter meddling in Ohio may prove temporary.
In its on-going campaign to inject chaos and confusion into the voting process, the GOP has sued Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, demanding that she release to county boards of elections lists of registered voters whose information does not precisely match government data bases. The right to vote of such registrants -- by most estimates as many as 200,000 in Ohio alone -- could then be challenged on a case-by-case basis. George W. Bush was awarded Ohio's 20 electoral votes in 2004 with an official margin of less than 119,000 votes, though more than 100,000 votes cast in that election remain uncounted.
The 200,000 voters targeted by the Republican Party were all registered since January 1, 2008. News source estimates suggest 75-80% of these newly-registered voters are Obama supporters.
Brunner, a Democrat, has argued that the process of sorting through the minutiae of the registration discrepancies and forcing the use of provisional ballots would cause mass confusion, and would do nothing to legitimize the vote count. By all accounts, the discrepancies are usually caused by typographical errors in numbers entered for the Social Security administration and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Rarely do such discrepancies indicate fraudulent behavior or illegitimate registrations.
Last week, after a twisted back-and-forth trail of contradictory lower court decisions, the Supremes ruled that the Republicans "are not sufficiently likely to prevail" in their argument that such discrepancies pose a significant threat to the legitimacy of the electoral process. The Court also ruled that the GOP had not standing as a private organization to file such a suit.
The decision pertains to Ohio, but could have major national impact. Throughout the US, the GOP has been working to strip voters from registration rolls and challenge voting rights predominantly in districts leaning toward the Democrats. Our next article will include an estimate of how many voters that campaign could actually disenfranchise in Ohio.
But the GOP continues to seek ways to disrupt the registration and voting process. In a separate case, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled 4-3 that the Secretary of State must allow partisan observers into voting stations where early voting is proceeding. Outside the early voting sites, Republican operatives have photographed early voters and recorded their license plates in an attempt to intimidate and challenge new voters.
The idea of massive fraud by voters continues to be proven as a hyped-up myth. The Cincinnati Enquirer has provided a detailed analysis of Ohio's more than 8 million registered voters and found that problems involving illegitimate voting are minimal. The Enquirer found only 6567 voters who had duplicate registrations. All are individuals who registered twice at their own address, a common routinely resolved by election officials and poll workers. An investigation by Dr. Richard Hayes Phillips of the 2004 election found that of the nearly 800 duplicate registrations he analyzed, none voted more than once. The Enquirer also flagged 589 registered voters who won't be 18 on Election Day.
So contrary to Republican hype, overall the total number of problematic voters appears to be miniscule. The Enquirer concluded that "Data-entry errors make matching voters to other databases an inexact science. Variations on first names, maiden names, and misspellings could red-flag an otherwise eligible voter."
On the other hand, several female Ohio voters have contacted the Free Press asking why the Republican Party would send them absentee ballot forms under maiden names they hadn't used in years. Two of the women feared that they were being targeted for challenges at the polls, since they had a history of voting Democratic.
Since 1953, only six Ohioans have been sent to prison for voter fraud, according to the Columbus Dispatch. But Republican sheriffs and prosecutors are in the midst of a partisan witch hunt the likes of which hasn't been seen since the 1960s in the Deep South. to harass, arrest and prosecute voting rights groups registering new voters.
In Franklin County, Republican prosecutor Ron O'Brien has issued subpoenas to 13 voters linked to a 527 group -- Vote from Home. Joe Deters, a disgraced Republican former state treasurer now Hamilton County prosecutor, has opened a similar investigation.
Greene County Sheriff Gene Fischer opened an investigation of 304 new voters, mostly college students, prompting Columbus's African-American mayor Michael B. Coleman to write, "Whether a buffoonish mistake or partisan scheme gone wrong, there's no excuse for such blatant voter intimidation, in which young college students are told they may have to go through a sheriff's investigation just because they registered and voted in Ohio."
The FBI has also opened an investigation of ACORN, the national grassroots organization established in 1970. ACORN has registered some 1.3 million new voters this year, and has become a whipping boy for the GOP nation-wide anti-voter campaign.
This bizarre hysteria against "voter fraud" can be traced directly to the White House and to the McCain campaign. In order to divert attention from voter suppression tactics that helped win Bush the White House in 2000 and 2004, the Bush administration created the myth of "voter fraud." Karl Rove and his political operatives like Mark F. "Thor" Hearne used fake "voting rights" organizations and other obscure groups to finance civil suits and put pressure on the U.S. Department of Justice to bring criminal charges against voter registration organizations. Twelve federal prosecutors were fired by the Bush Administration for refusing to go along with this witch hunt.
Hearne testified before Rep. Bob Ney's committee at the Ohio House in 2005. Speaking on the last panel, Hearne followed Ohio's Republican Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, who engaged in a bitter verbal dispute with Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Cleveland), since deceased. Among other things, Jones accused Blackwell of using his official web site to spread outdated information that may have led prospective voters to wrong voting locations.
Hearne claimed to represent the "non-partisan watchdog" group, the American Center for Voting Rights (ACVR). He did not tell the Congressional committee that the ACVR was newly formed and that he was national election counsel to Bush-Cheney '04. Hearne's nonprofit center's publicist, Jim Dyke, is a former communications director for the Republican National Committee.
Based on scant evidence and a single incident of a volunteer allegedly linked to crack use, Hearne pushed a version of voter fraud in Ohio that directly attacked not only ACORN, but the NAACP, the AFL-CIO and ACT-Ohio. By attacking this combination of groups, Rove and Hearne were targeting the leading forces for registering blacks, poor, union workers and young people in Ohio -- those most likely to vote Democratic.
Aided by The Free Enterprise Coalition, a front group connected to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, local Republican operative Mark Rubrick filed an Ohio corrupt practices lawsuit (RICO) against all the voter registration organizations listed above in Wood County.
The civil RICO case, backed by financing from the Free Enterprise Coalition, alleged that the voter registration groups provided ". . . payments made in connections with the violations (in the form of, among other things, 'bounties,' payments or other rewards for collecting and/or processing the registrations including but not limited to illegal drugs, paid to individuals actually engaged in the violations), . . ." At the bottom of the document filed by attorneys Jeffrey Creemer and Douglas Haynam of Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, a law firm based in Toledo, the following words appear: "jsc\Free Enterprise Coalition\Amended Complaint.doc" calling into question who was behind the lawsuit.
The suit was later quietly withdrawn after election rights attorney Cliff Arnebeck discovered that the Free Enterprise Coalition had indemnified Rubrick and had promised to pay any and all expenses related to his RICO suit. "I told Rubrick in no uncertain terms that his accusations that the NAACP was a criminal organization were false and that the indemnification from the Free Enterprise Coalition wasn't worth the paper it was written on," Arnebeck said.
Elsewhere throughout the US, the Republicans have used caging and a wide range of other tactics to strip as many likely Democratic voters as possible from the voter rolls. More than 308,000 were disenfranchised in Ohio prior to the 2004 election. At least another 170,000 have been eliminated since, an overall total of roughly ten percent of the Ohio electorate. Nearly all those disenfranchised come from heavily Democratic urban areas. Similar disenfranchisements are being reported throughout the US.
In 2007 Brunner succeeded Blackwell as Ohio's Secretary of State. Blackwell also served as co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign, and helped choreograph the theft of the Buckeye State electoral votes that tipped the election. Brunner has generally attempted to open the voting process in Ohio 2008, but has met with fierce resistance from the GOP, which still controls the Ohio legislature. Among other things, Brunner's attempt to provide paper ballots for all Ohio voters who want them has been reduced by GOP resistance to just 25% availability. The GOP also resisted early and open voting procedures that have allowed Ohioans to cast their ballots for several weeks now.
This new US Supreme Court decision removes a significant morass of confusion and chaos from the voting process. Many of the myriad discrepancies among official data sources "bear no relationship whatsoever to a voter's eligibility to vote a regular, as opposed to a provisional ballot," Brunner explained. The mismatches "may well be used at the county level unnecessarily to challenge fully qualified voters and severely disrupt the voting process."
Trailing badly for the presidency and nearly all other federal offices, the GOP is desperately seeking other routes to inject chaos into the electoral process. It has filed new motions in front of the Ohio Supreme Court, which has seven Republicans and no Democrats, and was re-shaped by more than $7 million in illegal and anonymous campaign donations linked to the US Chamber of Commerce. With this latest filing, the GOP is clearly hoping to revive this challenge to at least 200,000 Ohio voters, and to make this restrictive and confused process into a standard nationwide. The Republicans continue to deploy challengers to the polls wherever possible, and to foster legal attacks against ACORN in particular and the voter registration process in general.
In Ohio and elsewhere the GOP is desperately seeking a way around this new US Supreme Court decision. In 2000 the high court overruled the Florida Supreme Court in a "one time only" decision that stopped a recount and put George W. Bush in the White House.
But if this surprising new pro-democracy decision holds, it could set important precedent for protection of voter rights and help guarantee a fuller and fairer electoral process this year. If not, the electoral system could be crippled yet again, for years to come.
Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman have co-authored four books on election protection, including As Goes Ohio and How the GOP Stole America's 2004 Election & is Rigging 2008, and What Happened in Ohio, all available a http://freepress.org, where this article first appeared.