The right to vote and to have each vote count is the cornerstone of democracy, but deep cracks are showing in this cornerstone.
Disturbing reports of voting irregularities in Ohio recently led nine of us from Minnesota to monitor the recount of its presidential election. The recount was not only to verify the outcome of the Ohio vote but also to ensure accountability in a flawed system.
Problems encountered by tens of thousands of Ohio voters included: waits as long as seven hours at polling places; shortages of poll workers and voting machines; electronic voting machines that malfunctioned; election-counting discrepencies; voters being directed to the wrong polling place, and uneven policies governing the use of provisional ballots.
As observers, we encountered irregularities and obstacles in the recount process. In Perry County, we inspected the voter logbooks, which showed 100 people voting in one precinct without any signatures, leaving no way to verify who actually voted. A lawsuit asking the courts to overturn the results of the Perry County auditor's race alleges that the number of votes exceeded the number of people who signed the voting books.
Under Ohio law, each county must randomly choose a precinct to recount by hand and by machine. If the two counts do not match, officials must conduct a countywide recount by hand. Most county Boards of Elections, however, chose to preselect the sample precinct, a violation of the law. Some counties refused to proceed with a full hand recount when the hand and machine tallies failed to match.
In two of the three counties we observed, technicians from Diebold and Triad, manufacturers of voting machines and vote-counting software, were present during the entire recount. The Diebold technician in Hardin County was actively involved in giving instructions to the observers. Further, he arrived the day before the recount to prepare the machines and data disks that contain the election results.
At an Ohio hearing convened by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., an affidavit was filed on behalf of Sherole Eaton, an election worker in Hocking County, describing how an employee of Triad may have tampered with the vote tabulator when he dismantled it three days before the Dec. 13 recount. In her affidavit, she states the technician told her "how to post a 'cheat sheet' on the wall so the ... count would come out perfect and we wouldn't have to do a full hand recount of the county."
Conyers has asked the FBI to investigate. Attorneys for John Kerry filed two motions on Monday to preserve the evidence in this case and to take the deposition of the Triad technician.
On Dec. 16 we attended a Franklin County Board of Elections public hearing in Columbus. Citizens expressed their anger and outrage at having to wait up to seven hours to vote. One woman referred to the long lines as a "new poll tax." The Election Protection Coalition reported that of the 464 complaints about long lines in Ohio, 400 came from Columbus and Cleveland, where a large proportion of the state's Democratic voters live.
Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, who cochaired the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio, has come under heavy criticism for his handling of the election and the recount. He refused to respond to questions by several members of Congress.
Conyers charged in a subsequent letter that Blackwell's refusal to answer questions is "part of a pattern of decisions that have worked to obstruct and stonewall a search for the truth about voting irregularities."
Blackwell is also seeking a protective order to keep him from being interviewed as part of a court challenge to the Ohio election.
We will never have a clear picture of Ohio's election results because of the lack of a statewide manual recount, lack of a voter-verified paper trail for many of the state's voters who used electronic voting machines, questions of possible machine tampering, and untold numbers of discouraged voters deterred by long lines. We call on Sen. Mark Dayton to join Rep. Maxine Waters and other members of Congress to stop the approval of the Electoral College votes on Jan. 6 until there is a full investigation into what really happened in Ohio.
Mark Halvorson is a social worker and cofounder of Citizens Alliance for Secure Elections - Minnesota, a grass-roots group that advocates for election integrity. Kirk Lund is an attorney.
© 2004 Star Tribune