Bob & Harvey's 3-Step "Ohio Plan" for fair and reliable voting and vote counts
Jan 16 2008
by Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman
America is awash in suspect and stolen elections. Since January, 2001, the nation has been saddled with an unelected chief executive. The consequences have been predictably horrific.
Along the way, three US Senate contests in 2002 and numerous other Congressional and local elections have been subjected to partisan disenfranchisement of qualified voters, and vote counts that smack of theft and fraud.
Even now the primary in New Hampshire is rightly being challenged to do an expensive but necessary recount procedure that could and should have been avoided.
As has been shown in the Free Press and elsewhere through the stolen 2000 and 2004 presidential contests, there are scores of ways by which elections can and have been rigged and ripped off in this new century. And there are scores of cures that can be put forth.
But we believe they can boil down to a basic three:
1. AUTOMATIC VOTER REGISTRATION, WITH SIGNATURE VERIFICATION:
Since the beginning of the American republic, more than 200 years ago, voters have signed their registration forms, then signed again when they came to vote. Falsifying a signature is a felony. All studies indicate that the number of people who vote fraudulently is miniscule.
In recent years, Republican operatives have attempted to hype so-called voter fraud into a major issue. The Bush Administration has fired nine US Attorneys for their failure to find large numbers of people committing this crime.
Nonetheless, the GOP and its minions in the media have hyped this non-problem into a national crisis, whose "solution" is to demand photo ID at the polling stations.
It's well-known that the impact of this demand would be to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of elderly, indigent, homeless and other citizens, most of whom happen to vote Democratic. A lower court has rightly labeled this requirement to be a "poll tax" which is specifically barred by the 24th Amendment to the US Constitution.
But the US Supreme Court now has at least four members who will vote for anything that serves the partisan interests of the Republican Party. There is a widespread feeling the Court will approve this requirement, with adoption in many states run by the GOP.
During Ohio 2004, and in New Mexico and other swing states, the GOP also found ways to prevent many thousands of voters from registering at all. The list of dirty tricks is too long and insidious to report here. More are being unearthed every day.
The one most likely to surface in a big way in 2008 is the practice of disqualifying voters if the spelling of their name or their middle initial (or lack thereof) somehow varies from the one in the computer-generated registration books. Since the voter rolls in some counties and states have already been privatized, and are being run by partisan for-profit vendors, we can expect widespread, systematic disenfranchisement if this system remains in tact.
Our "Ohio Plan" solution is simple: everyone in the United States should be automatically registered to vote upon turning 18 years old. Forms addressed to election bureaus, with free postage, should be made available in high schools and colleges, at motor vehicle bureaus, social security offices, post offices, union halls, in military recruiting offices and barracks and numerous other locales throughout the nation.
All registration forms, and all polling places, can be festooned with signs warning that fraudulent voting is a felony. No photo ID shall be required at any voting place, only a signature that matches the one on file, and a wide range of less intrusive ID. Innumerable federal, state and government entities from school districts to the IRS know when US citizens turn 18. Ohio allows some 17 different documents to serve as suitable identification at the polls.
Voting is a basic American right. It should be the affirmative duty of the state to promote universal registration and end the bizarre practice of purging voters in a computer age. Short of a death certificate, the few questionable voters can easily be moved to an inactive status instead of purged from the computer database.
2. UNIVERSAL HAND-COUNTED PAPER BALLOTS:
It is by now a public article of faith that electronic voting machines are perfectly designed to steal elections. A recent $1.9 million study for the Ohio Secretary of State has confirmed that an electronic voting machine can be flipped with a magnet and a Blackberry. After reports by the Carter-Baker Commission, the Brennan Center, Princeton University, the Government Accountability Office, the Conyers Committee and many more, even the come-lately New York Times has now deemed touch-screen machines to be eminently hackable.
The country owes a huge debt of gratitude to the grassroots uprising of independent researchers and bloggers that has campaigned so bravely and effectively in the face of a mainstream media intent on ignoring the issue.
Now the Times and others seem to want a "middle ground" with Optiscan machines that run paper ballots through a reader, and even worse, feed them into computerized central tabulators.
We oppose this hackable non-solution. At least two Optiscan scams come quickly to mind. In Toledo, Ohio, inner city wards, Optiscan ballots were improperly calibrated causing a higher rate than normal to be rejected by the reader. Scores of them remain uncounted from the 2004 Ohio presidential election. In fact, most of the 93,000 or so uncounted ballots in Ohio fell under the label “machine rejected.”
In Miami County, Ohio, an Optiscan machine produced phantom votes that couldn't be explained in the final tabulation. See the Free Press article:
Yet Ohio's Secretary of State is poised to order Cuyahoga County (Cleveland)---which overrode citizen objections against spending $20 million on touchscreen voting machines---to now spend an additional $11 million on Optiscan machines to replace them. How long will it take before those Optiscan machines are, in turn, rejected?
The real solution is obvious: use paper ballots, and count them by hand. This is not, of course, fool proof. But it works beautifully in places like Germany and Switzerland, where official vote counts regularly conform to within 0.1% of exit polls.
Hand counted paper ballots could and should work here. In particular, we should reach out to high school and college students in the tradition of democratic public service to facilitate the vote count process.
The "revolutionary concept" of all of us voting on ballots that have the actual name of the candidates on them, with the opportunity to put a visual, tangible "X" next to those we choose, has the merit of obvious simplicity. These ballots can be counted and recounted, with high reliability and no dependence on source codes or incomprehensible computer glitches.
To be sure, ballots can be stolen and manipulated. But there is every indicator the possibility of fraud is still far less than with electronic machines. One can stuff ballots one at a time, so to speak, at the retail level. But computerized voting and tabulation allow for the far more dangerous wholesale shifting of votes and the deadly pre-programming of election results.
It should also be noted that federal law now requires that all election records be retained for 22 months after a federal vote. In Ohio, 56 of 88 county election boards ignored federal law---and a court injunction---and destroyed all or some of their records from the 2004 election, making a meaningful recount essentially impossible. Thus far, no state or federal official has indicated any willingness to do anything about this blatant abuse of federal law.
So meaningful reform will require that federal election laws actually be enforced.
As part of the King-Lincoln civil rights lawsuit (in which we are attorney and plaintiff) extensive research into Ohio 2004 makes it clear that nearly all the electronic records were virtually worthless anyway, and could have been easily manipulated had they been retained.
That would not have been the case had the election been conducted entirely on paper ballots. They are thus the worst alternative we have---except for all the other ones.
3) A THREE-DAY NATIONAL VOTING HOLIDAY, WITH BALLOTS HAND-COUNTED BY STUDENTS:
The current practice of voting on Tuesday was adopted in the 1700s because that was when Americans came to market. We are no longer a farm society, and we need not vote on the first Tuesday following a Monday after final harvest. Today this practice discriminates against working people and is nothing more than an inappropriate, anti-democratic anachronism.
Ohio's Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has proposed a two-week window for voting. We think three days should suffice. They should be the Friday, Saturday and Sunday nearest to November 11, Veteran's Day. The polls should be staffed by high school and college students, who will then be given that Monday off to count the paper ballots.
The current demand for electronic tabulating has no basis other than the demand by the media for quick results and the demand for great profits (at public expense) by the companies who make these easily hackable machines.
We believe the American public can wait for election results to be accurate and reliable. We also see in this a great civics lesson for our young people. And a reliable way to get a true, democratic outcome from our most critical means of keeping the government accountable and under public control.
Universal voter registration, a ban on electronic voting machines and the requirement for hand-counting of paper ballots can all be done with simple legislation. The three-day voting process is more complex. The requirement that we vote the first Tuesday after November's first Monday is embedded in the Constitution. Changing that would require a Constitutional Amendment. (Voting on Saturday through Tuesday, with vote counting on Wednesday---a five-day process---would not).
Overall, simple as they are, these three simple, practical steps could revolutionize our democratic process and restore control of our government to the people. Which is precisely why we expect the mainstream media, voting machine manufacturers and major parties to heap scorn on them.
We have not addressed the problem of money in politics, proportional voting, or of the corporate media's undemocratic domination of the campaign process.
But this administration has certainly taught us the consequences of having an unelected executive. We must start somewhere.
These three steps will help us at least regain control of the voting process. From there, anything is possible.
Let's vote on it!
Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA'S 2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008, available at http://www.freepress.org/ , of which Bob is publisher and Harvey is Senior Editor. Their WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO?, with Steve Rosenfeld, is from the New Press.
Harvey Wasserman is co-author, with Bob Fitrakis and Steve Rosenfeld, of WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO?, just published by the New Press. He is author of SOLARTOPIA! and HARVEY WASSERMAN'S HISTORY OF THE U.S., available at http://www.harveywasserman.com/ .