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Their dirty tricks to disenfranchise voters
Get out our vote, keep out their vote

October 29, 2004 | Page 2

ELIZABETH SCHULTE reports on the looming chaos that could be in store for Election Day.

AN OFFHAND remark that George W. Bush made during the second presidential debate told the whole story. When asked whether he'd decided on any new appointees for Supreme Court, Bush joked that he hadn't "picked anybody yet. Plus, I want them all voting for me."

After all, it was five Supreme Court justices' votes--not the popular vote, or even an undisputed Electoral College decision--that made Bush president in 2000. And incredibly--in a country that claims to be the "world's greatest democracy"--the justices might make the difference again in 2004.

Reports of everything from pre-election fraud to faulty electronic voting machines to voter disenfranchisement are setting up the narrow race between Bush and John Kerry to look a lot like 2000. The dirty tricks are everywhere, long before voters even get to the polls.

Take the story of Sproul & Associates. Claiming that they were working for a nonpartisan voter registration group, Sproul employees asked to set up shop in libraries to register people to vote.

But according to Eric Russell, a former employee of the Phoenix-based consultant, he was told to ask people who their choice was for president--and not register those who didn't back Bush. "I personally witnessed my supervisor...destroy completed registration forms," Russell said in his affidavit. "The destroyed forms were Democrats."

He also provided Nevada authorities with torn-up registration forms retrieved from the company garbage. Sproul is headed by former Arizona Republican Committee Executive Director Nathan Sproul--and was hired by the Republican National Committee earlier this year.

When they aren't tossing registration forms in the garbage, Republicans are doing it by official means--through arbitrary rules and regulations.

In Florida, Secretary of State Glenda Hood told county officials to throw out registration cards from voters who do not check a box confirming that they are U.S. citizens--even if they sign an oath on the same form swearing that they are citizens. In Ohio, Republican Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell used an obscure provision in state election law--dating from before there were computers--to decree that all voter registrations had to be filled out on extra-heavy 80-pound paper stock.

In some cases, the "cure" for vote fraud isn't only worse than the illness--it is the illness. In the name of getting rid of fraud, Blackwell tried to force election judges to use super-strict guideline to disqualify voters who had moved to a new address. So in the Republican stronghold of Hamilton County, registrars purged some 105,000 "inactive" registrants over the past four years.

Meanwhile, the state of Florida, ground zero of Black voter disenfranchisement in 2000, is up to the same old tricks. In July, the Miami Herald reported that Florida had issued purge lists of 48,000 people supposedly ineligible to vote because they had been convicted of a felony. Among these were 2,100 who were actually eligible voters--many of them African Americans.

In Florida's August primary, representatives from People for the American Way witnessed poll workers turning back registered voters who didn't bring their IDs--even though state law doesn't require voters to have identification.

Similar intimidation techniques are being used on immigrants. "When some of our members have gone to early voting or to register to vote, they're being asked if they're citizens of the United States," Alma Gonzalez, spokeswoman for the Voter Protection Coalition in Florida and special counsel for the AFSCME government workers union, told the Progressive. But if they're registered voters, they've already declared their citizenship on their registration forms. It's not poll watchers appointed by the two parties who are asking, Gonzalez said. It's "the poll workers, the duly deputized election officials."

Then there's the issue of provisional ballots--the result of a 2002 law in which voters whose names are left off precinct rolls can cast replacement ballots. But whether these votes count is completely up to the discretion--or indiscretion--of local elections officials.

In some precincts, provisional ballots are thrown away for slight oversights--like forgetting to check a box. In Chicago, 5,914 voters cast provisional ballots in the state's March primary--but only 416, just 7 percent, were accepted as valid. Two out of every five provisional ballots were tossed in Florida's August primary, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

Then there's the possibility that the "hanging chads" and "pregnant chads" that dominated the 2000 Florida recount will again make headlines. About 30 million people in 19 states--including three out of four voters in the closely fought battleground state of Ohio--will still use the punch-card voting machines.

But the results may not be any more certain for the 30 percent of voters who will use newer, electronic touch-screen systems.

For instance, a recount required by Florida state law was impossible in a close, 12-vote runoff race for state Senate last January. Why? Because the touch-screen machines make no paper records of votes cast.

Only one state, Nevada, currently requires paper backups on all its machines, so voters can read and approve their vote. Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that at least two companies that provide computerized voting machines--Diebold and InterCivic--have strong ties to the Republican Party.

In the 2000 election, after 36 days of lawsuits and recounts, Bush won the Florida vote--and with it, the White House--by an official margin of just 537 votes, far less than the number of people who were disenfranchised.

This time around, the Democrats say that they will have six "SWAT teams" of lawyers stationed around the country to fight any election wrongdoing. But if 2000 is any indication, don't hold your breath.

"If the preventive measures fail to produce a credible election, don't expect the Democratic Party to lead the fight for democracy," wrote Barbara Ehrenreich in the Progressive magazine. "When faced with a truly revolutionary situation--an electoral coup from the right--Al Gore folded like a lawn chair. As for Kerry: He may have had some backbone 30 years ago, but too many years spent sitting in the Senate have rendered it the consistency of Play-Doh."

And this is from a commentator who supports an Anybody But Bush vote for the Democrats.

The simple fact is that there's too much at stake for the Democrats to put up thhat much of a fight. With U.S. imperial aims on the line, don't underestimate the Democrats' ability to roll over for the sake of "unity" after the "most important election in history" is over.

The Democrats' war on Ralph Nader

THE DEMOCRATS may claim that they have a "SWAT team" of lawyers ready to challenge vote fraud or intimidation by the Republicans. But this is nothing compared to the regiment of legal experts they assembled to fight a war against the independent campaign of Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo.

For third-party candidates to even appear on state ballots, they have to collect the signatures of tens of thousands of registered voters. The Democratic Party machine spared no expense to challenge these signatures. If there was as much as a mistake in a street address, the signature was challenged, and often thrown out.

In Oregon, where Nader tried to qualify for the ballot under a law that allows candidates to hold a meeting of 1,000 or more voters who would sign petitions for Nader, Democrats packed the meeting to stop genuine supporters from attending.

In Illinois, where state law requires a party's official nominee to be named by August 30, Bush wouldn't have made the ballot had it not been for state Democrats who helped pass an exception for the Republicans. But this generosity didn't extend to Nader--Illinois Democrats worked overtime to keep him off the ballot.

As a result of the Democrats' strong-arm tactics, Nader--the choice of millions of voters according to opinion polls throughout the year--will appear on only 34 state ballots. The Democrats have proved that they are anything but democratic.

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