Election tampering evident in Ohio, reform needed

For most Americans, the Presidential Election of 2004 is old news, but a group under the auspices of the Democratic National Committee has spent the past five months investigating allegations of foul play in the state of Ohio. The state provided the deciding electoral votes in a very close election, making the report’s findings troubling, if not damning.

Rather than being dismissed as partisan sour grapes, as has been the case, the report is yet one more warning sign that America’s democratic process is in serious trouble.

The report, released yesterday, paints a damning picture: More than one-fourth of the voters in Ohio had trouble voting.

Such claims range from excessive delays for black voters — who, on average, spent 52 minutes waiting compared to the white voter’s average of 18 minutes. Intimidation tactics, such as “unlawful requests for identification,” were also reported by 16 percent of black voters. Ohio law requires only first-time voters to provide ID, but while just 7 percent of Ohio voters were newly registered, 67 percent of two different groups — black males and voters under the age of 30 — were asked to show ID. Only 5 percent of aggregate white voters claimed intimidation by such tactics.

Due to such practices, only 19 percent of black voters said they had confidence their vote was counted, while among white voters that confidence was 71 percent.

Leading up to the election, a legal battle ensued over whether either party was allowed to have representatives present that would be allowed to question voters. The Republican Party had been planning to pay 3,600 poll workers $100 each and drive them into heavily Democratic precincts to question individual voters’ right to vote, The New York Times reported.

The decision went through several courts until Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican, gave the poll workers access after all.

The whole incident smacks of foul play as it disenfranchised an entire group of minorities because they were thought of as a vote for the opposing candidate.

A similar tactic was used in Florida in the months leading up to the elections of 2000. Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris had given a contract to a Texas company that purged thousands of black voters from voter registration lists even though they had every right to vote. Harris also attempted several times to halt the counting of votes when the outcome of the election was contested. Harris is a member of the Republican Party, which was a clear conflict of interest.

President George W. Bush has proclaimed himself to be the president intent on “spreading democracy throughout the world” on numerous occasions. The report about voter disenfranchisement and fraud in Ohio, as well as the investigation of the election in 2000, clearly proves that process he claims to stand for is faltering in his own country.

Americans now have two choices: Accept that this is how things are done, making it likely that future elections are also subject to tampering, or call for reforms.