More On Ohio Voter Suppression

August 15, 2006

More information from Salon, on how Ken Blackwell continues to attempt to suppress voters most likely to vote against him in the upcoming elections…

The secretary of state, Kenneth Blackwell, now the Republican candidate for governor, is using some new vote-suppressing tricks and, this time, he’s got a sweeping if confusing law, HB 3, to back him up. A coalition of voting-rights groups filed suit last month to overturn the law as unconstitutional.

Infamous for such schemes as initially demanding that all voter registration applications be submitted on 80 lb. stock paper, Blackwell also presided over what most investigators regard as the worst election meltdown of 2004. While the allegation that Blackwell helped “steal” the election from John Kerry is debatable, the view that he intentionally suppressed voting by Democratic-leaning groups is less controversial. That the Ohio election was a mess is almost universally acknowledged, although not by Blackwell’s office. His spokesman, James Lee, says, “The critics were wrong then, and they’re wrong now.”

This time around, the law that took effect in May allows the state to pursue felony prosecutions of workers for voter registration groups who turn in registration cards past a 10-day deadline. They face up to 12 months in prison and a $2,500 fine; late returns on less than 50 forms merit a misdemeanor prosecution. At first, Blackwell implied that the workers couldn’t even send in the forms by mail. Each registration worker also has to return the forms personally to the local elections board, which prevents voter registration groups from combining and checking large numbers of forms. “It’s made registration far more difficult,” says Teresa James, Project Vote’s election administration coordinator. In fact, Ohio ACORN, the Project Vote-allied group that focuses on low-income neighborhoods, suspended virtually all voter registration activities for two months. Now it’s gathering less than 20 percent of the 7,000 registration applicants it signed up monthly before the law was implemented.

Even if people do manage to register, most Ohio election boards don’t know that voters are entitled to vote using regular ballots even if their driver’s licenses list old addresses. It’s a confusion created by a series of misleading or opaque directives from Blackwell.

“I think we could very well have a meltdown in November because of these confusing election rules and poll workers not knowing what to do with the new electronic machines,” observes Peg Rosenfield, the Ohio League of Women Voters election specialist. That’s already been shown by the voting crack-up in Cuyahoga County, home of Cleveland, where the sudden switch to electronic machines in May led workers to lose 70 memory cards from touch-screen terminals and a six-day delay in counting 15,000 absentee ballots.

Key races: Democrats could take the governor’s mansion and unseat Sen. Mike DeWine and four House incumbents.

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Blackwell Screws Poor Ohio Voters Again

August 10, 2006

From The New York Times:

For Tony Minor, the pastor of the Community of Faith Assembly in a run-down section of East Cleveland, Ohio’s new voter registration rules have meant spending two extra hours a day collecting half as many registration cards from new voters as he did in past years.

Republicans say the new rules are needed to prevent fraud, but Democrats say they are making it much harder to register the poor.

In the last year, six states have passed such restrictions, and in three states, including Ohio, civic groups have filed lawsuits, arguing that the rules disproportionately affect poor neighborhoods.

But nowhere have the rules been as fiercely debated as here, partly because they are being administered by J. Kenneth Blackwell, the secretary of state and the Republican candidate in one of the most closely watched governor’s races in the country, a contest that will be affected by the voter registration rules. Mr. Blackwell did not write the law, but he has been accused of imposing regulations that are more restrictive than was intended.

Under the law, passed by the Republican-led state legislature in January 2006, paid voter registration workers must personally submit the voter registration cards to the state, rather than allow the organizations overseeing the drives to vet and submit them in bulk.

By requiring paid canvassers to sign and put their addresses on the voter registration cards they collect, and by making them criminally liable for any irregularities on the cards, the rules have made it more difficult to use such workers, who most often work in lower-income and Democratic-leaning neighborhoods, where volunteers are scarce.

“In Washington, D.C., Congress may have passed the voting rights bill to extend voter participation,” said Katy Gall, organizing director of Ohio Acorn, an advocacy group that focuses on poor neighborhoods. “But out here at the grass roots, things are headed in the opposite direction.”

Ms. Gall said the group had collected fewer than 200 new voter registration cards in the last month, down from an average of 7,000 a month before the regulations took effect on May 2.

“Quit whining,” said the Rev. Russell Johnson, the pastor of Fairfield Christian Church, who chuckled while shaking his head. “We work with the same challenges that everyone else does and we’re not having trouble.”

Surrounded by cornfields and middle-income homes, Mr. Johnson’s 4,000-member evangelical church in Lancaster, Ohio, is part of a coalition of conservative groups that aims to sign up 200,000 new voters by November, he said.

In the past several elections, Republicans have been effective in registering voters and getting them to the polls. Mr. Johnson said conservatives were better able to depend on voter registration volunteers because the conservatives had a message that attracted people who were willing to work free.

But Republicans are in an uphill battle in the face of investigations involving Gov. Bob Taft, who has pleaded no contest to charges of failing to report thousands of dollars in gifts given to him, and of Representative Bob Ney, who has been linked to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

Backers of the new regulations say they were needed, pointing to the fake names that appeared on voter registration cards in 2004, like Jive Turkey Sr.

“The new regulations have everything to do with preventing Jive Turkeys from showing up on cards the way they did last time,” said John McClelland, a spokesman for the state Republican Party. “They’ve got nothing to do with suppressing voter participation.” But elections experts and liberal grass-roots organizations say the new rules go too far.

“All this flak about Jive Turkey is a red herring,” said Catherine Turcer, the legislative director for Ohio Citizen Action, a nonpartisan government watchdog group in Columbus. “Yes, his name showed up on a voter registration card along with Dick Tracy, Mary Poppins and Michael Jordan. But none of them showed up at the polls, which is really what matters, and cases like theirs were a total rarity that did not justify such restrictive new measures.”

Back in East Cleveland, the copier machine at the Community of Faith Assembly church was overheating, and Mr. Minor was about to do the same. One new rule requires paid canvassers to return signed registration cards within 10 days to county boards of elections or the secretary of state’s office, rather than to the group paying the canvassers.

To comply with the rule, Mr. Minor has created an elaborate system so the cards do not leave the possession of the canvasser, and so he can make copies of them to get reimbursed by the People for the American Way, which is financing his voter registration drive.

Another rule requires that all paid workers take an online training course. “The problem there is that we’ve got a computer that freezes up every time we try to load the online program,” Mr. Minor said.
Politics have also ratcheted up the debate. In 2004, Mr. Blackwell was a co-chairman of President Bush’s re-election committee, and while the new law would prevent him from holding such a position in the future, his dual role as electoral overseer and candidate for governor has become a favorite target of his opponents.

On July 10, at an Acorn event in Columbus, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton accused Mr. Blackwell of a conflict of interest. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee followed suit with a letter to Mr. Blackwell, calling for him to relinquish his election duties as secretary of state. That sentiment has been echoed by Representative Ted Strickland, a five-term Democrat who has an 11-percentage-point lead over Mr. Blackwell in the governor’s race, according to a Rasmussen Reports survey released Aug. 1.

Mr. Blackwell, who did not respond to requests for an interview, has said he is only carrying out the law that was handed to him by the legislature. If he has any conflict of interest, Mr. Blackwell’s campaign has said, so do the Democratic secretaries of state in Iowa and Georgia, who also ran for governor.

Wendy R. Weiser, a law professor at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law and a lawyer in several of the suits opposing new voter registration regulations, said Ohio must be considered in a national context.

In Florida, the League of Women Voters and other groups are suing over a new law that imposes heavy fines for candidates if they submit forms late or if there are errors on the forms, Ms. Weiser said. In Georgia, the legislature passed a voter-identification law last year requiring citizens to purchase a government-issued ID card to present at the polls, but it was blocked by a federal judge as being a modern-day poll tax.

“I do believe,” Ms. Weiser said, “there is a national trend of using the straw man of voter fraud as a way to impose restrictive regulations on voting and voter registration.”

But what, then, is to be made of Jive Turkey Sr.?

Ohio state officials have said that such names appeared because voter registration groups were paying their workers per registration card, which created an incentive to submit fake names. The new regulations forbid this type of payment, a move that all grass-roots organizations seem to agree is for the better.

As for the level of threat posed by Mr. Turkey: a report compiled in 2005 by Mr. Ney, the Ohio congressman, cited news media reports of “thousands” of cases of voter registration fraud being investigated by local officials. But a separate study last year by the League of Women Voters found that voter registration fraud did not necessarily result in fraud at the polls. Out of 9,078,728 votes cast in Ohio in 2002 and 2004, the report said, only four ballots were fraudulent, according to statistics provided by officials from the state’s 88 county boards of elections.


Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – Ohio Election Stolen

June 4, 2006

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.  writes in this months Rolling Stone magazine that the Republicans "epublicans prevented more than 350,000 voters in Ohio from casting ballots or having their votes counted — enough to have put John Kerry in the White House."

The full Rolling Stone article can be found here

A cached copy of the article can be found here, in my Furl archive. 


Ken Blackwell’s Ethics Problem

April 7, 2006

From The Cleveland Plain Dealier:

Secretary of State Ken Blackwell made an embarrassing announcement Monday: He accidentally bought stock in Diebold Inc., a voting machine maker that benefited from decisions made by his office.

In a required filing with the Ohio Ethics Commission, the GOP gubernatorial hopeful said his hefty portfolio included 178 shares of Diebold stock, which sold for a loss.

"While I was unaware of this stock in my portfolio, its mere presence may be viewed as a conflict," Blackwell wrote in a letter that accompanies his annual financial disclosure statement.

As the Blackwell camp attempted to downplay the controversy, rivals from both parties pounced.

Blackwell "has a pretty unique history with this company," said Bob Paduchik, spokesman for Attorney General Jim Petro, who is also seeking the GOP nomination for governor. "This should be investigated."

Blackwell spokesman Carlo LoParo called the request for an investigation "absurd" and said county boards of election determine which machines to use.

In his duties as secretary of state, however, Blackwell's staff narrowed the list of companies eligible to replace Ohio's antiquated voting equipment with more modern technology. The Green-based Diebold made the cut, and a rival firm accused Blackwell of improperly favoring the Ohio company.

Diebold also drew the ire of critics after then-CEO Wally O'Dell sent a fund-raising letter in which he committed to deliver Ohio's electoral votes to President Bush in 2004.

LoParo maintains that Diebold's machines are safe and reliable and he described Blackwell's Diebold holdings as an honest mistake.

According to Blackwell's letter, he does not approve individual stock selections but has instructed his money managers to avoid all conflicts of interest.

"Those instructions were not followed by the new financial manager" that took over the account last year, he said. This unidentified woman bought 178 shares of Diebold at $53.67 per share in January 2005, then sold 95 of them for a loss of $15.68 per share.

On Saturday, while reviewing his annual ethics filing, Blackwell said he learned that he owned the remaining 83 shares and also sold them for a loss.

Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Brian Rothenberg could hardly contain his glee.

"If Ken Blackwell didn't know how his own money was being spent, why would the people of Ohio think he would be a good steward of their checkbook?"


Bush’s IRS Won’t Investigate Conservative Church

April 7, 2006

From The New York Times:

Church Group Calls I.R.S. Unfair on Political Violations of Tax Code

A group of religious leaders accused the Internal Revenue Service yesterday of playing politics by ignoring its complaint that two large churches in Ohio are engaging in what it says are political activities, in violation of the tax code.

In a letter to Commissioner Mark W. Everson, the clergy members cited reports of political events involving Fairfield Christian Church in Fairfield and World Harvest Church in Columbus and groups affiliated with them that have occurred or been disclosed since they raised the issue in January.

The group argues that the churches may be violating prohibitions on political activities by charities and other tax-exempt organizations and has asked the I.R.S. to audit their political activities.

The group often notes that the agency is investigating All Saints Church, a large liberal Episcopal church in Pasadena, Calif., over a sermon in 2004 that imagined a debate among Jesus, President Bush and Senator John Kerry, then the Democratic presidential candidate, and asks why the agency has not begun a similar audit of the two Ohio churches, which are conservative.

All Saints has denied wrongdoing and said the tax agency had not responded to its lawyers' calls.

The Rev. Eric Williams of North Congregational United Church of Christ in Columbus has been coordinating the activities of the critical group and said it was sending a second letter to Mr. Everson because the troublesome activities were continuing. "The I.R.S. really needs to take a more proactive stance if it's truly concerned about the political activities of all churches," Mr. Williams said.

Last year, the inspector general of the Treasury Department said political considerations played no role in selecting charities for reviews.

"For the 2006 electoral season, we are poised to look into allegations quickly and get an agent involved promptly if there is a valid reason for concern," the I.R.S. said in a statement.

A spokesman for World Harvest Church, Giles Hudson, said the tax agency had not contacted his church.

"This latest complaint filed by a group of left-leaning clergy amounts to nothing more than a campaign of harassment, and with the primary election just three weeks away, the timing couldn't be more obvious," the church said in a statement.

No one returned messages seeking comment from Fairfield Christian.

The critics' group says that the two churches' activities continue to support the gubernatorial candidacy of Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell almost exclusively, violating requirements that nonprofit organizations treat all candidates in a race even-handedly.

In 2004, Mr. Blackwell flew to three events on the World Harvest Church plane with its pastor, the Rev. Rodney L. Parsley, to protest same-sex marriages. Mr. Blackwell paid $1,000 for the flights, The Associated Press said, and Mr. Hudson noted that Mr. Blackwell took the trips before he was officially a candidate.