Friday, June 02, 2006

doesn't sound so crazy now, does it?

"Caging" is a political term I have never seen used before. It refers to the process of mass mailing registered letters to minority communities in order to use letters which are not signed for as evidence that that voter's registation is fraudulent. Thus caging is used to strike large groups of people from the voting rolls, by using the fact that no one could sign for the registered letter as evidence that they don't exist. Of course, most people work during the day and many serve in the military away from home or are in an educational program away from their home address. But if they haven't voted in the past few elections, they are likely to be suseptible to such an attack on their rights.

This terms comes up in conjunction with a damning Rolling Stone article on voter fraud in the 2004 election. Ohio, and Kenneth Blackwell in particular, receive some righteous scorn for how they treat the democratic rights of their fellow citizens. According to the law, ach citizen was supposed to get a hearing before being strickn from the polls. Instead Blackwell, Ohio secretary of state AND co-chair of Bush's re-relection campaign (specifically, he was 'electoral campaign strategist', that is the guy who figures out how to get the most votes out of the confusing electoral system) set up massive kangaroo courts to disenfranchise thousands at a clip. You'd be lucky to get a letter for the hearing stripping you of rights, as they were sent to the same addresses which were thought to be faulty. Beyond that, GOP officials organized a national effort to intimidate likely voters from hotel rooms across the country on Election Day. These tactics were honed during the 2000 election when a mob stormed the Miami-Dade County election offices and halted the recount. It was later revealed that those involved in the ''Brooks Brothers Riot'' were not angry Floridians but paid GOP staffers, many of them flown in from Texas. Photos of the protest show that one of the ''rioters'' was Joel Kaplan, who has just taken the place of Karl Rove at the White House, where he now directs the president's policy operations.

Blackwell had a seemingly endless string of tricks, all justified with smarmy officialese excuses: officials would process registration forms only if they were printed on eighty-pound unwaxed white paper stock, similar to a typical postcard. But any valid registration cards printed on lesser paper stock that miraculously survived the shredding gauntlet at the post office were not to be processed; instead, they were to be treated as applications for a registration form, requiring election boards to send out a brand-new card.

How were the names for these disputable addresses in the caging incidents acquired? One clue is from a Toledo investigation which found election officials letting GOP officials behind the counter to photocopy anything they like or 'accidentally' destroy official documents. Consider this: On Election Day, Noe sent a team of Republican volunteers to the county warehouse where blank ballots were kept out in the open, ''with no security measures in place.'' The state's assistant director of elections, who just happened to be observing the ballot distribution, demanded they leave. The GOP operatives refused and ultimately had to be turned away by police.

Then there was the issue of Blackwell and the provisional ballots: these are temporary ballots used for valid voters who have a new residence and were a reform brought about in response to the 2000 debacle in Florida. Blackwell first refused to tell voters that provisional ballots were available and then, when federal law was being brought to bear, made an aggrandizing speech comparing his efforts to MLK, Gandhi and the Apostle Paul. And he fought tooth and nail, even getting an amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief in on his behalf from the Justice Department under John Ashcroft, making this the first time in American history that the Justice Department had gone to court to block the right of voters to vote. The decision left hundreds of thousands of voters in predominantly Democratic counties to navigate the state's bewildering array of 11,366 precincts, whose boundaries had been redrawn just prior to the election. New precinct lines were even misidentified on the secretary of state's own Web site, which was months out of date on Election Day.

The chicanery was so Baroque it was Rococo: long lines were engineered in minority precincts by GOP officials claiming that new electronic voting machines would make voting faster, justifying a reduction in the number of polling places...while supplying the new machines only to affluent districts which were putatively Republican. In fact, Ohio received federal monies who new machines for the 2004 election which Blackwell refused to spend until this year. Rep. John Conyers' investigation found the misallocation of machines went beyond this urban/suburban discrepancy: students at liberal Kenyon College, who registered in record numbers for the election had two machines for 1,300 voters; while fundamentalist students at the nearby Mount Nazarene College got a machine for their 100 voters. According to the Columbus Free Press, white Republican suburbanites, blessed with a surfeit of machines, averaged waits of only twenty-two minutes; black urban Democrats averaged three hours and fifteen minutes.

Not to mention making it through this gauntlet to the machines themselves, all of which seem personally programmed by Karl Rove in a surreal parody: In heavily Democratic areas around Youngstown, where nearly 100 voters reported entering ''Kerry'' on the touch screen and watching ''Bush'' light up, at least twenty machines had to be recalibrated in the middle of the voting process for chronically flipping Kerry votes to Bush. (Similar ''vote hopping'' from Kerry to Bush was reported by voters and election officials in other states.) Elsewhere, voters complained in sworn affidavits that they touched Kerry's name on the screen and it lit up, but that the light had gone out by the time they finished their ballot; the Kerry vote faded away. They didn't flip all votes from Kerry to Bush, some of them just crawled down the ballot, giving third-party candidates unprecdented boosts in voting totals in some precincts. Even mechanical and optical scanners were victims: sworn affidavits by election observers given to the House Judiciary Committee describe ballots on which marks for Kerry were covered up with white stickers, while marks for Bush were filled in to replace them.

The most heinous act was in Warren County: Blackwell in the runup to the election sought to keep all election observers 100 feet away from the polls.  When this closed door policy was struck down by the Sixth Circuit court, GOP officials, citing the FBI declared that the county was facing a terrorist threat of maximum proportions. The county administration building was hastily locked down, allowing election officials to tabulate the results without any reporters present.

Of course, there was no threat and the FBI decalred that it had issued no such warning, while an investigation by The Cincinnati Enquirer unearthed e-mails showing that the Republican plan to declare a terrorist alert had been in the works for eight days prior to the election. Officials had even refined the plot down to the language they used on signs notifying the public of a lockdown.

Voter fraud is this constant blight on our record as the world's longest-lived democratic republic. This hypocrisy gets worse with each presidential cycle. Voting is the keystone of rights, making all others possible. Its erosion threatens the integrity of the entire span of our government. When people lose faith in their government to respect their votes, then how can we propose democracy as the superior political system for the world? 

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At 5:01 AM,

One thing that is clear is the problem is more voter supression than the dead-men voting fraud of yore. Thus solutions that everyone can accept for the moment are, as Chris Bowers points out:
* Verifiable paper trials for every vote.
* Universal voter registration.
* A national holiday on Election Day.




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