William Rivers Pitt: The Greene County Lockdown
The Greene County Lockdown
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Monday 13 December 2004
Author's Note | I delivered the following remarks during a rally on Boston Common on Sunday 12 December. While I was there, I received this press release from the office of Rep. John Conyers:
Conyers Alarmed at Efforts to Obstruct Ohio Recount Effort, Calls Witness to Monday Hearing to Detail Such Efforts
Yesterday, it came to the attention of the House Judiciary Committee Democratic Staff that efforts to audit poll records in Greene County, Ohio are being obstructed by County Election officials and/or Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. According to Joan Quinn and Eve Robertson, two election observers researching voting records, Greene County officials initially gave Quinn and Robertson access to poll records, and then abruptly withdrew such access. Greene County Director of Elections Carole Garman claimed that she had withdrawn access to the voting records at the direction of Secretary Blackwell. Regardless of who ordered the denial of this access, such an action appears to violate Ohio law. Later, at the same office, election observers found the office unlocked, and what appeared to be locked ballot boxes, unattended. Prior to the withdrawal of access to the books, observers had found discrepancies in election records, and possible evidence of minority vote suppression.
House Judiciary Committee Democrats wrote a letter to Blackwell on December 2 requesting answers to 34 questions about election irregularities and fraud in Ohio. This letter included questions about major discrepancies in Perry County poll books. Since that letter, additional documentation has been provided to the Democratic staff demonstrating similar problems in other counties.
Because of the urgency of the Greene County matter, Congressman John Conyers, Jr., Ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, has requested that Ms. Quinn testify at a hearing scheduled Monday in Columbus, Ohio. Ms. Quinn has agreed to do so and will also present sworn statements from corroborating witnesses. Conyers issued the following statement:
"The Recount effort is simply a search for the truth of what happened during the 2004 Presidential election in Ohio. We have now repeatedly seen election officials obstruct and stonewall this search for the truth. I am beginning to wonder what it is they are trying to hide."
When all is said and done, the activities taking place in Greene County could become the most important story from the 2004 election. My remarks below expand further on this issue. - wrp
There are people out there who think we are crazy, who think we are bitter-enders, sore losermen, conspiracy theorists and tinfoil hatters. We just cannot accept the outcome of a truly legitimate American election, and we are flailing about like pathetic boated fish trying to change what cannot be changed.
Hm. I wonder why. Maybe because of stories like this one, which started popping off late Friday night. This was the story as it first began to develop: On Friday December 10, two certified volunteers for the Ohio Recount team assigned to Greene County were in process recording voting information from minority precincts in Greene County, and were stopped mid-count by a surprise order from Secretary of State Blackwell's office. The Director Board of Elections stated that "all voter records for the state of Ohio were "locked-down," and now they are "not considered public records."
The volunteers were working with voter printouts received directly from Carole Garman, Director, Greene County Board of Elections. Joan Quinn and Eve Roberson, retired attorney and election official respectively, were hand-copying voter discrepancies from precinct voting books on behalf of the presidential candidates Mr. Cobb (Green) and Mr. Badnarik (Libertarian), both of whom had legitimately requested the recount.
One of the goals of their work was to determine how many minority voters were unable to vote or denied voting at the polls. Upon requesting copies of precinct records from predominantly minority precincts, Ms. Garman contacted Secretary of State Blackwell's office and spoke to Pat Wolfe, Election Administrator. Ms. Wolfe told Ms. Garman to assert that all voter records for the State of Ohio were "locked down" and that they are "not considered public records."
Quinn and Roberson asked specifically for the legal authority authorizing Mr. Blackwell to "lock down" public records. Garman stated that it was the Secretary of State's decision. Ohio statute requires the Directors of Boards of Election to comply with public requests for inspection and copying of public election records. As the volunteer team continued recording information from the precinct records in question, Garman entered the room and stated she was withdrawing permission to inspect or copy any voting records at the Board of Elections. Garman then physically removed the precinct book from Ms. Roberson's hands. They later requested the records again from Garman's office, which was again denied.
Ohio Revised Code Title XXXV Elections, Sec. 3503.26 that requires all election records be made available for public inspection and copying. ORC Sec. 3599.161 makes it a crime for any employee of the Board of Elections to knowingly prevent or prohibit any person from inspecting the public records filed in the office of the Board of Elections. Finally, ORC Sec. 3599.42 clearly states: "A violation of any provision of Title XXXV (35) of the Revised Code constitutes a prima facie case of election fraud within the purview of such Title." (Source attribution)
By late Saturday night, however, this story had taken even a wackier turn. The records taken from Quinn and Roberson's hands on Friday stood in an unlocked Board of Elections office Saturday morning, apparently overnight. Several observers arrived Saturday morning, noticing cars in the parking lot, and looked for officials in the office, but found nobody in the unlocked building. Law enforcement and media contacts had been alerted and were at the site before County officials arrived. Deputy Director of Elections Lynn McCoy arrived later and stated that all election records were still "locked down" and remained unavailable to the public.after having spent the night unsecured in an unlocked building on the eve of a recount. (Source attribution)
So there's that. But then there's this. On election night, Warren County Ohio commissioners ordered a complete security lockdown at the County Administration Building, citing a terrorism threat. No one has offered a clear explanation for why the lockdown happened. The lockdown was done upon the recommendation of Frank Young, the county's emergency services director, who said he got information from an FBI agent. According to one source, the county was ranked 10 on a 1-to-10 threat scale. Young refused to identify the agent he said gave him the warning, and the FBI said they never issued any such warning, nor did they have any reason to suspect a specific threat against Warren County. No one but the officials in Warren County saw the need to lock all the doors, refuse entry to the press or other observers of the vote count, and generally treat the county building as if it were the Pentagon itself.
So there's that. But then there's this. Most of you are aware, I am sure, of the hearing held by Representative John Conyers last week in Washington. Can we take a moment for a cheer for Mr. Conyers for having the courage of his convictions. The process towards that hearing began with the letter from Rep. John Conyers to Ohio Secretary of State Blackwell. In that letter, Conyers described a long series of irregularities in the Ohio Presidential election that amounted to an accusation of fraud. The letter was the basis for the hearing, and made sure to invite Blackwell to participate. It is worth noting that Blackwell did not show up.
The hearing itself was a showcase for both fact and passion. The witnesses, the Representatives before them, and the crowd that filled the room lit the place up with a concerned electricity. Some believed the irregularities and outright fraud which marred the Ohio vote require immediate redress, a successful completion of which could come to overthrow the results of last month's election. Others saw the hearings as a gift to their children and the future, a means to ensure that any and all elections to come will not suffer the kind of nonsense that afflicted both November of 2004 and November of 2000.
The hearing took place in a unique moment in our history. Election fraud and voter disenfranchisement are not new in our history, but have been as much a part of the process as campaign buttons and baby-kissing. The fact that the electorate's voting habits are becoming more clearly drawn, and the fact that so many were watching like hawks after Florida in 2000, means that the standard-issue fraud which has always existed now has a bright light shining upon it, and means the new kinds of fraud involving electronic machines and computer tabulators are likewise suffering intense scrutiny. In this moment, that bright light means the problems, both new and old, can be and must be addressed, repaired, and purged from our democratic process.
Why, then, in this historic moment that benefits all Americans regardless of party, is the Ohio GOP thwarting all attempts at reform, thwarting attempts at even airing problems? You see, the Ohio GOP got wind of Conyers' intention to hold a hearing tomorrow in Columbus, at the City Hall, in the chambers of the City Council. The Ohio GOP has denied all requests for a room to hold this hearing. Conyers is going anyway, along with all his people, and will have their hearing on the damn City Hall steps if they have to.
But it is telling indeed that the Ohio GOP is refusing, flatly refusing, to allow the public the opportunity to hear of the problems that threaten the very basis of participatory democracy.
There are people out there who think we are crazy, who think we are bitter-enders, sore losermen, conspiracy theorists and tinfoil hatters. We just cannot accept the outcome of a truly legitimate American election, and we are flailing about like pathetic boated fish trying to change what cannot be changed. But the Ohio Secretary of State is brazenly breaking the law by denying public access to public records. The terrorism bugaboo was thrown in the way of those who wished to observe the counting process in Warren County, though nobody seems to know who tossed out the warning nor why terrorists would want to blow something up in southwestern Ohio. And now, legitimate hearings on these issues are being thwarted.
If demanding answers to these questions, along with all the other questions that have arisen - more than 30,000 reports of voting irregularities and fraud all across the country, including thousands of reports of malfunctioning electronic touch-screen voting machines, plus the disenfranchisement of as many as a million minority voters, and the startling reality that virtually every single 'malfunction' or error favored George W. Bush - if demanding answers to these questions makes me crazy, then damn it, bring on the boys with the butterfly nets, because I am completely out of my mind.
Hell, even the centrist shrinking violets at the DNC are apparently joining the crazy wacko club. The Democrats used their weekly radio address just yesterday to focus on ensuring accurate ballot counts and elections free of voter intimidation. Donna Brazile said on the radio, "America's story is one of expanding opportunity and suffrage, and one of our fundamental principles is that every eligible citizen is entitled to cast his or her vote and have that vote counted. We owe it to the students of Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, who waited up to 10 hours to vote. We owe it to thousands of Ohio voters who wonder whether their votes were counted with the use of new electronic voting machines, and we owe it to countless other Americans. There is no place in our democracy for faulty voting equipment, long lines at the polls, untrained poll workers and any forms of chads. As a nation, we should not rest until our elections are free from the problems of elections past and until all Americans can cast their ballots on Election Day fully confident that their votes have been counted."
I'd like to get back to the Conyers hearing last week for a moment, and focus on the presence of Reverend Jesse Jackson, and his son, at that event. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. made the point that we must have a standardized national voting process and take the matter out of the hands of individual states, which can keep the process "separate and unequal." We must have a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote. How can people argue that the right to own a gun is explicitly stated in the constitution, and then turn around and say it is acceptable to have the right to vote only be 'implicit' in the constitution?
It was this last point, made over and over again by Reverend Jackson, that drew the most applause from the audience and attention from the Congressmen. In demanding a constitutional amendment cementing the simple right to vote, Jackson spoke of the long line that reached from Selma, Alabama to Ohio, and into this room. "This is not about who won or lost," he said. "This is about participating in democracy. The 2004 election is not past-tense. We are not whining. It is time to take this struggle to the streets and fully legitimize this struggle." Well, here we are, Reverend. Here we are.
The importance of the presence of Reverend Jackson was described best by Cliff Arnebeck, who chairs Common Cause Ohio. "If you look at who was here," said Arnebeck, "you had leaders from the generally white political reform movement, and leaders from the black civil rights movement. This is a powerful coalition. We are not talking about one group having dominance over the other, but a real partnership of the traditional political reform community with the traditional civil rights community, and Reverend Jackson is the one that proposed it, has initiated the organization of it."
At the end of the day, the hearing was a beginning, a chance for those fighting this fight to look upon one another and know they are not alone. Rep. Conyers and his fellow Congressmen are to be commended for putting the process in motion. The most striking moment came when the hearing ended, and all of the people assembled began embracing one another. They had made their voices heard, they knew they were not alone, and it smelled like vindication in there when all was said and done.
The hearing was a beginning. There will be more, especially in Ohio. The lawsuits will continue. Rep. Conyers intimated that he might object to the seating of the Ohio Electors when the certification process begins. The protests will continue to grow across the country. Perhaps, if we can follow through and accomplish the cleansing of our democratic process, we will look back on that day in room 2237 of the Rayburn House Office Building and know that yet another popular movement towards achieving that more perfect union began there, in that time, and in that place.
On this day, this very day four years ago, a man was anointed President of the United States by the Supreme Court who did not win that office. There are many reasons why this happened, so many that I am not going to bother explaining all of them. At the end of the day, the main reason why this happened is straightforward and clear: George W. Bush gained his office because we did not count all of the votes that were cast, and the mainstream media smiled their way through all the reports of voting irregularities and fraud. Every study that came out after that election stated flatly that, had all the votes been counted, George W. Bush would be peddling his papers in West Texas, the war in Iraq would still be a neoconservative pipe dream, and perhaps two towers would still be casting their long shadows over the island of Manhattan.
We did not count all the votes in 2000, and we are on the edge of making the same mistake once again. Ohio Secretary of State Blackwell is doing everything he can to make sure the votes in his state are not being counted. Yet the fight continues. Jon Bonifaz of the National Voting Rights Institute, along with Cliff Arnebeck, will be filing their suit to demand a recount tomorrow, armed with statistical analyses of vote fraud, exit polls, and armed further with subpoenas for forensic examinations of the voting machines.
I asked Bonifaz about his suit at the Conyers hearing. He said: "The main focus is that we want a full recount of all votes cast in Ohio for President in the 2004 election. While that recount will continue past the time of the Electoral College meeting on December 13th, we will insist that it be completed in a timely manner, and by January 6th, when that recount is completed, there may in fact be a different set of Electors. I can't say for sure whether that will happen, but a recount is important to ensure the proper counting of every vote."
If you want to help Bonifaz, go to DefendTheRecount.org and join the legal defense fund. While you are at it, call or write Representative Conyers and support him in his stated desire to object to the seating of the Ohio electors if that recount is still in process. Join with Common Cause and demand the recusal of Secretary of State Blackwell from any process that involves a recount, and alert the media to his blatantly illegal actions in Greene County. Join the coalition being formed by Conyers and Jackson.
Push your Senators and House Representatives to support the GAO investigation into the election. Donate to the organization that brought us all here today - you will find out how shortly. I also strongly, strongly recommend that you join the forums at DemocraticUnderground.com and seek out the specific forum called 2004 Election Results and Discussion. 90% of what I have learned about this last election was located thanks to the remarkable researchers and activists in that place. Arm yourself with the facts.
By the way, Bonifaz and Arnebeck are working together on this, as I said before.and the recounters who got shut out of Greene County by Blackwell on Friday have contacted an attorney.one Cliff Arnebeck. So stay tuned on that.
President John F. Kennedy once said, "We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people." It appears all to evident today that the government of this nation is afraid of its people, afraid of the truth.
This is nothing new. Alexis De Toqueville observed long ago that, "The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint, but from time to time one can see the old aristocratic colors breaking through."
We are seeing those colors breaking through today in the privatization of the vote, in the denial of access to the results of that vote, and in the complete blackout by the mainstream news media of the simple fact that this is happening. Yet here we stand, and here we will remain. I support the effort to pass a constitutional amendment establishing the explicit right to vote in this country. A federal right to vote would bolster the National Voter Registration Act standards for voter registration activities, while also prohibiting voter intimidation and granting the Attorney General the power to intervene where voting irregularities of fraud occurs.
You may groan at that last bit, remembering who sits in the AG chair today, and who will sit there when Ashcroft is gone, but this is a fight for the future, and we will clean that house one day and seat an attorney general who is not...how do I put this? One day we will seat an attorney general who understands his or her job involves more than frightening people on cue whenever Bush lands in political hot water. A federal right to vote makes all of the things we have seen happening since the November election a matter of constitutional law. Diebold would be exposed by this. Blackwell would be exposed by this. The truth would be exposed by this.
I can think of nothing more important than the defense of our right to vote, I can think of nothing more important than the demand that all votes be counted, and I can think of nothing more important than the fight to cleanse our system of those who would steal from us these basic, essential democratic requirements. I can think of no coherent argument against enshrining our right to vote within the sacred document that defines us as a nation.
This is not a partisan political issue. I do not know what the party registration was of the woman going through chemotherapy, who fainted in line while waiting to vote. She left the line without voting because the line was too long, because there were not enough machines at her polling place. I do not know the party registration of the single mom who would have gotten fired from her job had she stood in that long line to vote. What about the man who was in the hospital and did not receive his absentee ballot, so he stood in that line with an IV in his arm. I have no idea who these people would of voted for. I couldn't care less. These people, and millions more besides, were disenfranchised in this last election. This is intolerable. Period.
We stand upon the precipice of history. What we do now defines our future. Thank you for being here, thank you for standing up, thank you for your patriotism. Thank you.
William Rivers Pitt is the senior editor and lead writer for truthout. He is a New York Times and international bestselling author of two books - 'War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know' and 'The Greatest Sedition is Silence.'