Open Letter to J. Tanner, Voting Section, U.S. DoJ
An Open Letter to John Tanner, Chief, Voting Section, U.S. Department of Justice
By Bob Fitrakis
July 2, 2005
An Open Letter to John Tanner, Chief, Voting Section, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Section in response to his June 29, 2005 letter to Nick A. Soulas, Jr., Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Civil Division, Franklin County:
Dear Mr. Tanner:
I was curious to find that you had “conducted an investigation into the November 2, 2004 general election in Franklin County, prompted by allegations that Franklin County systematically assigned fewer voting machines in polling places serving predominantly black communities as compared to its assignment of machines in predominantly white communities.”
Let me begin by suggesting the word “contrasted” would be more appropriate than “compared.” Indeed, the difference is literally black and white.
You praise the bipartisan nature of the Franklin County Board of Elections (BOE). But you fail to mention that the Director, Matt Damschroder, is the former Chair of the Franklin County Republican Party, and that J. Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio’s Secretary of State and the Co-Chair of the Bush-Cheney Re-election Committee appoints all board members as well as officers, and they serve at his pleasure. Blackwell’s actions throughout the election year were openly partisan and obviously unethical.
For example, I was at a meeting prior to the election where Mr. Damschroder informed a delegation of esteemed international election observers that he would have them arrested based on the orders of Blackwell if they crossed the 100-foot line outside the polls to observe closer to the voting site. Is that what you mean by “the spirit of cooperation?”
Or is it the fact that both Republicans and Democrats get paid well to be officers and directors of the BOE, and if they are fired, they lose their paycheck? I hope you took into consideration the October 5, 2004 letter from Blackwell to the Chair of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Robert Bennett wherein he wrote: “Be advised that your actions are not in compliance with Ohio law and further failure to comply with my lawful directives will result in official action, which may include removal of the Board and its Director.” Mr. Bennett had wanted to count provisional ballots the way they had been counted in the past, including the 2004 presidential primary in Ohio. After changing numerous polling places and precinct locations and failing to update his website for six months according to election officials under oath, Mr. Blackwell came up with a new rule: provisional ballots would only be counted if you were in the correct precinct. This ruling literally disenfranchised thousands of voters in Cleveland, Toledo, and Columbus.
Your letter states “the structural bi-partisanship extends to active cooperation in decisions on election issues.” What your letter fails to address is that both Democrats and Republicans on the Franklin County Board of Elections have publicly admitted that they needed 5,000 machines to conduct the 2004 general election, and Secretary Blackwell admitted he would not allow them to buy new machines. Is this the bi-partisanship you speak of? Sounds a bit more like a dictatorship.
First you concede that there were “long lines at polling places across Franklin County.” The reality is those long lines were across the majority African American wards in the inner city. As a legal advisor for the Election Protection Coalition on Election Day observing Wards 55 and 5 that included eight polling places and nine precincts, I witnessed firsthand the waits that averaged more than three hours.
You go on to say of the long lines, “This was especially true in the city of Columbus,” but refuse to attribute it to the “allocation of machines.” Did it occur to you and the Department of Justice that when the state conducted an election with a little over half the machines necessary, chaos and disenfranchisement were inevitable, and inherently violated people’s right to vote?
Oddly, you praise the Franklin County BOE’s decision “to increase the number of voting machines from 2,904 to 5,000 for the 2006 election.” Surely you realize, as does virtually every voter in America, that there was a record increase in voter registration in the 2004 presidential election. As any student of Political Science 101 can tell you, far more people vote in hotly contested presidential years than in an off-year Congressional election, such as we will have in 2006.
Also, I found your reference to 2,904 machines quite odd. A Franklin County BOE voting machine allocation sheet entered into the record at the public hearing on November 13, 2004 indicated on page 17 that the county only had 2,886 “Total Machines.” Twenty of them were “In Vans for Breakdowns.” Thus they list 2,866 “Machines Available.” I’m curious as to how you arrived at the 2,904 number.
Did you check the bill of lading from Ward Moving & Storage, the company the Franklin County BOE used to transport voting machines, which showed that only 2,741 machines were placed prior to the opening of polls on November 2?
Also on the voting machine allocation sheet, the BOE lists 2,798 “Machines Placed By Close of Polls.” By Mr. Damschroder’s own document, 68 functional machines were never put out, and he’s on record telling the Columbus Dispatch that another 77 machines broke down. The Chair of the Franklin County BOE told us 76 machines were held back in case of an “emergency.”
By the way, Mr. Damschroder testified before a federal judge on Election Day that no more machines were available. Perhaps he forgot to read his own documents. Did he forward you this voting machine allocation document? I personally requested machines be sent to Wards 55 and 5 on Election Day since fewer machines were allocated than were available in the lightly contested presidential primary in Ohio earlier in the year.
You refer to Mr. Damschroder’s bizarre statement that his allocation of voting machines involved “some math and some art.” So let’s take a look at the math.
The Free Press acquired a comprehensive list from the Franklin County BOE entitled “Machine Assignment for General Election 2004.” The document shows that 76 machines that were assigned by serial number to be put out at the polls were crossed out with a black pen. In twenty cases, the machines were eventually put out by the close of polls. We have sworn testimony from a presiding judge who told us that a machine was rolled in to her polling place at 7:30pm.
Fifty-six of the machines never made it to the polls. All 76 of these machines that were either delivered late or never delivered at all were for polling sites the Democratic-rich city of Columbus. Not one was for the suburbs. There are 788 precincts in Franklin County. Of these, 472 (59.9%) are in Columbus and 316 (40.1%) are in the suburbs. As Dr. Richard Hayes Phillips has pointed out: “Therefore, the odds of all 76 machine shortages occurring in Columbus precincts by random chance are approximately 0.676, or 1.38 x 10-17 or 72,500,000,000,000,000 to 1.”
Your startling conclusion, that it was really white people who had been discriminated against because their “precincts averaged 172 votes per machine while black precincts averaged 159 votes per machine” is absurd.
Let’s try some more math. Let's assume there are two machines at a precinct and blacks wait in line for three hours and slowly cast 215 votes on each machine. Hundreds leave the precinct before casting their vote. The Washington Post put the figure at between 15-20,000 disenfranchised voters in Franklin County alone. Now, if you wheel in a machine at 7:30pm and 47 people vote on it, you have averaged 159 votes per machine.
Why didn’t you report on or look at the vote on each machine? Why did you average the votes per machine, including those that were hardly in use in the inner city?
Also, did you consider that the former Chair of the Franklin County Republican Party and his boss, the Co-Chair of the Bush- Cheney Re-election Committee, may have disenfranchised so many black citizens that their voter turnout was abnormally suppressed?
Simply put, whites cast more votes because they didn’t have to wait in long lines. In one black precinct canvassed by The Free Press, 20% of registered voters said they attempted to vote at least once and many two and three times. This directly purports with the sworn statements of hundreds of registered voters in Franklin County. In my opinion, the testimony is far more accurate than Mr. Damschroder making statements under oath that directly contradict his own documents.
I’m not sure that relying on Mr. Damschroder as your key source of evidence is the best way for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate civil rights violations. This is like going to the Klan and asking them if they’ve lynched anybody or buried any civil rights workers in an earthen grave.
In sum, your report is inadequate and inaccurate, and reflects a heavy bias toward the Republican party.
Among so much else, it ignores suspicious problems with absentee ballots, the purging of hundreds of thousands of inner city voters from registration rolls in Cincinnati and elsewhere, the illegal harassment of ex-felons, the discarding of more than 100,000 uncounted provisional and "spoiled" ballots, obvious manipulations of electronic voting and tabulation machines, and much more.
It also reflects a strong bias against revealing what really happened in Ohio: the co-chair of the state's Bush-Cheney campaign, J. Kenneth Blackwell, in cooperation with Republican county election board executives such as Matt Damschroeder, deprived tens of thousands of Ohioans of their votes and wrongfully and illegally swung the state to George W. Bush when exit polls and a flood of supporting evidence showed voters actually preferred John Kerry.
We understand your partisan desire to make the public believe otherwise. But the record is clear and unmistakable: any fair assessment of what happened in Ohio 2004 would confirm that this election was stolen for George W. Bush.
Dr. Robert J. Fitrakis is a professor of political science and a lawyer. He served as an international election observer in the 1994 presidential elections in El Salvador and as a dual-Ward legal advisor for the Election Protection Coalition during the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election. Dr. Fitrakis is also co-editor, with Steve Rosenfeld and Harvey Wasserman, of DID GEORGE W. BUSH STEAL AMERICA'S 2004 ELECTION?, available from http://freepress.org.