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Steve Weissman: How Much Fraud Does the GOP Need?

How Much Fraud Does the GOP Need?

By Steve Weissman
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Thursday 18 November 2004

See also related:
Confessions of an Unwitting Accessory"
A commentary by Assoc. Dean Ian Solomon, Yale Law School

By Ian Solomon - The Hartford Courant - Thursday 11 November 2004

Give the Republicans their due. If they ever let all the African-Americans, university students, and other heavily Democratic constituencies vote without restraint, and counted all those ballots, George W. Bush would never be president. Nor would GOP fat cats get the lion's share of government give-aways. And, Lord help us, we would all go to hell without the "moral values" that right wing Christians want to shove down our throats, onto our genitals, and into women's wombs.

Whether for ego, greed, or God - or an intoxicating brew of the three - winning is all that counts, winning by any means necessary. "We are the champions. No time for losers."

For decades, big-city Democrats ruled by manipulating the vote. They even helped John F. Kennedy win the presidency in 1960, when Chicago's mayor Richard J. Daley organized votes from the dead. That was Democratic politics in the Windy City: Vote early and often. And if you happen to die, don't worry, the Daley Machine will pay someone to vote in your name. Think of it as a form of immortality.

Now the Republicans are taking their turn, and they make old Mayor Daley and New York City's Tammany Hall gang look like mischievous kids. Under Mr. Bush's political guru Karl Rove, the GOP campaigners have perfected nothing less than a nationwide effort to subvert the ideal of one person, one vote.

How far did they go?

We don't know. Despite an army of investigating Internauts, no one has yet proved overt fraud, the kind that puts people in jail, or should. The most sweeping charges come from Florida, where a failed Congressional candidate named Jeff Fisher - a self-proclaimed "Constitutional Progressive Liberal Democrat" - charges that the GOP electronically fiddled with the vote in numerous counties in Florida, Ohio, and New Mexico.

So far, Fisher and his story sound squirrelly. According to the charges that appear on his website, the Republicans used computers at Bay Point Schools, a juvenile detention and drug rehabilitation facility in South Miami, to hack into systems linking Diebold optical scanners and electronic voting machines. The hackers then inserted "software kernels" that instructed the systems to alter, switch, delete, or destroy votes, snatching victory from John Kerry and giving it to George W. Bush.

Fisher goes on to claim that the GOP first tested the scheme in 1999, and used it in the 2000 presidential election and Jeb Bush's race for governor in 2002. He also points the finger of guilt directly at Bush fund-raiser Mel Sembler, the U.S. Ambassador to Italy.

Fisher tells a superb story, lacking only the evidence. He claims to have internal memos, emails, and testimony from an information systems manager, who - he says - is now in hiding. But, to date, he has failed to produce any proof. He has it, he insists. He's just waiting - for the FBI, or a Congressional investigation, or what?

Given the seriousness of his charges, and the possible libel of Mel Sembler, I think the time has come for Mr. Fisher publicly to put up or shut up.

But wait, you say. What about all those articles that show how easy it would be to do exactly what Fisher alleges?

Fair enough. Many of us have argued extensively for an electronic voting system with a paper audit trail, one that allows voters to see for themselves how their votes will be recorded. We know that many, if not most, of the current systems lack such safeguards, and that we desperately need to make our voting system completely transparent and verifiable. But the possibility of crime, or even its likelihood, does not prove that a crime took place. Before we can honestly cry fraud, we need to know who, what, when, and how.

In the meantime, I put my trust in the approach taken by University of Pennsylvania statistician Steven Freeman, which appears in our Features section. Dr. Freeman looks at the divergence between the exit polls, which gave victory to Kerry, and the announced results, which swung toward Bush. The odds of that happening by accident in just three states - Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio - would be 250 million to one, he calculated.

Possibly, the exit polls had serious flaws, More likely, the problem lies in the tabulating of votes, which could involve either systematic error or systematic fraud. At this point, we do not know, and will not know until Congress, prosecutors, good government groups, and the press pursue intensive investigations. Hopefully, the recounts in New Hampshire and Ohio will light a fire under our collective behinds.

But a word of warning: as crucial as fraud might have been to the election's outcome, questions of criminality should not blind us to the rest of what the GOP has been doing to limit likely Democratic voters. Their strategy has been to win elections before anyone counts - or miscounts - the first vote.

One dramatic example was Jeb Bush's effort to purge Florida's voter rolls of African-Americans suspected of being felons, while blatantly ignoring similar lists of Cuban-Americans, who he thought more likely to vote Republican. The GOP has long pushed for laws barring convicted felons from voting, knowing full well that our society puts a large proportion of African-Americans and other minorities behind bars. The party has similarly fought against efforts to make it easier for former felons to win back their voting rights, or to make it easier for everyone to register and vote.

In this election as in the past, the Republicans sent thousands of poll watchers into black and other heavily democratic precincts to challenge people's right to vote, generally because they might have been felons or could not prove their residence. This led to long lines, which caused large numbers of voters to walk away, and to provisional ballots, many of which officials later rejected for technical miscues, such as failing to have birthdates.

It's really quite simple. If everyone could register on Election Day, and if former felons could legally vote without having to jump through hoops, the Republicans would have a much harder time limiting the Democratic vote. But then, the Republicans would lose. No wonder they're so much happier talking about "moral values" than applying them to America's failing democracy.


A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he writes for t r u t h o u t.

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