Democracy Now: Harvey Wasserman Interview
Ohio Voting Rights Activists Call Electoral Fight The "Biggest Deal Since Selma"
Thursday, December 23rd, 2004
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Ohio-based journalist Harvey Wasserman reviews the ongoing controversy surrounding the presidential vote in Ohio. Representative John Conyers - the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee - has called on The Associated Press and the five broadcast networks to turn over raw exit poll data collected on Election Day in order to investigate any discrepancies between the data and the certified election results. [includes rush transcript]
Groups from across the country are in full swing with their mobilizations for mass-protests at the inauguration of George Bush next month in Washington DC.
But as the White House moves ahead selling tickets for as much as $100,000 to some inauguration events, there are many people in this country that believe the celebration is premature. While Bush continues his shaping of a second term cabinet, some within Congress are increasing their calls for a closer look at the results of the November 2 election.
Representative John Conyers - the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee - has called on The Associated Press and the five broadcast networks to turn over raw exit poll data collected on Election Day. The Michigan Democrat wants to investigate any discrepancies between the data and the certified election results. Early exit polls indicated that Senator John Kerry was beating President Bush in several key states including Ohio. That state has become the battleground in the fight over who won on November 2. We are joined now by a longtime independent journalist from Ohio, who has been investigating the controversy surrounding the vote in that state.
Harvey Wasserman, is a Senior Editor of the Free Press based in Ohio. Along with Bob Fitrakis and Steve Rosenfeld, he is co-author of the upcoming book Ohio"s Stolen Election: Voices of the Disenfranchised. His latest piece is called "Ohio electoral fight becomes "biggest deal since Selma" as GOP stonewalls."
This transcript is available free of charge, however donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution. Donate Via Paypal
AMY GOODMAN: Harvey Wasserman is our guest, Senior Editor at the Free Press, based in Ohio. Welcome to Democracy Now!
HARVEY WASSERMAN: Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.
AMY GOODMAN: It's good to have you with us. Can you talk about the whole controversy?
HARVEY WASSERMAN: I live in Columbus. I'm a registered voter in Columbus. They tried to deprive me of my absentee ballot. But we have followed this thing. I write for freepress.org, and my co-editor and I wrote a piece before the election, entitled “12 Ways Bush is Stealing the Ohio Vote,” and frankly, they came up with many, many more. The vote in Ohio was administered by Kenneth Blackwell, the Republican Secretary of State, who served simultaneously as co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio. Prior to the elections, they pulled shenanigans playing around with the registration and the provisional ballots. During the election, on Election Day, they shortchanged many of the inner city polling places of machines so that people wound up waiting three, four, five hours in the rain. We had 11-hour waits at Kenyan College for people to vote, whereas a precinct less than a mile away, there was no wait at all. So, those are the kinds of games they played on Election Day. I could go through for a half hour of what they did, the dirty tricks, straight from the Nixon era, by the way. The overall reality is that the vast majority of votes in Ohio were cast on electronic voting machines that have no paper trail. And many of them were provided by Diebold, the Diebold Corporation, whose owner who lives in central Ohio, famously proclaimed that he would deliver Ohio's electoral votes to George W. Bush. We are now trying to get a recount. The Blackwell administration is stonewalling any recount. You would think if it was a fair election, they would be happy to have a recount. In one instance in Warren County they called out a Homeland Security Alert, and threw out independent observers during the recount. We have had instances where ballots have disappeared, where there's been tampering with the machines. As far as I’m concerned, Ohio is not a democracy. And we believe based on the exit polls that there is no way on earth that George W. Bush carried the state of Ohio, therefore, the election. If he loses Ohio, he loses the election.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Harvey, one question, you said that the vast majority of votes were cast on Diebold machines?
HARVEY WASSERMAN: Not Diebold. Electronic machines. Some of them were Diebold.
JUAN GONZALEZ: The state claims that most of the counties are using punch card balloting, right?
HARVEY WASSERMAN: Yes, but you still have the majority of votes being cast on electronic machines. The punch cards themselves are problematic, and in many cases, the punch cards are being counted on Diebold machines. We have had at least two instances of technicians going into polling places and fooling around with the machines, before they could be recounted. We had one instance in Greene County where ballots were left in an open building on a table with no guards. Our election monitors walked into the building on a Saturday. There was nobody there. The ballots were there. The recount had not been done. This is third world stuff. If we want to live in a democracy, we need to go to the Ukraine. It's not possible to do a legitimate recount in Ohio now. We're trying the best we can to see what we can find out, but the fact of the matter is we need a revote. Based on the exit polls, we have had statisticians look at the validity of the exit polls in Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio. We have had one statistician tell us that the odds on the exit polls being wrong in the three states, which they were, -- either the exit polls are wrong or the ballot count was wrong -- the odds against it are 150 million to one. There's no way that George W. Bush won this election.
JUAN GONZALEZ: On the recount that the Greens and Libertarians have requested, my understanding is that some counties’ election boards have rebelled even against Blackwell’s directive to do a 3% hand recount of some of the ballots?
HARVEY WASSERMAN: Yes. The stonewalling is astounding. You would think we're in Bolivia or another third world country. Kenneth Blackwell, the Secretary of State, in some cases has actually gone along with the recount. The counties themselves are rebelling. I am the requester on a Freedom of Information Act action on the 88 counties in the state of Ohio. The very first response we got from Shelby County, Ohio, indicated they had destroyed key records without which we cannot do a recount. The very first out of the 88. We got a second response from a county that said they would love to have us do a recount, but we have to write and request permission from the private company that programmed the voting machines.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what happens in this case? What happens when they say they have destroyed any record of the vote. Isn't that illegal?
HARVEY WASSERMAN: Yeah. It's illegal. The people should be, as far as I’m concerned, should be arrested and tried. But it's not going to happen. We cannot have a legitimate recount in the state of Ohio. There is serious doubt whether George W. Bush should be inaugurated on January 20. Thankfully Jesse Jackson has come to town. We’ve had a series of public hearings where people have talked about the harassment, the intimidation, the lack of voting machines, the playing with the provisional ballots. All of this stuff is right out of Kafka. I’ve been an activist for 40 yeas, I have never been more infuriated than hearing these people, mostly African Americans, coming forward and telling how they were deprived of their right to vote on Election Day, and we go further into it and find that the votes cannot be counted. The reality is we had tens of thousands of people in Ohio turned away at the polls on Election Day because the precincts had been shortchanged of voting machines in a systematic and strategic fashion.
JUAN GONZALEZ: You know, interestingly, one conversation I had -- all of Ohio went through a redistricting of their voting precincts in 2001. I talked with a county official in Cuyahoga County who said that they had been directed to redraw and create fewer precincts so that the average number of registered voters in Cleveland went up from 600 per precinct to 1,000 per precinct.
HARVEY WASSERMAN: Right. And they shortchanged voting machines.
JUAN GONZALEZ: That was recommended by Blackwell.
HARVEY WASSERMAN: They short-changed the voting machines. In Franklin County, Columbus, the capital where I live, at least one member of the Board of Elections requested of Kenneth Blackwell that paper ballots be made available, and if there were shortages on the voting machines, people could be given paper ballots. Blackwell refused that request, and as a result of that, people were standing in line for hours.
AMY GOODMAN: We are talking with Harvey Wassermann, Senior Editor of the Free Press in Ohio, talking about the election of 2004. So, what do you think needs to happen now, and what role is the Democratic Party playing, John Kerry. What was it, $51 million he came out in the black at the end of this election? More money than any presidential candidate has ever had. He could spend it on a recount. What is happening with the Democratic Party?
HARVEY WASSERMAN: You know, talk about being infuriated. November 2 was a black day -- a bad day as far as I’m concerned when Bush apparently won the election. A worse day was the next day when John Kerry conceded. His one promise above all was that every vote would be counted. We knew right away -- we knew before the election this was going to be Mississippi in the 1940's basically. They pulled all sorts of stunts. People's votes were not counted. People were not allowed to vote. People were not aloud to register. People were intimidated at the polls. It was right out of reconstruction. John Kerry basically pulled the plug on the deal. The Democrats have not been with us. He sent an 11-point letter to the counties in the state, but they're not following up on it. We have had virtually no help from the Democratic Party. I'm speaking tonight at the Howland Cultural Center in Beacon, New York. We're starting to go around the country to speak about this. We need a grassroots upheaval. The fact is that we don't have a democracy. We should have learned in 2000 when they stole the election then. It was worse this year. The 2004 election was more of a travesty to democracy than even 2000. Here we have a situation that was an electronic hijacking of an entire nation's right to vote. These voting machines cannot be monitored. In key states like Florida and Ohio, they pulled more dirty tricks than could you discuss in an hour-long program to prevent people from voting. In Florida, the day before the election, people were waiting five hours to vote because of the short-changing of the voting machines. There was intimidation inside. In Ohio, they put in so-called monitors that were to stand over the shoulder of prospective voters and see if their registrations were done properly. The Secretary of State played games with provisional ballots where if you had a single building where three precincts were located side by side with three tables and you happened to get in the wrong line, wait your four hours to sign your provisional ballot, if you were at the wrong table, they send you to the back of the line at the other table and would not even let you go to the next table over. In contradiction to the way the law was written, they broke the law on Election Day repeatedly to prevent people from voting. It was extremely selective. The white suburban Republican areas had no waiting to vote. There were none of these shenanigans with the provisional ballots and the registration, and so on. It was all aimed at the inner city and college areas. The kids at Kenyan college waited 11 hours to vote. There was a precinct right next door where there was no waiting at all. This was a hijacking of the election. Thankfully, Jesse Jackson, John Conyers and other people have been on it. We are going to have a rally in Columbus January 3. There will be a rally January 6. I will tell you something, a major turning point in American democracy will happen January 6, because we have the black caucus and several other members of congress who will challenge the electoral college, which can be done under a law that was passed in the 1880's in response to another stolen election, but they require the vote of at least one senator, and as the people have saw Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2001, no senator came forward. Now, we have had preliminary indication that Barbara Boxer has said she will not come forward. We have to have a senator of the United States with enough guts and commitment to democracy to come forward and certify the challenge of the Congress. Then, the Electoral College will be challenged for the first time in US history, and it has to be done, because if the travesty that was the Ohio vote goes ahead unchallenged, and we have been covering this at freepress.org. We actually got in the lead in an editorial of the New York Times this past Monday. They mentioned one of our contentions, but the fact of the matter is, if this is to let stand, we don't have a democracy in this country.
JUAN GONZALEZ: In other words, one thing that viewers and listeners can do is to contact their local US Senator, their senator and put pressure on at least one senator somewhere in the country to raise a challenge?
HARVEY WASSERMAN: Somebody. If John Kerry doesn't come forward and challenge the theft of his own election, what do we have here? At freepress.org, we have been covering this. There are a few websites that have been covering this. The fact of the matter is there's no greater crisis facing the so-called democracy or what's left of it than this.
AMY GOODMAN: Harvey Wasserman, I want to thank you for being with us, Senior Editor of the Free Press, based in Ohio. You will be speaking tonight, “Ohio: What Happened to Our Vote?” in New York state at the Howland Cultural Center, Main Street in Beacon. This is Democracy Now!