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Stories of fraud and "spoiled" ballots
The world's greatest democracy?

By Elizabeth Schulte | November 5, 2004 | Pages 4 and 5

GEORGE BUSH has a lot of nerve claiming that he's bringing "democracy" to Iraq and Afghanistan. On Election Day, there were reports from all over the U.S. of faulty voting equipment, lack of ballots and long lines to cast a ballot.

The worst of the troubles came in the most disputed state of Ohio. Lines of voters waited up to six hours to vote at precincts with a severe shortage of voting equipment--many of them concentrated in minority neighborhoods.

Even before Election Day, there were signs of the dirty tricks and fraud that were to come. But in many cases, this disenfranchisement was entirely within the confines of the law. "Through a combination of sophisticated vote rustling-ethnic cleansing of voter rolls, absentee ballots gone AWOL and machines that 'spoil' votes," the election began with at least 1 million votes that would go uncounted, noted investigative journalist Greg Palast.

Dirty tricks: Dolores Cuellar of Orlando, Fla., told the St. Petersburg Times that she was visited at home by a woman with a clipboard who told her that she and her daughter didn't need to go to the polls; she would mark their votes on a piece of paper right there. Other Florida residents said that they were visited by people offering to take their absentee ballots.

In Wisconsin, a flier was distributed in Black neighborhoods in Milwaukee from a group calling themselves the Milwaukee Black Voters League, which offered this advice: "If you've already voted in any election this year, you can't vote in the presidential election...If you violate any of these laws, you can get 10 years in prison and your children will get taken away from you."

Purging the rolls: In Colorado, Secretary of State Donetta Davidson purged up to 6,000 voters from the state's rolls a few weeks before the election, because they were convicted felons. Yet Colorado--unlike states such as Florida, where felons, even those who have served their sentences, are barred from voting--has no such rule. In order to get away with this--and avoid a federal law that makes it illegal to purge voters less than 90 days before an election, so they have time to appeal--Davidson declared a "state of emergency."

"To-be intimidated" lists: BBC's Newsnight reported that it had obtained two leaked e-mails, prepared for the executive director of the Florida Bush campaign and the campaign's national research director in Washington, that contained a 15-page list of voters whose ballots they planned to challenge in Florida. The list was made up almost completely of African Americans living in Jacksonville, Fla.

Absentee ballots: Before the election, states reported a record number of requests for mail-in ballots. But the questions always remain: Will they be counted--and did voters even receive them in the first place? In Broward County, Fla., almost 60,000 absentee ballots weren't even sent out.

"Spoiled" votes: This is the term for votes that machines don't recognize--and are thrown out. Seems like an innocent mistake. But as Palast notes, "Not everyone's vote spoils equally."

When Palast asked voting statistician Philip Klinkner to run an analysis of trends in New Mexico, he calculated that Latinos are 500 percent more likely to have their vote spoiled than a white voter. "It comes down to the machines," wrote Palast. "Just as poor people get the crap schools and crap hospitals, they get the crap voting machines."

In a typical national election, 2 million votes are "spoiled." According to studies by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and the Harvard Law School Civil Rights Project, about 54 percent of them are cast by Blacks.

Provisional ballots: Provisional ballots--a result of the Help America Vote Act of 2002--are ballots that voters are allowed to cast if their names can't be found on the rolls at their polling station. But the rules for using these ballots are so rigid in some states that it's doubtful they'll ever be counted. For instance, Florida voters can only cast their provisional ballots in their precinct, a common voting mistake, or their vote won't be counted.

On Election Day, voting snarls were reported around the country.

The new electronic voting machines instituted after the Florida "hanging chad" debacle of 2000 proved to have problems of their own. According to the Election Protection project, several states reported having to use provisional, absentee and even sample ballots after the machines broke down. "The story of today has been voting machine failure," said Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

The Election Protection hotline received calls from voters who reported a lack of provisional ballots, long lines and poll workers setting "time limits" on voting. In South Dakota, a judge had to stop Republican supporters of Senate candidate John Thune from following Native Americans to the polls and writing down their license numbers.

This is a snapshot of Election Day in the "world's greatest democracy."

How anti-gay referendums won
By Eric Ruder

VOTERS HANDED the right wing a string of victories with the passage of conservative ballot measures on Election Day--in large part because any effort that could have challenged the right-wing tide was sacrificed in the interests of electing John "I'm-not-George-Bush" Kerry.

In Florida, voters approved an initiative that will force minors seeking an abortion to notify their parents--by an overwhelming 65 to 35 percent margin. And in Arizona, the anti-immigrant Proposition 200--which requires immigrants to verify their identity and status before receiving state or local government benefits--passed by a 56 to 44 percent margin.

But the most devastating blow was the adoption in 11 states of state constitutional amendments that ban gay marriage by defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

Ohio voters passed the most sweeping measure, which forbids gay marriage, civil unions and even domestic partner benefits--despite the opposition of even some businesses. The measure's margin of victory was big--62 to 38 percent. And in Oregon, where gay marriage proponents thought they might have the votes to defeat the measure, the constitutional amendment also passed by a wide margin--57 to 43 percent.

The results are shocking, particularly following the spontaneous demonstrations of support after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rulings a year ago that affirmed the right of gays and lesbians to marry.

To be sure, Republicans and their Christian fundamentalist backers sought to use the anti-gay marriage initiatives to energize their base and help get Bush voters to the polls--a strategy that seemed to work.

But Kerry and the Democrats consciously distanced themselves from gay rights supporters, coming out against gay marriage and calling the issue a matter of "states' rights"--echoing the argument of Jim Crow segregationists who opposed the civil rights movement a generation ago. By emptying their campaign of any sort of vision that could inspire voters and turn out the liberal base of the Democratic Party, there was no surge to match the march of Republicans to the polls.

Kerry said that he supported civil unions, but he essentially ceded the core argument--and implicitly legitimized the logic of opposing gay marriage in the name of turning back a supposed "assault on the American family." As a consequence, a large number of wavering Democrats who weren't sure about what to make of the gay marriage voted for Kerry, but still voted against gay marriage. This was most evident in Ohio, where Bush won by a slim margin, but the gay marriage ban passed by an overwhelming margin--meaning that many Democrats voted for it.

There was some positive news in California, where voters approved a measure to fund stem cell research and a tax on millionaires to fund mental health care. But voters there also failed to pass a measure that would have amended three-strikes laws to keep non-violent felons from being incarcerated for life.

How the bosses buy votes

CAMPAIGN SPENDING on Election 2004 by the two major political parties and their candidates shattered the previous record, set in 2000. At $4 billion, spending this year outpaced 2000 levels by 30 percent, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Of this sum, a whopping $1.2 billion was spent on the presidential race alone--which comes out to about $11 a vote across the country. But since most of this money was spent on advertising and campaigning in a few swing states, the money spent per swing-state vote was dramatically higher.

This is the first election with funding restrictions under the much-hyped McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation. This act banned unlimited "soft money" contributions--money given to national political parties--by "limiting" individuals to $50,000 in donations to a party committee per election cycle. At the same time, the act doubled the limits for "hard money" contributions--money given to specific candidates--from $1,000 to $2,000.

In the end, this flimsy piece of legislation did nothing to limit the influence of big money in politics. In 2004, individual contributions to candidates and parties amounted to $2.5 billion, up from $1.5 billion in 2000.

A year before the election, many opponents of Bush worried that with his enormous corporate backing, he'd be able to bury any Democratic challenger. But Kerry, himself a billionaire, nearly kept pace. The latest figures indicate that Bush raised about $360 million, while Kerry clocked in at $317 million.

The Democrats celebrated the new role of so-called "527 groups" such as MoveOn.org and America Coming Together--which were supposed to be "issue-oriented" advocacy organizations. The Democrats claimed their 527s were financed largely through small, online donations that would help turn out the vote.

In truth, Democratic and Republican 527s alike gave millionaires and billionaires yet another way to exert enormous influence on the electoral process. Fully 80 percent of money that went to Democratic 527s came from donors who gave $250,000 each--for example, liberal billionaires such as George Soros, Linda Pritzker and Stephen Bing.

And though 527s aren't supposed to coordinate their messages with candidates, the Democratic 527s echoed the same anti-Bush jibes as the Kerry campaign--and with the same ineffective outcome.

At their lavish conventions, the two parties spent a combined total $162 million, including $29 million in taxpayer money. And both candidates declined federal matching funds so they would be free to raise and spend as much as they wanted.

To put the $1.2 billion spent on this year's presidential election in perspective, this money could provide an annual salary and benefits to more than 21,000 elementary school teachers.

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