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The County's Pre-election Witch Hunt

Letters 10-15-2008

On Tuesday, October 7, I attended a Cuyahoga County Board of Elections (CCBOE) meeting. I wanted to make sure absentee-vote totals were going to be separated from election-day vote totals. What I observed was a witch hunt.

The GOP is applying pressure to the board to sniff out questionable voter-registration cards, especially those by effective voter-registration projects, and call it "voter fraud." ACORN, a respected community organizing agency, was called in to answer questions about "fishy" and duplicate voter-registration cards. During the increasingly hostile interrogation, ACORN admitted that it lacks the resources to catch every potentially fraudulent voter-registration card. (I was reminded of Republican board member Bob Bennett's insistence that "no election is perfect," back when he was pushing e-voting systems down our throats.) The next day's Plain Dealer reported it this way: "ACORN: Possible Fraud." Fox News and the conveyor-belt media ran with it, and within minutes, blogs and GOP sites were linking Barack Obama and Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to this "shady organization."

ACORN is required, by law, to turn in all registration forms, lest it be accused of partisan filtering. Of the tens of thousands (65,000 to 80,000) new registrations in Cuyahoga, the occurrence of duplications is marginal. ACORN's quality-control process involves calling voters to try to assess the legitimacy of the cards. They then group cards into categories, "verified," "unable to verify" and "problematic registrations." ACORN employs many canvassers. They do not have a sophisticated voter-registration database that tracks change transactions nor signature-recognition technology.

During the interrogation by the CCBOE, ACORN described the response from one man submitting multiple voter-registration cards: "I was only trying to help the kids!" (I concluded that he was probably referring to the young canvassers who are engaging in a meaningful civic activity.) ACORN representatives said numerous times that they wanted to work with the BOE to catch questionable registration cards (which the county's Diebold voter-registration system is supposed to catch!).

But the hostile board members demanded that ACORN eliminate duplicate voter-registration cards and turn over suspect employees to the county prosecutor, without benefit of the board's resources. [County Republican Party Chairman Rob] Frost even suggested that ACORN's attorney was "in contempt." It was extremely unsettling.

And this is not a level of accuracy to which the board holds its own operations. Voter-registration problems related to Diebold's Data Information Management System have been documented in several reports. Researchers found "an error rate of 6.2 percent" - or 5.1 percent due to apparent BOE clerical errors and only 1.1 percent to voter error. That report projected that "19,000 voter registrations [would be] at low to high or absolute risk of disqualification, mostly due to BOE entry errors" (See clevelandvotes.org/news/reports/Report_to_ElectionComm.pdf). Personally, I recall that Diebold's DIMS permitted entry of bad addresses (misspelled street name, for example), yet later kicked out the voter as "fatal pending," thus unable to vote.

DIMS was implemented two months prior to that historic election of November 2004.

Who in their right mind would vote twice, risking severe punishment, to change the election outcome by one vote?

"Voter fraud" hysteria has been used to usher in draconian regulations, most notably Ohio's restrictive voter ID laws. As the League of Women Voters wrote in a letter to Republican legislative leaders, "the purported purpose [of the new law] preventing voting fraud is based on the fallacy that there was widespread fraud perpetrated by voters in Ohio. In fact, the fraud was committed against Ohio voters by inadequate preparation that suppressed the votes of those whose registrations were not recorded correctly, those who could not wait for hours to vote or those whose votes were not counted because of misdirection or mishandling."

State Sen. Kevin Coughlin, the main proponent of the bill, could cite only a few cartoon characters and celebrities on voting registration forms that were easily weeded out by county election boards as the reason for his repressive legislation. (In fact, several fake voting-rights organizations, including the American Center for Voting Rights, were created specifically to spread the disinformation about the extent of voter fraud.)

Check out "The Politics of Voter Fraud" (projectvote.org). At the federal level, records show that only 24 people were convicted of or pleaded guilty to illegal voting between 2002 and 2005. The available state-level evidence of voter fraud, culled from interviews, reviews of newspaper coverage and court proceedings, while not definitive, is also negligible.

But there is a long history in America of elites using voter-fraud allegations to restrict and shape the electorate. Today, the success of voter registration drives among minorities and low-income people in recent years threatens Republicans. Consequently, the use of baseless voter fraud allegations for partisan advantage has become the exclusive domain of Republican party activists.

Meanwhile, the CCBOE interrogates young black men, shaming them publicly for trying to "help the kids." I'm sure they will be smeared, along with ACORN. And along with me. I had the nerve to follow the first victim out into the hall and tell him, "Don't worry. This is a witch hunt. They're going after ACORN," while a white man told him not to listen to me. The rest … well, you'll see on Fox News, I'm sure.

Vicki Lovegren

Cleveland

CORRECTION

In a Scene & Heard item titled "Stigma? We Can Only Hope," in the October 1 edition, we reported that R. Paul Cushion had hosted a fundraiser for County Prosecutor Bill Mason. In fact, Cushion attended a fundraiser for Mason and reportedly planned to host one, but apparently never did. Scene regrets the error.

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