Ohio 2008 has opened with a surge of first-time voters and the subpoena of a shadowy Bush electronic operative who may have helped steal the White House, a subpoena that may be followed by one for Karl Rove.
The presidency could again be decided here by how well what's left of the American democratic process can be protected. So election activists are asking concerned citizens everywhere to become registration volunteers, poll workers and judges, Video the Vote observers and to conduct post-election hearings with legal standing.
In-person balloting began Tuesday, September 30, as new Ohio voters registered and voted simultaneously. Thousands crammed into county facilities throughout the state. Set to continue until October 6, the innovation came by accident in an otherwise repressive piece of legislation foisted on the state by Republican legislators after the theft of the 2004 election.
The GOP has since sued to stop this simultaneous register-and-vote process, but lost 4-3 in the Republican-dominated Ohio Supreme Court. Thousands of new Buckeye voters have now surged into election centers, and may do so through October 6.
Election officials predict as many as a third of Ohio voters---around 2 million---will vote absentee this year. But the GOP now appears to be mailing to Democratic voters fake absentee ballots with bogus return addresses and features that could result in their being discarded. The Republicans are also using caging techniques, such as fake mailings, to eliminate likely Democratic voters from the registration rolls.
Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has tried to make paper ballots available at every polling station for those who don't trust electronic touchscreen machines. But GOP legislators intervened, claiming "cost problems," and Brunner so far has limited availability to just a quarter of the potential demand. Pro-democracy activists are suing to make them universally available.
While that fight proceeds, Attorneys Bob Fitrakis and Cliff Arnebeck have subpoenaed IT specialist Michael Connell, a shadowy operative who managed the Bush-Cheney 2000 web site. Connell has a checkered history in highly partisan behind-the scenes information manipulation (http://www.freepress.org/columns/display/3/2008/1665).
In 2004, Connell was paid with state funds by GOP Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell to shunt the Ohio vote count to the same basement in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which housed the servers for the Republican National Committee. In the wee morning hours of election day, vote counts mysteriously shifted from John Kerry to give George W. Bush his second term in the White House.
Connell has since been fingered by Stephen Spoonamore, a McCain supporter and GOP computer operative who has charged that Connell may have manipulated the Ohio 2004 vote count. As a Repubican insider, Spoonamore's sworn testimony is being given legal credence by Federal Judge Algernon Marbley, who certified the subpoena against Connell.
Connell and the GOP are certain to continue fighting demands for public testimony. But as the case escalates, it becomes increasingly likely that Connell's close associate, former White House advisor Karl Rove, could also be subpoenaed as part of the on-going King-Lincoln-Bronzeville civil rights lawsuit.
The final outcome of the case is not likely to be settled until long after the 2008 election. Amidst what is likely to be the largest voter turnout in US history, election protection activists are recruiting and training thousands of democracy advocates to register new voters and to check the registrations of those who may be knocked off the rolls without their knowledge. More than 300,000 Ohio voters were disenfranchised in the run-up to 2004, and at least 170,000 have since been eliminated in Franklin County alone. Many citizens who believe they are registered may not be.
Democracy advocates are also asking citizens throughout the nation to serve as poll workers, poll judges and Video-the-Vote observers, and to organize post-election pubic hearings. With thousands of new voters already surging to the polls, with millions of absentee ballots beginning to pour in, and with an energized electorate expected to overwhelm the precincts on November 4, the difference between what happened in 2004 and who next enters the White House will likely be determined by how well the 2008 electoral process can be protected.
Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman have co-authored four books on election protection, including As Goes Ohio, now at www.freepress.org, where they are publisher and senior editor. They are attorney and plaintiff in the King-Lincoln-Bronzeville federal lawsuit.