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Election Day 2004: “Ground Zero is All Over the Country”

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Today is D-Day, Election Day 2004. The polls are open and millions are lining up to cast their votes in an election that many feel is the most important of their lifetime. With fears of a repeat of the 2000 election, the eyes of the nation focus on the simplest of issues: The right to vote. [includes rush transcript]

The polls are open and millions of Americans are lining up to cast their votes in an election that many feel is the most important in their lifetime. Virtually every major national poll is putting the presidential contest in a too-close-to-call dead heat. There are thousands of election observers and lawyers from various sides deployed at polling stations throughout the country and the possibility of another contested election looms over today’s vote.

Overnight, there were some major last minute court decisions that could impact the outcome in some key states. In Ohio, an 11th hour blow was dealt to the Democrats in the hotly contested battleground state as an appeals court in Cincinnati overturned two lower court decisions, clearing the way for Republican vote challengers to be present at polling places throughout the state. The Democrats had sought to ban the challengers, saying they were part of a possible voter intimidation effort. Meanwhile, in South Dakota, where Senate Minority leader Tom Daschle is fighting a very close contest to retain his powerful seat, a federal judge has granted a request by Daschle to limit the activities of Republican poll watchers.

The ruling comes after the minority leader accused his opponent, John Thune, and the GOP of intimidating Native American voters. As part of the ruling, Republican poll watchers are prohibited from following American Indian voters out of polling places. They’re also not allowed to take down their license plate numbers. The decision applies only to voters in one county–Charles Mix.

As the court battles continue, the candidates made their final sprint across the country yesterday, with each of them visiting more than a half a dozen states. Here’s some of what President Bush had to say at a campaign rally yesterday in Iowa.

  • President Bush, speaking in Des Moines, Iowa.

Meanwhile, John Kerry continues to get a boost from music legend Bruce Springsteen. Yesterday, in Ohio, the boss warmed up a massive crowd at a rally for Kerry. Shortly before that stop, the Democratic candidate addressed a rally in Detroit, Michigan.

  • Sen. John Kerry, speaking in Detroit, Michigan.

John Kerry speaking yesterday in Michigan. Well, today we are going to spend the hour looking at the key issue of today and that is the simple issue of the right to vote.

  • Chellie Pingree, president and CEO of Common Cause, a national non-partisan advocacy organization that is providing information, updated throughout Election Day, on voting trouble spots in key states, based on a voter alert line and on-the-ground monitoring.
  • Miles Rapoport, president of Demos, a non-partisan, non-profit organization. He is a former Secretary of the State of Connecticut.
  • Evan Davis, reporter for Free Speech Radio News reporting from Columbus, Ohio.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Here is some of what President Bush had so say at a campaign rally in Iowa.

GEORGE W. BUSH: : If you believe America should fight the war on terror with all our might, and lead with unwavering confidence in our ideals, I ask you to come stand with me! If you are a democrat who believes your party has turned too far to the left this year, I ask you to come stand with me! If you are a minority citizen, and you believe in free enterprise and good schools, and the enduring values of family and faith, and if you are tired of your vote being taken for granted, I ask you to come stand with me!

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, John Kerry continues to get a boost from music legend Bruce Springsteen. In one of those music concert rallies alone, 80,000 people turned out. In Ohio yesterday, the Boss warmed up a massive crowd rally for Kerry. Shortly before the stop, Kerry addressed a rally in Detroit, Michigan.

JOHN KERRY: Every nation in the world has a stake in the outcome in Iraq. Every nation in the world cannot afford to have a failed state that becomes a haven for terrorists, but are they there? Are they at the table? This administration has reserved the prize for Halliburton and driven other countries away. I’m telling you — I’m telling you now, and I’m looking you in the eye, just because George Bush can’t bring our allies to the table doesn’t mean it can’t be done. We will get it done.

AMY GOODMAN: John Kerry speaking Monday in Michigan. Well, today we’re going to spend the hour looking at the key issue of today and that is a simple issue: the right to vote. We begin with Chellie Pingree, President and CEO of Common Cause, a national non-partisan advocacy group that’s providing information updated throughout election day on voting trouble spots in key states, based on a voter alert line and on-the-ground monitoring. In our studio, Miles Rapoport, president of Demos, a non-partisan, non-profit group. He is the former Secretary of State of Connecticut. Let’s begin with Chellie Pingree. You have one of those 800 numbers, a trouble line. So far, how many people have called in?

CHELLIE PINGREE: So far over 103,000 people, which is about how many people we thought would call on election day. But that many people called even prior to election day. It’s telling us a lot about what’s going on out there, and also in particular how many people are concerned about making sure they’re going to be able to vote and their vote will count this time.

AMY GOODMAN: What are people saying? What are, especially those who have gone to the polls at this point, which are many in this country, what are they facing?

CHELLIE PINGREE: Well, a couple of things. First off, it’s significant the highest calls are coming in from Broward county in Florida where we have the absentee ballot scandal, and then Allegheny county in Pennsylvania, where there’s also a very closely watched vote. The most significant calls early on have been people who didn’t get their absentee ballots, not just in Florida but around the country. People whose registration was never entered and didn’t get their registration verified. And then for the early voting which many states have, extremely long lines — people calling in and saying they have been in line two to three hours. One thing that tells us is that we have motivated voters because they’re staying in line and voting. People telling us that the parking meters don’t last long enough for the amount of time they have to stand in line. And a few calls about concerns with specific problems at the polling places.

AMY GOODMAN: Miles Rapoport, you’re the former Secretary of State of Connecticut.


AMY GOODMAN: Secretary of States are playing a key role around the country right now. Can you talk about the latest Ohio decision, and explain what it means to allow the election challengers into the polling places?

MILES RAPOPORT: All right. I think Secretaries of State are on the spot everywhere, including Ohio. And I think what is — the good news is that there are huge numbers of people who want to vote and want to make sure that their votes are counted today. But they’re encountering all kinds of problems potentially around the country. And in Ohio, the decision — originally by the Secretary of State, who then reversed himself, who was then reversed by the Attorney General, who was then reversed in court again — finally, is to allow Republican challengers into the polling places to challenge votes. I think if you have thousands and thousands of challenges in the course of the day, it’s going to gum up the works. People are going to go home and be disgusted. That will prevent people from voting. It’s the wrong thing to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain, how did the people inside these polling places compare to the thousands of, for example, young law students and other students coming into Ohio? Are they, too, in the polling place? Does this apply to democratic as well as republican monitors?

MILES RAPOPORT: Well, the republicans and democrats will be allowed to have one challenger in the polling place. But all of the other people around have to stay 50 or 75 feet, as the state may be, outside the polling place. But being in the polling place, sitting at the table where the voter comes in, and saying, “I challenge whether you are eligible. I don’t think you’ve lived here long enough,” that can have a very chilling and a very delaying effect on the process of voting, and that would be a tragedy for the day.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you something. Today in New York, I went to the poll at 6:00 in the morning. It was — yes, there are a lot of people there. Usually you’re in and out in a few minutes. This took over an hour, which is pretty amazing. The line was halfway down the block. There were well over 100 people at 6:00 in the morning, a sign of what’s going to be a very high turnout. But one of the things that was taking up time was, they required us to show ID. And when I made clear — I said, “I don’t think I need ID. I can just sign.” “No, you need ID.” Now, I did not think that was the case in New York State.

MILES RAPOPORT: In many states, it’s not. I don’t think New York has an ID law. You shouldn’t have been asked. But I think it points out something that is very important for the whole day, and that is bring an ID with you. If you are going to the polls today, the new Help America Vote Act creates new identification requirements. Different states have done different things. To be on the safe side, it is very, very important to bring an ID, a photo ID — driver’s license, passport, if you have one, if not, other IDs are acceptable. But I think the way to insure that you are not going to be turned away from the polls is go with an identification in your hand.

AMY GOODMAN: Then, what do you do if you don’t have one and you don’t believe that you need one?

MILES RAPOPORT: Well, if you don’t have one and you are in a place where it is required, you still will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot. According to federal law this year for the first time, every state has to offer people the provisional ballots. So no one should leave the poll without casting a vote — hopefully a full vote, at least a provisional ballot, and those provisional ballots will be counted afterwards based on determining a voter’s eligibility.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you demand a provisional ballot?

MILES RAPOPORT: Yes, you absolutely can demand a provisional ballot. It is required by law that every single jurisdiction in the country offer a provisional ballot.

AMY GOODMAN: Chellie Pingree, in Florida, what about the 58,000 absentee ballots that didn’t make it out? Have they been mailed out? Have people gotten those absentee ballots?

CHELLIE PINGREE: We still think there’s a lot of people that didn’t get an absentee ballot. We don’t think they mailed the number that have been lost. And the tragedy is, Florida is not the only place. This is the most common complaint we’re hearing from little jurisdictions around the country, big jurisdictions. A lot of people asked for an absentee ballot and didn’t receive them for a whole variety of reasons. It’s too early to tell if those are problems just because of the large numbers and a lot of the chaos around voting this time, or if there’s any kind of systematic approach going on in some places to either lose the mail or make sure that they don’t get things that are supposed to be arriving with the voters. I think part of what we’re seeing today is a combination of a system that should have been repaired after the 2000 election — that Congress made somewhat of a feeble attempt with the Help America Vote Act, but left some things open to interpretation: the ID requirement, the provisional ballot, didn’t sufficiently fund it, the polling places won’t be able to handle the number of voters today. And as we’re seeing, as Miles mentioned, systematic challenges going on in different places to intimidate voters. It’s not just the people at the polling places. It’s messages that are being sent out to people telling them reasons not to vote, and people potentially standing outside of polling places to make it difficult for the people who want to go in.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined on the phone by Evan Davis. He’s a reporter with Free Speech Radio News. He is in Columbus, Ohio. Evan, welcome to Democracy Now! What do you see in front of you?

EVAN DAVIS: Thank you, Amy, it’s a privilege to be on. I’m here at the Latino Democrats breakfast right now, and people are definitely concerned about the Republican challengers, which as of a court ruling in the Sixth District Court of Appeals last night, are going to be allowed to be inside each of the polling places in Ohio’s most populous county, Franklin county in Columbus. Their purpose is to challenge the veracity of people’s voter registrations, and especially among Latinos and African-Americans, especially with people where there’s a language barrier, perhaps, that’s perceived as being very intimidating.

AMY GOODMAN: Evan Davis speaking to us from Columbus, Ohio.

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