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Election 2004: Shoplifting the Presidency?

StoryNovember 03, 2004
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We speak with investigative reporter Greg Palast and Barbara Arnwine of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law about voting problems in Florida, Ohio and New Mexico. [includes rush transcript]

President Bush won Florida along with its 27 electoral votes four years after the Supreme Court stopped the recount and put him in the White House.

With 99% of precincts reporting, Bush won 52 percent of the votes and John Kerry 47 percent. Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader won less than 1 percent.

Hundreds of thousands of people across the state took advantage of early voting, which started 15 days ago. By the time the polls opened on Nov. 2nd, more than 2 million voters had cast ballots. But in heavily Democratic Broward County, thousands of voters never received their absentee ballots in time.

Broward elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes came under fire over the weekend for losing track of as many as 58,000 ballots that were allegedly given to the Postal Service earlier in the month.

County officials moved to get the ballots sent out in time for voters to return them by November 2nd as required by state election rules. According to the U.S. Postal Service, after mail carriers had left on Saturday, both Broward County and Palm Beach County dropped off more than 8,000 absentee ballots for mailing. Many of the ballots arrived unsealed, forcing postal employees to take the time to seal envelopes. In a video press release from the US Postal Service, spokesperson Gerald McKiernan described the situation.

  • Gerald McKiernan, U.S. Postal Service Spokesman speaking in Broward County, FL on October 30.

US Postal Service, spokesperson Gerald McKiernan. The American Civil Liberties Union has now filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State Glenda Hood and elections supervisors in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, asking that completed absentee ballots mailed in the U.S. be subject to the same Nov. 12 deadline as overseas votes. State law required those ballots to reach county offices by Tuesday night. As the ACLU was preparing to file the suit, Glenda Hood addressed the issue to reporters.

  • Glenda Hood, Florida Secretary of State speaking on November 2.
  • Barbara Arnwine, Executive Director of the Lawyers” Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
  • Greg Palast, investigative reporter with the BBC and author of the books “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy” and “Democracy and Regulation.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: In a video press release from the U.S. Postal Service, spokesperson Gerald McKiernan described the situation.

GERALD MCKIERNAN: Well, incredibly here on Saturday afternoon at 2:00, we received 2,467 more ballots to be sent out, even though Dr. Snipes said she finished her work yesterday, and that was Friday. Sadly, some of the ballots are going to Atlanta, Georgia. This one’s going to Little Rock, Arkansas. I’m not sure we can do this. We’ll deliver the local ones. We’ll do the best we can. We’ll get out as many as we can and hopefully get them returned.

AMY GOODMAN: U.S. Postal Service spokesperson Gerald McKeirnan. The American Civil Liberties Union (A.C.L.U.) has now filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of State, Glenda Hood and elections supervisors in Miami, Dade, and Broward counties asking that completed absentee ballots mailed in the U.S. be subject to the same November 12th deadline as overseas votes. State law required those ballots to reach county offices by Tuesday night. As the A.C.L.U. is preparing to file the suit, Glenda Hood addressed the issue to reporters.

REPORTER: The A.C.L.U. has already said they are going to sue over the issue of absentee ballots in South Florida, and accepting them, having them count past today if they’re postmarked today. I mean, are you all prepared to defend that, and to defend the state law on that, and not have the ballots count?

GLENDA HOOD: We will always follow State Law, and State Law requires that absentee ballots be turned in at a certain time. With the exception of overseas ballots, and those must be in the Supervisor’s of Elections hands by November 12th.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenda Hood, Florida’s Secretary of State. We’re joined now to address this issue as well as issues around the country of voting and problems voters faced, by Greg Palast, investigative reporter with the B.B.C., author of the book The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. Also, Barbara Arnwine joins us again, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Greg Palast, your response?

GREG PALAST: Wow. I hate to say it again, they’re going to say that I’m a spoilsport. Who shoplifted? In New Mexico and Ohio, when I was last on your program, we called the fence and we hit it over. We said that if this thing is going to be taken, it’ll be Florida, it’ll be New Mexico, it’ll be Colorado, Ohio. Florida is, I think, suspect, but Bush may have it. Colorado is definitely a Bush turf. New Mexico, this is the big game. This is where. The reason why Bush may get those electoral votes, and the White House again, and Ohio is not the count, but the non-count. We have something in America called spoilage. I’m looking at these CNN numbers and they all add up very neatly to 100%. Doesn’t happen. Especially the two worst states in America, in terms of votes simply not counted for technical reason, are Ohio and New Mexico. And guess whose votes don’t get counted? In Ohio, it’s black votes. In New Mexico, it’s brown and Native American votes. I’m looking at suspect numbers out of Dona Ana, Las Cruces. The vote numbers just came in, and you have a tremendous non-count of Hispanic votes, 3-4 % of the entire vote there just doesn’t get counted. McKinley, you have a problem that about 8-9% of the votes in the machines, that’s a Native American area outside the Navajo reservation. Rio Arriba, again Hispanic votes under counted. You get weird numbers, like two to one for Bush in Chavez County, heavily Hispanic. It’s an area called Little Texas that republicans control. It’s a suspect vote. If you take the votes out of the garbage can in New Mexico, I have no doubt that it was Kerry by a slim majority.

AMY GOODMAN: Barbara Arnwine.

BARBARA ARNWINE: Yes, I think what we’re seeing is fascinating. I’ve been watching a number of these elections, and obviously, it’s very interesting. The quotes that you played from Glenda Hood, the Secretary of State of Florida was very telling because she says that she will always follow state law yet they didn’t send the ballots on time as required by state law. I mean, it’s a very interesting double standard that we’re still seeing out there, governments that are failing to comply with their own procedures and then holding voters accountable for their errors that have been made by the government. It’s a fascinating situation. What I find interesting, I have been watching the coverage, and one thing is obvious, that most of the news anchors do not understand our current electoral system. The fact that people are saying they had 100% of the count in when they hadn’t even counted provisional ballots. We have not yet counted absentee ballots in certain states or overseas ballots, military ballots. It’s really bizarre. I mean, I think this rush to judgment that the press has wanting to, you know, post figures and declare victors so prematurely is part of the problem. I was fascinated to watch Tom Brokaw and others this morning, the station where they were saying that they didn’t understand what a provisional ballot was, some of the anchors were saying. It was very obvious that they didn’t. And it’s just, I think that we need, you know, massive education, but at least those covering it need to be much more informed and stop talking about 100% of the count being in when it’s not. If you have not counted 176 or whatever the count is, 276,000 ballots in Ohio, how in the world can say that you have 100% of the count in? You don’t. All you know is that you are trying to get your count correct. I think this whole thing has been fascinating. I also think the other unexplored story from this election has been New Orleans. No one is talking about what went wrong in New Orleans, how many polls were down for so long. You know, during the day and how that affected what everyone’s been talking about instead, which is the, they say the overwhelming unexpected victory for the senatorial Republican, Republican senatorial candidate there. I think that has something to do with the fact that New Orleans had, most of their polls down for a good part of the day. So, I think that there’s, you know, a lot that’s unexplored. I’m kind of sad to see the whitewash that has been given to this election by the media in general saying that it was, you know, it had a few flaws, long lines, basically a good election. That’s just not true.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain provisional ballots, and what they are when, for example, right now the issue comes down to Ohio’s, what both the Secretary of State there, Ohio’s Ken Blackwell, as well as the democrats are saying is some 250,000 provisional ballots?

BARBARA ARNWINE: Yes. A provisional ballot is required by the help America Vote Act. It is a particular special kind of ballot that is used for any voter for whom an election official cannot determine immediately whether or not that person is actually eligible or entitled to vote, and that includes people who show up without what may be called proper identification. It includes people who, quote, may be in the wrong precinct. It includes, you know, people who show in their, they registered to vote, but the registration officials have a backlog of registrations and have never entered their name into the system. It includes all kinds of voters of that nature. So, you have no idea within the provisional ballot universe, you know, who is really entitled to vote and who actually, whose vote will ultimately be counted. So, I think it’s a fascinating, you know, procedure, but the reason why provisional ballots exist is because in 2000, there was such a misadventure by Florida, and failure to administer their elections in a fair and honest way, that we, you know, the Help America Vote Act was passed to make sure that all voters would at least, if they showed that the polls have a right to cast a ballot and not be turned home. What, however, what has happened in Ohio in particular, the lawyers committee and the election protection coalition. We have taken hundreds of calls from voters who are complaining because in Ohio, they were turned away. They were not even allowed to cast a provisional ballot. They were not, you know, allowed this right, which they’re entitled to under federal law. So, we have a lot of problems all over the state of Ohio with complaints from people upset about the fact that they weren’t even given a provisional ballot, not to talk about the fact that they haven’t been counted.

AMY GOODMAN: Greg Palast, your expose last week about a so called caging list in Florida that was sent to instead of the website, well, you got your hands on it.

GREG PALAST: Right, we got our hands on it. And what that was this turned out to be what was obviously a list of voters that they wanted to challenge in Florida, the Republicans. This was, they went to the head of the Bush campaign in Florida yesterday during, while the polls were open, I got 12 more of these lists. We’re talking 25,000- 30,000 people, almost all African American voters they intended to challenge, but after we broke the story on BBC, the democrats went to court, pushed against the Republicans, sent out letters to supervisors warning about this stuff, and they backed down in Florida. However, they didn’t back down in Ohio, where unlike the secret lists of Florida, they were up front causing massive problems as Barbara was speaking about in particular, just holding up the lines, making challenges against basically African American voters. You know this is against the law. We had in 1965 Voting Rights Act, the whole point of that was to stop states from using so-called legal means of impeding the black vote, profiling black voters and saying that “you cannot vote.” Give them a provisional ballot, which for the most part is thrown out. I’m looking in Ohio, just as I said in New Mexico. In Ohio, you’ve got a tremendous problem again with non-count of the vote. Barbara is right. When they talk about 100% of the vote counted. Not so. They never count 100% of the vote in Ohio it is one of the worst states in terms of non-counts of the vote, and most of the non-count occurs in African American areas. That’s your margin. I’m sorry, if you count all of the votes that should be counted it’s not that close of a race. It’s a blue state.

BARBARA ARNWINE: Yes. I mean, it’s fascinating. You know, obviously, from a non-partisan vantage point, I mean, I find it just absolutely fascinating that we still are talking about yet another election in which we cannot say with any certainty that the African American voting population was treated fairly. In fact, we could say very clearly that there were several, several horrible incidents that remind us that our system is not racially neutral. For example, everything from not only the challenges, which were very racial in their orientation, but also, you know, the fact that in many of the precincts where African Americans were voting, that’s where people were the most adamant about, I would say, using dual standards. For example, we got a lot of complaints from voters who were made in African American precincts to show double identification, but then when a white voter would come in, they would not make them show the same identification. They were much less stringent. These kinds of problems. We also had the dirty tricks that we have no idea how many people they discouraged or kept from the polls by, as we reported last night, the recording that was going on in Philadelphia, the automated recording that was going to African American homes with an actor, apparently very good actor, who was imitating Bill Clinton’s voice telling African American voters don’t worry about the long lines, you can always come back and vote on November 3.

AMY GOODMAN: Greg Palast, ten seconds.

GREG PALAST: They’re also not letting people register. Black registrations were thrown out in the Cleveland area by the tens of thousands. Tens of thousands. I’m telling you it was not close.

AMY GOODMAN:How do you know that?

GREG PALAST: This was an analysis by Democracy Now! Excuse me, by Democracy South of the registration forms, which are just tossed in the garbage, in fact.

AMY GOODMAN: Barbara Arnwine and Greg Palast, we’ll leave it there as we end today’s program with the outcome of the presidential election remaining very much in the air. A number of groups are beginning mobilizing some against what happened yesterday, others aimed at continuing the anti-war movement. Early this morning as we broadcasting, the war resistors’ league held a procession that began at ground zero where the towers of the World Trade Center once stood and headed to Wall Street.

VICKY REVERE: I live on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, two miles from Ground Zero. I’m out here because I’m a pacifist. I believe that war is a crime against humanity. I think this war is worse than a lot of others in that it was totally unnecessary, and I’m just devastated that it’s going to continue on a day —

AMY GOODMAN: And thanks to Daniel Cashin for recording this protest this morning here in New York.

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