Democrats in the House Judiciary Committee host a public hearing on the 2004 elections addressing allegations of widespread problems, irregularities and, possibly, tampering with the voting process, in the key state of Ohio. We speak with one John Bonifaz of the National Voting Institute who testified at the hearing. [includes rush transcript]
While the Democratic and Republican parties seem to have moved on from the controversial November presidential elections, there is a group of Americans that have not. They have held rallies and hearings in Ohio. They have launched email and letter writing campaigns, they have filed lawsuits and challenges. And this week, they took their case to Capitol Hill. On Wednesday, Democrats in the House Judiciary Committee hosted a public hearing on the 2004 elections. At issue were the allegations that there were widespread problems, irregularities and, possibly, tampering with the voting process, particularly in the key state of Ohio. On Monday, President Bush was reported to have officially secured his election after Ohio’s Republican secretary of state Kenneth Blackwell certified the victory by a margin of some 119,000 votes. Blackwell is also chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio.
Next Monday, the Electoral College is scheduled to meet, despite the recount sought by third party candidates, David Cobb of the Green Party and Michael Badnarik of the Libertarian Party. Those efforts could begin as early as next week. On January 6, the electoral college will officially convene to certify the election results nationwide. Meanwhile, John Kerry has been strikingly silent on the controversy in Ohio and has refused to spend any of the $51 million still in his campaign war chest that could be used to fund recount efforts. On Wednesday, he issued a statement responding to the hearing in Washington DC, saying he supports an investigation into reported problems “not because it would change the outcome of the election but because Americans have to believe that their votes are counted in our democracy.”
- Excerpt of hearing on Ohio voting irregularities hearing, December 8, 2004.
- John Bonifaz, General Counsel of the * National Voting Institute* and counsel for the Green Party recount efforts in Ohio. He was one of the witnesses who testified at the hearing on voting irregularities in Ohio on Wednesday. He joins us on the line from Boston.
JUAN GONZALEZ: This is an excerpt of John Bonifaz of the National Voting Rights Institute. He is the co-counsel for the recount effort in Ohio and he was speaking at the hearing in Washington on Wednesday.
JOHN BONIFAZ: While the courts will not expedite this recount process, we have a message today for Mr. Blackwell. In the name of democracy, in the name of the right to vote, in the name of the constitution, let the recount process proceed to its completion before the Electoral College meets. Let the recount process proceed to its completion prior to the casting of Ohio’s Electoral College votes. Presidential electors serve term of office. It is a one-day term. They show up to meet, to cast their state’s electoral votes in the Electoral College. They derive their power from the people of each state. They represent the will of the voters. If they recount process is proceeding, by definition the will of the voters remains undetermined. No presidential elector that has the right to assume his or her term of office until a final determination of vote count is made. And no secretary of state has the right to certify the presidential electors until a final determination of the vote count is made. In a democracy, votes must count. We will have a recount in the state of Ohio. And as of today we have re-filed with every county board of elections and with Secretary Blackwell or client’s demand for recount along with necessary bond payment. The recount process will begin. And even if an electoral college meets on December 13, the recount process will continue. And if at the end of this process it is determined that a different set of electors should be representing the people of Ohio, that set of electors will meet and will cast their votes for president. If that happens, the United States congress will receive the votes of two competing sets of presidential electors from the state of Ohio when it convenes on January 6, 2005 to formally receive the Electoral College votes. One slate will be chosen by Mr. Blackwell, the other will be chosen by the will of people of Ohio. We will have a recount and the fight will go on. Finally, I will and with this, Mahatma Gandhi once said, first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. They are no longer ignoring us. They are no longer laughing at us. They are fighting us now. And we are going to win. Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: John Boniface, General Counsel of the National Voting Institute and counsel for the Green Party recount efforts in Ohio. He was testifying before a public hearing that was convened by Congress member John Conyers in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. John Bonifaz joins us now on the telephone. Welcome to Democracy Now!, John.
JOHN BONIFAZ: Thank you for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: Juan.
JUAN GONZALEZ: John, could you briefly outline for us what are some of the main concerns that show to you that there were irregularities that demand a full recount?
JOHN BONIFAZ: Well, it’s clear that there were a number of problems that were reported on Election Day throughout the State of Ohio that require a full accounting of what happened, a full investigation. And a recount helps to ensure that we begin the process of the proper counting of all votes. There were people who went into electronic voting machine areas where they were voting with those machines, pushed the button for John Kerry and the candidate Bush name flashed up on the screen. I spoke personally with voters right after Election Day, many of whom had that happen to them. Others who had experiences with respect to trying to cast provisional ballots and didn’t know whether they were in fact properly cast. People who had to spend hours on end in line and then get to the final place to vote and determine that the machine was malfunctioning in some way. There were innumerable stories that came on Election Day and continued to come after Election Day in terms of what happened to people. And a recount process is part of the overall electoral process to help determine the outcome of an election. And in this situation candidates have the right under Ohio State law to ask for that recount. They have properly asked for it. They have paid for it and they have the right to this recount. And yet we have seen resistance from the Secretary of State’s office and from some county boards of elections in carrying out their official duties to do this recount. This Electoral College meeting that’s happening on Monday December 13th will be an illegitimate gathering while this recount process is going forward. The vote has not yet been formally determined if the recount process is not been completed. And that’s why I think it is important to postpone that Electoral College meeting and make sure that we properly count every citizen’s vote.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now I understand that the Electoral College will be meeting this Sacramento and there are already groups that are organizing protests for Monday at the meeting of the Electoral College. But assuming that they don’t hold this up and you continue to do the recount, do you have the troops on the ground, you are talking about 88 counties that would have to do this recount? How long do you think it would take and do you have the volunteers and the staff to be able to do it?
JOHN BONIFAZ: Well, we are not as counsel for candidates Cobb and Badnarik, we are not engaged in actually fielding all the calls around the country for people to come to Ohio, but I know the Cobb campaign is heavily involved in this at votecobb.org. They are organizing to get people to come to Ohio. They have thousands of people lined up already, but they need many more. And it is important that we have people witness this recount, observe the counting of all of the votes and in every one of the 88 counties. This could take, you know, a minimum of five days according to an expert witness we have in this case who well respected in the recount process and knows a lot about it. And he recognizes that there’s going to be a hand count at least of 3% of the total vote and it could be a full hand recount. He says it would take a minimum of five days. I think it can be completed by January 6 but it will take pressure from the public and its going to require all of us monitoring it very closely.
AMY GOODMAN: Juan and John, this latest news. Florida changed the rules Thursday to make it easier for convicted felons who have done time to regain the vote and other civil rights. Florida is one of only few states that don’t automatically restore most rights when felons have served their time. Civil rights groups have argued that the process is too arduous and makes it hard for ex-convicts to get back into society. On Thursday Governor Jeb Bush and the board clemency reduced the number of offenses that require felons to go through hearings and wave waive the hearing process for people who go through several years without committing a new crime. Bush said the new rules will probably reduce the backlog by about a third. Also on Wednesday when you were testifying John, former Congressman Dan Hamburg was arrested when he attempted to deliver a letter about voting irregularities to the Ohio Secretary of State, Ken Blackwell. He and his wife were charged with trespassing after they refused to leave the private building that houses Blackwell’s office, they refused to leave without asking Blackwell questions about the election. Hamburg served in Congress in the early ’90s representing California. John Bonifaz, I want to thank you for joining us, head of the National Voting Rights Institute in Boston. Interesting latest stories, Juan.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Jeb Bush finally got around to it. He could have done that earlier this year, couldn’t he?
AMY GOODMAN: You mean before the election?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes.