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In Ohio, African-American Turnout Threatened by Reduced Early Voting and Faulty Ballots

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As in all recent elections, Ohio again is a crucial state to win for either presidential candidate. And once again, Ohio is at the center of charges of systematic suppression of the African-American vote. In a report for Democracy Now!, investigative reporter Greg Palast discovers that some early voters in the Buckeye State have received the wrong ballots. Palast is the author of “Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps.” [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: As in all recent elections, Ohio is a crucial state to win for either presidential candidate. Once again, Ohio is at the center of charges of systematic suppression of the African-American vote. Investigative reporter Greg Palast discovered that some early voters in the Buckeye State received the wrong ballots. He filed this report for Democracy Now!

GREG PALAST: Hallelujah! Finally, it’s Election Day in Ohio. Union workers and rural evangelicals are on the road driving to the polls. Ohio will probably pick our president today, Tuesday, but Democrats hope the election was decided on Sunday.

This is Greg Palast reporting. Here, in the economically wounded heart of Dayton, Ohio, I’m going to church, because Sunday is “Souls to the Polls” day.

Today is Souls to the Polls day?

GIRL: Yes.

GREG PALAST: Souls to the Polls day, when thousands of African Americans in Ohio will go from Sunday church to vote early. While most other Ohioans will vote on Tuesday, the clear majority of black folk in Ohio will vote early. This is the Freedom Faith Missionary Baptist Church, and they will load into the church van to take their singing souls to the polls. Terra Williams, a church member and leader of the Souls to the Polls movement, explains why African Americans vote on Sunday.

TERRA WILLIAMS: Well, because typically on Election Day, everyone works. Particularly, most African Americans are probably working two or three jobs, and it’s harder for them to get off that particular day. So, early voting hours for our community was very essential, especially weekend voting hours, because that gives us a time to get out and vote. Most of—most individuals are off on the weekends. And so, for us, in our community, it’s easier for us to vote early on the weekends.

GREG PALAST: We drive behind the church group to downtown Dayton, to the early voting station. And here’s what we found: a line of nearly 1,000 voters snaking out of the state building and out into the parking lot. What happened? The Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted cut black church day voting from four Sundays to just one, and just for four hours, and at just one polling place for all of Dayton, all of Montgomery County.

So, do you think that this is a good way to do it, where they just have one polling place for early voting?

DAYTON EARLY VOTER 1: Well, that’s probably not a good way, but that’s the way it is now. So, we work with it.

GREG PALAST: You know, it could be an hour or two in line. Are you up to it?

DAYTON EARLY VOTER 1: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

GREG PALAST: Can I ask who you’re going to vote for?


GREG PALAST: After hours of wait, voters were herded into this auditorium, where they were treated to a slide show. The government crowed that on Tuesday, the day when most whites vote, there will be 176 polling locations. Finally, 10 by 10, groups of voters were sent to get their ballots. But wait, these weren’t ballots. These were applications for absentee ballots. What’s going on here? Absentee ballots are not at all the same as a regular ballot. In U.S. elections, between one and three million absentee ballots are rejected by voting officials, effectively thrown in the garbage. Voting on an absentee ballot is like playing bingo with your vote.

ELECTION OFFICIAL: Number 175. Number 175 and under can head up the steps. Stay to the left as you exit, 175 and under.

GREG PALAST: But to reassure voters—or to fool them—this big notice was projected on the giant screen. “Early voting equals absentee voting.” Oh, no, it doesn’t. Not according to voting rights attorney Robert Fitrakis, professor at Columbus State University. I show the professor the absentee ballot form handed out at early voting and ask if this was legitimate or a common practice.

ROBERT FITRAKIS: Absolutely uncommon. And I would suspect it’s either done out of incompetence for convenience or to defraud people of their vote. As you can see, on this form, you have to fill it out. And the secretary of state, Jon Husted, has come up with the notion that if you leave anything blank, even though it’s irrelevant, your absentee ballot can be tossed.

GREG PALAST: So, in other words, these voters could lose their votes.

ROBERT FITRAKIS: Absolutely. Jon Husted, as the Republican secretary of state, really has decided that he’s going to deliver for the Republican Party, that the only way they can win is by throwing as many people as they can off the registration rolls and making it as inconvenient and difficult as possible to vote, particularly during early voting. It’s outrageous! It’s a systematic attempt to eliminate the hardcore base of the Democratic Party. And they’re getting away with it.

GREG PALAST: When you say the “hardcore base,” is there a racial element?

ROBERT FITRAKIS: Oh, absolutely. It’s the new Jim Crow.

GREG PALAST: Back at the early voting station, we asked our souls from Missionary Baptist how they did at the polls.

UNIDENTIFIED: How did your voting go, guys?

DAYTON EARLY VOTER 2: It went great. Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED: Thank you to you, too.


UNIDENTIFIED: Did it all went—did it all go smooth for you guys?

DAYTON EARLY VOTER 2: Yes, it did.


DAYTON EARLY VOTER 2: All right. Bye. Bye-bye.

GREG PALAST: I didn’t have the heart to tell them, those ballots may never get counted. This is Greg Palast in Ohio at early voting—or early voting suppression—for Democracy Now!

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Greg Palast, author of the New York Times bestseller, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits. He will be joining us live from Ohio tonight for our special election broadcast from 7:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. You can tune in on television, radio, watch a live video stream online at democracynow.org. Democracy Now! will be looking at claims of voter intimidation and harassment. If you have photos and video, we’ll be following the hashtag #dnvote, #dnvote. Check our website for details, democracynow.org.

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