Was the 2004 Election Stolen? by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Rollingstone.com, June 1, 2006

Republicans prevented more than 350,000 voters in Ohio from casting ballots or having their votes counted — enough to have put John Kerry in the White House.

Like many Americans, I spent the evening of the 2004 election watching the returns on television and wondering how the exit polls, which predicted an overwhelming victory for John Kerry, had gotten it so wrong. By midnight, the official tallies showed a decisive lead for George Bush — and the next day, lacking enough legal evidence to contest the results, Kerry conceded. Republicans derided anyone who expressed doubts about Bush’s victory as nut cases in ‘tinfoil hats,’ while the national media, with few exceptions, did little to question the validity of the election. The Washington Post immediately dismissed allegations of fraud as ‘conspiracy theories,’(1) and The New York Times declared that ‘there is no evidence of vote theft or errors on a large scale.’(2)
 

But despite the media blackout, indications continued to emerge that something deeply troubling had taken place in 2004. Nearly half of the 6 million American voters living abroad(3) never received their ballots — or received them too late to vote(4) — after the Pentagon unaccountably shut down a state-of-the-art Web site used to file overseas registrations.(5) A consulting firm called Sproul & Associates, which was hired by the Republican National Committee to register voters in six battleground states,(6) was discovered shredding Democratic registrations.(7) In New Mexico, which was decided by 5,988 votes,(8) malfunctioning machines mysteriously failed to properly register a presidential vote on more than 20,000 ballots.(9) Nationwide, according to the federal commission charged with implementing election reforms, as many as 1 million ballots were spoiled by faulty voting equipment — roughly one for every 100 cast.(10)
 

The reports were especially disturbing in Ohio, the critical battleground state that clinched Bush’s victory in the electoral college. Officials there purged tens of thousands of eligible voters from the rolls, neglected to process registration cards generated by Democratic voter drives, shortchanged Democratic precincts when they allocated voting machines and illegally derailed a recount that could have given Kerry the presidency. A precinct in an evangelical church in MiamiCountyrecorded an impossibly high turnout of ninety-eight percent, while a polling place in inner-city Clevelandrecorded an equally impossible turnout of only seven percent. In Warren County, GOP election officials even invented a nonexistent terrorist threat to bar the media from monitoring the official vote count.(11)
Any election, of course, will have anomalies. America’s voting system is a messy patchwork of polling rules run mostly by county and city officials. ‘We didn’t have one election for president in 2004,’ says Robert Pastor, who directs the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University. ‘We didn’t have fifty elections. We actually had 13,000 elections run by 13,000 independent, quasi-sovereign counties and municipalities.’
But what is most anomalous about the irregularities in 2004 was their decidedly partisan bent: Almost without exception they hurt John Kerry and benefited George Bush. After carefully examining the evidence, I’ve become convinced that the president’s party mounted a massive, coordinated campaign to subvert the will of the people in 2004. Across the country, Republican election officials and party stalwarts employed a wide range of illegal and unethical tactics to fix the election. A review of the available data reveals that in Ohio alone, at least 357,000 voters, the overwhelming majority of them Democratic, were prevented from casting ballots or did not have their votes counted in 2004(12) — more than enough to shift the results of an election decided by 118,601 votes.(13) (See Ohio’s Missing Votes) In what may be the single most astounding fact from the election, one in every four Ohio citizens who registered to vote in 2004 showed up at the polls only to discover that they were not listed on the rolls, thanks to GOP efforts to stem the unprecedented flood of Democrats eager to cast ballots.(14) And that doesn’t even take into account the troubling evidence of outright fraud, which indicates that upwards of 80,000 votes for Kerry were counted instead for Bush. That alone is a swing of more than 160,000 votes — enough to have put John Kerry in the White House.(15)
 

‘It was terrible,’ says Sen. Christopher Dodd, who helped craft reforms in 2002 that were supposed to prevent such electoral abuses. ‘People waiting in line for twelve hours to cast their ballots, people not being allowed to vote because they were in the wrong precinct — it was an outrage. In Ohio, you had a secretary of state who was determined to guarantee a Republican outcome. I’m terribly disheartened.’
 

Indeed, the extent of the GOP’s effort to rig the vote shocked even the most experienced observers of American elections. ‘Ohiowas as dirty an election as Americahas ever seen,’ Lou Harris, the father of modern political polling, told me. ‘You look at the turnout and votes in individual precincts, compared to the historic patterns in those counties, and you can tell where the discrepancies are. They stand out like a sore thumb.’
 

I. The Exit Polls
The first indication that something was gravely amiss on November 2nd, 2004, was the inexplicable discrepancies between exit polls and actual vote counts. Polls in thirty states weren’t just off the mark — they deviated to an extent that cannot be accounted for by their margin of error. In all but four states, the discrepancy favored President Bush.(16)
 

Over the past decades, exit polling has evolved into an exact science. Indeed, among pollsters and statisticians, such surveys are thought to be the most reliable. Unlike pre-election polls, in which voters are asked to predict their own behavior at some point in the future, exit polls ask voters leaving the voting booth to report an action they just executed. The results are exquisitely accurate: Exit polls in Germany, for example, have never missed the mark by more than three-tenths of one percent.(17) ‘Exit polls are almost never wrong,’ Dick Morris, a political consultant who has worked for both Republicans and Democrats, noted after the 2004 vote. Such surveys are ‘so reliable,’ he added, ‘that they are used as guides to the relative honesty of elections in Third World countries.’(18) In 2003, vote tampering revealed by exit polling in the Republic of Georgia forced Eduard Shevardnadze to step down.(19) And in November 2004, exit polling in the Ukraine — paid for by the Bush administration — exposed election fraud that denied Viktor Yushchenko the presidency.(20)
 

But that same month, when exit polls revealed disturbing disparities in the U.S.election, the six media organizations that had commissioned the survey treated its very existence as an embarrassment. Instead of treating the discrepancies as a story meriting investigation, the networks scrubbed the offending results from their Web sites and substituted them with ‘corrected’ numbers that had been weighted, retroactively, to match the official vote count. Rather than finding fault with the election results, the mainstream media preferred to dismiss the polls as flawed.(21)
 

‘The people who ran the exit polling, and all those of us who were their clients, recognized that it was deeply flawed,’ says Tom Brokaw, who served as anchor for NBC News during the 2004 election. ‘They were really screwed up — the old models just don’t work anymore. I would not go on the air with them again.’
 

In fact, the exit poll created for the 2004 election was designed to be the most reliable voter survey in history. The six news organizations — running the ideological gamut from CBS to Fox News — retained Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International,(22) whose principal, Warren Mitofsky, pioneered the exit poll for CBS in 1967(23) and is widely credited with assuring the credibility of Mexico’s elections in 1994.(24) For its nationwide poll, Edison/Mitofsky selected a random subsample of 12,219 voters(25) — approximately six times larger than those normally used in national polls(26) — driving the margin of error down to approximately plus or minus one percent.(27)
On the evening of the vote, reporters at each of the major networks were briefed by pollsters at 7:54 p.m. Kerry, they were informed, had an insurmountable lead and would win by a rout: at least 309 electoral votes to Bush’s 174, with fifty-five too close to call.(28) In London, Prime Minister Tony Blair went to bed contemplating his relationship with President-elect Kerry.(29)
As the last polling stations closed on the West Coast, exit polls showed Kerry ahead in ten of eleven battleground states — including commanding leads in Ohio and Florida — and winning by a million and a half votes nationally. The exit polls even showed Kerry breathing down Bush’s neck in supposed GOP strongholds Virginia and North Carolina.(30) Against these numbers, the statistical likelihood of Bush winning was less than one in 450,000.(31) ‘Either the exit polls, by and large, are completely wrong,’ a Fox News analyst declared, ‘or George Bush loses.’(32)
But as the evening progressed, official tallies began to show implausible disparities — as much as 9.5 percent — with the exit polls. In ten of the eleven battleground states, the tallied margins departed from what the polls had predicted. In every case, the shift favored Bush. Based on exit polls, CNN had predicted Kerry defeating Bush in Ohio by a margin of 4.2 percentage points. Instead, election results showed Bush winning the state by 2.5 percent. Bush also tallied 6.5 percent more than the polls had predicted in Pennsylvania, and 4.9 percent more in Florida.(33)
According to Steven F. Freeman, a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania who specializes in research methodology, the odds against all three of those shifts occurring in concert are one in 660,000. ‘As much as we can say in sound science that something is impossible,’ he says, ‘it is impossible that the discrepancies between predicted and actual vote count in the three critical battleground states of the 2004 election could have been due to chance or random error.’ (See The Tale of the Exit Polls)
Puzzled by the discrepancies, Freeman laboriously examined the raw polling data released by Edison/Mitofsky in January 2005. ‘I’m not even political — I despise the Democrats,’ he says. ‘I’m a survey expert. I got into this because I was mystified about how the exit polls could have been so wrong.’ In his forthcoming book, Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count, Freeman lays out a statistical analysis of the polls that is deeply troubling.
In its official postmortem report issued two months after the election, Edison/Mitofsky was unable to identify any flaw in its methodology — so the pollsters, in essence, invented one for the electorate. According to Mitofsky, Bush partisans were simply disinclined to talk to exit pollsters on November 2nd(34) — displaying a heretofore unknown and undocumented aversion that skewed the polls in Kerry’s favor by a margin of 6.5 percent nationwide.(35)
Industry peers didn’t buy it. John Zogby, one of the nation’s leading pollsters, told me that Mitofsky’s ‘reluctant responder’ hypothesis is ‘preposterous.’(36) Even Mitofsky, in his official report, underscored the hollowness of his theory: ‘It is difficult to pinpoint precisely the reasons that, in general, Kerry voters were more likely to participate in the exit polls than Bush voters.’(37)
Now, thanks to careful examination of Mitofsky’s own data by Freeman and a team of eight researchers, we can say conclusively that the theory is dead wrong. In fact it was Democrats, not Republicans, who were more disinclined to answer pollsters’ questions on Election Day. In Bush strongholds, Freeman and the other researchers found that fifty-six percent of voters completed the exit survey — compared to only fifty-three percent in Kerry strongholds.(38) ‘The data presented to support the claim not only fails to substantiate it,’ observes Freeman, ‘but actually contradicts it.’
What’s more, Freeman found, the greatest disparities between exit polls and the official vote count came in Republican strongholds. In precincts where Bush received at least eighty percent of the vote, the exit polls were off by an average of ten percent. By contrast, in precincts where Kerry dominated by eighty percent or more, the exit polls were accurate to within three tenths of one percent — a pattern that suggests Republican election officials stuffed the ballot box in Bush country.(39)
‘When you look at the numbers, there is a tremendous amount of data that supports the supposition of election fraud,’ concludes Freeman. ‘The discrepancies are higher in battleground states, higher where there were Republican governors, higher in states with greater proportions of African-American communities and higher in states where there were the most Election Day complaints. All these are strong indicators of fraud — and yet this supposition has been utterly ignored by the press and, oddly, by the Democratic Party.’
The evidence is especially strong in Ohio. In January, a team of mathematicians from the National Election Data Archive, a nonpartisan watchdog group, compared the state’s exit polls against the certified vote count in each of the forty-nine precincts polled by Edison/Mitofsky. In twenty-two of those precincts — nearly half of those polled — they discovered results that differed widely from the official tally. Once again — against all odds — the widespread discrepancies were stacked massively in Bush’s favor: In only two of the suspect twenty-two precincts did the disparity benefit Kerry. The wildest discrepancy came from the precinct Mitofsky numbered ’27,’ in order to protect the anonymity of those surveyed. According to the exit poll, Kerry should have received sixty-seven percent of the vote in this precinct. Yet the certified tally gave him only thirty-eight percent. The statistical odds against such a variance are just shy of one in 3 billion.(40)
Such results, according to the archive, provide ‘virtually irrefutable evidence of vote miscount.’ The discrepancies, the experts add, ‘are consistent with the hypothesis that Kerry would have won Ohio’s electoral votes if Ohio’s official vote counts had accurately reflected voter intent.’(41) According to Ron Baiman, vice president of the archive and a public policy analyst at Loyola University in Chicago, ‘No rigorous statistical explanation’ can explain the ‘completely nonrandom’ disparities that almost uniformly benefited Bush. The final results, he adds, are ‘completely consistent with election fraud — specifically vote shifting.’
 

II. The Partisan Official
No state was more important in the 2004 election than Ohio. The state has been key to every Republican presidential victory since Abraham Lincoln’s, and both parties overwhelmed the state with television ads, field organizers and volunteers in an effort to register new voters and energize old ones. Bush and Kerry traveled to Ohio a total of forty-nine times during the campaign — more than to any other state.(42)
But in the battle for Ohio, Republicans had a distinct advantage: The man in charge of the counting was Kenneth Blackwell, the co-chair of President Bush’s re-election committee.(43) As Ohio’s secretary of state, Blackwell had broad powers to interpret and implement state and federal election laws — setting standards for everything from the processing of voter registration to the conduct of official recounts.(44) And as Bush’s re-election chair in Ohio, he had a powerful motivation to rig the rules for his candidate. Blackwell, in fact, served as the ‘principal electoral system adviser’ for Bush during the 2000 recount in Florida,(45) where he witnessed firsthand the success of his counterpart Katherine Harris, the Florida secretary of state who co-chaired Bush’s campaign there.(46)
Blackwell — now the Republican candidate for governor of Ohio(47) — is well-known in the state as a fierce partisan eager to rise in the GOP. An outspoken leader of Ohio’s right-wing fundamentalists, he opposes abortion even in cases of rape(48) and was the chief cheerleader for the anti-gay-marriage amendment that Republicans employed to spark turnout in rural counties(49). He has openly denounced Kerry as ‘an unapologetic liberal Democrat,’(50) and during the 2004 election he used his official powers to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Ohio citizens in Democratic strongholds. In a ruling issued two weeks before the election, a federal judge rebuked Blackwell for seeking to ‘accomplish the same result in Ohio in 2004 that occurred in Florida in 2000.’(51)
‘The secretary of state is supposed to administer elections — not throw them,’ says Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat from Cleveland who has dealt with Blackwell for years. ‘The election in Ohio in 2004 stands out as an example of how, under color of law, a state election official can frustrate the exercise of the right to vote.’
The most extensive investigation of what happened in Ohio was conducted by Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.(52) Frustrated by his party’s failure to follow up on the widespread evidence of voter intimidation and fraud, Conyers and the committee’s minority staff held public hearings in Ohio, where they looked into more than 50,000 complaints from voters.(53) In January 2005, Conyers issued a detailed report that outlined ‘massive and unprecedented voter irregularities and anomalies in Ohio.’ The problems, the report concludes, were ’caused by intentional misconduct and illegal behavior, much of it involving Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell.’(54)
‘Blackwell made Katherine Harris look like a cupcake,’ Conyers told me. ‘He saw his role as limiting the participation of Democratic voters. We had hearings in Columbus for two days. We could have stayed two weeks, the level of fury was so high. Thousands of people wanted to testify. Nothing like this had ever happened to them before.’
When ROLLING STONE confronted Blackwell about his overtly partisan attempts to subvert the election, he dismissed any such claim as ‘silly on its face.’ Ohio, he insisted in a telephone interview, set a ‘gold standard’ for electoral fairness. In fact, his campaign to subvert the will of the voters had begun long before Election Day. Instead of welcoming the avalanche of citizen involvement sparked by the campaign, Blackwell permitted election officials in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo to conduct a massive purge of their voter rolls, summarily expunging the names of more than 300,000 voters who had failed to cast ballots in the previous two national elections.(55) In Cleveland, which went five-to-one for Kerry, nearly one in four voters were wiped from the rolls between 2000 and 2004.(56)
There were legitimate reasons to clean up voting lists: Many of the names undoubtedly belonged to people who had moved or died. But thousands more were duly registered voters who were deprived of their constitutional right to vote — often without any notification — simply because they had decided not to go to the polls in prior elections.(57) In Cleveland’s precinct 6C, where more than half the voters on the rolls were deleted,(58) turnout was only 7.1 percent(59) — the lowest in the state.
According to the Conyers report, improper purging ‘likely disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters statewide.’(60) If only one in ten of the 300,000 purged voters showed up on Election Day — a conservative estimate, according to election scholars — that is 30,000 citizens who were unfairly denied the opportunity to cast ballots.
 

III. The Strike Force
In the months leading up to the election, Ohio was in the midst of the biggest registration drive in its history. Tens of thousands of volunteers and paid political operatives from both parties canvassed the state, racing to register new voters in advance of the October 4th deadline. To those on the ground, it was clear that Democrats were outpacing their Republican counterparts: A New York Times analysis before the election found that new registrations in traditional Democratic strongholds were up 250 percent, compared to only twenty-five percent in Republican-leaning counties.(61) ‘The Democrats have been beating the pants off us in the air and on the ground,’ a GOP county official in Columbus confessed to The Washington Times.(62)
To stem the tide of new registrations, the Republican National Committee and the Ohio Republican Party attempted to knock tens of thousands of predominantly minority and urban voters off the rolls through illegal mailings known in electioneering jargon as ‘caging.’ During the Eighties, after the GOP used such mailings to disenfranchise nearly 76,000 black voters in New Jersey and Louisiana, it was forced to sign two separate court orders agreeing to abstain from caging.(63) But during the summer of 2004, the GOP targeted minority voters in Ohio by zip code, sending registered letters to more than 200,000 newly registered voters(64) in sixty-five counties.(65) On October 22nd, a mere eleven days before the election, Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett — who also chairs the board of elections in Cuyahoga County — sought to invalidate the registrations of 35,427 voters who had refused to sign for the letters or whose mail came back as undeliverable.(66) Almost half of the challenged voters were from Democratic strongholds in and around Cleveland.(67)
There were plenty of valid reasons that voters had failed to respond to the mailings: The list included people who couldn’t sign for the letters because they were serving in the U.S. military, college students whose school and home addresses differed,(68) and more than 1,000 homeless people who had no permanent mailing address.(69) But the undeliverable mail, Bennett claimed, proved the new registrations were fraudulent.
By law, each voter was supposed to receive a hearing before being stricken from the rolls.(70) Instead, in the week before the election, kangaroo courts were rapidly set up across the state at Blackwell’s direction that would inevitably disenfranchise thousands of voters at a time(71) — a process that one Democratic election official in Toledo likened to an ‘inquisition.’(72) Not that anyone was given a chance to actually show up and defend their right to vote: Notices to challenged voters were not only sent out impossibly late in the process, they were mailed to the very addresses that the Republicans contended were faulty.(73) Adding to the atmosphere of intimidation, sheriff’s detectives in Sandusky County were dispatched to the homes of challenged voters to investigate the GOP’s claims of fraud.(74)
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1) Manual Roig-Franzia and Dan Keating, ‘Latest Conspiracy Theory — Kerry Won — Hits the Ether,’ The Washington Post, November 11, 2004.
2) The New York Times Editorial Desk, ‘About Those Election Results,’ The New York Times, November 14, 2004.
3) United States Department of Defense, <>August 6, 2004.
4) Overseas Vote Foundation, ’2004 Post Election Survey Results,’ June 2005, page 11.
5) Jennifer Joan Lee, ‘Pentagon Blocks Site for Voters Outside U.S.,’ International Herald Tribune, September 20, 2004.
6) Meg Landers, ‘Librarian Bares Possible Voter Registration Dodge,’ Mail Tribune (Jackson County, OR), September 21, 2004.
7) Mark Brunswick and Pat Doyle, ‘Voter Registration; 3 former workers: Firm paid pro-Bush bonuses; One said he was told his job was to bring back cards for GOP voters,’ Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), October 27, 2004.
8) Federal Election Commission, Federal Elections 2004: Election Results for the U.S. President.
9) Ellen Theisen and Warren Stewart, Summary Report on New Mexico State Election Data, January 4, 2005, pg. 2
James W. Bronsan, ‘In 2004, New Mexico Worst at Counting Votes,’ Scripps Howard News Service, December 22, 2004. 10) ‘A Summary of the 2004 Election Day Survey; How We Voted: People, Ballots & Polling Places; A Report to the American People by the United States Election Assistance Commission’, September 2005, pg. 10.
11) Facts mentioned in this paragraph are subsequently cited throughout the story.
12) See ‘Ohio’s Missing Votes’
13) Federal Election Commission, Federal Elections 2004: Election Results for the U.S. President.
14) Democratic National Committee, Voting Rights Institute, ‘Democracy at Risk: The 2004 Election in Ohio’, June 22, 2005. Page 5
15) See ‘VIII. Rural Counties.’
16) Evaluation of Edison/Mitofsky Election System 2004′ prepared by Edison Media Research and Mitofksy International for the National Election Pool (NEP), January 19, 2005, Page 3
17) This refers to data for German national elections in 1994, 1998 and 2002, previously cited by Steven F. Freeman.
18) Dick Morris, ‘Those Faulty Exit Polls Were Sabotage,’ The Hill, November 4, 2004.
19) Martin Plissner, ‘Exit Polls to Protect the Vote,’ The New York Times, October 17, 2004.
20) Matt Kelley, ‘U.S. Money has Helped Opposition in Ukraine,’ Associated Press, December 11, 2004.
Daniel Williams, ‘Court Rejects Ukraine Vote; Justices Cite Massive Fraud in Runoff, Set New Election,’ The Washington Post, December 4, 2004.
21) Steve Freeman and Joel Bleifuss, ‘Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count,’ Seven Stories Press, July 2006, Page 102.
22) Evaluation of Edison/Mitofsky Election System 2004; prepared by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for the National Election Pool (NEP), January 19, 2005, Page 3.
23) Mitofsky International
24) Tim Golden, ‘Election Near, Mexicans Question the Questioners,’ The New York Times, August 10, 1994.
25) Evaluation of Edison/Mitofsky Election System 2004; prepared by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for the National Election Pool (NEP), January 19, 2005, Page 59.
26) Jonathan D. Simon, J.D., and Ron P. Baiman, Ph.D., ‘The 2004 Presidential Election: Who Won the Popular Vote? An Examination of the Comparative Validity of Exit Poll and Vote Count Data.’ FreePress.org, December 29, 2004, P. 9
27) Analysis by Steven F. Freeman.
28) Freeman and Bleifuss, pg. 134
29) Jim Rutenberg, ‘Report Says Problems Led to Skewing Survey Data,’ The New York Times, November 5, 2004.
30) Freeman and Bleifuss, pg. 134
31) Analysis of the 2004 Presidential Election Exit Poll Discrepancies. U.S. Count Votes. Baiman R, et al. March 31, 2005. Page 3.
32) Notes From Campaign Trail, Fox News Network, Live Event, 8:00 p.m. EST, November 2, 2004.
33) Freeman and Bleifuss, pg. 101-102
34) Evaluation of Edison/Mitofsky Election System 2004; prepared by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for the National Election Pool (NEP), January 19, 2005, Page 4.
35) Freeman and Bleifuss, pg. 120.
36) Interview with John Zogby
37) Evaluation of Edison/Mitofsky Election System 2004; prepared by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for the National Election Pool (NEP), January 19, 2005, Page 4.
38) Freeman and Bleifuss, pg. 128.
39) Freeman and Bleifuss, pg. 130.
40) ‘The Gun is Smoking: 2004 Ohio Precinct-level Exit Poll Data Show Virtually Irrefutable Evidence of Vote Miscount,’ U.S. Count Votes, National Election Data Archive, January 23, 2006.
41) ‘The Gun is Smoking,’ pg. 16.
42) The Washington Post, ‘Charting the Campaign: Top Five Most Visited States,’ November 2, 2004.
43) John McCarthy, ‘Nearly a Month Later, Ohio Fight Goes On,’ Associated Press Online, November 30, 2004.
44) Ohio Revised Code, 3501.04, Chief Election Officer’
45) Joe Hallett, ‘Blackwell Joins GOP’s Spin Team,’ The Columbus Dispatch, November 30, 2004.
46) Gary Fineout, ‘Records Indicate Harris on Defense,’ Ledger (Lakeland, Florida), November 18, 2000.
47) http://www.kenblackwell.com/
48) Joe Hallett, ‘Governor; Aggressive First Round Culminates Tuesday,’ Columbus Dispatch, April 30, 2006.
49) Sandy Theis, ‘Blackwell Accused of Breaking Law by Pushing Same-Sex Marriage Ban,’ Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), October 29, 2004.
50) Raw Story, ‘Republican Ohio Secretary of State Boasts About Delivering Ohio to Bush.’ 51) In the United States District Court For the Northern District of Ohio Northern Division, The Sandusky County Democratic Party et al. v. J. Kenneth Blackwell, Case No. 3:04CV7582, Page 8.
52) Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio, Status Report of the House Judiciary Committee Democratic Staff (Rep. John Conyers, Jr.), January 5, 2005.
53) Preserving Democracy, pg. 8.
54) Preserving Democracy, pg. 4.
55) The board of elections in Cuyahoga, Franklin and Hamilton counties.
56) Analysis by Richard Hayes Phillips, a voting rights advocate.
57) Fritz Wenzel, ‘Purging of Rolls, Confusion Anger Voters; 41% of Nov. 2 Provisional Ballots Axed in Lucas County,’ Toledo Blade, January 9, 2005.
58) Analysis by Hayes Phillips.
59) Cuyahoga County Board of Elections
60) Preserving Democracy, pg. 6.
61) Ford Fessenden, ‘A Big Increase of New Voters in Swing States,’ The New York Times, September 26, 2004.
62) Ralph Z. Hallow, ‘Republicans Go ‘Under the Radar’ in Rural Ohio,’ The Washington Times, October 28, 2004.
63) Jo Becker, ‘GOP Challenging Voter Registrations,’ The Washington Post, October 29, 2004.
64) Janet Babin, ‘Voter Registrations Challenged in Ohio,’ NPR, All Things Considered, October 28, 2004.
65) In the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Western Division, Amy Miller et al. v. J. Kenneth Blackwell, Case no. C-1-04-735, Page 2.
66) Sandy Theis, ‘Fraud-Busters Busted; GOP’s Blanket Challenge Backfires in a Big Way,’ Plain Dealer, October 31, 2004.
67) Daniel Tokaji, ‘Early Returns on Election Reform,’ George Washington Law Review, Vol. 74, 2005, page 1235
68) Sandy Theis, ‘Fraud-Busters Busted; GOP’s Blanket Challenge Backfires in a Big Way,’ Plain Dealer, October 31, 2004.
69) Andrew Welsh-Huggins, ‘Out of Country, Off Beaten Path; Reason for Voting Challenges Vary,’ Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), October 27, 2004.
70) Ohio Revised Code; 3505.19
71) Directive No. 2004-44 from J. Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio Sec’y of State, to All County Boards of Elections Members, Directors, and Deputy Directors 1 (Oct. 26, 2004).
72) Fritz Wenzel, ‘Challenges Filed Against 931 Lucas County Voters,’ Toledo Blade, October 27, 2004.
73) In the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Western Division, Amy Miller et al. v. J. Kenneth Blackwell, Case no. C-1-04-735, Page 4.
74) LaRaye Brown, ‘Elections Board Plans Hearing For Challenges,’ The News Messenger, October 26, 2004.
 

 

 

‘I’m afraid this is going to scare these people half to death, and they are never going to show up on Election Day,’ Barb Tuckerman, director of the Sandusky Board of Elections, told local reporters. ‘Many of them are young people who have registered for the first time. I’ve called some of these people, and they are perfectly legitimate.’(75)
On October 27th, ruling that the effort likely violated both the ‘constitutional right to due process and constitutional right to vote,’ U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott put a halt to the GOP challenge(76) — but not before tens of thousands of new voters received notices claiming they were improperly registered. Some election officials in the state illegally ignored Dlott’s ruling, stripping hundreds of voters from the rolls.(77) In Columbus and elsewhere, challenged registrants were never notified that the court had cleared them to vote.
On October 29th, a federal judge found that the Republican Party had violated the court orders from the Eighties that barred it from caging. ‘The return of mail does not implicate fraud,’ the court affirmed,(78) and the disenfranchisement effort illegally targeted ‘precincts where minority voters predominate, interfering with and discouraging voters from voting in those districts.’(79) Nor were such caging efforts limited to Ohio: The GOP also targeted hundreds of thousands of urban voters in the battleground states of Florida,(80) Pennsylvania(81) and Wisconsin.(82)
Republicans in Ohio also worked to deny the vote to citizens who had served jail time for felonies. Although rehabilitated prisoners are entitled to vote in Ohio, election officials in Cincinnati demanded that former convicts get a judge to sign off before they could register to vote.(83) In case they didn’t get the message, Republican operatives turned to intimidation. According to the Conyers report, a team of twenty-five GOP volunteers calling themselves the Mighty Texas Strike Force holed up at the Holiday Inn in Columbus a day before the election, around the corner from the headquarters of the Ohio Republican Party — which paid for their hotel rooms. The men were overheard by a hotel worker ‘using pay phones to make intimidating calls to likely voters’ and threatening former convicts with jail time if they tried to cast ballots.(84)
This was no freelance operation. The Strike Force — an offshoot of the Republican National Committee(85) — was part of a team of more than 1,500 volunteers from Texas who were deployed to battleground states, usually in teams of ten. Their leader was Pat Oxford, (86) a Houston lawyer who managed Bush’s legal defense team in 2000 in Florida,(87) where he warmly praised the efforts of a mob that stormed the Miami-Dade County election offices and halted the recount. It was later revealed that those involved in the ‘Brooks Brothers Riot’ were not angry Floridians but paid GOP staffers, many of them flown in from out of state.(88) Photos of the protest show that one of the ‘rioters’ was Joel Kaplan, who has just taken the place of Karl Rove at the White House, where he now directs the president’s policy operations.(89)
 

IV. Barriers to Registration
To further monkey-wrench the process he was bound by law to safeguard, Blackwell cited an arcane elections regulation to make it harder to register new voters. In a now-infamous decree, Blackwell announced on September 7th — less than a month before the filing deadline — that election officials would process registration forms only if they were printed on eighty-pound unwaxed white paper stock, similar to a typical postcard. Justifying his decision to ROLLING STONE, Blackwell portrayed it as an attempt to protect voters: ‘The postal service had recommended to us that we establish a heavy enough paper-weight standard that we not disenfranchise voters by having their registration form damaged by postal equipment.’ Yet Blackwell’s order also applied to registrations delivered in person to election offices. He further specified that any valid registration cards printed on lesser paper stock that miraculously survived the shredding gauntlet at the post office were not to be processed; instead, they were to be treated as applications for a registration form, requiring election boards to send out a brand-new card.(90)
Blackwell’s directive clearly violated the Voting Rights Act, which stipulates that no one may be denied the right to vote because of a registration error that ‘is not material in determining whether such individual is qualified under state law to vote.’(91) The decision immediately threw registration efforts into chaos. Local newspapers that had printed registration forms in their pages saw their efforts invalidated.(92) Delaware County posted a notice online saying it could no longer accept its own registration forms.(93) Even Blackwell couldn’t follow the protocol: The Columbus Dispatch reported that his own staff distributed registration forms on lighter-weight paper that was illegal under his rule. Under the threat of court action, Blackwell ultimately revoked his order on September 28th — six days before the registration deadline.(94)
But by then, the damage was done. Election boards across the state, already understaffed and backlogged with registration forms, were unable to process them all in time. According to a statistical analysis conducted in May by the nonpartisan Greater Cleveland Voter Coalition, 16,000 voters in and around the city were disenfranchised because of data-entry errors by election officials,(95) and another 15,000 lost the right to vote due to largely inconsequential omissions on their registration cards.(96) Statewide, the study concludes, a total of 72,000 voters were disenfranchised through avoidable registration errors — one percent of all voters in an election decided by barely two percent.(97)
Despite the widespread problems, Blackwell authorized only one investigation of registration errors after the election — in Toledo — but the report by his own inspectors offers a disturbing snapshot of the malfeasance and incompetence that plagued the entire state.(98) The top elections official in Toledo was a partisan in the Blackwell mold: Bernadette Noe, who chaired both the county board of elections and the county Republican Party.(99) The GOP post was previously held by her husband, Tom Noe,(100) who currently faces felony charges for embezzling state funds and illegally laundering $45,400 of his own money through intermediaries to the Bush campaign.(101)
State inspectors who investigated the elections operation in Toledo discovered ‘areas of grave concern.’(102) With less than a month to go before the election, Bernadette Noe and her board had yet to process 20,000 voter registration cards.(103) Board officials arbitrarily decided that mail-in cards (mostly from the Republican suburbs) would be processed first, while registrations dropped off at the board’s office (the fruit of intensive Democratic registration drives in the city) would be processed last.(104) When a grass-roots group called Project Vote delivered a batch of nearly 10,000 cards just before the October 4th deadline, an elections official casually remarked, ‘We may not get to them.’(105) The same official then instructed employees to date-stamp an entire box containing thousands of forms, rather than marking each individual card, as required by law.(106) When the box was opened, officials had no way of confirming that the forms were filed prior to the deadline — an error, state inspectors concluded, that could have disenfranchised ‘several thousand’ voters from Democratic strongholds.(107)
The most troubling incident uncovered by the investigation was Noe’s decision to allow Republican partisans behind the counter in the board of elections office to make photocopies of postcards sent to confirm voter registrations(108) — records that could have been used in the GOP’s caging efforts. On their second day in the office, the operatives were caught by an elections official tampering with the documents.(109) Investigators slammed the elections board for ‘a series of egregious blunders’ that caused ‘the destruction, mutilation and damage of public records.’(110)
On Election Day, Noe sent a team of Republican volunteers to the county warehouse where blank ballots were kept out in the open, ‘with no security measures in place.’(111) The state’s assistant director of elections, who just happened to be observing the ballot distribution, demanded they leave. The GOP operatives refused and ultimately had to be turned away by police.(112)
In April 2005, Noe and the entire Board of Elections were forced to resign. But once again, the damage was done. At a ‘Victory 2004′ rally held in Toledo four days before the election, President Bush himself singled out a pair of ‘grass-roots’ activists for special praise: ‘I want to thank my friends Bernadette Noe and Tom Noe for their leadership in Lucas County.’(113)
V. ‘The Wrong Pew’
In one of his most effective maneuvers, Blackwell prevented thousands of voters from receiving provisional ballots on Election Day. The fail-safe ballots were mandated in 2002, when Congress passed a package of reforms called the Help America Vote Act. This would prevent a repeat of the most egregious injustice in the 2000 election, when officials in Florida barred thousands of lawfully registered minority voters from the polls because their names didn’t appear on flawed precinct rolls. Under the law, would-be voters whose registration is questioned at the polls must be allowed to cast provisional ballots that can be counted after the election if the voter’s registration proves valid.(114)
‘Provisional ballots were supposed to be this great movement forward,’ says Tova Andrea Wang, an elections expert who served with ex-presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford on the commission that laid the groundwork for the Help America Vote Act. ‘But then different states erected barriers, and this new right became totally eviscerated.’
In Ohio, Blackwell worked from the beginning to curtail the availability of provisional ballots. (The ballots are most often used to protect voters in heavily Democratic urban areas who move often, creating more opportunities for data-entry errors by election boards.) Six weeks before the vote, Blackwell illegally decreed that poll workers should make on-the-spot judgments as to whether or not a voter lived in the precinct, and provide provisional ballots only to those deemed eligible.(115) When the ruling was challenged in federal court, Judge James Carr could barely contain his anger. The very purpose of the Help America Vote Act, he ruled, was to make provisional ballots available to voters told by precinct workers that they were ineligible: ‘By not even mentioning this group — the primary beneficiaries of HAVA’s provisional-voting provisions — Blackwell apparently seeks to accomplish the same result in Ohio in 2004 that occurred in Florida in 2000.’(116)
But instead of complying with the judge’s order to expand provisional balloting, Blackwell insisted that Carr was usurping his power as secretary of state and made a speech in which he compared himself to Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and the apostle Paul — saying that he’d rather go to jail than follow federal law.(117) The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Carr’s ruling on October 23rd — but the confusion over the issue still caused untold numbers of voters across the state to be illegally turned away at the polls on Election Day without being offered provisional ballots.(118) A federal judge also invalidated a decree by Blackwell that denied provisional ballots to absentee voters who were never sent their ballots in the mail. But that ruling did not come down until after 3 p.m. on the day of the election, and likely failed to filter down to the precinct level at all — denying the franchise to even more eligible voters.(119)
We will never know for certain how many voters in Ohio were denied ballots by Blackwell’s two illegal orders. But it is possible to put a fairly precise number on those turned away by his most disastrous directive. Traditionally, anyone in Ohio who reported to a polling station in their county could obtain a provisional ballot. But Blackwell decided to toss out the ballots of anyone who showed up at the wrong precinct — a move guaranteed to disenfranchise Democrats who live in urban areas crowded with multiple polling places. On October 14th, Judge Carr overruled the order, but Blackwell appealed.(120) In court, he was supported by his friend and campaign contributor Tom Noe, who joined the case as an intervenor on behalf of the secretary of state.(121) He also enjoyed the backing of Attorney General John Ashcroft, who filed an amicus brief in support of Blackwell’s position — marking the first time in American history that the Justice Department had gone to court to block the right of voters to vote.(122) The Sixth Circuit, stacked with four judges appointed by George W. Bush, sided with Blackwell.(123)
Blackwell insists that his decision kept the election clean. ‘If we had allowed this notion of ?voters without borders’ to exist,’ he says, ‘it would have opened the door to massive fraud.’ But even Republicans were shocked by the move. DeForest Soaries, the GOP chairman of the Election Assistance Commission — the federal agency set up to implement the Help America Vote Act — upbraided Blackwell, saying that the commission disagreed with his decision to deny ballots to voters who showed up at the wrong precinct. ‘The purpose of provisional ballots is to not turn anyone away from the polls,’ Soaries explained. ‘We want as many votes to count as possible.’(124)
The decision left hundreds of thousands of voters in predominantly Democratic counties to navigate the state’s bewildering array of 11,366 precincts, whose boundaries had been redrawn just prior to the election.(125) To further compound their confusion, the new precinct lines were misidentified on the secretary of state’s own Web site, which was months out of date on Election Day. Many voters, out of habit, reported to polling locations that were no longer theirs. Some were mistakenly assured by poll workers on the grounds that they were entitled to cast a provisional ballot at that precinct. Instead, thanks to Blackwell’s ruling, at least 10,000 provisional votes were tossed out after Election Day simply because citizens wound up in the wrong line.(126)
In Toledo, Brandi and Brittany Stenson each got in a different line to vote in the gym at St. Elizabeth Seton School. Both of the sisters were registered to vote at the polling place on the city’s north side, in the shadow of the giant DaimlerChrysler plant. Both cast ballots. But when the tallies were added up later, the family resemblance came to an abrupt end. Brittany’s vote was counted — but Brandi’s wasn’t. It wasn’t enough that she had voted in the right building. If she wanted her vote to count, according to Blackwell’s ruling, she had to choose the line that led to her assigned table. Her ballot — along with those of her mother, her brother and thirty-seven other voters in the same precinct — were thrown out(127) simply because they were, in the words of Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), ‘in the right church but the wrong pew.’(128)
All told, the deliberate chaos that resulted from Blackwell’s registration barriers did the trick. Black voters in the state — who went overwhelmingly for Kerry — were twenty percent more likely than whites to be forced to cast a provisional ballot.(129) In the end, nearly three percent of all voters in Ohio were forced to vote provisionally(130) — and more than 35,000 of their ballots were ultimately rejected.(131)
 

VI. Long Lines
When Election Day dawned on November 2nd, tens of thousands of Ohio voters who had managed to overcome all the obstacles to registration erected by Blackwell discovered that it didn’t matter whether they were properly listed on the voting rolls — because long lines at their precincts prevented them from ever making it to the ballot box. Would-be voters in Dayton and Cincinnati routinely faced waits as long as three hours. Those in inner-city precincts in Columbus, Cleveland and Toledo — which were voting for Kerry by margins of ninety percent or more — often waited up to seven hours. At Kenyon College, students were forced to stand in line for eleven hours before being allowed to vote, with the last voters casting their ballots after three in the morning.(132)
A five-month analysis of the Ohio vote conducted by the Democratic National Committee concluded in June 2005 that three percent of all Ohio voters who showed up to vote on Election Day were forced to leave without casting a ballot.(133) That’s more than 174,000 voters. ‘The vast majority of this lost vote,’ concluded the Conyers report, ‘was concentrated in urban, minority and Democratic-leaning areas.‘(134) Statewide, African-Americans waited an average of fifty-two minutes to vote, compared to only eighteen minutes for whites.(135)
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75) LaRaye Brown, ‘Elections Board Plans Hearing For Challenges,’ The News Messenger, October 26, 2004.
76) Miller v. Blackwell, (S.D. Ohio), (6th Cir. 2004)
77) James Drew and Steve Eder, ‘Court Rejects GOP Voter Challenge; Some Counties Hold Hearings Anyhow; 200 Voters Turned Away,’ Toledo Blade, October 30, 2004.
78) United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Republican National Committee v. Democratic National Committee, No. 04-4186
79) United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Republican National Committee v. Democratic National Committee, No. 04-4186
80) Kate Zernike and William Yardley, ‘Charges of Dirty Tricks, Fraud and Voter Suppression Already Flying in Several States,’ The New York Times, November 1, 2004.
Greg Palast, ‘New Florida Vote Scandal Feared,’ BBC News, October 26, 2004.
81) Kate Zernike and William Yardley, ‘Charges of Dirty Tricks, Fraud and Voter Suppression Already Flying in Several States,’ The New York Times, November 1, 2004.
82) Greg J. Borowski, ‘GOP Demands IDs of 37,000 in City,’ Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 30, 2004.
83) ‘The Disenfranchisement of the Re-Enfranchised; How Confusion Over Felon Voter Eligibility in Ohio Keeps Qualified Ex-Offender Voters From the Polls,’ Prison Reform Advocacy Center, Cincinnati, Ohio, August 2004.
84) Preserving Democracy, 64.
Note: Additional reporting contributed to this paragraph.
85) Gardner Selby, ‘Hundreds of Texans Ride Bandwagons Around U.S.; Volunteers Say Election is Too Important Not to Hit the Campaign Trail,’ San Antonio Express-News (Texas), October 15, 2004.
86) ‘Down to the Wire,’ Newsweek, November 15, 2004.
87) Lynda Gorov and Anne E. Kornblut, ‘Gore to Challenge Results; No Plans to Concede; top Fla. Court refuses to order resumption of Miami-Dade County,’ The Boston Globe, November 24, 2000.
88) Al Kamen, ‘Miami ‘Riot’ Squad: Where are they Now?’ Washington Post, January 24, 2005.
89) Al Kamen, ‘Walking the Talk,’ Washington Post, April 21, 2006.
90) Secretary of State Directive, No. 2004-31, Section II, September 7, 2004.
91) Tokaji, pg. 1227
and
Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1971(a)(2)(B) (2000).
92) Jim Bebbington and Laura Bischoff, ‘Blackwell Rulings Rile Voting Advocates,’ Dayton Daily News.
93) Congress of the United States House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, letter from Conyers to Blackwell
94) Catherine Candisky, ‘Secretary of State Lifts Order on Voting Forms; Lighter Paper Now Deemed Acceptable for Registration,’ Columbus Dispatch, September 30, 2004.
95) Analyses of Voter Disqualification, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, November 2004, Greater Cleveland Voter Registration Coalition, updated May 9, 2006, page 14.
96) Analyses of Voter Disqualification, page 5.
97) Analyses of Voter Disqualification, page. 1.
98) Lucas County Board of Elections — Results of Investigation Following November 2004 General Election, April 5, 2005, Richard Weghorst and Faith Lyon.
99) ‘Feds Confirm Investigation of GOP Campaign Contributor,’ The Associated Press State & Local Wire, April 28, 2005.
100) Mark Naymik, ‘Coin Dealer Raised Chunk of Change for Bush,’ Plain Dealer, August 7, 2005.
101) Christopher D. Kirkpatrick, ‘Noe Indicted for Laundering Money to Bush Campaign,’ Toledo Blade, October 27, 2005
Mike Wilkinson and James Drew, ‘Grand Jury Charges Noe with 53 Felony Counts,’ Toledo Blade, February 13, 2006
102) Lucas County Report, pg. 2.
103) Lucas County Report, pg. 9.
104) Lucas County Report, pg. 10.
105) Lucas County Report, pages 9-10.
106) Lucas County Report, pg. 9.
107) Lucas County Report, pg. 9.
108) Lucas County Report, pg. 18.
109) Lucas County Report, pages 18-19.
110) Lucas County Report, pg. 19.
111) Lucas County Report, pages 4, 6.
112) Lucas County Report, pg. 6.
113) ‘Remarks by the President at Victory 2004 Rally,’ Seagate Convention Centre, Toledo, Ohio, October 29, 2004, The White House.
note: Bernadette and Tom Noe’s last name is incorrectly spelled ‘Noy’ in the official White House transcript.
114) Help America Vote Act, Title III, Uniform and Nondiscriminatory Election Technology and Administration Requirements, Subtitle A Requirements, Section 302.
115) Directive No. 2004-33 from J. Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio Sec’y of State, to All County Boards of Elections 1 (Sept. 16, 2004.).
116) In the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Western Division, The Sandusky County Democratic Party v. J. Kenneth Blackwell, Case No. 3:04CV7582, Page 8.
117) Gregory Korte and Jim Siegel, ‘Defiant Blackwell Rips Judge; Secretary Says He’d go to Jail Before Rewriting Ballot Memo,’ Cincinnati Enquirer, October 22, 2004.
118) Sandusky County Democratic Party v. Blackwell, (N.D. Ohio), (6th Cir. 2004).
And
Tokaji, pg. 1229
119) Tokaji, pg. 1231
120) ‘Judge, Blackwell, Spar Over Provisional Ballots,’ The Associated Press, October 20, 2004.
121) In the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio Western Division, The League of Women Voters of Ohio, et al. v. J. Kenneth Blackwell, Case No. 3:04 CV 7622
122) David G. Savage, Richard B. Schmitt, ‘Bush Seeks Limit to Suits Over Voting Rights,’ Los Angeles Times, October 29, 2004.
123) Judge Julia Smith Gibbons August 2, 2002
Judge John M. Rogers November 27, 2002
Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton May 5, 2003
Judge Deborah L. Cook May 7, 2003
124) Darrell Rowland and Lee Leonard, ‘Federal Agency Distances Itself from Ohio Official; Blackwell Says Their Provisional-Balloting Positions are the Same,’ Columbus Dispatch (Ohio), October 20, 2004.
125) David S. Bernstein, ‘Questioning Ohio,’
Providence Phoenix, November 12-18, 2004.
126) Norma Robbins, ‘Facts to Ponder About the 2004 General Election,’ May 10, 2006.
127) Fritz Wenzel, ‘Purging of Rolls, Confusion Anger Voters; 41% of November 2nd Provisional Ballots Axed in Lucas County,’ Toledo Blade, January 9, 2005.
128) Interview with Stephanie Tubbs Jones
129) Democratic National Committee, Voting Rights Institute, ‘Democracy at Risk: The 2004 Election in Ohio,’ June 22, 2005. Page 6.
130) Democracy at Risk, pg. 5.
131) Ohio Secretary of State Web site, Provisional Ballots; Official Tabulation, November 2, 2004.
132) Michael Powell and Peter Slevin, ‘Several Factors Contributed to ‘Lost’ Voters in Ohio,’ Washington Post, December 15, 2004.
Christopher Hitchens, ‘Ohio’s Odd Numbers,’ Vanity Fair.
Additional analysis by Bob Fitrakis, editor of the Columbus Free Press, and Richard Hayes Phillips.
133) Democracy at Risk, pg. 3.
134) Preserving Democracy, pg. 29.
135) Democracy at Risk, pg. 5.
 

The long lines were not only foreseeable — they were actually created by GOP efforts. Republicans in the state legislature, citing new electronic voting machines that were supposed to speed voting, authorized local election boards to reduce the number of precincts across Ohio. In most cases, the new machines never materialized — but that didn’t stop officials in twenty of the state’s eighty-eight counties, all of them favorable to Democrats, from slashing the number of precincts by at least twenty percent.(136)
Republican officials also created long lines by failing to distribute enough voting machines to inner-city precincts. After the Florida disaster in 2000, such problems with machines were supposed to be a thing of the past. Under the Help America Vote Act, Ohio received more than $30 million in federal funds to replace its faulty punch-card machines with more reliable systems.(137) But on Election Day, that money was sitting in the bank. Why? Because Ken Blackwell had applied for an extension until 2006, insisting that there was no point in buying electronic machines that would later have to be retrofitted under Ohio law to generate paper ballots.(138)
‘No one has ever accused our secretary of state of lacking in ability,’ says Rep. Kucinich. ‘He’s a rather bright fellow, and he’s involved in the most minute details of his office. There’s no doubt that he knew the effect of not having enough voting machines in some areas.’
At liberal Kenyon College, where students had registered in record numbers, local election officials provided only two voting machines to handle the anticipated surge of up to 1,300 voters. Meanwhile, fundamentalist students at nearby Mount Vernon Nazarene University had one machine for 100 voters and faced no lines at all.(139) Citing the lines at Kenyon, the Conyers report concluded that the ‘misallocation of machines went beyond urban/suburban discrepancies to specifically target Democratic areas.’(140)
In Columbus, which had registered 125,000 new voters(141) — more than half of them black(142) — the board of elections estimated that it would need 5,000 machines to handle the huge surge.(143) ‘On Election Day, the county experienced an unprecedented turnout that could only be compared to a 500-year flood,’ says Matt Damschroder,(144) chairman of the Franklin County Board of Elections and the former head of the Republican Party in Columbus.(145) But instead of buying more equipment, the Conyers investigation found, Damschroder decided to ‘make do’ with 2,741 machines.(146) And to make matters worse, he favored his own party in distributing the equipment. According to The Columbus Dispatch, precincts that had gone seventy percent or more for Al Gore in 2000 were allocated seventeen fewer machines in 2004, while strong GOP precincts received eight additional machines.(147) An analysis by voter advocates found that all but three of the thirty wards with the best voter-to-machine ratios were in Bush strongholds; all but one of the seven with the worst ratios were in Kerry country.(148)
The result was utterly predictable. According to an investigation by the Columbus Free Press, white Republican suburbanites, blessed with a surplus of machines, averaged waits of only twenty-two minutes; black urban Democrats averaged three hours and fifteen minutes.(149) ‘The allocation of voting machines in Franklin County was clearly biased against voters in precincts with high proportions of African-Americans,’ concluded Walter Mebane Jr., a government professor at Cornell University who conducted a statistical analysis of the vote in and around Columbus.(150)
By midmorning, when it became clear that voters were dropping out of line rather than braving the wait, precincts appealed for the right to distribute paper ballots to speed the process. Blackwell denied the request, saying it was an invitation to fraud.(151) A lawsuit ensued, and the handwritten affidavits submitted by voters and election officials offer a heart-rending snapshot of an electoral catastrophe in the offing:(152)
From Columbus Precinct 44D:
‘There are three voting machines at this precinct. I have been informed that in prior elections there were normally four voting machines. At 1:45 p.m. there are approximately eighty-five voters in line. At this time, the line to vote is approximately three hours long. This precinct is largely African-American. I have personally witnessed voters leaving the polling place without voting due to the length of the line.’
From Precinct 40:
‘I am serving as a presiding judge, a position I have held for some 15+ years in precinct 40. In all my years of service, the lines are by far the longest I have seen, with some waiting as long as four to five hours. I expect the situation to only worsen as the early evening heavy turnout approaches. I have requested additional machines since 6:40 a.m. and no assistance has been offered.’
Precinct 65H:
‘I observed a broken voting machine that was not in use for approximately two hours. The precinct judge was very diligent but could not get through to the BOE.’
Precinct 18A:
‘At 4 p.m. the average wait time is about 4.5 hours and continuing to increase?. Voters are continuing to leave without voting.’
As day stretched into evening, U.S. District Judge Algernon Marbley issued a temporary restraining order requiring that voters be offered paper ballots.(153) But it was too late: According to bipartisan estimates published in The Washington Post, as many as 15,000 voters in Columbus had already given up and gone home.(154) When closing time came at the polls, according to the Conyers report, some precinct workers illegally dismissed citizens who had waited for hours in the rain — in direct violation of Ohio law, which stipulates that those in line at closing time are allowed to remain and vote.(155)
The voters disenfranchised by long lines were overwhelmingly Democrats. Because of the unequal distribution of voting equipment, the median turnout in Franklin County precincts won by Kerry was fifty-one percent, compared to sixty-one percent in those won by Bush. Assuming sixty percent turnout under more equitable conditions, Kerry would have gained an additional 17,000 votes in the county.(156)
In another move certain to add to the traffic jam at the polls, the GOP deployed 3,600 operatives on Election Day to challenge voters in thirty-one counties — most of them in predominantly black and urban areas.(157) Although it was billed as a means to ‘ensure that voters are not disenfranchised by fraud,’(158) Republicans knew that the challengers would inevitably create delays for eligible voters. Even Mark Weaver, the GOP’s attorney inOhio, predicted in late October that the move would ‘create chaos, long

 

Crimes Against Nature by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Rollingstone.com, December 11, 2003

For more than thirty years, landmark laws have protected America’s environment. In 2001, George W. Bush, financed by the energy industry and his supporters on the far right, launched a campaign to sabotage these safeguards and steal the national treasure

George W. Bush Will go down in history as America’s worst environmental president.
In a ferocious three-year attack, the Bush administration has initiated more than 200 major rollbacks of America’s environmental laws, weakening the protection of our country’s air, water, public lands and wildlife. Cloaked in meticulously crafted language designed to deceive the public, the administration intends to eliminate the nation’s most important environmental laws by the end of the year.
Under the guidance of Republican pollster Frank Luntz, the Bush White House has actively hidden its anti-environmental program behind deceptive rhetoric, telegenic spokespeople, secrecy and the intimidation of scientists and bureaucrats.
The Bush attack was not entirely unexpected. George W. Bush had the grimmest environmental record of any governor during his tenure in Texas. Texas became number one in air and water pollution and in the release of toxic chemicals. In his six years in Austin, he championed a short-term pollution-based prosperity, which enriched his political contributors and corporate cronies by lowering the quality of life for everyone else. Now President Bush is set to do the same to America. After three years, his policies are already bearing fruit, diminishing standards of living for millions of Americans.
I am angry both as a citizen and a father. Three of my sons have asthma, and I watch them struggle to breathe on bad-air days. And they’re comparatively lucky: One in four African-American children in New York shares this affliction; their suffering is often unrelieved because they lack the insurance and high-quality health care that keep my sons alive. My kids are among the millions of Americans who cannot enjoy the seminal American experience of fishing locally with their dad and eating their catch. Most freshwater fish in New York and all in Connecticut are now under consumption advisories. A main source of mercury pollution in America, as well as asthma-provoking ozone and particulates, is the coal-burning power plants that President Bush recently excused from complying with the Clean Air Act.
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Furthermore, the deadly addiction to fossil fuels that White House policies encourage has squandered our treasury, entangled us in foreign wars, diminished our international prestige, made us a target for terrorist attacks and increased our reliance on petty Middle Eastern dictators who despise democracy and are hated by their own people.
When the Republican right managed to install George W. Bush as president in 2000, movement leaders once again set about doing what they had attempted to do since the Reagan years: eviscerate the infrastructure of laws and regulations that protect the environment. For twenty-five years it has been like the zombie that keeps coming back from the grave.
The attacks began on Inauguration Day, when President Bush’s chief of staff and former General Motors lobbyist Andrew Card quietly initiated a moratorium on all recently adopted regulations. Since then, the White House has enlisted every federal agency that oversees environmental programs in a coordinated effort to relax rules aimed at the oil, coal, logging, mining and chemical industries as well as auto-makers, real estate developers, corporate agribusiness and other industries.
Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency has halted work on sixty-two environmental standards, the federal Department of Agriculture has stopped work on fifty-seven standards, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has halted twenty-one new standards. The EPA completed just two major rules ? both under court order and both watered down at industry request ? compared to twenty-three completed by the Clinton administration and fourteen by the Bush Sr. administration in their first two years.
This onslaught is being coordinated through the White House Office of Management and Budget ? or, more precisely, OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, under the direction of John Graham, the engine-room mechanic of the Bush stealth strategy. Graham’s specialty is promoting changes in scientific and economic assumptions that underlie government regulations ? such as recalculating cost-benefit analyses to favor polluters. Before coming to the White House, Graham was the founding director of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, where he received funding from America’s champion corporate polluters: Dow Chemical, DuPont, Monsanto, Alcoa, Exxon, General Electric and General Motors.
Under the White House’s guidance, the very agencies entrusted to protect Americans from polluters are laboring to destroy environmental laws. Or they’ve simply stopped enforcing them. Penalties imposed for environmental violations have plummeted under Bush. The EPA has proposed eliminating 270 enforcement staffers, which would drop staff levels to the lowest level ever. Inspections of polluting businesses have dipped fifteen percent. Criminal cases referred for federal prosecution have dropped forty percent. The EPA measures its success by the amount of pollution reduced or prevented as a result of its own actions. Last year, the EPA’s two most senior career enforcement officials resigned after decades of service. They cited the administration’s refusal to carry out environmental laws.
The White House has masked its attacks with euphemisms that would have embarrassed George Orwell. George W. Bush’s “Healthy Forests” initiative promotes destructive logging of old-growth forests. His “Clear Skies” program, which repealed key provisions of the Clean Air Act, allows more emissions. The administration uses misleading code words such as streamlining or reforming instead of weakening, and thinning instead of logging.
In a March 2003 memo to Republican leadership, pollster Frank Luntz frankly outlined the White House strategy on energy and the environment: “The environment is probably the single issue on which Republicans in general and President Bush in particular are most vulnerable,” he wrote, cautioning that the public views Republicans as being “in the pockets of corporate fat cats who rub their hands together and chuckle maniacally as they plot to pollute America for fun and profit.” Luntz warned, “Not only do we risk losing the swing vote, but our suburban female base could abandon us as well.” He recommended that Republicans don the sheep’s clothing of environmental rhetoric while dismantling environmental laws.
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I prosecute polluters on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance. As George W. Bush began his presidency, I was involved in litigation against the factory-pork industry, which is a large source of air and water pollution in America. Corporate pork factories cannot produce more efficiently than traditional family farmers without violating several federal environmental statutes. Industrial farms illegally dump millions of tons of untreated fecal and toxic waste onto land and into the air and water. Factory farms have contaminated hundreds of miles of waterways, put tens of thousands of family farmers and fishermen out of work, killed billions of fish, sickened consumers and subjected millions of farm animals to unspeakable cruelty.
On behalf of several farm groups and fishermen, we sued Smithfield Foods and won a decision that suggested that almost all of American factory farms were violating the Clean Water Act. The Clinton EPA had also brought its own parallel suits addressing chronic air and water violations by hog factories. But almost immediately after taking office, the Bush administration ordered the EPA to halt its Clean Air Act investigations of animal factories and weaken the water rules to allow them to continue polluting indefinitely.
Several of my other national cases were similarly derailed. Eleven years ago, I sued the EPA to stop massive fish kills at power plants. Using antiquated technology, power plants often suck up the entire fresh water volume of large rivers, killing obscene numbers of fish. Just one facility, the Salem nuclear plant in New Jersey, kills more than 3 billion Delaware River fish each year, according to Martin Marietta, the plant’s own consultant. These fish kills are illegal, and in 2001 we finally won our case. A federal judge ordered the EPA to issue regulations restricting power-plant fish kills. But soon after President Bush’s inauguration, the administration replaced the proposed new rule with clever regulations designed to allow the slaughter to continue unabated. The new administration also trumped court decisions that would have enforced greater degrees of wetlands protection and forbidden coal moguls from blasting off whole mountain-tops to get at the coal beneath.
The fishermen I represent are traditionally Republican. But, without exception, they see this administration as the largest threat not just to their livelihoods but to their values and their idea of what it means to be American. “Why,” they’ll ask, “is the president allowing coal, oil, power and automotive interests to fix the game?”
Back to the Dark Ages
George W. Bush Seems To be Trying To take us all the way back to the Dark Ages by undermining the very principles of our environmental rights, which civilized nations have always recognized. Ancient Rome’s Code of Justinian guaranteed the use to all citizens of the “public trust” or commons ? those shared resources that cannot be reduced to private property ? the air, flowing water, public lands, wandering animals, fisheries, wetlands and aquifers.
When Roman law broke down in Europe during the Dark Ages, feudal kings began to privatize the commons. In the early thirteenth century, when King John also attempted to sell off England’s fisheries and erect navigational tolls on the Thames, his subjects rose up and confronted him at Runnymede, forcing him to sign the Magna Carta, which includes provisions guaranteeing the rights of free access to fisheries and waters.
Clean-air laws in England, passed in the fourteenth century, made it a capital offense to burn coal in London, and violators were executed for the crime. These “public trust” rights to unspoiled air, water and wildlife descended to the people of the United States following the American Revolution. Until 1870, a factory releasing even small amounts of smoke onto public or private property was operating illegally.
But during the Gilded Age, when the corporate robber barons captured the political and judicial systems, those rights were stolen from the American people. As the Industrial Revolution morphed into the postwar industrial boom, Americans found themselves paying a high price for the resulting pollution. The wake-up call came in the late Sixties, when Lake Erie was declared dead and Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River exploded in colossal infernos.
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In 1970, more than 20 million Americans took to the streets protesting the state of the environment on the first Earth Day. Whether they knew it or not, they were demanding a return of ancient rights.
During the next few years, Congress passed twenty-eight major environmental statutes, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, and it created the Environmental Protection Agency to apply and enforce these new laws. Polluters would be held accountable; those planning to use the commons would have to compile envi-ronmental-impact statements and hold public hearings; citizens were given the power to prosecute environmental crimes. Right-to-know and toxic-inventory laws made government and industry more transparent on the local level and our nation more democratic. Even the most vulnerable Americans could now participate in the dialogue that determines the destinies of their communities.
Earth Day caught polluters off guard. But in the next thirty years, they mounted an increasingly sophisticated and aggressive counterattack to undermine these laws. The Bush administration is a culmination of their three-decade campaign.
Strangling The Environment
In 1980, Candidate Ronald Reagan Declared, “I am a Sagebrush Rebel,” marking a major turning point of the modern anti-environmental movement. In the early 1980s, the Western extractive industries, led by one of Colorado’s worst polluters, brewer Joseph Coors, organized the Sagebrush Rebellion, a coalition of industry money and right-wing ideologues that helped elect Reagan president.
The big polluters who started the Sagebrush Rebellion were successful because they managed to broaden their constituency with anti-regulatory, anti-labor and anti-environmental rhetoric that had great appeal both among Christian fundamentalist leaders such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, and in certain Western communities where hostility to government is deeply rooted. Big polluters found that they could organize this discontent into a potent political force that possessed the two ingredients of power in American democracy: money and intensity. Meanwhile, innovations in direct-mail and computer technologies gave this alliance of dark populists and polluters a deafening voice in American government.
Coors founded the Mountain States Legal Foundation in 1976 to bring lawsuits designed to enrich giant corporations, limit civil rights and attack unions, homosexuals and minorities. He also founded the right-wing Heritage Foundation, to provide a philosophical underpinning for the anti-environmental movement. While the foundation and its imitators ? the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Reason Foundation, the Federalist Society, the Marshall Institute and others ? claim to advocate free markets and property rights, their agenda is more pro-pollution than anything else.
From its conception, the Heritage Foundation and its neoconservative cronies urged followers to “strangle the environmental movement,” which Heritage named “the greatest single threat to the American economy.” Ronald Reagan’s victory gave Heritage Foundation and the Mountain States Legal Foundation immeasurable clout. Heritage became known as Reagan’s “shadow government,” and its 2,000-page manifesto, “Mandate for Change,” became a blueprint for his administration. Coors handpicked his Colorado associates: Anne Gorsuch became the EPA administrator; her husband, Robert Burford, a cattle baron who had vowed to destroy the Bureau of Land Management, was selected to head that very agency. Most notorious, Coors chose James Watt, president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, as the secretary of the interior. Watt was a proponent of “dominion theology,” an authoritarian Christian heresy that advocates man’s duty to “subdue” nature. His deep faith in laissez-faire capitalism and apocalyptic Christianity led Secretary Watt to set about dismantling his department and distributing its assets rather than managing them for future generations. During a Senate hearing, he cited the approaching Apocalypse to explain why he was giving away America’s sacred places at fire-sale prices: “I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns.”
Meanwhile, Anne Gorsuch enthusiastically gutted EPA’s budget by sixty percent, crippling its ability to write regulations or enforce the law. She appointed lobbyists fresh from their hitches with the paper, asbestos, chemical and oil companies to run each of the principal agency departments. Her chief counsel was an Exxon lawyer; her head of enforcement was from General Motors.
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These attacks on the environment precipitated a public revolt. By 1983, more than a million Americans and all 125 American-Indian tribes had signed a petition demanding Watt’s removal. After being forced out of office, Watt was indicted on twenty-five felony counts of influence-pedaling. Gorsuch and twenty-three of her cronies were forced to resign following a congressional investigation of sweet-heart deals with polluters, including Coors. Her first deputy, Rita Lavelle, was jailed for perjury.
The indictments and resignations put a temporary damper on the Sagebrush Rebels, but they quickly regrouped as the “Wise Use” movement. Wise Use founder, the timber-industry flack Ron Arnold, said, “Our goal is to destroy, to eradicate the environmental movement. We want to be able to exploit the environment for private gain, absolutely.”
By 1994, Wise Use helped propel Newt Gingrich to the speaker’s chair of the U.S. House of Representatives and turn his anti-environmental manifesto, “The Contract With America,” into law. Gingrich’s chief of environmental policy was Rep. Tom DeLay, the one-time Houston exterminator who was determined to rid the world of pesky pesticide regulations and to promote a biblical worldview. He targeted the Endangered Species Act as the second-greatest threat to Texas after illegal aliens. He also wanted to legalize the deadly pesticide DDT, and he routinely referred to the EPA as “the Gestapo of government.” In January 1995, DeLay invited a group of 350 lobbyists representing some of America’s biggest polluters to collaborate in drafting legislation to dismantle federal health, safety and environmental laws.
Gingrich and DeLay had learned from the James Watt debacle that they had to conceal their radical agenda. Carefully eschewing public debates on their initiatives, they mounted a stealth attack on America’s environmental laws. Rather than pursue a frontal assault against popular statutes such as the Endangered Species, Clean Water and Clean Air acts, they tried to undermine these laws by attaching silent riders to must-pass budget bills.
But the public got wise. Moderate Republicans teamed up with the Clinton administration to block the worst of it. My group, the NRDC, as well as the Sierra Club and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, generated more than 1 million letters to Congress. When President Clinton shut down the government in December 1995 rather than pass a budget bill spangled with anti-environmental riders, the tide turned against Gingrich and DeLay. By the end of that month, even conservatives disavowed the attack. “We lost the battle on the environment,” DeLay conceded.
Undermining the Scientists
Today, with the presidency and Both houses of Congress under the anti-environmentalists’ control, they are set to eviscerate the despised laws. White House strategy is to promote its unpopular policies by lying about its agenda, cheating on the science and stealing the language and rhetoric of the environmental movement.
Even as Republican pollster Luntz acknowledged that the scientific evidence is against the Republicans on issues like global warming, he advised them to find scientists willing to hoodwink the public. “You need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue,” he told Republicans, “by becoming even more active in recruiting experts sympathetic to your view.”
In the meantime, he urged them to change their rhetoric. “‘Climate change,’” he said, “is less threatening than ‘global warming.’ While global warming has catastrophic connotations attached to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge.”
The EPA’s inspector general received broad attention for his August 21st, 2003, finding that the White House pressured the agency to conceal the public-health risks from poisoned air following the September 11th World Trade Center attacks. But this 2001 deception is only one example of the administration’s pattern of strategic distortion. Earlier this year, it suppressed an EPA report warning that millions of Americans, especially children, are being poisoned by mercury from industrial sources.
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This behavior is consistent throughout the Bush government. Consider the story of James Zahn, a scientist at the Department of Agriculture who resigned after the Bush administration suppressed his taxpayer-funded study proving that billions of antibiotic-resistant bacteria can be carried daily across property lines from meat factories into neighboring homes and farms. In March 2002, Zahn accepted my invitation to present his findings to a convention of family-farm advocates in Iowa. Several weeks before the April conference, pork-industry lobbyists learned of his appearance and persuaded the Department of Agriculture to forbid him from appearing. Zahn told me he had been ordered to cancel a dozen appearances at county health departments and similar venues.
In May, the White House blocked the EPA staff from publicly discussing contamination by the chemical perchlorate ? the main ingredient in solid rocket fuel. The administration froze federal regulations on perchlorate, even as new research reveals alarmingly high levels of the chemical in the nation’s drinking water and food supply, including many grocery-store lettuces. Perchlorate pollution has been linked to neurological problems, cancer and other life-threatening illnesses in some twenty states. The Pentagon and several defense contractors face billions of dollars in potential cleanup liability.
The administration’s leading expert in manipulating scientific data is Interior Secretary Gale Norton. During her nomination hearings, Norton promised not to ideologically slant agency science. But as her friend Thomas Sansonetti, a coal-industry lobbyist who is now assistant attorney general, predicted, “There won’t be any biologists or botanists to come in and pull the wool over her eyes.”
In autumn 2001, Secretary Norton provided the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources with her agency’s scientific assessment that Arctic oil drilling would not harm hundreds of thousands of caribou. Not long afterward, Fish and Wildlife Service biologists contacted the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which defends scientists and other professionals working in state and federal environmental agencies. “The scientists provided us the science that they had submitted to Norton and the altered version that she had given to Congress a week later,” said the group’s executive director, Jeff Ruch. There were seventeen major substantive changes, all of them minimizing the reported impacts. When Norton was asked about the alterations in October 2001, she dismissed them as typographical errors.
Later, she and White House political adviser Karl Rove forced National Marine Fisheries scientists to alter findings on the amount of water required for the survival of salmon in Oregon’s Klamath River, to ensure that large corporate farms got a bigger share of the river water. As a result, more than 33,000 chinook and coho salmon died ? the largest fish kill in the history of America. Mike Kelly, the biologist who drafted the original opinion (and who has since been awarded federal whistle-blower status), told me that the coho salmon is probably headed for extinction. “Morale is low among scientists here,” Kelly says. “We are under pressure to get the right results. This administration is putting the species at risk for political gain ? and not just in the Klamath.”
Norton has also ordered the rewriting of an exhaustive twelve-year study by federal biologists detailing the effects that Arctic drilling would have on populations of musk oxen and snow geese. She reissued the biologists’ report two weeks later as a two-page paper showing no negative impact to wildlife. She also ordered suppression of two studies by the Fish and Wildlife Service concluding that the drilling would threaten polar-bear populations and violate the international treaty protecting bears. She then instructed the Fish and Wildlife Service to redo the report to “reflect the Interior Department’s position.” She suppressed findings that mountaintop mining would cause “tremendous destruction of aquatic and terrestrial habitat” and a Park Service report that found that snowmobiles were hurting Yellowstone’s air quality, wildlife and the health of its visitors and employees.
Norton’s Fish and Wildlife Service is the first ever not to voluntarily list a single species as endangered or threatened. Her officials have blackballed scientists and savaged studies to avoid listing the trumpeter swan, revoke the listing of the grizzly bear and shrink the remnant habitat for the Florida panther. She disbanded the service’s oldest scientific advisory committee in order to halt protection of desert fish in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas that are headed for extinction. Interior career staffers and scientists say they are monitored by Norton’s industry appointees to ensure that future studies do not conflict with industry profit-making.
Cooking the Books on Global Warming
There is no scientific debate in which the White House has cooked the books more than that of global warming. In the past two years the Bush administration has altered, suppressed or attempted to discredit close to a dozen major reports on the subject. These include a ten-year peer-reviewed study by the International Panel on Climate Change, commissioned by the president’s father in 1993 in his own efforts to dodge what was already a virtual scientific consensus blaming industrial emissions for global warming.
After disavowing the Kyoto Protocol, the Bush administration commissioned the federal government’s National Academy of Sciences to find holes in the IPCC analysis. But this ploy backfired. The NAS not only confirmed the existence of global warming and its connection to industrial greenhouse gases, it also predicted that the effects of climate change would be worse than previously believed, estimating that global temperatures will rise between 2.5 and 10.4 degrees by 2100.
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A May 2002 report by scientists from the EPA, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, approved by Bush appointees at the Council on Environmental Quality and submitted to the United Nations by the U.S., predicted similarly catastrophic impacts. When confronted with the findings, Bush dismissed it with his smirking condemnation: “I’ve read the report put out by the bureaucracy….”
Afterward, the White House acknowledged that, in fact, he hadn’t. Having failed to discredit the report with this untruth, George W. did what his father had done: He promised to study the problem some more. Last fall, the White House announced the creation of the Climate Research Initiative to study global warming. The earliest results are due next fall. But the White House’s draft plan for CRI was derided by the NAS in February as a rehash of old studies and established science lacking “most elements of a strategic plan.”
In September 2002, administration censors released the annual EPA report on air pollution without the agency’s usual update on global warming, that section having been deleted by Bush appointees at the White House. On June 19th, 2003, a “State of the Environment” report commissioned by the EPA in 2001 was released after language about global warming was excised by flat-earthers in the White House. The redacted studies had included a 2001 report by the National Research Council, commissioned by the White House. In their place was a piece of propaganda fi-nanced by the American Petroleum Institute challenging these conclusions.
This past July, EPA scientists leaked a study, which the agency had ordered suppressed in May, showing that a Senate plan ? co-sponsored by Republican Sen. John McCain ? to reduce the pollution that causes global warming could achieve its goal at very small cost. Bush reacted by launching a $100 million ten-year effort to prove that global temperature changes have, in fact, occurred naturally, another delay tactic for the fossil-fuel barons at taxpayer expense.
Princeton geo-scientist Michael Oppenheimer told me, “This administration likes to emphasize what we don’t know while ignoring or minimizing what we do know, which is a prescription for paralysis on policy. It’s hard to imagine what kind of scientific evidence would suffice to convince the White House to take firm action on global warming.”
Across the board, the administration yields to Big Energy. At the request of ExxonMobil, and with the help of a lobbying group working for coal-burning utility Southern Co., the Bush administration orchestrated the removal of U.S. scientist Robert Watson, the world-renowned former NASA atmospheric chemist who headed the United Nations’ IPCC. He was replaced by a little-known scientist from New Delhi, India, who would be generally unavailable for congressional hearings.
The Bush administration now plans to contract out thousands of environmental-science jobs to compliant industry consultants already in the habit of massaging data to support corporate profit-taking, effectively making federal science an arm of Karl Rove’s political machine. The very ideologues who derided Bill Clinton as a liar have institutionalized dishonesty and made it the reigning culture of America’s federal agencies. “At its worst,” Oppenheimer says, “this approach represents a serious erosion in the way a democracy deals with science.”
Inside The Cheney Task Force
There is no better example of the corporate cronyism now hijacking American democracy than the White House’s cozy relationship with the energy industry. It’s hard to find anyone on Bush’s staff who does not have extensive corporate connections, but fossil-fuel executives rule the roost. The energy industry contributed more than $48.3 million to Republicans in the 2000 election cycle, with $3 million to Bush. Now the investment has matured. Both Bush and Cheney came out of the oil patch. Thirty-one of the Bush transition team’s forty-eight members had energy-industry ties. Bush’s cabinet and White House staff is an energy-industry dream team ? four cabinet secretaries, the six most powerful White House officials and more than twenty high-level appointees are alumni of the industry and its allies (see “Bush’s Energy-Industry All-Stars,” on Page 183).
The potential for corruption is staggering. Take the case of J. Steven Griles, deputy secretary of the Interior Depart ment. During the first Reagan administration, Griles worked directly under James Watt at Interior, where he helped the coal industry evade prohibitions against mountaintop-removal strip mining. In 1989, Griles left government to work as a mining executive and then as a lobbyist with National Environmental Strategies, a Washington, D.C., firm that represented the National Mining Association and Dominion Resources, one of the nation’s largest power producers. When Griles got his new job at Interior, the National Mining Association hailed him as “an ally of the industry.”
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It’s bad enough that a former mining lobbyist was put in charge of regulating mining on public land. But it turns out that Griles is still on the industry’s payroll. In 2001, he sold his client base to his partner Marc Himmelstein for four annual payments of $284,000, making Griles, in effect, a continuing partner in the firm.
Because Griles was an oil and mining lobbyist, the Senate made him agree in writing that he would avoid contact with his former clients as a condition of his confirmation. Griles has nevertheless repeatedly met with former coal clients to discuss new rules allowing mountaintop mining in Appalachia and destructive coal-bed methane drilling in Wyoming. He also met with his former oil clients about offshore leases. These meetings prompted Sen. Joseph Lieberman to ask the Interior Department to investigate Griles. With Republicans in control of congressional committees, no subpoenas have interrupted the Griles scandals.
With its operatives in place, the Bush energy plan became an orgy of industry plunder. Days after his inauguration, Bush launched the National Energy Policy Development Group, chaired by Cheney. For three months, the task force held closed-door meetings with energy-industry representatives ? then refused to disclose the names of the participants.
For the first time in history, the nonpartisan General Accounting Office sued the executive branch, for access to these records. NRDC put in a Freedom of Information Act request, and when Cheney did not respond, we also sued. On February 21st, 2002, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and other agency officials to turn over the records relating to their participation in the work of the energy task force. Under this court order, NRDC has obtained some 20,000 documents. Although none of the logs on the vice president’s meetings have been released yet and the pages were heavily redacted to prevent disclosure of useful information, the documents still allow glimpses of the process.
The task force comprised Cabinet secretaries and other high-level administration officials with energy-industry pedigrees. The undisputed leader was Cheney, who hails from Wyoming, the nation’s largest coal producer, and who, for six previous years, was CEO of Halliburton, the oil-service company. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill was chairman of the Aluminum Company of America for thirteen years. Aluminum-industry profits are directly related to energy prices. O’Neill promised to immediately sell his extensive stock holdings in his former company (worth more than $100 million) to avoid conflicts of interest, but he delayed the sale until after the energy plan was released. By then, thanks partly to the administration’s energy policies, Alcoa’s stock had risen thirty percent. Energy Secretary Abraham, a former one-term senator from Michigan, received $700,000 from the auto industry in his losing 2000 campaign, more than any other Senate candidate. At Energy, Abraham led the administration effort to scuttle fuel-economy standards, allow SUVs to escape fuel-efficiency minimums and create obscene tax incentives for Americans to buy the largest gas guzzlers.
Joe Allbaugh, director of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, sat next to Abraham on the task force. Allbaugh’s wife, Diane, is an energy-industry lobbyist and represents three firms ? Reliant Energy, Entergy and TXU, each of which paid her $20,000 in the three months of the task force’s deliberation. Joe Allbaugh participated in task-force meetings on issues directly affecting those companies, including debates about environmental rules for power plants and ? his wife’s specialty ? electricity deregulation.
Commerce Secretary Don Evans, an old friend of the president from their early days in the oil business, was CEO of Tom Brown Inc., a Denver oil-and-gas company, and a trustee of another drilling firm. Interior Secretary Gale Norton, a mining-industry lawyer, accepted nearly $800,000 from the energy industry during her 1996 run in Colorado for the U.S. Senate.
In the winter and spring of 2001, executives and lobbyists from the oil, coal, electric-utility and nuclear industries tramped in and out of the Cabinet room and Cheney’s office. Many of the lobbyists had just left posts inside Bush’s presidential campaign to work for companies that had donated lavishly to that effort. Companies that made large contributions were given special access. Executives from Enron Corp., which contributed $2.5 million to the GOP from 1999 to 2002, had contact with the task force at least ten times, including six face-to-face meetings between top officials and Cheney.
After one meeting with Enron CEO Kenneth Lay, Cheney dismissed California Gov. Gray Davis’ request to cap the state’s energy prices. That denial would enrich Enron and nearly bankrupt California. It has since emerged that the state’s energy crisis was largely engineered by Enron. According to the New York Times, the task-force staff circulated a memo that suggested “utilizing” the crisis to justify expanded oil and gas drilling. President Bush and others would cite the California crisis to call for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Energy companies that had not ponied up remained under pressure to give to Republicans. When Westar Energy’s chief executive was indicted for fraud, investigators found an e-mail written by Westar executives describing solicitations by Republican politicians for a political action committee controlled by Tom DeLay as the price for a “seat at the table” with the task force.
Task-force members began each meeting with industry lobbyists by announcing that the session was off the record and that participants were to share no documents. A National Mining Association official told reporters that the industry managed to control the energy plan by keeping the process secret. “We’ve probably had as much input as anybody else in town,” he said. “I have to take my hat off to them ? they’ve been able to keep a lid on it.”
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When it was suggested that access to the administration was for sale, Cheney hardly apologized. “Just because somebody makes a campaign contribution doesn’t mean that they should be denied the opportunity to express their view to government officials,” he said. Although they met with hundreds of industry officials, Cheney and Abraham refused to meet with any environmental groups. Cheney made one exception to the secrecy policy: On May 15th, 2001, the day before the task force sent its plan to the president, CEOs from wind-solar-and geothermal-energy companies were granted a short meeting with Cheney. Afterward, they were led into the Rose Garden for a press conference and a photo op.
While peddling influence to energy tycoons, the White House quietly dropped criminal and civil charges against Koch Industries, America’s largest privately held oil company. Koch faced a ninety-seven-count federal felony indictment and $357 million in fines for knowingly releasing ninety metric tons of carcinogenic benzene and concealing the releases from federal regulators. Koch executives contributed $800,000 to Bush’s presidential campaign and to other top Republicans.
Last March, the Federal Trade Commission dropped a Clintonera investigation of price gouging by the oil and gas industries, even as Duke Energy, a principal target of the probe, admitted to selling electricity in California for more than double the highest previously reported price. The Bush administration said that the industry deserved a “gentler approach.” Administration officials also winked at a scam involving a half-dozen oil companies cheating the government out of $100 million per year in royalty payments.
Southern Co. was among the most adept advocates for its own self-interest. The company, which contributed $1.6 million to Republicans from 1999 to 2002, met with Cheney’s task force seven times. Faced with a series of EPA prosecutions at power plants violating air-quality standards, the company retained Haley Barbour, former Republican National Committee chairman and now governor-elect of Mississippi, to lobby the administration to ignore Southern’s violations.
The White House then forced the Justice Department to drop the prosecution. Justice lawyers were “astounded” that the administration would interfere in a law-enforcement matter that was “supposed to be out of bounds from politics.” The EPA’s chief enforcement officer, Eric Schaeffer, resigned. “With the Bush administration, whether or not environmental laws are enforced depends on who you know,” Schaeffer told me. “If you’ve got a good lobbyist, you can just buy your way out of trouble.”
Along with Barbour, Southern retained current Republican National Committee chairman and former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot. Barbour and Racicot repeatedly conferred with Abraham and Cheney, urging them to ease limits on carbon-dioxide pollution from power plants and to gut the Clean Air Act. On May 17th, 2001, the White House released its energy plan. Among the recommendations were exempting old power plants from Clean Air Act compliance and adopting Barbour’s arguments about carbon-dioxide restrictions. Barbour repaid the favor that week by raising $250,000 at a May 21st GOP gala honoring Bush. Southern donated $150,000 to the effort.
Cheney’s task force had at least nineteen contacts with officials from the nuclear-energy industry ? whose trade association, the Nuclear Energy Institute, donated $100,000 to the Bush inauguration gala and $437,000 to Republicans from 1999 to 2002. The report recommended loosening environmental controls on the industry, reducing public participation in the siting of nuclear plants and adding billions of dollars in subsidies for the nuclear industry.
Cheney wasn’t embarrassed to reward his old cronies at Halliburton, either. The final draft of the task-force report praises a gas-recovery technique controlled by Halliburton ? even though an earlier draft had criticized the technology. The technique, which has been linked to the contamination of aquifers, is currently being investigated by the EPA. Somehow, that got edited out of the report.
Big Coal and the Destruction of Appalachia
Coal Companies Enjoyed perhaps the biggest payoff. At the West Virginia Coal Association’s annual conference in May 2002, president William D. Raney assured 150 industry moguls, “You did everything you could to elect a Republican president.” Now, he said, “you are already seeing in his actions the payback.”
Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal company and a major contributor to the Bush campaign, was one of the first to cash in. Immediately after his inauguration, Bush appointed two executives from Peabody and one from its Black Beauty subsidiary to his energy advisory team.
When the task force released its final report, it recommended accelerating coal production and spending $2 billion in federal subsidies for research to make coal-fired electricity cleaner. Five days later, Peabody issued a public-stock offering, raising $60 million more than analysts had predicted. Company vice president Fred Palmer credited the Bush administration. “I am sure it affected the valuation of the stock,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
Peabody also wanted to build the largest coal-fired power plant in thirty years upwind of Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, a designated UNESCO World Heritage site and International Biosphere Reserve. With arm-twisting from Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles and another $450,000 in Gop contributions, Peabody got what it wanted, A study on the air impacts was suppressed, and park scientists who feared that several endangered species might go extinct due to mercury and acid-rain deposits were silenced.
At the Senate’s request, Griles had signed a “statement of disqualification” on August Ist, 2001, committing himself to avoiding issues affecting his former clients. Three days later, he nevertheless appeared before the West Virginia Coal Association and promised executives that “we will fix the Federal rules very soon on water and soil placement.” That was fancy language for pushing whole mountaintops into valleys, a practice worth billions to the industry. As a Reagan official, Griles helped devise the practice, which a federal court declared illegal in 2002, after, 1,200 miles of streambeds had been filled and 380,000 acres of Appalachian forestlands had been rendered barren moonscapes.
Now Griles was promising his former coal clients he would fix these rules. In May 2002, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers adopted the language recommended by his former client, the National Mining Association. Had Griles not intervened, the practice of mountaintop-removal mining would have been severely restricted. Griles also pushed EPA deputy administrator Linda Fisher to overrule career personnel in the agency’s Denver office who had given a devastating assessment to a proposal to produce coal-bed methane gas in the Powder River basin in Wyoming. Although Griles had recused himself from any discussion of this subject because it would directly enrich his former clients, he worked aggressively behind the scenes on behalf of a proposal to build 51,000 wells. The project will require 26,000 miles of new roads and 48,000 miles of pipeline, and will foul pristine landscapes with trillions of gallons of toxic wastewater.
Blueprint for Plunder
The Energy-Task-force Plan is A $20 billion subsidy to the oil, coal and nuclear industries, which are already swimming in record revenues. In May 2003, as the House passed the plan and as the rest of the nation stagnated in a recession abetted by high oil prices, Exxon announced that its profits had tripled from the previous quarter’s record earnings. The energy plan recommends opening protected lands and waters to oil and gas drilling and building up to 1,900 electric-power plants, National treasures such as the California and Florida coasts, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the areas around Yellowstone Park will be opened for plunder for the trivial amounts of fossil fuels that they contain. While increasing reliance on oil, coal and nuclear power, the plan cuts the budget for research into energy efficiency and alternative power sources by nearly a third. “Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue,” Cheney explained, but it should not be the basis of “comprehensive energy policy.”
As if to prove that point, Republicans simultaneously eliminated the tax credit that had encouraged Americans to buy gassaving hybrid cars, and weakened efficiency standards for everything from air conditioners to automobiles. They also created an obscene $100,000 tax break for Hummers and the thirty-eight biggest gas guzzlers. Then, adding insult to injury, the Energy Department robbed $135,615 from the anemic solar, renewables and energy-conservation budget to produce 10,000 copies of the White House’s energy plan.
To lobby for the plan, more than 400 in dustry groups enlisted in the Alliance for Energy and Economic Growth, a coalition created by oil, mining and nuclear interests and guided by the White House. It cost $5,000 to join, “a very low price,” according to Republican lobbyist Wayne Valis. The prerequisite for joining, he wrote in a memo, was that members “must agree to support the Bush energy proposal in its entirety and not lobby for changes.” Within two months, members had contributed more than $1 million. The price for disloyalty was expulsion from the coalition and possible reprisal by the administration. “I have been advised,” wrote Valis, “that this White House ‘will have a long memory.’”
The plan represents a massive transfer of wealth from the public to the energy sector. Indeed, Bush views his massive tax cuts as a way of helping Americans pay for inflated energy bills. “If I had my way,” he declared, “I’d have [the tax cuts] in place tomorrow so that people would have money in their pockets to deal with high energy prices.”
Looting the Commons
Although Congress will have Its Final vote on the plan in November, the White House has already devised ways to implement most of its worst provisions without congressional interference. In October 2001, the administration removed the Interior Department’s power to veto mining permits, even if the mining would cause “substantial and irreparable harm” to the environment. That December, Bush and congressional Republicans passed an “economic-stimulus package” that proposed $2.4 billion worth of tax breaks, credits and loopholes for Chevron, Texaco, Enron and General Electric. The following February, the White House announced it would abandon regulations for three major pollutants?mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.
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Early in the Bush administration, Vice President Cheney had solicited an industry wish list from the United States Energy Association, the lobbying arm for trade associations including the American Petroleum Institute, the National Mining Association, the Nuclear Energy Institute and the Edison Institute. The USEA responded by providing 105 specific recommendations from its members for plundering our natural resources and polluting America’s air and water. In a speech to the group in June 2002, Energy Secretary Abraham reported that the administration had already implemented three-quarters of the industry’s recommendations and predicted the rest would pass through Congress shortly.
On August 27th, 2002 ? while most of America was heading off for a Labor Day weekend ? the administration announced that it would redefine carbon dioxide, the primary cause of global warming, so that it would no longer be considered a pollutant and would therefore not be subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act. The next day, the White House repealed the act’s “new source review” provision, which requires companies to modernize pollution control when they modify their plants.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, the White House rollback will cause 30,000 Americans to die prematurely each year. Although the regulation will probably be reversed in the courts, the damage will have been done, and power utilities such as Southern Co. will escape criminal prosecution. As soon as the new regulations were announced, John Pemberton, chief of staff to the EPA’s assistant administrator for air, left the agency to work for Southern. The EPA’s congressional office chief also left, to join Southern’s lobbying shop, Bracewell, Patterson.
By summer 2003, the White House had become a virtual piñata for energy moguls. In August, the administration proposed limiting the authority of states to object to offshore-drilling decisions, and it ordered federal land managers across the West to ease environmental restrictions for oil and gas drilling in national forests. The White House also proposed removing federal protections for most American wetlands and streams. As an astounded Republican, Rep. Christopher Shays, told me, “It’s almost like they want to alienate people who care about the environment, as if they believe that this will help them with their core.”
EPA: From Bad to Worse
On August 30th, President Bush Nominated Utah’s three-term Republican Gov. Mike Leavitt to replace his beleaguered EPA head, Christine Todd Whitman, who was driven from office, humiliated in even her paltry efforts to moderate the pillage. In October, Leavitt was confirmed by the Senate.
Like Gale Norton, Leavitt has a winning personality and a disastrous environmental record. Under his leadership, Utah tied for last as the state with the worst environmental enforcement record and ranked second-worst (behind Texas) for both air quality and toxic releases. As governor, Leavitt displayed the same contempt for science that has characterized the Bush administration. He fired more than seventy scientists employed by state agencies for producing studies that challenged his political agenda. He fired a state enforcement officer who penalized one of Leavitt’s family fish farms for introducing whirling disease into Utah, devastating the state’s wild-trout populations.
Leavitt has a penchant for backdoor deals to please corporate polluters. Last year he resurrected a frivolous and moribund Utah lawsuit against the Interior Department and then settled the suit behind closed doors without public involvement, stripping 6 million acres of wilderness protections. This track record does not reflect the independence, sense of stewardship and respect for science and law that most Americans have the right to expect in our nation’s chief environmental guardian.
The Threat to Democracy
Generations of Americans will pay the Republican campaign debt to the energy industry with global instability, depleted national coffers and increased vulnerability to price shocks in the oil market.
They will also pay with reduced prosperity and quality of life at home. Pollution from power plants and traffic smog will continue to skyrocket. Carbon-dioxide emissions will aggravate global warming. Acid rain from Midwestern coal plants has already sterilized half the lakes in the Adirondacks and destroyed the forest cover in the high peaks of the Appalachian range up into Canada. The administration’s attacks on science and the law have put something even greater at risk. Americans need to recognize that we are facing not just a threat to our environment but to our values, and to our democracy.
Growing up, I was taught that communism leads to dictatorship and capitalism to democracy. But as we’ve seen from the the Bush administration, the latter proposition does not always hold. While free markets tend to democratize a society, unfettered capitalism leads invariably to corporate control of government.
America’s most visionary leaders have long warned against allowing corporate power to dominate the political landscape. In 1863, in the depths of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln lamented, “I have the Confederacy before me and the bankers behind me, and I fear the bankers most.” Franklin Roosevelt echoed that sentiment when he warned that “the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism ? ownership of government by an individual, by a group or by any controlling power.”
Today, more than ever, it is critical for American citizens to understand the difference between the free-market capitalism that made our country great and the corporate cronyism that is now corrupting our political process, strangling democracy and devouring our national treasures.
Corporate capitalists do not want free markets, they want dependable profits, and their surest route is to crush competition by controlling government. The rise of fascism across Europe in the 1930s offers many informative lessons on how corporate power can undermine a democracy. In Spain, Germany and Italy, industrialists allied themselves with right-wing leaders who used the provocation of terrorist attacks, continual wars, and invocations of patriotism and homeland security to tame the press, muzzle criticism by opponents and turn government over to corporate control. Those governments tapped industrial executives to run ministries and poured government money into corporate coffers with lucrative contracts to prosecute wars and build infrastructure. They encouraged friendly corporations to swallow media outlets, and they enriched the wealthiest classes, privatized the commons and pared down constitutional rights, creating short-term prosperity through pollution-based profits and constant wars. Benito Mussolini’s inside view of this process led him to complain that “fascism should really be called ‘corporatism.’”
While the European democracies unraveled into fascism, America confronted the same devastating Depression by reaffirming its democracy. It enacted minimum-wage and Social Security laws to foster a middle class, passed income taxes and anti-trust legislation to limit the power of corporations and the wealthy, and commissioned parks, public lands and museums to create employment and safeguard the commons.
The best way to judge the effectiveness of a democracy is to measure how it allocates the goods of the land: Does the government protect the commonwealth on behalf of all the community members, or does it allow wealth and political clout to steal the commons from the people?
Today, George W. Bush and his court are treating our country as a grab bag for the robber barons, doling out the commons to large polluters. Last year, as the calamitous rollbacks multiplied, the corporateowned TV networks devoted less than four percent of their news minutes to environmental stories. If they knew the truth, most Americans would share my fury that this president is allowing his corporate cronies to steal America from our children.

[From Issue 937 — December 2003

http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/21376518/crimes_against_nature