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Voter fraud plagues ramshackle US voting system

Bob Fitrakis, a professor of political science and founder of news site The Free Press talks to Guy Rundle about voter fraud and voter machine issues.

Slightly worn funky armchairs, a blackboard with cute drawings and local versions of coffee — the “short north”, a heavy espresso, named for the district of Columbus, where it’s based. A dozen or so people — most with laptops; kids doing college work on a cold wet afternoon and Columbus’s ageing hippie (there’s one in every town) with chest-length grey beard, Creedence souvenir baseball cap, bifocals reading the street press. I scan around, looking for a meeting.

At a big table near the front window, a table of a dozen young people talking animatedly. Must be it. “Hi” I say, hauling my backpack to rest — I’ve come straight from the airport — “I’m the reporter from Australia. Sorry I’m late.’” They look bemused. A silence. “Um, is this the Occupy election observer meeting?”. I glance at the literature on the table. It’s some whacky pyramid-selling scheme. The energetic leader is no community organiser, she’s more a Mitt Romney type.

Look around the cafe again, and uh oh, the only other possibility is three men, scruffier but presentable, the traditional look of the organiser. “Is this the voter suppression meeting?” I must have put the emphasis unwittingly, because the lead guy says, without being asked “there’s four more people coming”. There are sheaves of instructions for observers on the table, copies of Ohio election law, and a roll of stickers for official election observers.

By the end of the meeting, the stickers remain unpeeled — the four attendees, who had confirmed through Facebook, do not arrive. The organiser does not appear fazed: “the thing is with Occupy, you have a lot of people who are ready to turn out when something’s on. We’ll get our observers through the Green Party. They know how important it is.”

You would hope so. If the election is close, it will go well beyond November 6 in Ohio, and the Ohio improptu observation committee will need all the help it can get.

Observers from the Left in Ohio are going to be out in force, but they’ll be as much meta-observers as observers — they’ll be watching out for the “True The Vote” crowd, the Tea Party-based group who claim to be organising non-partisan observers to watch for individual voter impersonation, a vanishing small event, but whose real task appears to be generalised voter intimidation, especially of black, Hispanic and poor voters (i.e. those more likely to vote Democrat).

The practice is an old Southern one, a development on from the Jim Crow laws which made voting by blacks near impossible for decades. In the 90s and 2000s, as voting blocs settled into place, it became clear that Ohio would be the battleground state in any close election. Thus in 2004, the state was flooded with a group that became known as the “Texas Strike Force”, the precursors of True The Vote.

Their dirty tricks are renowned: getting lists of people with minor criminal convictions and calling them up, telling them, falsely, they’d be arrested if they tried to vote, that police were at the polls serving unfilled warrants, and the like. This year, in Cincinnati, the swing city in a swing state with a large black population, billboards mysteriously appeared saying “Voter Fraud is a Felony”, signed off by an anonymous donor. When a sluggish Ohio state department (the state is now run by Republicans) was eventually prodded into forcing the donor to disclose themselves, as per regulation, the billboards came down.

The Texas Strike Force issued, at a couple of remove points, from Karl Rove’s Texas organisation, a group which is unsurprisingly entangled with the Bush dynasty. The question that haunts American politics is whether election fixing went beyond voter suppression, to outright electoral fraud. It’s a question that the observer team wearily acknowledge, but also one that is a little too raw. “We’re going to be taking down the serial numbers of every voting machine so we can sound the alarm if there’s any sudden ‘recalibrations’. Also we’ll be looking for any technicians from “TRIAD’,” said one.

Say what? “You should ask Bob. Bob Fitrakis. He know’s about all this stuff.”

Hey come in, don’t mind the decor,” said a large Joisey type guy, when I call on Bob Fitrakis. His offices are in one of Columbus’ old mansions, perfectly preserved, lovingly detailed — “this was one of the old robber baron places, I snapped it up when it was 70% down on the market, during the crash”. The main room is littered with books and charts — electoral law, computer design, books on the 2000 election, ‘04 election. Fitrakis and a few others run The Free Press, an online news site which has made outright electoral fraud its purview.

Few others are, despite ample evidence that the 2004 election was stolen in Ohio, and that the same forces are gearing up to steal the 2012 one, should it come down to a single state. The Free Press breaks story after story, but there is little press interest. Most recently, the discovery that a Romney-connected company, Hart Intercivic, supplies the machines for voting in one key county — Hamilton, where Cincinnati is located — and also control the maintenance contracts for the machines. briefly excited the interest of the mainstream press.

But then it died away again,” Fitrakis noted, laughing grimly. “Can you believe it? I mean what possible interest could there be in a Republican-owned firm having the maintenance contract on voting machines owned by a Republican firm? Nuthin to see!”

Though irregularities in the 2004 Ohio vote generated a congressional inquiry and report, run by Detroit Democrat John Conyers, much of it summarised in Mark Crispin Miller’s “None Dare Call It Stolen” article in Harpers, the real possibility that the vote was stolen has proved almost too much for the media to focus on. “The Democrats don’t want to know about it either,” said Fitrakis. “They feel if they made it so public, their voters would just give up en masse.”

Has the process already begun? In Florida, another state known for its shonky tactics, early votes in Broward county have already been subject to some harsh revisions in voting numbers, with one early voting booth revising its total number of votes from 2945 votes to 1942. This time the story made the mainstream media — sort of. It was reported by The Grio, NBC’s site targeted at black readers. But the story never transferred across to the NBC proper, and despite another major story in Harper’s, there is a near-manic refusal by the mainstream media to examine the role of Hart InterCivic, its parent company HIG, ES&S (the rebranded Diebold), and the interlinked companies with the maintenance contracts, particularly an outfit called Solamere, that Tagg Romney (Mitt’s eldest son) founded.

We got the FBI coming in to monitor Ohio elections,” said Fitrakis “but the problem with voting machines is, what can you do? These things are simply adding voting totals — they shouldn’t need more than a hundred lines of code? Why do they have 1500 … 10,000? How do we know there’s not an Easter egg in em, preset to a fixed total?”

The phone has rung incessantly since we sat down to talk, and the next meetings are piling up. “If we really need to do it, Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, will demand a recount. Of course.” He laughs again, an ironic disposition necessary to this work: “In Ohio you have to pay for your own recount, so that would be a million or two, we need to find.”

It is dizzying, really. The country has the most ramshackle electoral system in the modern world. Jimmy Carter refuses to have his electoral group monitor US elections, because they do not meet the minimum standard required for transparency. And there is every sign that the Right is gearing up for the big steal — most explicitly by incessant chatter about “skewed” election polls, and stories about failing turnout by Democratic voters.

Is such talk desperate cheer up — at a time when Hurricane Sandy has given Barack Obama a presidential stage, and the implicit support of Republicans such as New Jersey governor Chris Christie — or is it the pretext on which the big steal will be legitimised? Should that occur, on election night, Fitrakis’s robber baron home/office will become the command centre for a series of emergency injunctions and impoundings. But the small crowd at the coffee shop meeting for Left observers shows what they’re up against — the Right will turn out in droves for “True the Vote” because, well, it’s an old white person’s thing, and they live on a rigid mythology, that there’s no way the American people would ever choose a Kenyan Muslim to lead them.

There is something almost too sinister, too malign to contemplate in large scale voter fraud, and the mind slides off it. Come Tuesday night, however, the US public may have no choice but to focus upon the dilemma of American democracy — or the lack thereof.

25
  • 1
    John Bennetts
    Posted Friday, 2 November 2012 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    I cannot believe that dirty tricks are only the prerogative of the Republicans. Not Democrats as well?

    I’m a bit of a left-winger, but so much of what I read from Guy comes from one direction that I wonder whether Crikey needs a second reporter walking in Guy’s tracks, balancing the record.

  • 2
    Posted Friday, 2 November 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    JOHN BENNETTS: The article doesn’t have the lyricism so much a part of Rundle’s coverage of American politics. However, just allow your mind to picture an old town hall-the interior of same. Can’t you imagine the squalid mentality of these sort of people?

  • 3
    John Bennetts
    Posted Friday, 2 November 2012 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Venise,

    I sure can do the imagining, etc. This is one of a great string of articles. However, I wonder whether there isn’t balancing stuff coming back the other way and, if so, why it isn’t reported. Surely the Democrats aren’t all angels.

  • 4
    Dawn Baker
    Posted Friday, 2 November 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    John, I think these dirty tricks are played against those who traditionally vote Democrat (the poor of whatever persuasion). The US media is a huge right wing circus, usually operated through Fox. If you look at a graph showing countries’ belief in evolution, the US is second last! The separation of church and state is perilous and a continually hard fought thing. And the election where Gore lost by a whisker in Florida was directed by the court. I read lots of US sociology and social media, and its scary. I don’t think we have anything remotely like this here.

  • 5
    Posted Friday, 2 November 2012 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    John,

    I think it’s the old Don Chip thing. Both lots are bastards but the Republicans are the bigger bastards. As for keeping the bastards honest-how, when?

  • 6
    moonkid
    Posted Friday, 2 November 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    My understanding is that the Democrats are a rather varied, centrist political party. There’s no doubt that their members have been involved in dubious activities from time to time, but they also have a lot of good people who do good things. If you split the Dems down the middle into two parties, you might have a “balanced” two-party political system. By contrast, the Republicans are essentially a legitimate criminal empire - their power is built on corporate influence, media compliance, exploitation based on fear (often by appeals to religion), and outright falsehood and fraud. All of this is backed up by copious evidence, as in the Harper’s article that Guy links to.

    It’s like the climate change debate - providing artificial media “balance” on an issue by giving equal air-time to two opposing parties is not balance at all when one of them is just plain wrong.

  • 7
    michael r james
    Posted Friday, 2 November 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    JB.

    That’s pretty silly. You think the American right wing press (Fox, WSJ etc) would not be all over it if there was even the tiniest hint of Democratic electoral fraud?

    The reasons are obvious.
    First, the minorities (blacks, Hispanics, the poor & disadvantaged) who are most susceptible to voter suppression and intimidation are overwhelmingly Democrat voters.

    Second, the election will be decided in about 8-10 key states and within those a few big ones, namely the two biggest Ohio (20 electoral college votes), Florida (27 EC), Michigan (17), North Carolina (15 EC) and many of the others: Virginia (13 EC), Colorado (9 EC), Iowa (& EC) and Nevada (5 EC) have Republican state administrations who control the electoral process. Even Pennsylvania (21 EC) which the GOP are hyping as “in play” (it’s not) has a Republican state gov. In fact of the swing states only Colorado (9 EC) has a D state gov. It took the Supreme Court (itself having a right-leaning majority) to throw out just last week a Ohio state attempt at naked voter suppression. By contrast the #1 & #3 biggest states, California (%% EC) and NY (31 EC) are firmly democrat and are not in contention.
    Thus, even if Democrats were inclined towards the same dirty tricks they simply don’t have the opportunity in the states that matter.

    Third, you may disagree, but it is the Right, all around the world, who have a ineradicable sense of entitlement to government.

  • 8
    michael r james
    Posted Friday, 2 November 2012 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Aarggh. No Edit button. Colorado should not be in R list. Calif has 55 EC. Probably a few other typos but you get the picture.

  • 9
    Posted Friday, 2 November 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    The most dangerous aspect of the US voting system is that there are no across-the-board rights for candidates to have scrutineers present as the vote is counted. Of course, electronic voting machines make scrutineering totally redundant - the vote count is often just invented, especially in primaries, when the most important choices are decided eg Ron Paul the peace-monger vs Wall St shill Romney.

  • 10
    John Bennetts
    Posted Friday, 2 November 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, folks. I get the gist.

    Here’s hoping that Guy can keep the flow coming till the result is known.

    Moonkid, imagine the argument if somebody was to propose a referendum that the phrase “In Dog We Trust” be removed from the currency.

  • 11
    Dawn Baker
    Posted Friday, 2 November 2012 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    John, thanks for the stimulating comment, and for hearing all the replies.

  • 12
    Peter Watson
    Posted Friday, 2 November 2012 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    It really is a dead worry.

  • 13
    Dawn Baker
    Posted Friday, 2 November 2012 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    And here is an example I just picked up from Facebook.

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=489352194432464&set=a.163732533661100.33843.162657530435267&type=1&theater

  • 14
    Posted Friday, 2 November 2012 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    JOHN B: Exactly!

  • 15
    Maisie
    Posted Friday, 2 November 2012 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    It is very scary. Having scrutineered on many occasions over the years I have a lot of faith in the integrity of our electoral system, with our independent Electoral Commission and paper and pencil voting system. As Limited News says, with electronic voting scrutineering is impossible, and those archaic machines that punch a hole in the voting paper are just unbelieveable in a country that imagines itself to be on the cutting edge of technology.

  • 16
    j.oneill
    Posted Friday, 2 November 2012 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations Crikey for publishing Guy’s report. Fitrakis (whom he quotes) and others have exhaustively documented the fact that the 2000 and 2004 elections were stolen by electronic fraud. There is ample evidence that the machines will do their work on behalf of the Republican Party this time as well. This is on top of all the voter suppression techniques operating at full strength as BBC documentary maker and author Greg Palast has shown. As with the electronic fraud these techniques operate almost (but not quite) exclusively for the benefit of the Republicans.
    Yet the mainstream media insists that it is a close race, that the polls are believable, and they never allow such dirty words as voter suppression and voter machine fraud to sully their pages.
    So much more comfortable to perpetuate the myth that the US is a democracy.

  • 17
    moonkid
    Posted Friday, 2 November 2012 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    @John: Indeed. There have been those who’ve tried to get “under Dog” removed from the pledge of allegiance (which was only added in the 50s in any case), and that has caused no end of fuss.

  • 18
    Dawn Baker
    Posted Friday, 2 November 2012 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    I still have an innocuous comment still waiting moderation?

  • 19
    Steve777
    Posted Friday, 2 November 2012 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    John Bennetts - you’re right in that the Democrats have not always been angels. Tammany Hall was a byword for dodgy political dealings in US Democratic politics in the past. But the Republicans through the mobilisation of money, people and Republican state administrations seem to be way ahead in the game of influencing the result above and beyond legitimate campaigning, aided and abetted by what seem to be an extraordinarily rickety voting system, more like that of a poor third world country than one that regards itself as the world’s greatest democracy.

  • 20
    Dawn Baker
    Posted Friday, 2 November 2012 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    Will try again - found on Facebook, and also reported by the Huff Po.

    http://www.nationofchange.org/uaw-files-charges-against-romney-his-auto-bail-out-profiteering-1351783724

  • 21
    zut alors
    Posted Friday, 2 November 2012 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    The US has successfully exported halloween to us. Why? How did we allow this to happen?

    Here’s hoping we never adopt their special type of democr@cy.

  • 22
    Sense Seeker
    Posted Friday, 2 November 2012 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    The mere possibility of fraud should lead to action. But of course the US are a republic, not a democracy.

  • 23
    John Bennetts
    Posted Saturday, 3 November 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    @ Zut, and slightly off topic…

    Before I moved to Alice Springs, the Americans from the Space Base had well and truly brought Halloween to that part of Oz.

    That was 1978.

    Halloween is not a new arrival and, like so many other weeds, has escaped into the wild so it is too late for it to be eradicated.

    As with Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and Christmas and Easter and Valentine’s Day (no longer Saint Valentine’s Day, I note), the halloween thing is essentially about marketing of disposable tinkets and sweets and has no bearing on human enjoyment, community spirit or any other worthwhile endeavour.

    Compare the value of community organisations such as:
    The Men’s Shed Movement,
    Community Gardens,
    Clean Up Australia,
    Land Care,
    and many more.

    These are examples of organisations which draw communities together, cost little, build friendships and skills and spread happiness. Compare and contrast this with the useless, hollow waste of time and money which the annual commercial “celebrations” represent.

  • 24
    michael r james
    Posted Saturday, 3 November 2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    JB at 12.58pm

    Exactly. You forgot one of the most inane and irritating ones: Christmas in July.

    Meanwhile did anyone see ABC Lateline’s ridiculous and embarassing piece on the election last night? Stating as if fact that Romney is leading overall (popular vote) and leading in early polling. Then they interviewed a sole “expert”, a Republican spin merchant who made equally wide claims.

    Where does the ABC get its “evidence”? Possibly from Karl Rove which the Weekend Oz reprinted his article — get this — from 31 October in WSJ, ie. 3 days old! No mention of Hurricane Sandy or Chris Christie. Or the fact that Florida, earlier assumed to be in the Romney column is now looking distinctly shaky, including those early polls:

    LA Times, about 12 hours ago:
    …several polls showing President Obama’s fortunes improving here and Democrats performing well in early voting — as of Thursday morning, they led by about 59,000 out of more than 3 million absentee and in-person early votes — Romney has had to devote precious hours to defending his position in the state.

    And the most thorough scientific statistical analysis: (this from Slate about 8h ago)
    [FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: Nate Silver’s latest projections:
    Electoral College forecast: >b>Obama 303.4, Romney 234.6 (Obama +9.3 since last week);
    EC now-cast: Obama 303.9, Romney 234.1 (Obama +10.1 since last week). Chance of winning forecast: Obama 80.9 percent, Romney 19.1 percent (Obama +7.8 since last week); Chance now-cast: Obama 82.9 percent; Romney 17.1 percent (Obama +7.0 since last week). Chance of winning Ohio forecast: Obama 80.5, Romney 19.5. Ohio now-cast: Obama 82.3, Romney 17.7; Ohio forecast:
    MAKE IT SIMPLE, NATE: In his latest post, Silver takes on the the right-leaning pundits who have become increasingly vocal about their skepticism concerning his methodology. “[T]he argument we’re making is exceedingly simple. Here it is: Obama’s ahead in Ohio. A somewhat-more-complicated version: Mr. Obama is leading in the polls of Ohio and other states that would suffice for him to win 270 electoral votes, and by a margin that has historically translated into victory a fairly high percentage of the time.” ]

    We know where Rupert gets his “data” and why, but it is pretty shocking that the ABC is getting it so badly wrong. And a single partisan opinionista? Fran Kelly had two on Friday; even Geraldine Doogue had two this morning on ABC-RN.

  • 25
    Posted Sunday, 4 November 2012 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    I always thought Rupert’s minions made up their own facts/news?

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