Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Greg Palast On Spoilage

To me, the number one problem with our electoral system is the fact that hundreds of thousands of people take the time to go to the polls on election day but for various reasons, their votes aren't counted.

Greg Palast ( is the Paul Revere of spoilage. He warned us four years ago, and he hasn't let up since.

On November 12th, Palast wrote this extraordinary article: Kerry Won Just Count The Ballots At The Back Of the Bus. Here are some excerpts:

American democracy has a dark little secret. In a typical presidential election, two million ballots are simply chucked in the garbage, marked "spoiled" and not counted. A dive into the electoral dumpster reveals something special about these votes left to rot. In a careful county-by-county, precinct-by-precinct analysis of the Florida 2000 race, the US Civil Rights Commission discovered that 54% of the votes in the spoilage bin were cast by African-Americans.

Ohio Republicans, simultaneously in charge of both the Bush-Cheney get-out-the-vote drive and the state's vote-counting rules, doggedly and systematically insured the spoilage pile would be as high as the White House. Vote spoilage comes in two flavors. There are "overvotes" -- too many punches in the cards, and "undervotes." Here we find the hanging, dimpled and "pregnant" chads created by old, dysfunctional punch card machines, in which the bit of paper covering the hole doesn't fall out, but hangs on.

Whose chads are left hanging? In Florida in 2000 federal investigators determined that Black voters' ballots spoiled 900% more often than white voters, mainly due to punch card error. Ohio Republicans found those racial odds quite attractive. The state was the only one of fifty to refuse to eliminate or fix these vote-eating machines, even in the face of a lawsuit by the ACLU.

Apparently, the Ohio Republicans like what the ACLU found. The civil rights group's expert testimony concluded that Ohio's cussed insistence on forcing 73% of its electorate to use punch card machines had an "overwhelming" racial bias, voiding votes mostly in Black precincts. Blackwell doesn't disagree; and he hopes to fix the machinery … sometime after George Bush's next inauguration. In the meantime, the state's Attorney General Jim Petro, a Republican, strategically postponed the trial date of the ACLU case until after the election.

Fixing a punch card machine is cheap and easy. If Ohio simply placed a card-reading machine in each polling station, as Michigan did this year, voters could have checked to ensure their vote would tally. If not, they would have gotten another card. Blackwell knows that. He also knows that if those reading machines had been installed, almost all the 93,000 spoiled votes, overwhelmingly Democratic, would have closed the gap on George Bush's lead of 136,000 votes.

To the victors go the spoils of electoral class war. As Ohio's politically ambitious Secretary of State brags on his own website, "Last time I checked, Katherine Harris wasn't in a soup line, she's in Congress."


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