Citizens' Alliance for Secure Elections
Dedicated to secure, reliable and voter verifiable elections in Ohio !

Urgent Action! Take Action Now

Old Glory

Who needs Florida’s Kathleen Harris when Ohio has J. Kenneth Blackwell?

Ohio Secretary of State Blackwell’s actions and inactions have deprived large numbers of Ohioans of the right to vote. Blackwell claims “we need an election system that assures every vote counts and every voice is heard …” (June 16, 2003). The truth is, many of his omissions and commissions work to disenfranchise the poor, the young, and minorities.

1) In the 2000 Presidential election, about 90,000 Ohioans were disenfranchised because of voting errors, including approximately 76,000 due to punch-card errors. The error rate was far higher in wards or counties with low-income people. For instance, the discard rate in the city of Cleveland was 1 in 25 vs. the wealthier suburbs with a discard rate of 1 in 50.

Blackwell knew all this after November 2000, and must have known that these high percentages of voter errors were considered “unacceptable” in a 2001 National Commission on Federal Election Reform report.

This July 29 and Sept. 2, citizen groups reminded him and told about the Los Angeles elections of 2001, in which intensive voter education and checking of punch-card ballots before counting halved the number of discarded votes. Yet he did nothing until this week, when growing public criticism forced him to promise at last a voter education campaign .

2) A nonpartisan Cleveland Coalition told Blackwell on July 29 that “many voters who thought they were registered have not received notification.” They asked him to inform voters so they could take timely action to prevent possible disenfranchisement. On Sept. 2, the issue was posed to his office as an emergency after a Cleveland Study began documenting that thousands of Ohio voters might be compromised.

Only in the wake of news articles and a letter-writing campaign did his office finally agreed to advise voters, one week before the registration deadline, that they had better check if they are registered, and re-register if necessary.

3) In an October 2002 Plain Dealer article, Blackwell acknowledged that public assistance agencies were not following their federally mandated obligation (PL 103-31) to notify all public assistance applicants that they could register to vote at that agency. Yet, instead of providing resources and technical assistance to agencies struggling with frozen or reduced state funding, Blackwell complained he was not given the means to fine them for non-compliance.

Since then, many such agencies have tried valiantly to provide some voter registration, but Blackwell has failed to monitor their efforts and provide resources so that the federal mandate, for which he is responsible, can be carried out.

4) Blackwell was sued because 21 Ohio counties were wrongly informing ex-felons that they had no right to vote. Blackwell’s office agreed on Sept. 3 to inform all ex-felons of their voting rights in time for the registration deadline but has now backed out of the agreement on a distorted technicality.

5) The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) mandated “Provisional Ballots” so voters whose eligibility is in doubt would be able to vote and later have their legitimacy verified. Blackwell promised on June 13, 2003 (HAVA State Plan) that his provisional ballot policies would be “weighted more towards inclusion … than challenges and exclusion” and would “…accommodate every voter who, for whatever reason, does not appear on the certified list of registered voters in any jurisdiction…”

Then, Sept. 16, 2004, Blackwell decreed that anyone showing up at the wrong precinct would be denied the right to vote (unless they found their way to the correct precinct). All very well for middle- or upper-class people, who could determine and drive to the correct precinct. But what about low-income voters, who are not listed correctly on the rolls, have two jobs to support their family, or kids in day care, or no car, or confusion about their polling place, or who can only show up very late? Thanks to Mr. Blackwell, they are out of luck!

Blackwell claims he is only following Ohio law, but federal law applies at least for federal votes. The Ohio League of Women Voters has roundly criticized his narrow and draconian interpretation of Ohio law. Many of these misdeeds disproportionately impact youth, minorities, and persons with low income, in part because they move more frequently than the rest of the population.

If you believe that elections should be credible and fair, let Blackwell know that his actions are un-American and unacceptable -- that he must immediately reverse his prejudicial deeds, make voter requirements truly inclusive, and provide serious education on voting rights and punch-card usage. Otherwise, come November, Ohio will surely be the Florida of 2004!

We’ve been warned. Do we have the will to act quickly?

Norman Robbins, MD, PhD
2936 Norwood Rd.
Shaker Heights, OH 44122
Tel: 216-767-1525
email: ([email protected])

(Robbins, a retired biomedical researcher and Emeritus Professor at Case Western Reserve University, received an MD from Harvard Medical School and a PhD in Biology from Rockefeller University. He is active with the non-partisan Greater Cleveland Voter Registration Coalition, and on the Steering Committee of the statewide Citizens’ Alliance for Secure Elections.)