Will Ken Blackwell find the ways to steal Ohio 2006 as he did in 2004?
The man who stole Ohio for George W. Bush in 2004 is now trying to steal it for himself in 2006. The question is: who will stop him, and will he also affect the balance of power in the U.S. Congress?
As election day approaches, Blackwell's dirty tricks sink ever deeper.
Blackwell is now using "push polls" made infamous by Karl Rove. True to form, child molestation charges are front and center. He has also escalated the mass disenfranchisement of Ohio voters, trashing the ballots of some 10 percent of absentee voters. He has eliminated the statewide ballot initiative meant to save workers rights and wages. He's even tried to strike the Democratic gubernatorial nominee from the ballot altogether. All of which could affect not only his race for governor, but key U.S. Senate and House races as well.
Blackwell is using Rove's notoriously deceptive push poll device to spread an unsubstantiated smear against his Democratic gubernatorial opponent, Ted Strickland. Push polls were rendered infamous when Rove used them in South Carolina to falsely suggest that Senator John McCain had fathered a mixed-race child. Often the impact of push polls is magnified by callers to talk shows that spread additional street rumors, as in the lie that McCain impregnated a black hooker. The reality in McCain's case: he had adopted a child from one of Mother Teresa's orphanages and prominently displayed her in his campaign literature.
In Strickland's case, the Free Press has obtained a statement from Barbara Mooney of Fremont, Ohio, describing in detail the phone call she received from the Blackwell for Governor campaign. On October 23, Mooney picked up the phone and heard: "This is a 45-second survey. Please answer yes or no."
Then came: "If you knew Ted Strickland had hired a child molester would you still vote for him?"
The electronic voice continued: "Are you going to vote for Ted Strickland?" and "Are you going to vote for Ken Blackwell?"
Mooney answered yes for Strickland, so the next question was "Are you black or white?" followed by "If you knew Ted Strickland had hired a child molester who had gone on to a playground and exposed himself to them, would you vote for him?"
A yes answer prompted: "Are you a Democrat?" and "Are you a Republican?"
The push poll then asked: "How old are you?" and "Are you male or female?"
The push poll then ended, identifying the Blackwell campaign as the party responsible for the "survey."
On Tuesday morning, October 24, the Columbus Dispatch confirmed Blackwell is using this push poll in Ohio. It reported that a former Strickland aide had committed a misdemeanor for public indecency, but his record had been expunged. There is no evidence Strickland knew of the expunged charge when the aide was later hired.
At the final October 16 Ohio gubernatorial debate, freshly scrubbed Republicans swarmed outside the Channel 10 studio in Columbus, chanting for Blackwell. Members of the Ohio State University campus-based young Republicans and fundamentalists gloated that Strickland's "child molester" scandal would elect Blackwell. In the televised debate, Blackwell tried to link Strickland to the North American Man-Boy Love Society.
The next day, The Dispatch revealed that when he was treasurer of Ohio, Blackwell had on his payroll a felon convicted of cocaine possession. The Dispatch said that when Blackwell learned of the conviction, he kept the felon on staff. Three months after leaving the treasurer's office, this same former Blackwell employee was sent to prison for four years for sexually abusing a young girl.
Blackwell attained national notoriety after serving as state co-chair of the Bush-Cheney Re-election Committee while also, as Ohio Secretary of State, running the dubious vote count that gave Bush a second White House term.
This year Blackwell will count the votes in his own race for governor, in the crucial U.S. Senate race between GOP incumbant Mike DeWine versus Congressman Sherrod Brown, and in a number of critical House races hotly contested for the first time in years.
As he does so, Blackwell is conducting the largest purge of voter rolls since the apartheid nightmare of the post-Reconstruction Jim Crow South.
Since 2000, under Blackwell's supervision, Boards of Elections in Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland and Toledo have eliminated some 500,000 voters from their registration rolls. Nearly all are in heavily Democratic urban areas. In a state where some 5.6 million people voted for president in 2004, this represents nearly 10 percent of the electorate. George W. Bush's alleged majority in Ohio 2004 was roughly 118,000 votes.
Skeptics claim Ohio's 88 county boards of elections are bipartisan, because each has two Democrats and two Republicans. But all appointments, and all tie votes, are controlled by the Republican secretary of state, meaning that all decisions by all Ohio BOEs are actually controlled by Blackwell.
Blackwell is now imposing restrictive voter ID requirements aimed at crippling his opponents. Passed by the Republican legislature, these strictures aim to eliminate from the 2006 vote count tens of thousands of mostly poor and black -- and thus mostly Democratic -- voters who cannot or will not obtain the required identification cards.
The Free Press has further learned that even at this early date, some 10 percent of absentee votes are being trashed by Blackwell's BOEs. Ohio's new "no-fault" rule allows anyone to vote absentee for this election, so absentee voting is estimated to increase 20-30 percent. Many Ohioans are opting for the absentee ballots to avoid electronic voting machines, which are notoriously vulnerable to tampering.
But Democratic sources in the Ohio Board of Elections have confirmed to the Free Press that about 10 percent of the absentee ballots cast so far are being rejected because of a technicality involving obscure driver's license numbers demanded on the ballot. Ohio driver's licenses contain two separate numbers: an 11-digit number above the photo, and a much smaller eight-character license number that begins with two alpha-numeric characters, followed by six numbers. It is the eight-character license number the BOEs demand on the absentee ballot. But many Ohio voters don't know that, and are using the wrong number -- and thus having their ballot invalidated. Absentee ballots cast in Ohio tend to be overwhelmingly Democratic.
This absentee vote purge echoes another Blackwell dirty trick: the 2004 trashing of thousands of provisional ballots on which voters had not included their birth date. There was no statutory requirement to include the birth date, and thousands of provisional voters (and election officials) were never informed of Blackwell's special requirement. But he thus eliminated large numbers of mostly Democratic provisional ballots, benefitting Bush -- a service he is now repeating for his own benefit with the absentee ballots.
Blackwell has also attempted to eliminate his Democratic rival from the ballot outright. Seizing on a residency technicality, Blackwell's attack has elicited widespread scorn, including a lead editorial in the New York Times. Thus far, Blackwell has lost a series of court battles. The Columbus Dispatch has reported that the woman who originally filed the complaint -- allegedly a Democrat who supports Blackwell -- has asked that it be withdrawn. It remains to be seen if Blackwell has defnitively given up the effort.
The GOP has already eliminated a statewide referendum on worker rights. Issue One would have rejected parts of the Ohio legislature's vicious anti-labor Senate Bill 7, and was expected to draw pro-worker voters to the polls. But Blackwell disqualified thousands of signatures from the ballot petition, then sabotaged attempts to bring in more. On October 20, the GOP-dominated Ohio Supreme Court killed Issue One altogether. Fittingly, it will appear on many Ohio ballots, but will not count.
Overall, Blackwell currently trails Strickland by 20 points and more in state polls. Ohio Democrats have begun to crow that Blackwell's defeat is a done deal, just as they celebrated John Kerry's "victory" in 2004.
But Blackwell's push polls, voter elimination campaigns and ballot attacks cannot be underestimated. At the very least, they could tip the balance in the state's hard-fought U.S. Senate and congressional races, any one of which could help determine whether the Democrats retake control of the Congress. Local pundits are already talking about a last-minute shift toward the Republicans, and bracing for thousands of alleged fundamentalist voters who will supposedly swarm the polls at the last minute.
In-depth studies of the 2004 ballots now cast serious doubt on the actual existence of such alleged voters, then or now. But unless Americans truly committed to tangible democracy are careful, J. Kenneth Blackwell just might find the ways to steal Ohio 2006, as he did in 2004.
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