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Democracy & Voting - Ohio 2004 as Lesson in What Can Go Wrong


Updated June 08, 2006
Most US citizens have never been refused or purposely deterred from exercising their rights to vote. We acknowledge that it's un-American....but unimaginable. We think it must be rare and hardly worth all the fuss. Nothing more than a few argumentative types being nit-picky...

But that's not the case. Millions of US citizens were denied their sacred right to vote in recent years, and millions more were thwarted in having their vote accurately counted.

The ability to vote is both linchpin and litmus test of true democracy. Americans hailed the first democratic vote in Iraq as a hopeful sign of great progress toward freedom for all Iraqis. The UN sends observers around the world to ensure that elections are free and fair. Nobel Peace Prize winner, former President Jimmy Carter has refereed elections in a myriad of countries.

And yet, here in the US, the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections were tainted with thousands of verified violations of citizens' rights to participate in democracy. Millions of registered voters were denied the ability to freely and fairly cast votes for their choices, and have those votes accurately counted.

States the January 5, 2005 102-page House Judiciary Committee Democratic Staff report, "The right to vote is our most cherished democratic right and, as such, is strongly protected under the Constitution. Both the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the 14th Amendment operate to protect our citizen's right to vote for the candidate of their choice.

In the seminal voting rights case of Reynolds v. Sims, the Supreme Court held that 'the right to vote freely for the candidate of one's choice is of the essence of a democratic society, and any restriction on that right strikes at the heart of representative government.'

The Court observed that,'undeniably, the Constitution of the United States protects the right of all qualified citizens to vote, in state as well as in federal elections. A consistent line of decisions by this Court....repeatedly recognized that all qualified voters have a constitutionally protected right to vote...and to have their votes counted.' "

This Report of the House Judiciary Committee Democratic Staff, "Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio," explains in comprehensive detail the irregularities, intimidation and purposeful misinformation that occurred before and on the November 2, 2004 election in Ohio.

Although 2004 election irregularities also allegedly occurred in New Mexico, Florida, Nevada, Colorado and other states, "What Went Wrong in Ohio" perfectly exemplifies what currently needs to be fixed in the US voting system to ensure free and fair elections in our country.

As an example of US democracy willfully derailed, this article highlights Congressional findings of the 2004 presidential election in Ohio for two main area of voting rights, access to voting, and accurate recording and counting of votes.

VOTING RIGHTS VIOLATIONS: Fair and Equal Access to Voting

- Voting machines were often allocated in a significantly uneven manner among Republican and Democratic wards. For example, in Franklin County, 27 of 30 wards with the most machines per registered voters were located in heavily Republican areas, while six of seven wards with the fewest machines were in heavily Democratic areas. This occurred, in part, because machines were allocated out of major cities/urban areas and to suburban locales.

As a result, the wait to vote in most urban areas was much longer...sometimes up to ten hours... than in wealthier neighborhoods. One ward had one machine per thousand voters, while the adjacent suburban ward had only one per 184 voters. And yet, a truckload of 75 voting machines in Franklin County was never put into use on Election Day.

Additionally, despite predictions of record voter turnout, a number of polling places in Columbus were moved from large locations with comfortable waiting areas, to smaller locations where voters were required to wait for hours in the rain.

At Mt. Vernon Nazarene University, considered a conservative campus, there were ample voting machines and no lines. In contrast, at Kenyon College, only five miles away, the sole polling place had two machines for 1,300 registered voters.

A Kenyon college student testified to Congress that voters were "compelled to stand outside in the rain, through a hot gymnasium in crowded, narrow hallways." He states that "many voters became overheated and hungry...One girl actually fainted and was forced to leave the line." Others left out of exasperation or lack of time.

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