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The 2004 presidential election: what happened in Ohio?

Some election activists in Ohio, the state whose electoral votes handed President G.W. Bush a second term, will tell you that the November 2004 election was stolen. Bush is not a legitimately elected president, in their opinion, and should be removed. Or, the election should be held again, or at least recounted fairly--this time, without any foul play.

The nonpartisan Greater Cleveland Voter Registration Coalition, an alliance of 53 affiliated organizations and hundreds of volunteers, which I help lead, takes the position that who really won is not our main concern. We are disturbed that so many things went wrong in Ohio, and see an urgent need to fix a broken electoral system--especially if major elections are to be decided by a tiny percentage of voters.

Our focus now is on that fix. Election reform is needed at the county, state, and federal levels and, if it is to be done right, requires the energy and commitment of as many people as were needed before the election. This will be a long process, and we can't afford to wait till 2008 to begin.

Every electoral system has problems, many say. It seemed like these elections went pretty smoothly. Not so, we say, not if you saw the problems we saw in our own backyard.

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Our coalition itemized 27 issues that need to be addressed. On the top of our list were: a registration and voting system that unfairly disenfranchised poor and less-educated citizens; vote suppression and intimidation in communities of color; wrong information or no information given to voters by Boards of Elections; poorly trained poll workers; registered voters' names entered incorrectly or missing altogether on the rolls, while other voters' names had mysteriously disappeared; provisional ballots rejected when voters were at the wrong precinct table in the same room as the correct table. Not to mention long lines, lack of enough working machines, misinformation given to former felons about their voting rights, lack of sufficient help for those for whom English is a second language and those with disabilities--the list goes on.

Indeed, the problems in Ohio that came to light in the hearings convened in January by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH), and Sen. Barbara Boxer, (D-CA) were enough to warrant holding up the Electoral College vote until they could be aired in a two-hour debate.

A nation that promotes itself as a bastion of democracy should make elections very easy for its citizens, and yet they seem to be getting more and more difficult.

There are a number of ways people can take action. Citizen advocacy groups can be formed in every county to monitor the actions of local boards of elections. Boards may be willing to meet with such groups to discuss voting-related issues. Statewide networks can be formed to see what changes need to be made at the state level, and what type of legislation is necessary to implement them. (Some friendly lawyers will be needed).

Changes are also required at the federal level. Rep. Conyers has asked for citizen input on HAVA (the Help America Vote Act); for more information, visit www.house.gov/conyers. And organizing work needs to continue in the unions (which did an unprecedented job of registering and educating their members and getting them out to vote.)

We need to be ready for the next elections with a fully registered, educated, and mobilized electorate that knows its rights. This can happen, but only if we set to work now.

Judy Gallo is a member of Women Speak Out for Peace and Justice, the Cleveland Branch of WILPF.
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Author:Gallo, Judy
Publication:Peace and Freedom
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2005
Words:604
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