DEATH PENALTY: LEGALIZED LYNCHING?
New York City
Ira Glasser, in “Drug Busts = Jim Crow” [July 10], is right to see the drug war as rooted in a legacy of legalized racial discrimination; however, it is not unique in this regard. Just as the current drug war can be traced to Jim Crow, so is the modern system of capital punishment–thirty years old this year–a direct descendant of lynching.
The same post-Reconstruction era that saw mass social disenfranchisement of blacks also saw thousands murdered by lynch mobs. The decline of lynching in the early 1900s coincided with a rise in state executions, along starkly racist lines. (In Virginia, for example, between 1908 and 1930, blacks represented all but seventeen of the 148 people killed in the electric chair.) Today, minorities are still the majority on death row: Of the 3,370 people awaiting execution, 42 percent are black, 10 percent are Latino–and 80 percent were convicted of crimes where the victim was white.
As Glasser points out, the drug war strips African-Americans of their humanity by “removing them from civil society and then denying them the right to vote while using their bodies to enhance white political power.” The death penalty, long favored by politicians running for office, represents the most violent fulfillment of this logic.
The Campaign to End the Death Penalty
WHY OH WHY, OHIO?
I was glad to see Andrew Gumbel’s “The Coming Ballot Meltdown” [July 17/24]. It’s about time the media unearthed the truth about our voting system: It has become one more victim of the corrupt Administration in power. I am watching democracy going down the drain little by little. Without the power of our votes, we the people are sheep in the grip of wolves.
Lucas County, Ohio
I was one of more than 900 people in Lucas County whose right to vote was contested in 2004. Six days before the election I received an official form from the County Election Board stating that a person I had never met, who lived miles away in a different town, was contesting my right to vote. Most of the contested voters had downtown addresses–more likely to be Democratic and minority. All 900 challenges were made, I understand, by six members of the Lucas County Republican Party–of which Bernadette Noe was then president as well as being president of the Lucas County Board of Elections (conflict of interest, anyone?). The court threw out the challenges on a technicality three days before the election. But I wonder how many people were intimidated into giving up their right to vote.
ALICE A. FRYE
There is little I disagree with in Andrew Gumbel’s excellent article. What is troublesome, however, is that one might conclude that the Ohio electoral system is so dominated by antidemocratic elements that there is no point struggling to reform it. If you ask whether the majority of Ohio voters are aware of the problems, angry about them, willing to act and organized, the answer would be no. But if you ask if it is possible for people to see what is wrong and to find ways to protect the vote and fix the system, I think the answer can be yes. I have helped lead a grassroots electoral movement in the greater Cleveland area since 2003 and can attest to the large number of people who get involved if they believe they can make a difference.
Andrew Gumbel says that the argument that Kerry was robbed of the vote in Ohio is “almost certainly a stretch.” I urge him to read Steven F. Freeman and Joel Bleifuss’s Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? The short answer is, yes.
Be thankful for voter fraud. Otherwise, we have to accept the odious conclusion that the American people voted into office a man who can barely read a teleprompter. If the American people did this to themselves, our democracy is on a downward trajectory. The only ray of hope is that voter fraud, not human judgment, produced this travesty.
DENNIS M. CLAUSEN
Andrew Gumbel is dead wrong when he asserts there is no firm evidence that the GOP stole the 2004 presidential election in Ohio. Gumbel states, “Bush’s official margin of victory of 120,000-odd votes is just too big to be explained away with any confidence.”
Gumbel simply didn’t do the reporting. But others, including myself, Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman, have, and in our upcoming New Press book, What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election, we show how, conservatively, 150,000 votes were taken from Kerry.
We include nearly 150 documents and analyses to show exactly how Republicans purged 200,000 likely Democratic voters, disenfranchised additional tens of thousands of these same voters on election day, did not count nearly 100,000 “machine rejected” ballots, disqualified tens of thousands more votes and, yes, did much of this under direct orders from a partisan Republican secretary of state, J. Kenneth Blackwell. We also show how Republicans added nearly 50,000 fraudulent votes to Bush’s totals in rural GOP strongholds, using tactics ranging from old-fashioned ballot-box stuffing to computer fraud.
We have been investigating this election since November 2004. We initially used the discovery process in an election challenge lawsuit–where evidence standards are higher than in the media–and are the first people to look at the actual ballots from these Republican districts where vote-count fraud occurred, where if the certified results are true, you find anomalies like the 10,000-plus people who voted for gay marriage and to re-elect Bush, or the final hundreds of paper ballots cast in multiple precincts all voting for Bush–without a single vote for Kerry.
This is the evidence that Gumbel’s reporting did not reach, but that he dismisses. The Nation does not have to jump on the bandwagon trashing those who have investigated the 2004 Ohio election. The Rolling Stone article by R.F.K. Jr. was prompted by our work, which, unlike Rolling Stone, blames the Democrats as much as the Republicans for not protecting their party members’ voting rights and insisting all votes be counted. Unless that lesson is learned, we can look forward to more elections like 2004 in Ohio: where activists are sent in at the last minute to help while the GOP has spent months targeting every aspect of the process to tilt the field in their favor.
Fitrakis, Wasserman and Rosenfeld have been relentless in identifying problems with the 2004 presidential election in Ohio, for which they deserve credit. Where they fall down is in the evaluation of their data. Their assumptions–about the exit polling, about the supposed purging of Democratic votes and the supposed addition of fraudulent Republican ones–have been fueled at every turn by a fierce partisan desire to see George W. Bush as an illegitimate President. That, in turn, has tainted their analysis.
The most complete rebuttal of their assertions has been made, on more than one occasion, by Farhad Manjoo of Salon. On the exit polling question, professional pollster Mark Blumenthal of mysterypollster.com has done the best job of separating myth from reality and explaining why an exit poll favoring Kerry does not equal a Kerry victory. Space does not permit a full rundown of their arguments, but here are a couple of questions the stolen-election theorists find difficult to answer:
First, how do they account for the fact that many, if not most, Democratic field volunteers in Ohio–the ones closest to the ground–came away feeling they were out-organized by the Republicans and had no real difficulty believing that Bush had won?
Second, if the election was really stolen, how was it done? Since Ohio’s eighty-eight counties all conducted their own mini-elections, and since there was broad statistical consistency in the results across the state, what we’re talking about is as many as eighty-eight separate, coordinated conspiracies. Foul play on such a scale couldn’t be achieved with electronic voting machines, because all but a handful of Ohio counties were still using old-fashioned lever machines and punch cards. We’re talking about a secret conspiracy involving hundreds if not thousands of people, in a state where the vote was scrutinized like nowhere before. Such a scenario doesn’t pass the smell test.
The really shocking lesson of Ohio in 2004 is not that it was an exceptionally dirty election with a singularly aberrant outcome. The lesson is that this is how dirty US elections always are, especially in a close, high-stakes race in a state where one party is in control. The only way to press for meaningful reform is for rank-and-file Democrats to make common cause with rank-and-file Republicans and rail against a corrupt system. Those who insist on Bush’s illegitimacy without the evidence to support such an incendiary allegation merely condemn themselves to marginalization and make it all too easy for a political class uninterested in fair or transparent elections to dismiss the entire reform movement as crackpots.
In Andrew Gumbel’s July 17/24 “The Coming Ballot Meltdown,” the cost of a vote recount in Ohio was reported to have risen from $100 per precinct to $500. The cost actually rose from $10 to $50.