|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
Florida is the only state that pays a private company that promises to “cleanse” voter rolls.The state signed in 1998 a $4 million contract with DBT Online, since merged into ChoicePoint, of Atlanta. The creation of the scrub list, called the central voter file, was mandated by a 1998 state voter fraud law, which followed a tumultuous year that saw Miami’s mayor removed after voter fraud in the election, with dead people discovered to have cast ballots. The voter fraud law required all 67 counties to purge voter registries of duplicate registrations, deceased voters and felons, many of whom, but not all, are barred from voting in Florida.
In the process, however, the list invariably targets a minority population in Florida, where 31 percent of all black men cannot vote because of a ban on felons. In compiling a list by looking at felons from other states, Florida could, in the process, single out citizens who committed felons in other states but, after serving their time or successfully petitioning the courts, had their voting rights returned to them. According to Florida law, felons can vote once their voting rights have been reinstated.
ChoicePoint spokesman Martin Fagan concedes his company’s error in passing on the bogus list from Texas. (“I guess that’s a little bit embarrassing in light of the election,” he says.) He defends the company’s overall performance, however, dismissing the errors in 8,000 names as “a minor glitch — less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the electorate” (though the total equals 15 times Gov. George W. Bush’s claimed lead over Gore). But he added that ChoicePoint is responsible only for turning over its raw list, which is then up to Florida officials to test and correct.
Last year, DBT Online, with which ChoicePoint would soon merge, received the unprecedented contract from the state of Florida to “cleanse” registration lists of ineligible voters — using information gathering and matching criteria it has refused to disclose, even to local election officials in Florida.
Atlanta’s ChoicePoint, a highflying dot-com specializing in sales of personal information gleaned from its database of 4 billion public and not-so-public records, has come under fire for misuse of private data from government computers. In January, the state of Pennsylvania terminated a contract with ChoicePoint after discovering the firm had sold citizens’ personal profiles to unauthorized individuals.
Fagan says many errors could have been eliminated by matching the Social Security numbers of ex-felons on DBT lists to the Social Security numbers on voter registries. However, Florida’s counties have Social Security numbers on only a fraction of their voter records. So with those two problems — Social Security numbers missing in both the DBT’s records and the counties’ records — that fail-safe check simply did not exist.
Florida is the only state in the nation to contract the first stage of removal of voting rights to a private company. And ChoicePoint has big plans. “Given the outcome of our work in Florida,” says Fagan, “and with a new president in place, we think our services will expand across the country.”
Especially if that president is named “Bush.” ChoicePoint’s board and executive roster are packed with Republican stars, including billionaire Ken Langone, a company director who was chairman of the fund-raising committee for New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s aborted run against Hillary Rodham Clinton. Langone is joined at ChoicePoint by another Giuliani associate, former New York Police Commissioner Howard Safir. And Republican power lobbyist and former congressman Vin Weber lobbies for ChoicePoint in Washington. Just before his death in 1998, Rick Rozar, president of a Choicepoint company, CDB Infotek, donated $100,000 to the Republican Party.
In Florida, the state’s Democratic Party filed a lawsuit on Sunday morning that would force the Republican-led government to extend early voting in South Florida after complaints that extremely long lines on Saturday had prevented some people from casting their ballots. The Republican-controlled Legislature cut back early voting, which ended Saturday, from 14 days to eight.
The lawsuit was followed by a chaotic day in the Democratic stronghold of Miami-Dade County, which opened one of its election offices for two hours to accept completed absentee ballots and then shut down only to reopen again on Sunday afternoon. Three counties said they would open again on Monday, but Democratic lawyers will continue to argue in court that in-person early voting should continue through Tuesday in Broward County.
In Ohio, Republican election officials will go to court on Monday to defend an 11th-hour directive to local election officials that critics say could invalidate thousands of provisional ballots by forcing voters to attest to the type of identification they provide.
Together, the pre-election legal skirmishes were a potential preview of the clashes that could emerge in as many as a half-dozen swing states over Tuesday’s voting. The closeness of the races in those states has intensified the stakes of voter turnout, smooth operations at polling places, ballot problems and recounts.
In the battles, Republicans are mobilizing to defend against what they say is the potential for voter fraud, and Democrats are preparing to protect against what they say are efforts to suppress voting rights.
“The larger issue, in my view, is the scale of the effort that is required to have Election Day run smoothly,” said Robert Bauer, the chief counsel for Mr. Obama’s campaign. “Any number of things can go wrong, not by anybody’s fault or intention, but we are fully prepared and so, we believe, are election officials around the country.”
Thanks to our bizarre Electoral College voting system, if one political party wants to steal the election they don't need to deploy teams all around the country to stuff ballot boxes, intimidate voters, and rig electronic voting machines. They just need to set-up shop in one or a few of those swing states – like Florida and Ohio – kick a couple thousand voters off the rolls, disqualify a few more thousand voters on Election Day by giving them wrong information, maybe toggle a few electronic voting machines, and then "Voila!" The election is taken care of. Two out of the last three elections have been determined in this way. And it appears this election will be heavily influenced by voter purges, too.
As pollster Nate Silver with the New York Times' 538 Blog projects, there's a 50/50 chance Ohio will determine who the next president is – just like in 2004. Cue the new Republican Secretary of State, Jon Husted, who's been working hard to restrict Ohio voters' access to the polls. Hundreds of thousands of Ohioans – particularly minorities – took advantage of early voting in 2008 to elect President Obama. So, Husted cut down on those early voting hours. And now the courts have given Husted a new tool to restrict the vote. On Wednesday, a panel of three Conservative Justices (all appointed by George W. Bush or his dad) ruled in favor of Secretary of State Husted, paving the way for massive voter disenfranchisement in the key swing state.
According to the ruling, voters who are told by poll workers to vote at the wrong precinct and then do so, lose their right to have their votes counted. A previous court ruling ordered that voters who are misled by poll workers still have a right to have their vote counted, but that's now been overturned.
We already know that the Romney campaign has sent out flyers to prospective ballot watchers in Wisconsin giving them misleading information to tell voters. Now, thanks to this court ruling, the Romney campaign can legally have its poll watchers in Ohio send voters to the wrong polling places to make sure their votes aren't counted. For the second time in three elections, Ohio could be stolen right in front of all of our eyes.
Or the theft might happen in Florida again. Just like in 2000, Republican election officials are again purging tens of thousands of voters off the rolls. As the Miami Herald reported on these purge lists, "Hispanic, Democratic, and independent-minded voters are the most likely to be targeted...Whites and Republicans are disproportionately the least-likely to face the threat of removal."
On top of that, already discrepancies are being reported with early-vote tallies on Florida's electronic voting machines. In one Florida voting precinct, more than a thousand early votes were either "lost" or "miscounted." Considering that George W. Bush "officially" won the state by 538 votes, these discrepancies could mean the difference in the election.
A close national election, like everyone is expecting this year, translates to an even closer election in the states where all it will take is a few thousand voters to flip an election.
It is way too easy to steal an election in America. Our Electoral College allows just one or two states to swing a Presidential election every year. The privatization of the vote with electronic voting machines has handed over the beating heart of our democracy – the vote - to corporate interests who then handle it in secret. And the lack of an explicit federal "right to vote" for all eligible Americans has made voter suppression efforts much easier and harder to prosecute or prevent.