by Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman
April 16, 2007
Ohio's Bob "Ballots for Bush" Bennett, an essential player in putting George W. Bush back in the White House in 2004, is no long chair of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. His milestone resignation leaves a legacy of scandal, recrimination, massive voter purges, felony convictions and a pivotal role in a stolen presidential election.
Bennett has quit in a signature cloud of graceless accusations and cheap shots at Jennifer Brunner, Ohio's newly elected Secretary of State, who asked him to resign along with the rest of the Cleveland election authority. His forced departure marks the biggest landmark yet in the unraveling theft of the presidential elections in Ohio 2004.
Bennett remains chair of the Ohio Republican Party. In 2004 he was apparently asked by White House consigliere Karl Rove to stay on at the Cuyahoga BOE to help guarantee Bush's second term. Cleveland is Ohio's biggest and most Democratic urban center. A massive sweep there by John Kerry was widely expected to have given him the White House. It was Bennett's job to mute that margin, and apparently that's exactly what he did.
In a report issued December 7, 2004, the Greater Cleveland Voter Registration Coalition (GCVRC) reported that in addition to the purge of registered voters, some 3.5% of those applying for new registrations were never even entered on the rolls by Bennett's BOE, or were entered incorrectly, which would result in disenfranchisement of those who had just tried to become new voters. Additionally, the GCVRC estimated that "over 10,000 voters in Cuyahoga County would be compromised because of these clerical errors."
Bennett refused to respond to the report's initial conclusions. When the study became public, BOE Executive Director Michael Vu accused the study coordinator of "inciting panic." Vu did not respond to GCVRC's request for the reinstatement of 303 voter registrations where there was direct evidence that they had been wrongly cancelled.
In Brunner's formal complaint against Bennett she cited the fact that Bennett's BOE did nothing when an estimated 10,000 voters were thrown off the voting roll by a Diebold voter registration computer glitch.
Also, Bennett's BOE rejected 262 properly registered voters included on its own list as of October 22. They incorrectly listed 183 as not registered and 79 as no signatures. "The Board did not contest our data," said the GCVRC, "but said again it was just a small percentage due to human error, and then proceeded to certify the entire Cuyahoga County vote even though they thereby knowingly possibly disenfranchised 463 individuals."
Parallel purges were conducted by Republican-controlled boards of election in Hamilton County (Cincinnati) where some 105,000 voters were purged from the rolls, and in Lucas County (Toledo), where some 28,000 were purged in an unprecedented move in late August 2004. These remain the only three counties in the state known to have conducted massive registration purges prior to the 2004 election. The three mass urban purges decimated the rolls in heavily Democratic areas. Since then, another 170,000 voters have been purged from the rolls in Franklin County, primarily in the heavily Democratic Columbus precincts. Many rural Republican counties, like Miami, practice a "no-purge" policy.
From his post at the helm of both the Ohio GOP and the Cuyahoga BOE, Bennett was at the center of the purges. Many of the 300,000-plus purged voters reported that they never received notice that their voting rights had been cancelled. Should the general 80% pro-Democratic inner city margins have prevailed for all three purged lists, the net loss to the Kerry camp could have been in the range of 100,000 votes.
In addition to the purges, Bennett was also at the center of the election challenges to college students in Democratic enclaves.
Bennett is infamous for far more than massive voter purges. Under his supervision, a legally mandated recount of the 2004 presidential vote was illegally manipulated. Ohio law says precincts must be chosen at random for hand counting as part of the recount process. But two Cuyahoga BOE employees have been convicted of a felony and a misdemeanor each, and have each been sentenced to eighteen months in prison for what prosecutors have called "rigging" the recount.
Bennett was also instrumental in the purchase of some $20 million in Diebold voting machines for 2006 statewide elections. Election protection activists vehemently opposed the purchase, as seen in a nationally televised HBO special, "Hacking Democracy." Under Bennett and Cuyahoga BOE Executive Director Michael Vu, the machines malfunctioned in Ohio's 2006 primary, with vote count reporting delayed for five days.
Long-time election activist Adele Eisner characterizes Bennett's reign at the Cuyahoga BOE as a "culture with fear." Among other things, Bennett chose to disregard long-standing laws requiring that election results be posted at the precinct level, a decision backed by Ohio's former Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell.