No proof of black vote suppression in Y’town

By David Skolnick

The tales of the 2004 presidential election get taller as time goes on.

There were plenty of problems with the election that are worthy of review and examination — and have been reviewed and examined a number of times — so they aren’t repeated this November and in future elections.

Because of that, there’s no need to start making up new ones and reporting them as facts.

But that’s what The New York Times did.

I expect more from The Times. It was the newspaper my grandfather trusted when I was a kid growing up in New York. It was the newspaper I read religiously as a child.

Apparently the “Old Gray Lady” ain’t what she used to be.

In an “editorial observer” column earlier this week, Adam Cohen made an outrageous and completely unsubstantiated claim about thousands of blacks in Youngstown denied the right to vote during the 2004 presidential election.

“Many voters [in Columbus] and in other urban areas — including Toledo and Youngstown — left their overcrowded polling places in disgust, or because they could not wait any longer, without casting a ballot,” wrote Cohen, the paper’s assistant editorial page editor and a Harvard Law School graduate.

“At a postelection hearing, a Youngstown pastor estimated that 8,000 black voters there did not cast ballots because of a machine shortage,” he wrote.

The column is about long lines at certain polling locations in Ohio in 2004. It’s a column about the suppression of votes by blacks and students that helped President Bush win the election four years ago. The piece focuses on Ohio, a presidential swing state.

Cohen also praises Jennifer Brunner as “Ohio’s dynamic new secretary of state” for “taking laudable steps to avoid a rerun of 2004.”

[Not wanting to pass up an opportunity, Brunner sent the article via e-mail to her supporters with a link to make a contribution to her campaign at the bottom.]

Mahoning County had numerous problems during the 2004 election.

Human, computer errors

Problems in 16 precincts caused the results in the county to be held up for about three hours as election employees checked the machines’ tallies. The problems were a combination of human and computer errors.

Some machines malfunctioned or had other problems, and some poll workers made mistakes because they were overwhelmed by the turnout and/or were unfamiliar with how to properly use the electronic voting machines.

There were about 20 to 30 machines that had to be recalibrated because some votes for a candidate were being counted for that candidate’s opponent.

Also about a dozen machines had to be reset because they froze.

Election officials said if the machine incorrectly marked a person’s ballot the voter could easily see the mistake. When a vote is cast for a candidate, that person’s name is lit up in bright blue and the name comes up as a review of the vote before it’s finalized.

That’s not to say that some machines counted ballots for a candidate’s opponent that went undetected by voters. I’m sure that happened.

Also, the inability of poll workers to tally the final vote caused other problems. For example, a candidate in 2004 received minus 25 million votes at a precinct.

There were numerous investigations of voting issues in Ohio during the 2004 election. There were many problems with how the state ran that election. But investigation after investigation never showed any evidence of voter suppression in Mahoning County in 2004.

Despite a lack of evidence about voter suppression in the county, Cohen wrote matter-of-factly that it happened.

Black vote

There were 57,495 registered voters in Youngstown in 2004. The population of the city is about 45 percent black. Because it’s so easy to register to vote, it would be fair to say 45 percent of the city voters in 2004 were black; 25,873 people.

According to the statement in The Times article, that would mean about one out of every three black voters in the city failed to vote solely because there weren’t enough machines in their precincts.

As for turning away voters, three precincts in the county, including two in Youngstown, stayed open late — the last one shut down at 9:15 p.m. — to make sure everyone who was in line when the polls closed at 7:30 p.m. had a chance to cast a ballot.

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