Professor Testifies to Congress
After traveling around the world as a political adviser, Associate Professor of Politics Eve Sandberg has had plenty of experience with the intricacies of the democratic process. Nothing she had witnessed in her extensive travels, however, prepared her for the unseemly partisan conduct she observed during the 2004 and 2006 elections in Ohio.
Last Wednesday, March 7, Sandberg had an opportunity to testify before the House Judiciary Committee about her experiences working the polls in a congressional hearing entitled “Protecting the Right to Vote: Election Deception and Irregularities in Recent Federal Elections.” Despite her extensive experience in academia, Sandberg said, “I wasn’t called here because I was an academic…I was positioned to both see and hear [many different aspects of both elections.]”
“Because they were focusing on deception and irregularities, they wanted a person on the ground from one of the battleground states,” Sandberg said.
“[Former Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell] brought no honor to his party in the way he behaved,” Sandberg said of the disenfranchisement she witnessed under Republican Blackwell’s tenure.
In Ohio, the Secretary of State also serves as the chief elections officer.
Though Sandberg reported that Ohio Republicans were very upset with her testimony, disregarding it as “a conspiracy theory,” she insisted that the fault lies exclusively with the party’s leadership in the state, not the Republican Party as a whole.
Sandberg, along with several other Oberlin professors, served as Kerry Democratic Party Challengers during Election Day 2004 in a suburban area of Ohio. Their duties were to facilitate and monitor fair voting practices. However, as Sandberg testified, the entire election process was riddled with state leadership’s unfair practices targeted specifically at those likely to vote for democratic candidates.
“[T]he registration process, the actual voting process and the checks and balance procedures that are supposed to occur with bipartisan participation after any election [had obstacles intended to artificially inflate Republican turnout,]” said Sandberg in her testimony.
Oberlin students may remember the confusion surrounding what sort of identification would be necessary to vote in the recent presidential election; the confusion centered around whether a voter’s identification needed to include his or her current address. Because there were allegations that County Boards of Election were interpreting the same law in different ways, many groups sought clarification from Blackwell’s office. Groups representing the homeless and labor interests filed suit. Just prior to the 2004 election, an out-of-court settlement resulted in a law that allows for state-issued identifications to feature an out-dated address, but otherwise requires that the current address appear on the identification.
As Sandberg pointed out in her testimony, such a rule disenfranchises not only college students, but also the poor and the elderly, who are less likely to have driver’s licenses than the rest of the population.
On the day of the 2004 election, Sandberg was in contact with English Professor Sandra Zagarell, another Kerry Democratic Party Challenger who was observing a polling station in Oberlin. Zagarell quickly realized that there was a serious lack of voting machines at her station, resulting in five-hour lines. She and Sandberg could not get through to the Secretary of State’s office by phone.
When Sandberg related the problem to the Bush Republican Party Challenger at her suburban station, where voters had only to wait for one or two other people at a time, he told her that the Republican leadership had given its workers a special number and was able to reach Blackwell’s office immediately. Sandberg once again pointed out that both she and her counterpart were eager to make the elections fair, and he attempted to right the problem even though doing so would increase the Democratic vote. Still, she told Congress, “American citizens who were Democrats could not expect equal treatment under the law.”
Sandberg was happy to report that Senator Barack Obama has co-authored legislation to prevent such irregularities from recurring. Though Sandberg is a Democrat, she insists that these efforts must be bipartisan. As she stated in her testimony, “Acknowledging the flaws in our election processes and fixing our electoral system is a job that is in the interest of all Americans, both Democrat and Republican.”