Monday, December 27, 2004

Falling Chads, Not Hanging Ones, Affect Ohio Recount

Falling Chads, Not Hanging Ones, Affect Ohio Recount
Officials Cite Them To Explain Increased Totals For Bush And Kerry

CINCINNATI -- Hanging chads that came loose when punch-card ballots were handled again or rerun through tallying machines explain most of the additional votes President Bush and Democrat John Kerry are picking up in Ohio's recount, election officials said Friday.

With 65 of Ohio's 88 counties reporting final recounts to The Associated Press on Friday, including the large urban counties of Cuyahoga, Hamilton and Franklin, Bush has gained 395 votes and Kerry has gained 554 votes.

The running tally accounts for 4.4 million votes cast, or about 74 percent of the total certified vote from the Nov. 2 election.

Neither campaign expects the recount to change the outcome. Bush won Ohio's 20 electoral votes by a margin of about 119,000.

Franklin and Cuyahoga counties were among the many reporting little or no change from the recount. In Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland, Bush lost six votes while Democrat Kerry gained 17, which election workers attribute to hanging chads and worker error.

The largest change was in Hamilton County, which includes metropolitan Cincinnati, where Bush gained 212 votes and Kerry 180. Kerry also picked up 125 votes in Mahoning County.

The biggest loss to date was for Bush in Knox County, where he dropped 13 votes. Kerry lost 8 votes in the central Ohio county.

Pamela Swafford, deputy elections director in Hamilton County, attributed the differences to chads falling out of punch-card ballots during re-handling.

Observers from the Bush, Kerry and third-party campaigns have been watching as teams that each include Democratic and Republican election workers inspected ballots with loose chads to determine voter intent.

"Just barely touching them, they pop, they come out," Swafford said. "That's not unusual. When you're talking about that many ballots, that's bound to happen."

Libertarian and Green party presidential candidates who received less than 0.3 percent of the Ohio vote requested the statewide recount and paid $113,600 for it, saying they were concerned about reports of election irregularities and wanted to ensure that all votes were counted.

The Kerry campaign supports the recount, while Republicans have called it a waste of time.

Ohio law requires an election board to manually recount a randomly selected 3 percent of ballots. If the totals match certified results for those precincts, all the county's votes are then machine-counted. If the hand count is off, a county must manually recount all its ballots.

Election officials said the 3 percent hand-counts matched in virtually all the recounts done so far.

Election officials also attributed changes to voter error in filling out paper ballots for optical-scan voting machines, and election worker error in hand-recounting of stacks of ballots.

A spokesman for the third-party candidates said in a statement Friday that elections officials were obstructing the recount, including charges that observers were told they couldn't ask questions and an allegation of voting machine tampering.

"Ohio's partisan vote-counter and Secretary of State, Kenneth Blackwell, presided over the most error-ridden election in the country and he is now intent on preventing the people of Ohio from scrutinizing those results," Blair Bobier said.

A messages seeking comment was left with a Blackwell spokesman. A message also was left for the director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, which Bobier accused of preselecting the precincts to be recounted rather than choosing them at random.

In Ashland County in northern Ohio, Bush gained 38 votes and Kerry 20 because election workers examined optical scan ballots by hand that weren't read by the machines, elections director Kathy Howman said. The ovals on those ballots were filled in with ink instead of the required pencil.

"Most of these were absentee ballots, and maybe people did not read the directions," Howman said. "But the voter intent was clear, so the board decided to count those ballots."

The recount revealed other trends in the many counties with little or no change.

Bush gained one vote in Delaware County, also likely due to a hanging chad, elections director Janet Brenneman said, making his final victory there 53,143-27,048.

The county had 632 ballots with no vote for the office of president and another 89 where two or more candidates were punched, invalidating the vote.

"If they don't like any of the candidates, they'll punch them all out so that no one can mess with their ballot," Brenneman said.

Elections officials in two counties where the vote totals were unchanged by the recount said they hope it shows the reliability of Ohio's election procedures, despite criticism by activists over reports of voting machine shortages and lines at polling places in some areas.

"We were just thrilled that there were no discrepancies. Actually, the punch-card system is a pretty good system," said Donna Moore, director of the Noble County Board of Elections in Caldwell. Bush's total stayed at 3,841 and Kerry's at 2,654 after the recount.

"We're feeling pretty proud of ourselves, to prove to some of these people how wrong they were," said Margaret Hansen, director of the Monroe County Board of Elections in Woodsfield. Her county's recount left the totals unchanged for both major-party candidates, with Bush at 3,424 and Kerry at 4,243.

Hansen said Friday night there was no basis for Bobier's claim that Monroe County refused to do a required full hand count. She said a machine failed on Tuesday, but it was replaced Wednesday after consulting with Blackwell's office and the recount was completed without incident.

Bobier said in a telephone interview he was not familiar with all the allegations in the statement he released.

"Those come from our observers, based on daily reports," he said.