Friday, January 19, 2007

Ohio County Rigged 2004 Recount

Prosecutor: Ohio County Rigged Recount
Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Three county elections workers conspired to avoid a more thorough recount of ballots in the 2004 presidential election, a prosecutor told jurors during opening statements of their trial Thursday.

Witnesses testified that, two days before a planned recount, selected ballots were counted so the result would be determined.

"The evidence will show that this recount was rigged, maybe not for political reasons, but rigged nonetheless," Prosecutor Kevin Baxter said. "They did this so they could spend a day rather than weeks or months" on the recount, he said.

Elections have fallen under greater scrutiny since the 2000 presidential election when recounts of paper ballots in Florida dragged on for weeks and the U.S. Supreme Court became involved.

Defense attorneys said in their opening statements that the workers in Cuyahoga County didn't do anything out of the ordinary.

"They just were doing it the way they were always doing it," said defense attorney Roger Synenberg, representing Kathleen Dreamer, a ballot manager.

Charged with various counts each of election misconduct or interference are Jacqueline Maiden, the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections' coordinator, who was the board's third-highest ranking employee when she was indicted last March; Rosie Grier, assistant manager of the board's ballot department; and Dreamer. The most serious charge faced by each is a felony that carries a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison, Baxter said.

Baxter made no claim about whether mishandling the recount could have affected the presidential election.

Ohio gave President Bush the electoral votes he needed to defeat Democratic Sen. John Kerry and hold on to the White House in 2004. Statewide, Bush won by about 118,000 votes out of 5.5 million cast. Green Party candidate David Cobb and Libertarian Party candidate Michael Badnarik sought the recount and complained about its procedure.

In Cuyahoga County, a Democratic stronghold where about 600,000 ballots were cast, the recount did not have much effect on the results. Kerry gained 17 votes and Bush lost six.

Ohio law states that during a recount each county is supposed to randomly choose 3 percent of its ballots and tally them by hand and by machine. If there are no discrepancies in those counts, the rest of the votes can be recounted by machine.

If there is a difference, the county must randomly recount 3 percent of the ballots a second time. All the county's ballots must be recounted by hand if there is a second discrepancy, but if there isn't, all the ballots can be recounted by machine.

Baxter said testimony in the case will show that instead of conducting a random count, the workers chose sample precincts for the Dec. 16, 2004, recount that did not have questionable results to ensure that no discrepancies would emerge.

"This was a very hush operation," Baxter said.

It's unlikely another recount would be ordered because of the court case, which voting rights advocates have used as an example of flaws with the state's recount laws. There were allegations in several counties of similar presorting of ballots for the recounts that state law says are to be random.