by Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman
January 19, 2007
Three criminal prosecutions in Ohio's biggest county have opened with strong indications that the cover-up of the theft of the 2004 presidential election is starting to unravel. Prosecutors say these cases involve "rigging" the recount in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), where tens of thousands of votes were shifted from John Kerry to George W. Bush, or else never counted. Meanwhile, corroborating evidence continues to surface throughout Ohio illuminating the GOP's theft of the presidency. According to the AP, County Prosecutor Kevin Baxter opened the Cuyahoga trial by charging that "the evidence will show that this recount was rigged, maybe not for political reasons, but rigged nonetheless." Baxter said the three election workers "did this so they could spend a day rather than weeks or months" on the recount.
Jacqueline Maiden, the county election board's third-ranking employee, faces six counts of misconduct involving ballot review. Rosie Grier, the board's ballot department manager, and Kathleen Dreamer, an assistant manager, are also charged. All three are on paid administrative leave, and are being supported by the county board of elections.
The county prosecutors do not allege vote fraud. No do they say mishandling the recount affected the election's outcome.
But Cleveland, which usually gives Democrats an extremely heavy margin, was crucial to Bush's alleged victory of roughly 118,000 votes out of 5.5 million counted. Some 600,000 votes were cast or counted in Cuyahoga County. But official turnout and vote counts varied wildly and improbably from precinct to precinct. Overall the county reported about a 60% turnout. But several predominantly black precincts, where voters went more than 80% for Kerry, reported turnouts of 30% or less. In one ward, only a 7% turnout was reported, while surrounding precincts were nearly ten times as high. Independent studies indicate Kerry thousands of votes in Cuyahoga County that rightfully should have been counted in his column.
In the Cuyahoga case, the poll workers are charged with circumventing state recount laws that require a random sampling of at least three percent of the votes cast in a given precinct, to be recounted by hand and by machine. The prosecution charges that the workers instead hand picked sample precincts to recount that they knew did not have questionable results. Once they were able to match those recounts with official results, they could then do the rest of the recount by machine, in effect rendering the entire process meaningless. "This was a very hush operation," said prosecutor Baxter.
Similar allegations have been made in other counties. Indeed, such illegal non-random recounting procedures appear to have been common throughout the state, carried out by board of election employees with the tacit consent of Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell. Blackwell was officially charged with administering the election that gave Bush a second term while simultaneously serving as the Ohio co-chair of his Bush's re-election campaign. Blackwell has just been overwhelmingly defeated in his own attempt to become governor of Ohio.
Defense attorney Roger Synenberg, who represents Dreamer, told the jury that the recount was an open process, and that his client and the others "were just doing it the way they were always doing it."
The Ohio recount was forced by the Green Party and the Libertarian Party, which raised over $100,000 to cover costs. They charge the recount was fraudulent due largely to the kinds of irregularities with which the Cuyahoga poll workers are now charged. Those charges carry sentences of up to 18 months in prison each, and include failure to perform duties imposed by law; misconduct; knowingly disobeying elections law; unlawfully obtaining possession of ballots/ballot boxes or pollbooks; and unlawfully opening or permitting the opening of a sealed package containing ballots.
But the trial in Cleveland represents just a small sampling of what happened during the Ohio recount. At a public hearing sponsored by the Free Press in Toledo in December, 2004, sworn testimony claimed that Diebold technicians were party to picking the "random" precincts to be recounted. At least one of the precincts lacked a memory card for the recount using the optiscan machine.
In Miami County, election officials admit that they did not recount to the official vote total, but merely ran the optiscan ballots through the ES 550 counter, and then counted them to see if they matched the machine count. In essence, what they did was a test of the counting machine, not a recount to the actual reported votes. Miami's procedures were thus as illegal as those in Cuyahoga.
Indeed, when the Free Press audited all the recount ballots from Miami County, we found the so-called recount results differed noticeably from the official results. If these differences in results were discovered at the recount in 2004, Ohio law should have triggered a hand recount of all ballots in the county. That was never done.
In Fairfield County, when the recount totals wouldn't match, Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell recommended Sam Hogsett, an ES&S employee, to assist with the process. Despite complaints from a Democratic election officer, Hogsettt worked the central tabulator and counter. Hogsett somehow managed to make the recount match, thus avoiding a full manual recount.
Hogsettt is on record in a local newspaper saying that he would like to shoot a “liberal” so the liberal would learn that it wasn’t the gun that killed him, but the shooter, Hogsett. Green Party recount coordinator Paddy Shaffer complained to Delaware County election officials about Hogsett's presence during the recount and his constant use of the computer. Her complaint has had no apparent impact.
In Hocking County, Board of Elections Deputy Director, Sherole Eaton was fired after she submitted an affidavit to U.S. Rep. John Conyers outlining how Hocking BOE officials pre-selected one precinct because it had the "right" number of voters (3%), thus illegally prescreening like Cuyahoga County. Eaton also complained that a Triad technician showed up unannounced on recount day and offered her a "cheat sheet" for the recount. He just happened to have a hard drive for a 12-year-old Dell computer that served as Hocking County's central tabulator. The county's official central tabulator went down mysteriously just prior to the recount. Eaton said the Triad technician installed his hard drive and told the election officials that the recount would match up perfectly if they didn't turn off the computer. Eaton has not been restored to her BOE position, and there has been no full recount in Hocking County.
In Coshocton County, Green Party recount observer Tim Kettler acquired public records showing that election officials pre-counted in secrecy in clear violation of Ohio law. Coshocton BOE officials desperately begged Secretary of State Blackwell for advice when the recount did not match. Blackwell's office urged the county to simply send in the results as official. But after being confronted by angry recount observers, Coshocton BOE officials became the only ones in Ohio to hand count every ballot. The recount resulted in a statistically significant vote pickup for John Kerry among previously uncounted ballots.
In part due to widespread public revulsion over his conduct of the 2004 election, Blackwell was soundly beaten in the 2006 gubernatorial race by Democrat Ted Strickland. Ohio also now has a Democratic Secretary of State and Attorney General. Whether they will conduct further investigations into what really happened in 2004 remains to be seen.
But a federal court decision has preserved the ballots from that election. Whether further legal charges come from the new administration in Columbus remains to be seen. But the Cuyahoga prosecutions provide more evidence that we still don't have a reliable vote count for the election that gave George W. Bush a second term.
Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA'S 2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008 (www.freepress.org), and, with Steve Rosenfeld, of WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO?, published by the New Press.