|November 22, 2004|
Ohio Presidential Results to be Challenged
Ohio’s 2004 presidential vote will be challenged in the state’s Supreme Court, a coalition of public-interest lawyers announced Friday, Nov. 19.
The lawyers have taken sworn testimony from hundreds of people in hearings in Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland and will use excerpts as well as documents obtained from county election officials and Election Day exit polls to make a case that thousands of votes were incorrectly counted or not counted on Election Day.
"The objective is to get to the truth," said Columbus Ohio lawyer Cliff Arnebeck, coordinator of the Ohio Honest Elections Campaign. "What’s critically important, whether it’s President Bush or Sen. Kerry, whoever’s been elected actually elected, is to know you won by an honest election. So it’s in the interest of both sides as American citizens to know the truth and have this answered."
The challenge comes as the Green and Libertarian Parties have said they will file for a recount of the state’s 2004 presidential vote. The two parties and the Ohio Honest Elections Campaign believe the unofficial results announced on Election Day were wrong. Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell has not yet certified the Nov. 2 vote. Under Ohio law, an election challenge must show a candidate was incorrectly declared the winner, or it can be dismissed without a hearing. The state Supreme Court’s chief justice hears the case.
The Ohio Republican Party dismissed the challenge on Friday, the Associated Press reported, but the coalition announcing it said they were ready to litigate.
"The sworn statements that we’ve received should give everyone cause to go forward in terms of this inquiry," said Robert Fitrakis, a lawyer, political science professor at Columbus State Community College, and editor at www.freepress.org, at the announcement.
The ‘Ohio Honest Election Campaign' is a coalition of public-interest groups and citizens interested in free and fair elections. The three lawyers announcing the challenge are associated with a variety of established groups. Arnebeck is the counsel for Common Cause’s Ohio chapter and The Alliance for Democracy. Attorney Susan Truitt is with Citizens Alliance for Secure Elections-Ohio, www.caseohio.org. The boards of groups have not yet formally endorsed the election challenge but are expected to do so in coming days.
The Honest Election campaign is part of a populist groundswell to safeguard voting rights. The 2004 campaign saw the most new voters in a generation. Even though Kerry conceded on Nov. 3, many people were not satisfied with national media explanations of the Ohio vote. Scientifically designed non-partisan exit polls taken during the day showed a different result from the result reported that night, when George W. Bush was declared the victor.
Moreover, on Election Day there were long lines and widespread accounts of people who did not get to vote in urban Democratic-leaning precincts across the state. These factors and other reports of voter frustration, computerized voting miscounts and still-changing provisional ballot counting rules left many doubts about the unofficial vote count and George W. Bush’s 130,000 vote margin.
Those concerns coalesced into a grassroots campaign for an answer. Within two weeks following Election Day, Arnebeck had talked to the Green and Libertarian Parties about filing for a recount – if the funds could be raised. The Greens and the Honest Election Campaign started fundraising the same day, and in less than a week, the Greens had raised $150,000 via their website to file for the recount. The Ohio Honest Election Campaign raised about $90,000 via the Alliance for Democracy site, after two Air America Radio hosts, Laura Flanders and Randi Rhodes, embraced the cause and talked up the campaign.
Meanwhile, FreePress.org’s Bob Fitrakis inspired Amy Kaplan and Jonathan Meier, two young members of the League of Pissed-Off Voters’ Ohio chapter (www.indyvoter.org) to organize public hearings to gather testimony under oath of the people who saw or experienced what they thought was voter suppression or intimidation. Such intentional acts would violate the federal Voting Rights Act. Two hearings were held in Columbus and hundreds of people showed up and testified. Then activists in Cincinnati and Cleveland organized hearings.
At these hearings, scores of people said too few voting machines were put in Democratic-leaning inner-city precincts, creating long lines and deterring many people from voting. In contrast, Republican-leaning suburbs had plenty of voting machines and did not have the long lines. There were also reports of miscounts by computer voting machines, as well as errors registering the wrong candidate for president. Minority voters also spoke of disproportionately getting provisional ballots, including long-time residents.
Early in the week as those hearings were being held, the Green and Libertarian Parties announced they would seek a statewide recount. By midweek, the Ohio Democratic Party indicated they might be willing to train recount observers. As many as 3,000 volunteers may be needed. Then this past Friday, the Honest Election Campaign announced its intention to challenge presidential election result at the Ohio Supreme Court.
Others lawsuits may be announced next week, Arnebeck said, because there is limited time to hold a meaningful recount and to address election irregularities before the Electoral College meets in December.
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Steven Rosenfeld is senior producer of The Laura Flanders Show on Air America Radio.
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