Saturday, November 27, 2004

Update on Recount in Ohio

Some supporters of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and running mate John Edwards cling to the hope that an Ohio recount can swing the election

by Adam Stone

A White House spokeswoman told North County News last Friday that citizens should embrace the Election Day results and dismiss recount efforts in Ohio that could hand Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts the presidency.

"The election has ended, and now is the time for the country to come together to address the challenges our nation faces," the spokeswoman, Suzy DeFrancis, remarked.

Bush won Ohio by a vote of 2,796,147 to John Kerry's 2,659,664, according to the official tally.

In a series of e-mail interviews with North County News two weeks ago, Kerry spokesman David Wade spoke about recount efforts led by a team of 17,000 lawyers that could trigger the removal of President George W. Bush from office.

Since then, under mounting pressure from alternative media outlets as well as progressive voices outside the Democratic Party, Kerry issued a statement to his supporters that left open the possibility that he could obtain--through a recount--the requisite electoral votes to seize the White House.

"Regardless of the outcome of this election, once all the votes are counted--and they will be counted--we will continue to challenge this administration," Kerry said through a web-exclusive statement and video Friday, which, curiously, was not distributed to the press.

The usage of the word 'regardless' in the carefully parsed statement was the first indication Kerry has offered that, in his mind, the official election results might be inaccurate enough to tilt the election in his favor.

Wade was e-mailed the remarks from the White House spokeswoman.

"Any president of the United States should make it a priority to count every vote in our country because every citizen's full faith in the democratic process is critical," Wade responded yesterday (Tuesday). "That's why John Kerry and John Edwards built a voter protection team of lawyers around the country, lawyers who are today monitoring recounts and the counting of provisional ballots including Ohio and New Mexico. Every vote will be counted, and we Democrats aren't afraid to fight to protect voters' rights."

A Kerry victory in Ohio would give the senator enough electoral votes to seize the White House.

In another signal the Kerry/Edwards team is increasing its involvement in the recount effort, a note was posted on the campaign website yesterday that called on supporters to contribute to the Kerry-Edwards 2004 General Election Legal and Accounting Compliance Fund.

"The Federal Election Commission has just granted our request to raise funds now to cover recount expenses," the website states. "Your contribution to Kerry-Edwards 2004 GELAC will provide the resources to make sure we are prepared to win the post election day battles."

Other than alleged voting irregularities, some have called into question the reversal of the exit polls (surveys of individuals who have just cast ballots), which early on predicted a Kerry victory.

Based on the full set of the 4 p.m. Election Day exit poll data Dr. Stephen F. Freeman from the University of Pennsylvania calculated that "the odds of just three of the major swing states, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania all swinging as far as they did against their respective exit polls were 250 million to one."

The Ohio Election Protection Coalition's public hearings have documented insufficient voting machines in black Democratic precincts resulting in five-to-seven hour waits, voter intimidation, machine malfunctions and other irregularities.

Another significant development this week was the Democratic Party breaking its silence on the matter.

Ohio Chairman Dennis White distributed a press release on Monday afternoon that ran the headline: "Kerry/Edwards Campaign Joins Ohio Recount."

It stated "assuring Ohioans receive an accurate count of all votes cast for president has prompted the Democratic Party to join the initiative to recount the results of the November 2 presidential election."

The White House was asked to respond specifically to Wade's statements in last week's North County News article and also address the Ohio recount and reports of voting irregularities.

DeFrancis declined to comment on the particulars.

The article sparked dozens of impassioned e-mail responses from readers outside of North County News' northern Westchester coverage area, with the piece being picked up by assorted alternative media news outlets.

With the recount controversy spreading through the Web universe at a feverish pace, the article ranked as the top hit on the Yahoo search engine for basic research entries about what is being dubbed as "Votergate."

The article buoyed the spirits of a New York-based activist group that was formed to pressure the mainstream media into covering the stories chronicling voting irregularities and the Ohio recount effort commissioned by the Libertarian and Green parties.

"Democracy is at stake and this needs major media attention," remarked Ellen Frank, an East Hampton, New York resident.

"There is an unofficial lockdown by the mainstream press," said Frank, whose brother, Dr. Justin Frank, published a book in June named "Bush on the Couch: Inside the mind of the president."

"When I read the article, I said: '17,000 lawyers. Is this really true? Are they really working on this?,'" remembered Frank, who distributed the article at a MoveOn.org party.

"We're trying to get enough major media attention to challenge the election," said Frank, who filed a complaint with the U.S. Supreme Court during the 2000 election, citing herself as a disenfranchised voter.

Two minor-party presidential candidates raised enough money to file for an official recount of the vote in Ohio.

The Green Party has been working with the Libertarian Party--both parties were on the ballot in Ohio--in securing a recount. Green Party candidate David Cobb and Libertarian candidate Michael Badnarik say they've demanded that Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican who co-chaired this year's Bush campaign in Ohio, recuse himself from the recount process.

Cobb Media Director Blair Bobier said, "The Ohio presidential election was marred by numerous press and independent reports of mismarked and discarded ballots, problems with electronic voting machines and the targeted disenfranchisement of African-American voters."

"Due to widespread reports of irregularities in Ohio's voting process, we are compelled to demand a recount of the Ohio presidential vote," Badnarik and Cobb said in a joint statement. "Voting is at the heart of the American political process and its integrity must be preserved. When Americans stand in line for hours to exercise their right to vote, they need to know that their votes will be counted fairly and accurately..."

The Ohio vote will be certified on December 3 at the latest, Bobier said. The Electoral College votes on December 13, so it is unclear whether or not a recount would be completed by then.

The minor-party presidential candidates filed a federal lawsuit Monday to force a recount of Ohio ballots, and a spokesman for the state Democratic Party said it intended to join the suit.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Toledo, Bobier said.

Dan Trevas, spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party, said the party would join the recount request after the secretary of state certified the results, or sooner if an early recount is ordered by a court.

"Counties are very upset," said Keith Cunningham, director of the Allen County Board of Elections and incoming president of the Ohio Association of Election Officials, who called the lawsuit "frivolous."

"Commissioners are beginning to understand--and if they don't, will understand soon--what kind of financial impact this is going to have on them, in a year when elections already cost a great deal more than expected," Cunningham told the Associated Press.

Badnarik and Cobb have raised $235,000 as of Monday morning, an amount which covers the $113,600 bond they had to provide as demanded by Ohio election law, plus some of their own organizational expenses.

Ohio law requires payment of $10 per precinct, or $113,600 statewide, but election officials say the true expense would be far greater. "It's going to crush county governments," Cunningham said.

Carlo LoParo, a spokesman for Blackwell, has estimated the actual cost at $1.5 million.

Dr. Frank, whose book explores Bush's "psychological limitations," believes the Ohio recount will hand Kerry the presidency.

"I think that a recount in Ohio, if done properly, will show a narrow Kerry victory and he should be inaugurated hopefully by January 20, 2005," the Washington D.C.-based, clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at George Washington University Medical Center said.

"The disruption and cries of foul will be huge," the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst said. "But I think Bush lost. Kerry people are finally joining in, though I think they have been active all along, just quietly."

Pursuant to a request by independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, votes in some New Hampshire towns are being recounted. An analysis showed wide differences in voting trends between the 2000 and 2004 elections: about three quarters of precincts with severe changes used Diebold optical scanning machines.

Last week, Diebold agreed to pay $2.6 million to settle a lawsuit with the state of California. Diebold officials misled state leaders about the security and certification of its products to get payments from the state, according to California Attorney General Bill Lockyer.

Diebold is headed by Republican Wally O'Dell. Last year, O'Dell wrote to Ohio Republican donors, saying he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the President next year."

Nader doesn't expect to change the outcome: In New Hampshire, Kerry defeated Bush, 50 percent to 49 percent, while Nader got less than one percent from the state's 301 precincts.

Don DeBar, an Ossining resident and Nader campaign worker in San Antonio, Texas this year, is trying to stitch together the fragmented left and have progressive activists unite on the recount issue.

Liberals, he said, need to "get past political antagonisms," for the time being.

"One thing that I've done is bring this to the airwaves in NYC," the area activist said. "As a reporter on the drive-time morning program Wake Up Call on WBAI-FM, I provided some detailed coverage of the issue, from the many reports of intimidation, error and fraud to the failure of the Kerry campaign to act to protect the voting rights of his own voters..."

The University of California's Berkeley Quantitative Methods Research Team released a statistical study - the sole method available to monitor the accuracy of e-voting -reporting irregularities associated with electronic voting machines may have awarded 130,000 to 260,000 or more excess votes to President George W. Bush in Florida in the 2004 presidential election. The official tally in Florida shows Bush with 380,978 more votes than Kerry. The three counties where the voting anomalies were most prevalent were also the most heavily Democratic: Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade, respectively.

CNN reported a 377,000-vote margin between Bush and Kerry. The study shows an unexplained discrepancy between votes for President Bush in counties where electronic voting machines were used versus counties using traditional voting methods, what the team says can be deemed a "smoke alarm."

The probability of this arising by chance, they say, is less than 0.1 percent. The research team formally called on Florida voting officials to investigate.

Kathryn Levy was a volunteer coordinator in the Kerry headquarters in Broward County, Florida and said yesterday she received "innumerable complaints."

She was the supervisor of a hotline in Broward that handled the complaints.

Levy believes "there was a systematic effort to disenfranchise thousands of citizens in that heavily Democratic county."

"Many newly registered voters were told that they needed to present multiple IDs at polling places, when in fact only one is required," Levy wrote for an intended op-ed piece that was truncated into a letter to the editor published last Tuesday in Long Island's Newsday. "Others were informed that they had already voted and were turned away although they had not yet cast their vote. Many of those requesting provisional ballots were denied even that recourse."

"Perhaps the most chilling complaints concerned the electronic voting machines," Levy continued. "We received several reports of voters who repeatedly pressed the name Kerry on their voting screen only to have Bush appear. In other cases, voters pressed Kerry and were later asked to confirm their Bush vote."

John Zogby, president of the polling firm Zogby International, is concerned about the difference between some of the exit polls and the official vote counts.

"We're talking about the Free World here," he told the Inter Press Service News Agency.

"Something is definitely wrong," Zogby also told the news agency.

Bush now leads Kerry by about 136,000 votes in Ohio. A battle is looming over nearly 155,000 provisional ballots. The Ohio Democratic Party has joined a lawsuit by elector Audrey J. Schering, which asks United States District Judge Michael H. Watson to order Blackwell to impose uniform standards for counting provisional ballots in all 88 counties.

The lawsuit cites the United States Supreme Court's opinion in Bush v. Gore, which "held that the failure to provide specific standards for counting of ballots that are sufficient to assure a uniform count statewide violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution."

Of 11 counties that had completed checking provisional ballots, 81 percent have been ruled valid.

On Saturday, November 13, the Ohio Election Protection Coalition's public hearings in Columbus solicited extensive sworn first-person testimony from 32 Ohio voters, precinct judges, poll workers, legal observers and party challengers. An additional 66 people provided written affidavits of election irregularities.

The testimony, according to Harvey Wasserman, a senior editor at the Columbus Free Press, revealed an effort on the part of Blackwell to deny primarily African-American and young voters the right to cast their ballots within a reasonable time.

On November 17, Blackwell wrote an op-ed piece for Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times, stating "every eligible voter who wanted to vote had the opportunity to vote. There was no widespread fraud, and there was no disenfranchisement. A half-million more Ohioans voted than ever before with fewer errors than four years ago, a sure sign of success by any measure."

Additional testimony also called into question the validity of the actual vote counts. There are doubts that the final official tally in Ohio, due December 1 to Blackwell's office, will have any validity.

At the Columbus hearings, witnesses testified under oath that the election was riddled with discrimination and disarray.

"In precincts 1 A and 5 G, voting (at) Hillman Elementary School, which is a predominantly African-American community, there were woefully insufficient number of voting machines in three precincts," Werner Lange, a pastor from Youngstown, Ohio, said in his testimony.

"I was told that the standard was to have one voting machine per 100 registered voters," he continued. "Precinct A had 750 registered voters. Precinct G had 690. There should have been 14 voting machines at this site. There were only 6, three per precinct, less than 50 percent of the standard. This caused an enormous bottleneck among voters who had to wait a very, very long time to vote, many of them giving up in frustration and leaving...I estimate, by the way, that an estimated loss of over 8,000 votes from the African American community in the City of Youngstown alone, with its 84 precincts, were lost due to insufficient voting machines, and that would translate to some 7,000 votes lost for John Kerry for president in Youngstown alone. . . ."

According to a November 5 article by the Associated Press, election officials in Ohio admitted that an error with an electronic voting system gave President Bush 3,893 extra votes in a Gahanna precinct. Franklin County reported Bush with 4,258 votes and John Kerry with 260, even though only 638 voters cast ballots in that precinct.

Bev Harris of BlackBoxVoting, along with people from Florida Fair Elections, showed up at Florida's Volusia County Elections Office on the afternoon of Tuesday, November 16 and asked to see, under a public records request, each of the poll tapes for the 100-plus optical scanners in the precincts in that county. The election workers, having been notified in advance of her request, handed her a set of printouts dated November 15 and lacking signatures.

Harris pointed out that the printouts given to her were not the original poll tapes and had no signatures, and thus were not what she had requested.

Reportedly, they told her that the originals were held in another location, the election office's warehouse, and that, since it was the end of the day, they should meet her the following morning to show them to her. The next day she started searching the garbage bags outside, finding public record tapes in the trash. Disparities between the November 15 tape and November 2 tape emerged--all reportedly favoring President Bush.

Harris could not be reached for comment by press time.

The mainstream media, which has suffered increasingly in recent years by charges of liberal bias and Democratic partisanship, has largely taken a pass on the recount story. In fact, The New York Times, the symbol and primary target of conservative media critics, published a front-page article two weeks ago that portrayed the recount effort as a campaign being waged by partisan, conspiratorial and error-happy bloggers with a liberal agenda.

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann has tracked the story aggressively on both his "BLOGGERMANN" msnbc.com web log and "Countdown," a television news analysis program he hosts for the cable network, which is home to commentators of all political stripes, from Pat Buchanan to Ron Reagan.

In fact, Olbermann referenced the North County News article in a Sunday blog entry. He borrowed a quote from the article that triggered perhaps the most attention from activists: "We have 17,000 lawyers working on this, and the grassroots accountability couldn't be any higher -no (irregularity) will go unchecked. Period," Wade had told North County News.

Kerry conceded the 2004 presidential contest on November 3, the day after the election, a decision that carries no concrete legal standing. That day, he and his running mate, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, pledged to ensure every vote is counted, although they said at the time there was no chance a voting tally update would result in swinging the result in their favor.

Former Vice President Al Gore conceded in his 2000 battle with Bush for the White House before demanding a recount, which was ultimately halted by the U.S. Supreme Court, ending the debacle in Florida.

Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent for Newsweek, appeared on Countdown on Monday night.

"They keep saying these little things designed to make clear, at least to their supporters and the whole blogosphere out there, that they take the possibility (of a Kerry victory) and the need for a recount seriously," Fineman said of Kerry and his surrogates during an interview with Olbermann.

Fineman said he talked to Blackwell earlier in the evening.

"There in fact will be a recount," Fineman remarked. "We will be talking about chads once again."

Olbermann posted an entry on his blog on Monday evening, after that night's Countdown telecast.

"As Kerry himself calculated early on November 3, the provisional ballots alone obviously could not provide anything close to enough bona fide Democratic votes to overcome President Bush's 135,000 vote plurality in the Ohio election night tally," he wrote. "But as Howard also pointed out - and my colleague David Shuster so thoroughly extrapolated in a previous post on Hardblogger - the provisionals plus the 'undercount' could make things very close indeed. The punch-card ballots 'where it looks like nobody marked anything' when read by an optical scanning machine, might produce thousands of legitimate votes if hand-counted and judged by Ohio's strict laws defining how many corners of the proverbial chads have to be detached to make a vote valid."

Fineman's analysis, Olbermann writes, "(puts) it in terms that the mainstream can't ignore."

That's heartening to the likes of Ellen Frank.

"There is something very wrong here with the press," said Frank, who suspects, like other recount activists, that top level producers and editors in the mainstream press have barred their talent from covering the story extensively, as to avoid the appearance of partisanship.

"We believe democracy itself is at risk," said Frank, whose ad hoc group of philanthropists, writers and other activists are, among other things, mounting letter-writing campaigns about the recount to newspapers across the nation.

"We believe this was a fraudulent election," she said. "...We are fearful that 'major' media is intimidated. We are fearful we are abandoned by our own Democratic Party. We are working to hold the administration and our party accountable."

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