COLUMBUS -- As Republican officials stonewall and subvert the recount process, Rev. Jesse Jackson has pronounced Ohio's vote fraud fiasco "the biggest deal since Selma" and has called for a national rally at "the scene of the crime" in Columbus January 3.
Another major national demonstration will follow in Washington on January 6, as Congress evaluates the Electoral College. Should at least one US Representative and one Senator challenge the electors' votes, a Constitutional crisis could ensue.
Meanwhile, volunteer attorneys have poured into Columbus from around the US to help investigate the bitterly contested presidential vote that has allegedly given George W. Bush Ohio's electoral votes and thus a second term. A lawsuit filed at the Ohio Supreme Court charges that a fair vote count would give the state and the presidency to John Kerry rather than Bush.
On December 21, notice of depositions were sent to President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell to appear and give testimony regarding the legal challenge of Ohio's elections results in the case Moss v Bush et al.
But Republican Blackwell's attorney at the Secretary of State’s office told the attorneys issuing the notice of deposition that Blackwell will not testify under oath. The Republican-controlled Attorney General's office has labeled any attempt to put Blackwell under oath, "harassment." Blackwell supervised the November 2 vote in Ohio at the same time he served as co-chair of the state's Bush-Cheney campaign.
However, some counties like Clermont have agreed to cooperate with the attorneys in the election challenge. On December 22, a team of attorneys descended upon the Clermont County Board of Elections between 8:30-10:30am to pour over election day records.
In a December 21 conference call with activists from the around the US, Jackson said he has urged Senators Kerry (D-MA) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) to stand with US Representatives who intend to challenge the Electoral College's expected approval of George W. Bush for a second term. A challenge by US Representatives in 2000 failed because no Senators would join their motion.
Jackson says this year will be different, urging election protection activists to stay focused over the holiday season. "We can't let [the Republicans] get away with this, he told the conference call. "Do not underestimate the outrage of the people. We are a legitimate force for democracy, here and around the world."
"We will count every vote," he said, and make sure "every vote counts."
Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus have strongly questioned Bush's purported victory, pointing out that more than half the votes cast in Ohio and the nation were recorded on electronic voting machines owned by Republicans, with no audit trail.
Conyers recently conducted hearings at Columbus City Hall to take testimony from Ohioans who were deprived their right to vote. Another public hearing in Mahoning Valley, at the Warren-Trumbull Library, documented "thousands of complaints of voting irregularities" that helped throw the vote count to Bush. Election observers have testified under oath that more than a dozen voting machines in Mahoning County regularly switched Kerry votes to Bush votes while voters watched in amazement. Some 580 more absentee voters were certified than were identified by election board officials. As in Franklin and other counties, there were also strategic machine shortages in largely Democratic precincts. The November vote, said one observer, was "the crime of the century."
As dozens of volunteer attorneys pour into the state to help with the recount, Blackwell's stonewall has prompted widespread suspicion about what the Republicans are hiding.
On Monday the expanded legal team issued notices of deposition to top election officials in 10 counties where vote-count fraud is suspected.
The rapid filing of depositions, the first step in interviewing people under oath, provoked the shrill rejection from Blackwell. Though Blackwell is a state constitutional officer, his business office is in a private building, where protesters -- including former California Congressman Dan Hamburg---have been arrested without apparent provocation.
“They huffed and they puffed, trying to bully people around,” said a key member of the election challenge legal team. “Now we’re fighting over discovery. We served 10 depositions. The attorney general blew a gasket. They filed a motion to stop it… We will file our response.”
This past Friday, attorneys refiled their election challenge suit, a day after state Supreme Court dismissed it on a technicality. The challengers are trying to get a meaningful recount before the January 6 Congressional vote, while Blackwell's GOP has done all it can to stall.
The election challenge lawsuit claims that statewide vote patterns reveal vote count fraud on a scale that incorrectly awarded the state’s majority – and the presidency – to George Bush. They are using the litigation process to document that fraud.
“Maybe this (the explanation of the Ohio vote) is much closer to the surface than anybody thinks,” said Pete Peckarsky, a lead challenge attorney. “It doesn’t add up. If everything were above board, why are they hiding everything? They could bury people in the details… Okay, look at these records. Look at those.”
The election challenge suit was filed Dec. 17. Blackwell, the Bush-Cheney campaign, and Ohio’s Republican electors have 10 days to respond. Then, according to court procedural rules, each side has 20 days to do discovery – or additional evidence gathering, with those bringing the suit going first. With January 6 being the date Congress accepts the Electoral College vote, and January 20 being the inauguration, the GOP seems determined to make the recount drag on as long as possible.
Tuesday, December 22 is the starting point for Peckarsky's negotiations with election officials from 10 counties as to when they can be deposed. They will be asked a wide range of questions to uncover answers explaining the presence of what are, at the least, voting irregularities.
In the Miami County town of Concord, certified returns show that all but 10 registered voters cast ballots on Election Day. But the election challenge team has already identified more than 10 registered Concord citizens who did not vote, an incongruity that points to election fraud.
In Mahoning County, citizens using electronic machines saw their vote for Kerry register as a vote for Bush. Additional hearings in Trumbull and other counties are adding to the litany of fraud and theft.
In the meantime, among the attorneys who have come at their own expense to join Ohio's presidential election challenge:
As the team of election protection attorneys grows alongside the grassroots demand for a fair vote count in Ohio and around the nation, the likelihood of an unprecedented Constitutional confrontation beginning January 6 continues to escalate.
Bob Fitrakis, Steve Rosenfeld and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of the upcoming OHIO'S STOLEN ELECTION: VOICES OF THE DISENFRANCHISED, 2004, to be published in January. Fitrakis is a co-counsel in the Moss case. Support for this project is welcome through www.freepress.org or by sending a check to The “Columbus Institute for Contemporary Journalism”, 1240 Bryden Rd., Columbus, Ohio 43205.
*Article updated December 25 at 1:16pm EST.