COLUMBUS -- The Ohio presidential recount was officially terminated Tuesday, December 28.
But the end comes amidst bitter dispute over official certification of impossible voter turnout numbers, over the refusal of Ohio's Republican Supreme Court Chief Justice to recuse himself from crucial court challenges involving his own re-election campaign, over the Republican Secretary of State's refusal to show up for a noticed deposition, over apparent tampering with tabulation machines, over more than 100,000 provisional and machine-rejected ballots left uncounted, over major discrepancies in certified vote counts and turnout ratios, and over a wide range of unresolved disputes that continue to leave the true outcome of Ohio's presidential vote in serious doubt.
Officially, Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell has confirmed substantial errors in the vote count, with a shift of some 1,200 votes based on statewide recounts of about 3% of the vote. But additional new evidence of massive vote-counting fraud across the state continues to be unearthed, calling into question George W. Bush’s alleged victory in Ohio and pending re-election in the Electoral College.
Blackwell, who was co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign, announced that his recount awarded 734 additional votes to Kerry and 449 additional votes to Bush. Meanwhile, more than 92,672 machine-rejected ballots remain unchecked and uncounted, as do at least 14,000 provisional ballots. Conservative estimates of Kerry’s net gain among those ballots are another 36,000 to 40,000 votes. No accounting in the count or recount has been made for voters turned away at the polls due to insufficient voting machines, computer malfunction, tampering with registration data, mishandling of absentee ballots, misinformation and intimidation, or a wide range of other problems.
Blackwell's certified statewide returns now give Bush a margin of 118,775 votes. Ohio's electoral votes would give Bush the presidency if they are certified by Congress on January 6. A challenge by members of the House of Representatives is expected under an 1887 law passed in response to the disputed election of 1876, during which Republican Rutherford B. Hayes took the presidency in the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote. The challenge must be joined by at least one Senator.
Meanwhile, a new precinct-by-precinct analysis in many Ohio counties indicates that Bush's margin here was likely obtained by fraud. That is the main claim of the election challenge suit now at the Ohio Supreme Court, where Ohio's GOP Supreme Court Chief Justice, Thomas Moyer, has refused to recuse himself, even though allegations of vote switching – where votes cast for one candidate are assigned to another in the computerized tabulation stage – involve his own re-election campaign.
Ohio's official recount was conducted by GOP Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, despite widespread protests that his role as co-chair of the state's Bush-Cheney campaign constituted an serious conflict of interest. Blackwell has refused to testify in the election challenge lawsuit alleging massive voter fraud, as have a number of GOP county election supervisors. Blackwell also refuses to explain why he has left more than 106,000 machine-rejected and provisional ballots entirely uncounted.
The final recount tested roughly 3% of the roughly 5.7 million votes cast in the state. But contrary to the law governing the recount, many precincts tested were selected not at random, but by Blackwell's personal designation. Experts with the election challenge suit have noted many of the precincts selected were mostly free of the irregularities they are seeking to investigate, while many contested precincts were left unrecounted.
The official overall shifting of nearly 1200 votes was deemed "absolutely unacceptable" by Colby Hamilton of the Green Party, which joined the Libertarian Party in paying $113,600 to have the recount done. The Greens and Libertarians are now asking for another recount, charging that the first one was woefully incomplete and unreliable.
The Kerry campaign, which raised millions of dollars to guarantee "every vote will be counted" in the 2004 election, has challenged the results in just one county, where a technician dismantled at least one voting machine prior to the recount. Daniel J. Hoffheimer, an attorney hired by the Kerry campaign has emphasized his belief that despite that challenge, "this presidential election is over. The Bush-Cheney ticket has won."
Hoffheimer is affiliated with Taft, Stettinius and Hollister, a Cincinnati firm with deep Republican ties to Ohio's current GOP governor, Bob Taft. Hoffheimer said "the Kerry-Edwards campaign has found no conspiracy and no fraud in Ohio," but more serious researchers continue to uncover plenty. While struggling to find the financial resources necessary for the legal challenge, the Election Protection team has continued to uncover deeply disturbing evidence of manipulation, theft and fraud that went unaudited by the official recount.
Some 14.6% of Ohio votes were cast on electronic machines with no paper trail, rendering them unauditable. But on election night, electronic machines and computer software were used throughout the state to tabulate paper ballots. The contrasts are striking. Officially, Bush built a narrow margin of roughly 51% versus 48% for Kerry based on votes counted on election night. But among the 147,400 provisional and absentee ballots that were counted AFTER election night, Kerry received 54.46 percent of the vote. These later totals came from counts done by hand, as opposed to counts done by computer tabulators, many of which came from Diebold.
Many of the electronic voting machines with no paper trail also came from Republican-dominated companies, including some from Diebold, whose owner, Wally O'Dell, infamously guaranteed in 2003 that he would deliver Ohio's electoral votes to Bush.
Diebold also manufactured many of the tabulators used to count punch card ballots. In the vast majority of Ohio precincts, those tabulations were not rechecked or recounted. In at least two counties, technicians from Diebold and from Triad dismantled all or part of such tabulating machines prior to the recount. In Shelby County, election officials admitted that they discarded crucial tabulator records, rendering a meaningful recount impossible. In many cases, the recounts were conducted not by public election officials, but by private corporations, many of them with Republican ties.
In other precincts, impossibly high voter turnout figures -- nearly all of them adding to Bush's official margin -- remain unexplained. In the heavily Republican southern county of Perry, Blackwell certified one precinct with 221 more votes than registered voters. Two precincts -- Reading S and W. Lexington G -- were let stand in the officially certified final vote count with voter turnouts of roughly 124% each.
In Miami County's Concord South West precinct, Blackwell certified a voter turnout of 98.55 percent, requiring that all but 10 voters in the precinct cast ballots. But a freepress.org canvas easily found 25 voters who said they did not vote. In the nearby Concord South precinct, Blackwell certified an apparently impossible voter turnout of 94.27 percent. Both Concord precincts went heavily for Bush.
By contrast, in heavily Democratic Cuyahoga County, amidst record turnouts, a predominantly African-American precinct, Cleveland 6C, was certified with just a 07.85 percent turnout. The official count was 45 votes for Kerry versus one for Bush, in a precinct where the day's overall voter turnout would have indicated eight or nine times as many voters.
Independent statistical studies of Cuyahoga County indicate that if the prevailing statewide voter turnout was really 60 percent of the registered voters, as seems likely based on turnout in other major cities in Ohio, Kerry’s margin of victory in Cleveland alone was wrongly reduced in the certified returns by 20,000 or more votes.
New research has added confirmation to apparent widespread fraud -– most likely in the computer tabulation stage -- in at least three heavily Republican southern Ohio counties. Mathematical researcher Richard Hayes Phillips, PhD., has shown that Clermont, Butler and Warren Counties, surrounding Cincinnati, netted Bush votes on par with his margin of victory in the state. But for Bush to have built up his margins in these three counties, 13,500 Democrats would have had to have split their tickets by voting for Supreme Court Chief Justice candidate Ellen Connally while simultaneously voting for Bush, by all accounts a virtually impossible event.
The numbers are startling. In Butler Country, Bush officially was given 109,866 votes. But conservative GOP Chief Justice Moyer was given only 68,407, a negative discrepancy of more than 40,000 votes. Meanwhile, Moyer's opponent, a pro-gay, pro-abortion African-American liberal from Cleveland, was officially credited with 61,559 votes to John Kerry's 56,234.
The Blackwell-approved tally would mean that more than 5,000 Butler County voters ignored Kerry's name near the top of the ballot, but jumped to the bottom of the ballot to vote for Connally. And this was to have happened in an area where some 40,000 Republicans did exactly the opposite, voting for the President while skipping the race for Chief Justice. Few who are familiar with Butler County politics believe such an outcome to be even remotely credible.
In Warren County, Bush was credited with 68,035 votes to Kerry’s 26,043 votes. But just as the county's votes were about to be counted after the polls closed on November 2, the Board of Elections claimed a Homeland Security alert authorized them to throw out all Democratic and independent observers, including the media. The vote count was thus conducted entirely by Republicans.
Here Blackwell's certified tally says the slightly funded Connally somehow outpolled Kerry by more than 2,400 votes, nearly 10 percent of his county wide total.
Phillips’ latest analysis was conducted at the precinct-by-precinct level. When looking at returns before they have been blended into countywide figures, Phillips says the suspect nature of the outcome in these three counties is heightened by the fact that precincts within them yield wildly inconsistent data. A few municipalities show Republicans and Democrats voting along party lines – as one would expect. But throughout most of these three counties are precincts with massive margins for Bush that are inconsistent with the rest of the counties and impossible to conceive except by some sort of manipulation. This is an almost certain indicator of fraud, says Phillips.
The statistical analysis of these results show Blackwell’s certified vote is deeply flawed. It does not, however, identify how the fraud was perpetrated. Based in part on these inconsistencies, the Election Protection legal team has filed suit with the state Supreme Court, asking it to overturn Ohio's presidential election.
But despite the fact that the contention rests in large part on Moyer's own re-election campaign, the Chief Justice refuses to recuse himself from this and related cases. He has helped write decisions denying a further public investigation into the count and recount processes, and has voted to protect Blackwell from providing public testimony under a legal notice of deposition.
Parallel problems have now surfaced in New Mexico, where a bitter recount battle is also being waged. At a public hearing in Columbus convened by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), senior Democrat on the US House Judiciary Committee, Rev. Jesse Jackson testified that Sen. Kerry was informed in a phone conversation that optical scan machines were being used in New Mexico to steal votes. New Mexico allegedly went to Bush by some 7,000 votes in an election with widespread charges of manipulation and fraud, especially in heavily Hispanic precincts. According to Jackson, Kerry said he know that every single New Mexico precinct fitted with optical scan machines went for Bush, demographically a virtual impossibility.
But New Mexico's Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson has refused to cooperate with Green Party and Audit the Vote activists demanding a recount, acceding to decisions that could raise the price for a recount to well over a million dollars. Despite its huge leftover war chest, the Democratic Party has not come forward to help push New Mexico's recount, which many believe could give the state to Kerry. As of now, no recount has even begun, with the issue still mired in the courts over the question of finances.
On Monday, January 3, Rev. Jackson will lead a rally in Columbus demanding, among other things, an Ohio revote. Ironically, the apparently defeated Republican gubernatorial candidate in Washington is now demanding the same thing. Moreover, unlike Ohio, in Washington state the Democrat emerged victorious after that state’s Supreme Court ordered all ballots counted and certified totals adjusted.
If anything, Blackwell's refusal to testify, Moyer's refusal to recuse, and the staggering flood of new evidence from a non-credible non-recount have helped further spread the belief that the Ohio vote -- and thus the presidency -- has been stolen. The findings from New Mexico confirm that Ohio was not the only state where fraud and vote theft may have provided Bush with a margin of victory. Challenges in Florida have also reached the court system.
The alleged Bush victory could be challenged in the much-anticipated January 6 reporting of the Electoral College to Congress. But given the mounting indications of manipulation, fraud and theft, it is virtually certain the debate over who really won Ohio -– as well as New Mexico and Florida -- and the presidency will be bitterly disputed for many years to come.
Bob Fitrakis, Steve Rosenfeld and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of OHIO'S STOLEN ELECTION: VOICES OF THE DISENFRANCHISED, 2004, to be published by http://freepress.org. Tax-deductible contributions to this book/film project are gladly accepted at http://freepress.org/store.php#don_pub or by check to the Columbus Institute for Contemporary Journalism at 1240 Bryden Road, Columbus, OH 43205.