31 March 2014

In 56 of Ohio's 88 counties, ballots and election records that
would reveal whether the 2004 election was stolen have been
"accidentally" destroyed.




Two-thirds of Ohio counties have destroyed or lost their 2004
presidential ballots and related election records, according to letters
from county election officials to the Ohio Secretary of State, Jennifer
Brunner.



The lost records violate Ohio law, which states federal election records
must be kept for 22 months after Election Day, and a U.S. District Court
order issued last September that the 2004 ballots be preserved while the
court hears a civil rights lawsuit alleging voter suppression of
African-American voters in Columbus.



The destruction of the election records also frustrates efforts by the
media and historians to determine the accuracy of Ohio's 2004 vote
count, because in county after county the key evidence needed to
understand vote count anomalies apparently no longer exists.



"The extent of the destruction of records is consistent with the
covering up of the fraud that we believe occurred in the presidential
election," said Cliff Arnebeck, a Columbus attorney representing the
King Lincoln Bronzeville Neighborhood Association, which filed voter
suppression suit. "We're in the process of addressing where to go from
here with the Ohio Attorney General's office."



"On the one hand, people will now say you can't prove the fraud," he
said, "but the rule of law says that when evidence is destroyed it
creates a presumption that the people who destroyed evidence did so
because it would have proved the contention of the other side."



Brunner's office confirmed the 2004 ballots were missing, but declined
to comment.



"Because this case is still pending, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner
is unable to comment on this," said Jeff Ortega, a spokesperson.
"Ultimately, whether the boards of elections are in violation of a
federal court order is a matter for the court to decide."



The missing presidential election records were discovered this past
spring by Brunner, a Democrat and former judge who was elected Secretary
of State in 2006. Her predecessor, Republican J. Kenneth Blackwell, was
sued in August 2006 by a Columbus community organization that alleged
the former Secretary of State and other "unnamed" officials "selectively
and discriminatorily designed and implemented procedures for the
allocation of voting machines in a manner to create a shortage. for
certain urban precincts where large numbers of African-Americans
resided," according to the complaint.



Under federal and Ohio law, all ballots and election records from
federal races must be preserved for 22 months after Election Day, which
fell on Sept. 2, 2006. While election integrity activists and reporters
from a Columbus website, FreePress.org, had sought the ballots and other
election records soon after the presidential election, Blackwell would
not allow county boards to release the ballots, citing court challenges
to the 2004 results and a 2005 suit from the League of Women Voters
alleging the state was not following the newest federal election law,
the Help America Vote Act. By spring 2006, after the League's lawyers
stipulated they were not challenging the 2004 election results, some
counties began to release their 2004 election records. Scrutiny of those
records raised questions about the conduct of the election and some
county vote totals.



On Aug. 23, 2006, lawyers for the King Lincoln Bronzeville Neighborhood
Association notified the Secretary of State's office of their voter
suppression suit. The following day Blackwell's office sent letters to
all 88 of Ohio's county Boards of Election, notifying them of the suit.
It is customary for public officials to preserve potential evidence when
notified of pending litigation. Ian Urbina, a New York Times reporter
working on the story, reported that Blackwell said he would be creating
a process whereby county election records could eventually review and
dispose of the 2004 ballots.



On Sept. 11, 2006, U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley ordered the
election boards "to preserve all ballots from the 2004 Presidential
election, on paper and in any other format, including electronic data,
unless and until such time otherwise instructed by this Court."



Two months after Marbley's order, Blackwell lost the race for governor
to Democrat Ted Strickland and Brunner was elected Secretary of State.
During the following winter and spring, Brunner and the state's
attorneys began negotiating a settlement for the voter suppression suit,
according to lawyers involved in those talks. Part of that agreement,
which has not yet been brought before the federal district court, was
the creation of a statewide repository of the 2004 presidential ballots.
When conducting an inventory and attempting to collect those records,
Brunner's office learned that seven counties had no ballots to turn over
and 56 counties only had partial records from the 2004 vote.



"This is not just a violation of a 22-month ballot retention law. It is
a violation of a court order," Arnebeck said. "Blackwell told the New
York Times that he would create a clearance procedure before destroying
any ballots. The combination of Blackwell's directive and my letter
should have been enough to give the counties notice."



WHAT HAPPENED TO THE 2004 BALLOTS?



The presidential ballots and election records were lost, misplaced,
damaged by water, taken to landfills - all apparently by mistake, due to
miscommunications, or because the local election administrators were not
aware of the state ballot preservation law or the federal court order,
according to letters to Brunner's office from the various county
election boards.



"Our staff unintentionally discarded boxes containing Ballot Pages as
requested in (Brunner's) Directive 2007-07 due to unclear and
misinterpreted instructions," wrote Butler County Board of Election
Director Betty McGary and Deputy Director Lynn Kinkaid in a May 9 memo.
"Several boxes containing all the wire-bound ballot pages were discarded
into a Rumpke dumpster. The dumpster would have been emptied into the
local landfill."



"The Hamilton County (Cincinnati) Board of Elections was unable to
transfer the unvoted precinct ballots and soiled precinct ballots,"
wrote John Williams, Hamilton County Director of Elections on May 16,
2007. "To the best if my knowledge, the above ballots were inadvertently
shredded between January 19th and 26th of '06 in an effort to make room
for the new Hart voting system."



"No one could remember the disposition of said ballots," wrote Mike
Keeley, of Clermont County's Board of Elections on May 10, 2007,
referring to the "unvoted" or unused ballots from the 2004 presidential
election.



Since the 2004 election, a handful of media organizations, civil rights
groups, attorneys, historians and authors have been investigating how
the president won in Ohio by 118,775 votes. These inquiries have had two
primary focuses: examining Republican-led voter suppression tactics and
problems with the vote count, suggesting vote count fraud.



The partisan voter suppression tactics have been easier to document.
Before the election, Blackwell, who was co-chair of the state's
Bush-Cheney campaign, issued numerous administrative orders that fueled
an extreme partisan climate. One of the most notable came as Ohio was
seeing large voter registration drives in mid-2004. Blackwell issued an
order, which he later rescinded under pressure, saying only voter
registrations on 80-pound paper would be accepted and processed. At the
time, Republican Gov. Robert Taft told reporters that directive could
disenfranchise 100,000 voters. The state Republican Party also
threatened to send thousands of poll challengers to local precincts, to
ensure only properly registered voter exercised that right.



On Election Day in many Ohio cities, the turnout - or voter
accommodation rate - in these traditional Democratic strongholds was
markedly lower than in nearby suburbs, where Republicans have tended to
be the majority. In Columbus, the King Lincoln Bronzeville Neighborhood
Association sued saying African-American voters in Franklin County were
disenfranchised because urban precincts received fewer voting machines
per capita than the whiter, wealthier suburbs. They noted urban
precincts had many more voting machines during the spring primary.



Ohio's Secretary of State and Attorney General are engaged in settlement
talks in the neighborhood association suit, suggesting the voter
suppression claims have merit. In contrast, the case for Republican vote
count fraud in the rural areas has been much harder to prove, even as
the certified vote count is problematic in some counties.



Compared to Ohio's Democratic urban core, turnout in the Republican
districts was higher than the 2000 election. Moreover, in a handful of
counties there were vote count anomalies that made post-election
observers question whether Bush's vote was padded. The most notable
example is more than 10,000 voters from several Bible belt counties who
voted for Bush and voted in favor of gay marriage, if the results are
true. In a dozen rural counties, virtually unknown Democrats at the
bottom of the ballot received more votes that Kerry, an oddity in a
presidential year.



Reporters associated with FreePress.org and Arnebeck's legal team hoped
the court order preserving the 2004 ballots would enable them to
investigate how these results occurred. Depending on the ballot type and
vote-counting machine used, they have theories about how Bush's vote
could have been inflated. But because many of these rural counties
apparently have destroyed the very 2004 election records that would
clarify what happened, it is now virtually impossible to determine what
happened.



In Warren County, where county election officials said on Election Day
that the FBI had declared a homeland security alert - which they later
retracted - ballots were diverted to a warehouse before counting. The
local media was not allowed to observe the vote count. According to a
letter from the Warren County Board of Election to Brunner's office, the
election board cannot find 22,000 unused ballots from the election. In
nearby Butler County, unused ballots are also missing, fueling
speculation that they might have been used by Republican partisans to
pad the president's totals.



"The missing records reveal where the fraud occurred," said Arnebeck.
"You take as an example, Warren County. It is well documented that there
was a phony homeland security alert and that was the excuse for
excluding the public and the press from observing what was going on
during Election Day. So the missing unused ballots would suggest that
ballots were remade to fit the desired result."



"The same situation occurred in Clermont County," he said. "We have
sworn affidavits from people who saw white stickers placed over the
Kerry-Edward ovals in this optical scan county," he said, referring to
one way of masking a would-be Kerry vote, because optical-scan machines
read ink marks on paper ballots. "So the missing unused ballots would
suggest they were used to remake ballots to reflect the desired vote for
Bush."



Many rural Ohio counties did not have vote count problems, Arnebeck
said. But enough did have significant problems that called for further
investigation.



"The Attorney General says the rural counties all say human error was to
blame (for the missing ballots)," he said. "There are some counties
where ballots are missing and we don't believe anything was wrong with
the vote count. But there are others where that human error covers up
what we think was vote count fraud."



Another big category of votes that will never be explained are the
nearly 129,000 ballots that were rejected by voting machines and not
counted. Many of these 2004 ballots - a mix of computer punch cards,
paper ballots to be marked by ink and electronic votes - are among the
incomplete 2004 election records. One post-election analysis found
94,000 of these ballots come from Democratic-majority precincts, and
estimated these that ballots could have cost Kerry an additional 26,000
votes.