COLUMBUS--Preaching to a packed, wildly cheering central Ohio citizen congregation, Rev. Jesse Jackson blasted the presidential election back into the national headlines Sunday. Jackson said new findings cast serious doubt on the idea that George W. Bush beat John Kerry in Ohio November 2. A GOP "pattern of intentionality" was behind a suspect outcome, he said. At stake is "the integrity of the vote" for which "too many have died." "We can live with losing an election," he said. "We cannot live with fraud and stealing."

Jackson is the first major national figure to come here challenging the idea that Ohio has given George W. Bush a second term in the White House. Jackson emphasized that the vote "has not yet been certified" and demanded the removal of Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell from supervising the recount, which Jackson termed a case of "the fox guarding the chicken house." Blackwell co-chaired the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio and has been widely criticized for a series of partisan decisions that have thus far indicated Bush carried the state. Exit polls by Zogby and CNN showed Ohio going for Kerry with 53% and 51% respectively, which would win him presidency in the Electoral College.

Blackwell says a complex series of rules allows him to limit a recount to just a few days. He says he may certify the Ohio vote between December 3d and 6th, with any recount due to be completed December 13, when Ohio's electors are scheduled to meet.

Jackson has demanded Blackwell recuse himself, saying "the owner of the team can't also be the referee." A broad-based legal team--now including Jackson's PUSH/Rainbow Coalition as Plaintiff--is preparing to file an election challenge asking the election results be overturned. Jackson says computer forensic experts must be given full access to electronic voting machines that have provided no paper trail, but which could be electronically analyzed from within. Jackson said he has spoken with Democratic candidate John Kerry, who indicated his support for the recount process.

New findings indicate that Kerry's margins in 37 (of 88) Ohio counties are suspiciously low when compared to those garnered by Judge Ellen Connally, an unsuccessful Democratic Supreme Court candidate. The calculations focus on standardized county-wide ratios between bottom-of-the-ticket tallies won by Judge Connally versus those won by Kerry in heavily Republican, rural counties. According to a wide range of experts, there appears to be a systematic removal of Kerry votes by hackers who overlooked the Connally votes, which now clearly implies something went wrong. "It's simply not credible that a vastly underfunded African-American female candidate at the bottom of the ticket could outpoll John Kerry in Butler County," said Cliff Arneback, a lead attorney for the challenging legal team. Jackson said the situation "does not pass the smell test."

Before some 500 supporters, Jackson preached a litany of doubt surrounding the Ohio outcome, prompting at least 50 congregants to file affidavits documenting their own experiences trying to vote November 2. Several hundred such documents have been filed at a series of hearings in Columbus, Cincinnati, and Cleveland.

According to the sworn testimony, a systematic denial of voting machines to inner city precincts resulted in waits of three, five and even eleven hours for thousands of voters, many of whom left in frustration without casting their ballots. Charges of intimidation, misinformation, faulty registration lists and denial of provisional ballots are listed. So are serious questions about the integrity of touch screen machines, many of which were widely reported to have turned Kerry votes into Bush votes. In Warren County, Homeland Security was inexplicably invoked to bar independent observers and the media, leaving the vote count under control of Republicans. In the Franklin County precinct of Gahanna, 4258 votes were registered for Bush where only 628 people voted. In another county, a GOP election official took voting results to his private home for final, unsupervised reporting.

"We need federal supervision of federal elections," said Jackson. "Right now we have 50 separate but unequal ways to vote. There can be no safe harbor for a flawed process that leaves people disenfranchised.

"You can't have public elections on privately-owned machines, especially where one of the owners has vowed to deliver the state for George Bush," Jackson added, referring to Wally O'Dell, a major Bush supporter and CEO of Diebold, a leading Ohio-based supplier of electronic voting machines and voting software.

"You can hack these machines," Jackson said. "The playing field is uneven. These numbers will not go away. We as Americans should not be begging a Secretary of State for a fair vote count. We cannot be the home of the thief and the land of the slave."

"This is not about John Kerry versus George Bush," said Jackson. "This is about Medgar Evers and Fannie Lou Hamer and Viola Liuzzo. About Goodman, Cheney and Schwerner, and twenty-seven years in prison for Nelson Mandela," he said, referring to heroes of the movements for equal rights. "It's about a will to dignity. It's not too much to ask for our vote to count."

Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of the upcoming ANOTHER STOLEN ELECTION: VOICES OF THE DISENFRANCHISED, 2004 ( Fitrakis is publisher and Wasserman is senior editor of Fitrakis is co-counsel for the Alliance For Democracy which has announced that it will file a lawsuit to ensure a fair recount of the votes in Ohio.