Ohio's Republican Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell has publicly labeled as "a complete idiot" an Election Protection attorney he is attempting to have sanctioned. Blackwell made the derogatory personal attack outside a banquet-laden conference in Columbus being sponsored by Diebold, ES&S, Triad and other voting machine vendors.

Blackwell told the 56th annual winter conference of the Ohio Association of Election Officials that the 2004 vote in Ohio was the "gold standard" for national balloting. "We were shocked when people flew in and said the election could be stolen," he told an audience of several hundred election officials from around the state. "The election was not perfect, but it was perfectly inspiring."

The four-day conference held January 25-8 a Columbus's Hyatt Regency Hotel features banquets, luncheons and parties (including one entitled "A Night in the Caribbean") sponsored by the nation's leading voting machine manufacturers, including ES&S, Diebold, Triad, Hart InterCivic and other names now widely associated with questions about the accuracy of the vote counts in the 2000, 2002 and 2004 elections.

Many of the voting machine vendors represented at the convention have strong ties to the Republican Party. On January 6, the Ohio delegation to the Electoral College became the first since 1876 to be challenged on the floor of the United States Congress.

Blackwell served as co-chair of Ohio's Bush-Cheney campaign while simultaneously administering the state election that swung the 2004 vote to George W. Bush. Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris played a similar role in 2000. Harris now holds a seat in the US Congress; Blackwell is running for governor of Ohio.

Blackwell's cohort, Ohio Attorney General James Petro, is now seeking sanctions against four Election Protection attorneys who filed their Moss v. Bush lawsuit to gain sworn testimony from Blackwell and access to voting records. The attorneys, Robert Fitrakis, Susan Truitt, Cliff Arnebeck and Peter Peckarsky, withdrew the suit after the January 6 challenge. Blackwell refused to testify and the attorneys were blocked from access to the voting records they sought. Petro filed for sanctions after the suit was withdrawn.

On Wednesday, January 26, at the opening of the Election Officials' gathering, Blackwell referred to Fitrakis as "a complete idiot." Blackwell made the remark in a hallway after being asked by social justice activist Judith Powell about the sanctions suit. Powell later questioned Blackwell from the floor of the convention about alleged widespread irregularities during the Ohio balloting, and was ejected from the proceedings.

Following massive voting irregularities he witnessed on Election Day, Fitrakis initiated and moderated the first public two hearings in Columbus, where voters testified to long lines, machine malfunctions, voter intimidation and other problems. Fitrakis and were key sources of information for the Status Report of the House Judiciary Committee Democratic Staff. The 102-page report entitled "What Went Wrong in Ohio" was issued on January 5 and concluded that, "Cumulatively, these irregularities, which affected hundreds of thousands of votes and voters in Ohio, raise grave doubts regarding whether it can be said that Ohio electors selected on December 13, 2004, were chosen in a matter that conforms to Ohio law, let alone federal requirements and constitutional standards."

Amidst a virtual news blackout, the Election Protection attorneys will file to overturn the sanction attempt on Friday, January 28. The case is scheduled to be heard by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, a Republican. Moyer's own re-election campaign was an integral part of the election protection suit, and was challenged by the election protection team in a companion suit, Moss v. Moyer, which was also withdrawn before Petro's sanction attempt.

The attorneys have asked Moyer to recuse himself from the case, but he has thus far refused. As it stands now, Moyer could levy large fines against the election protection attorneys, for which they could be held personally responsible.

Harvey Wasserman is co-author, with Bob Fitrakis and Steve Rosenfeld, of OHIO'S STOLEN ELECTION: VOICES OF THE DISENFRANCHISED, 2004, a book/film project from Contributions to the Election Protection defense fund, and the book/film project, are welcome at and via the Columbus Institute for Contemporary Journalism, 1240 Bryden Rd, Columbus, OH 43205. HARVEY WASSERMAN'S HISTORY OF THE US is available at