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Ohio court asked to overturn election

Post staff and wire reports   18 December 2004

Even as a recount not expected to change the outcome of Ohio's presidential race continued Friday, voters who said problems with voting machines last month indicated fraud asked the Ohio Supreme Court to overturn the Nov. 2 results.

The 40 voters involved in the challenge cite reports of machine errors, double-counting of some ballots and a shortage of voting machines in predominantly minority precincts as reasons to throw out President Bush's narrow win over Democrat John Kerry in Ohio.

The challenge is backed by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Cliff Arnebeck, a Columbus attorney for the Massachusetts-based Alliance for Democracy, who accused the Bush campaign of "high-tech vote stealing."

The group initially filed the request Monday, the day the Electoral College cast votes for Bush. Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer threw out the complaint Thursday, saying the voters improperly included a second election challenge in the complaint. Moyer, a Republican, said state law does not allow two elections to be challenged at once.

While that challenge was being revived Friday, election officials across Ohio continued a recount in which hanging chads that came loose when punch-card ballots were handled again or rerun through tallying machines was producing hundreds of additional votes for both Bush and Kerry.

Neither campaign expects the recount to change the outcome. Bush won Ohio's 20 electoral votes and with them, the White House by a margin of about 119,000 ballots.

With 65 of Ohio's 88 counties reporting final recounts, including the large urban counties of Hamilton, Cuyahoga and Franklin, Bush has gained 395 votes and Kerry has gained 554 votes.

In Hamilton County, the three-day recount saw Bush pick up 212 votes for a total of 222,616, while Kerry gained 180, raising his total to 199,679, according to county elections board chairman Tim Burke.

Libertarian presidential candidate Michael Badnarik one of two third-party candidates who requested the Ohio recount gained one vote, for a total of 1,021 in Hamilton County. Fourth place finisher Michael Peroutka, the Constitutional Party candidate, lost two votes in the recount, for a countywide total of 621. Green Party candidate David Cobb, the other candidate to request the recount, earned only 66 votes in Hamilton County before the recount. Burke was not certain whether Cobb, a write-in candidate, gained or lost votes in the recount.

Statewide, the running tally accounts for 4.4 million votes cast, about 74 percent of the total certified vote from Nov. 2.

Franklin and Cuyahoga counties were among the many reporting little or no change from the recount. In Cleveland's Cuyahoga County, Bush lost six votes while Kerry gained 17.

The Kerry campaign supports the recount, while Republicans have called it a waste of time.

Ohio law requires an election board to manually recount a randomly ed 3 percent of ballots. If the totals match certified results for those precincts, all the county's votes are then machine-counted. If the hand count is off, a county must manually recount all its ballots.

Election officials said the 3 percent hand-counts matched in virtually all the recounts done so far. They also attributed changes to voter error in filling out paper ballots for optical-scan voting machines, and election worker error in hand-recounting of stacks of ballots.

In two counties where the vote totals were unchanged by the recount, election officials said they hope the results demonstrate the reliability of Ohio's election procedures, despite criticism by activists over reports of voting machine shortages and lines at polling places in some areas.

"We're feeling pretty proud of ourselves, to prove to some of these people how wrong they were," said Margaret Hansen, director of the Monroe County Board of Elections in Woodsfield. Her county's recount left the totals unchanged for both major-party candidates, with Bush at 3,424 and Kerry at 4,243.

Similarly, Donna Moore, director of the Noble County Board of Elections in Caldwell, where Bush's total stayed at 3,841 and Kerry's at 2,654 after the recount, said: "We were just thrilled that there were no discrepancies. Actually, the punch-card system is a pretty good system."

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