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Prosecutor: No evidence of election tampering from computer repair

AP   21 December 2004

LOGAN (AP) Prosecutors and local police found no evidence of election tampering when they watched Monday as a technician repeated a repair to a tallying computer that led a congressman to request an FBI investigation.

Observers including Green Party representatives who requested a presidential recount agreed the procedure did not alter the hard drive where data are stored, Hocking County Prosecutor Larry Beal said.

"Everybody felt better," he said.

A deputy elections director in the southeast Ohio county had said in a sworn statement that a technician with the county's computer vendor took apart the computer attached to the main punch-card ballot tabulator. The repair worried her because the computer needed to be working before last week's recount.

Ohio and its 20 electoral votes determined the outcome of the election, tipping the race to Bush when Democrat John Kerry conceded the next morning. The state declared Bush the winner by 119,000 votes, and counties are in the middle of the recount, which the Kerry campaign supports.

Activists challenging President Bush's election win in Ohio used the deputy elections director's statement Friday in asking the Ohio Supreme Court for an emergency order for elections boards to impound all data and vote tabulating equipment. The court hasn't acted on the request.

And U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat compiling examples of voting irregularities in Ohio, asked the FBI to confiscate the computer and investigate "likely illegal election tampering."

The agency hadn't yet decided whether to open an investigation, said agent Michael Brooks, FBI spokesman in Cincinnati.

"We welcomed the challenge because we knew nothing was going to be found wrong," county elections director Lisa Schwartze said Monday after the demonstration.

Elections officials, a Green Party representative, prosecutors and the Logan patrolman who investigates computer crimes were among the observers as the same technician repeated the repair and answered questions. He had to do it twice because only half the group could fit in the room.

Brett Rapp, president of Xenia, Ohio-based elections vendor TRIAD Governmental Systems Inc., explained that the 14-year-old computer's internal battery needed for rebooting was low. The technician swapped the hard drive to a newer machine to read the information needed for reboot before reinstalling it in the original.

"The actual votes are stored on the punch-card ballots," Rapp said. "The machine simply counts the votes. During this whole process, the ballots were locked up."

Messages seeking comment were left Monday with Conyers' Washington office.

Cliff Arnebeck, the lead attorney challenging the Bush win, said he wasn't satisfied because the entire vote counting system "is subject to hacking."

"People are turning functions over to computer technicians and basically trusting them not to manipulate the system in an improper way," he said.

Hocking completed its recount last week Bush and Kerry each gained one vote, preserving Bush's 762-vote win in the county.

Green Party representatives told Schwartze on Monday they would challenge the recount because the county did not use a truly random procedure in ing 3 percent of ballots for a hand count as required under state law.

The county picked from only the five precincts that each had enough ballots to equal 3 percent, instead of randomly picking from all precincts until there were enough to equal 440 ballots.

With 73 of Ohio's 88 counties reporting final recounts to The Associated Press as of Monday, including the large urban counties of Cuyahoga, Hamilton and Franklin, Bush had gained 420 votes and Kerry has gained 569 votes.

The running tally accounts for 4.7 million votes cast, or about 85 percent of the total certified vote from the Nov. 2 election.

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