Ohio vote tally still being questioned

CLEVELAND — Upset by the certification of Ohio’s presidential election results by Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, several Ohio groups are demanding a recount of the vote. Almost no one expects that the outcome of the election in Ohio — and hence the decision about who won the presidency — would be overturned in such a recount. The groups’ concern is that the democratic process be protected, and that voting irregularities that occurred in Ohio never happen again.

Groups and individuals involved in the request for a recount include the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, the Ohio Democratic Party, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Ohio Kerry campaign, Citizens Alliance for Secure Elections (CASE), Common Cause, the Alliance for Democracy, Election Protection (backed by the national People for the American Way), the League of Pissed Off Voters and others.

An automatic recount is triggered if the margin of victory is within a small percentage point. The almost 119,000-vote margin for George Bush was smaller than the unofficial 136,000-vote margin projected on election night. Yet the results were not close enough to trigger an automatic recount, so the parties requesting the recount have to pay for it. They have already raised enough money to do this.

One Ohio county, Delaware County, attempted unsuccessfully to block the recount. A federal judge ruled that the recount should go forward, despite Delaware County’s protest.

Meanwhile, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) convened hearings Dec. 8 in Washington to hear and investigate complaints that voters in Ohio and other states were effectively disenfranchised.

The list of complaints about voters being disenfranchised includes:

• Long lines at the polling places that caused many discouraged voters to leave the polls without voting.

• Voters who had voted for years at a particular polling place being told their names were not on the rolls.

• Mass confusion among poll workers, including failing to inform would-be voters that they could vote a provisional ballot if their names were not on the rolls.

• Poll workers discouraging voters from voting a provisional ballot, saying that the voter’s vote wouldn’t count anyway, so “why waste your time?”

• Poll workers failing to inform voters of their correct polling place if they were in the “wrong” precinct.

• Last-minute rulings by the secretary of state’s office regarding which provisional ballots would be counted and whether or not challengers would be allowed in polling places.

• Voters who applied for absentee ballots never receiving them and, therefore, being unable to vote at all.

• Observers at the vote-counting process at boards of elections having to sit 6 feet behind the vote-counters and unable to see how they were counting the votes.

• Miscounts of voting tallies by computer voting machines.

• Machines tabulating votes for the wrong candidate.

• Boards failing to notify voters about problems with their voter registration cards in time for the voters to correct the problem, voters registration, information being incorrectly entered on boards of elections rolls, or not entered at all.

Hence, hundreds of voters arrived at the polls, waited hours in the rain, fully expecting to vote, only to be told that there was a problem and they could only vote a provisional ballot.

About one-third of all provisional ballots in Cuyahoga County, one of Ohio’s largest counties, were rejected. By contrast, about 76 percent of all Ohio provisional ballots were accepted. The rate of rejection of provisional ballots in Cuyahoga County was significantly higher in largely African American wards and precincts.

All of this has angered many voting rights groups, who vow never to let these problems happen again. Coalitions are forming across the state to continue work on election reform, regardless of the outcome of this particular race for the presidency.