Election 2004

A Legitimate Recount Effort in Ohio

An effort led by Common Cause and the Alliance for Democracy is underway in Ohio to conduct a statewide recount.
Efforts to launch an official statewide recount of the Ohio presidential vote are underway. While it's unclear if a recount will result in a Kerry victory, it's likely to highlight many flaws in Ohio elections that may have tilted results toward Republicans and against Democrats.

Common Cause of Ohio and the Alliance for Democracy, a progressive coalition, Thursday announced they were launching a recount campaign for Ohio. Columbus, Ohio attorney Cliff Arnebeck, who represents both groups, said both the Green Party and Libertarian Party presidential candidates would seek a recount if the $110,000 filing fee could be raised. "Common Cause and the Alliance for Democracy are not partisan. The purpose of the recount is to verify the honesty of the process," Arnebeck said. "That is in the interest of anyone who would be declared the winner."

A coalition of progressive groups will hold a public hearing on election abuses this Saturday in Columbus calling on the Kerry campaign to pay for the recount. Meanwhile, they have created a Web page to collect donations at the Alliance for Democracy site. The Kerry campaign reportedly was sending lawyers to Ohio to look into election irregularities, but Arnebeck said only the public interest groups were now committed to a recount.

While there have been many accounts of problems associated with the Ohio vote, from reports of 90,000 spoiled ballots, to software glitches resulting in more votes tallied than the number of registered voters, to new voters not being notified where their polling places were, to too few voting machines in Democratic strongholds, the only legal process that could immediately address some of these concerns is a recount.

The recount would be just that: a recounting of all the votes cast. If the results change, meaning more votes are added to Kerry's total – then the official result, what the secretary of state certifies, is changed.

"It's re-certified," Arnebeck said. "If Kerry emerges victorious, he's president." Of course, a certification in Kerry's favor for Ohio won't take away the fact that Bush won the popular vote by 3.5 million votes.

And the clock is ticking on the Ohio process. In coming days, the Ohio secretary of state is expected to announce that the provisional ballots have been counted. A losing candidate for president then has 5 days to request a recount, filing the paperwork and filing fee. That cost is $10 per precinct, which comes to slightly more than $110,000. As of Friday morning, $35,000 had been raised. There is a possibility that not all Ohio counties will finish the provsional ballot count, which would prompt those seeking the recount to pursue other actions, Arnebeck said.

In Florida in 2000, before the Supreme Court interceded in the election outcome, there was no statewide recount conducted. A coalition of newspapers later analyzed the vote, in essence, doing their own recount. They found Al Gore had won. That result was spun by those defending George W. Bush, however, saying that the smaller number of counties where Gore wanted a recount would not have made Gore president.

There is a big difference between this effort and what Bev Harris and Black Box Voting are doing. That group, which is investigating computer voting fraud, is making Freedom of Information Act requests. That does not have the force of law behind it to change election results, unless it is entered as evidence in litigation sparked by a recount. The recount sought by the Ohio groups can revise the official state count.

There are three new areas where votes can come from in Ohio: absentee ballots, provisional ballots, and computer errors. Arnebeck said he has evidence how in one rural county more computer votes were counted than there were registered voters. Arnebeck said that the issue has been referred to the FBI. Arnebeck also said that the provisional ballots are also thought to favor Kerry, adding that this week the Ohio Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell was issuing new orders to disqualify provisional ballots if the voter did not enter their dates of birth. That shows how political a supposedly mechanical process already has become.

On the other hand, there are aspects of Ohio's vote that a recount is not likely to resolve. Questions such as what happened to people who did not vote – because they never received notifications after registering by mail, or because of long lines and too few voting machines in their precincts, may not get addressed, as a recount is a formal procedure where local election officials redo the count.

In Franklin County, where Columbus is located, for example, there was a clear pattern of a shortage of voting machines in Democratic inner city precincts, where new registrations skyrocketed, compared to the more middle-class white, GOP-dominated suburbs. Deliberately putting too few machines would violate the national Voting Rights Act. But that's hard to prove – especially because the county's election supervisor has said all the local boards are bipartisan. On the other hand, Ohio activists point out that people with longtime GOP ties supervised the county's election.

Still, there are many things that a recount could yield – apart from the possibility of Kerry victory. There is a tremendous need for a plausible explanation of what actually happened on Election Day in Ohio. Kerry's Wednesday morning concession pre-empted that explanation.

"Many people are saying, why bother to do this? The answer is we have not gathered all the facts," Arnebeck said. "Until you recount the votes, and look at the possibility of a sophisticated computer fix, you cannot draw conclusions. Whatever it costs to properly analyze this is nothing in terms of enabling the country to move forward. They just have to raise the money to officially file the recount request. The case is ready."

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