Ohio counties certify Bush victory, but opponents continue challenges

Some seek a recount

others sue to void vote

December 02, 2004|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - Ohio counties certified election results yesterday showing that President Bush won the pivotal battleground state Nov. 2 and, with it, a second term.

But one coalition of disgruntled voters and interest groups plans to seek a recount. Another plans to file a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court today contesting Bush's victory.

Despite these challenges - and rampant charges on the Internet that Republicans stole the election for Bush in Ohio - there's no proof of fraud, and there's no reason yet to think the election will be overturned.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, who conceded Ohio and the election Nov. 3 after his aides concluded there was no reasonable chance for him to overturn Bush's margin there of 136,000 votes, refuses to join the challenges.

"We haven't seen any evidence to suggest that the outcome of the election would change," spokesman David Wade said.

A federal judge has blocked efforts to start a recount quickly.

Any recount wouldn't start until Dec. 11. That would leave only about 24 hours to find enough invalid votes to reverse Bush's victory in Ohio before the state's presidential electors vote for him Dec. 13, which would seal his re-election.

Official results from the state's 88 counties were sent yesterday to Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. He's expected to certify the tally Dec. 6 showing that Bush won the state.

The challenges are proceeding along two tracks.

The first - by the Green and Libertarian parties, whose candidates each polled less than 1 percent in Ohio - seeks a recount.

"There were widespread reports of irregularities," said Blair Bobier, an Oregon attorney for the Greens. "They range from computer glitches that recorded more votes for George Bush than there were registered voters, to people attempting to vote for one candidate and the screen showing they voted for another candidate."

The machine that showed more votes for Bush than the number of registered voters was in Franklin County. A spokesman for Blackwell's office said the problem was detected and corrected. The votes weren't counted.

Touch-screen machines show the final vote before recording it so that voters have a chance to correct mistakes. Yet Bobier said some voters weren't able to correct their mistakes because they got incorrect instructions from poll workers or gave up and left the wrong votes on the machines.

The second track is the group that plans to challenge the election, which said it would file suit today with the state Supreme Court. The group includes 25 Ohio voters and is backed by a Massachusetts-based interest group, Alliance for Democracy.

Among their complaints: Kerry was outpolled in southern Ohio - a culturally conservative area - by a black female Democrat running for the state Supreme Court. The challengers say that's unlikely and reason that it means 70,000 votes were taken from Kerry and given to Bush.

"In southern Ohio, there's no reason to believe a black female candidate would be outperforming Kerry," said Cliff Arnebeck, an attorney for the group. "It's a fix. Whether they had the computers rigged to do this, we'll find out."

Another complaint: The Ohio results contradicted exit surveys showing Kerry ahead in the state.

Pressed to explain how that was evidence of fraud, Arnebeck said exit polls were better proof than vote results.

"The exit-polling process is sponsored by news organizations, which are professionally committed to truth, not the distorted picture one party wants to convey," he said. "It is a much more credible form of evidence of how people voted than this incredibly partisan machinery we have in place to conduct our elections."

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