Die-hard backers battle on for Kerry

Many join in protests, alleging electoral fraud

December 13, 2004|By Sam Howe Verhovek | Sam Howe Verhovek,LOS ANGELES TIMES

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Clifford Arnebeck won't let it go. He can't let it go. Not, he says, while America refuses to recognize that John Kerry was elected president Nov. 2.

Arnebeck, a Democratic lawyer here and co-chairman of a self-styled national populist alliance, is petitioning the state's highest court to throw out official results that favor President Bush and instead hand Ohio's 20 electoral votes -- and thus the White House -- to Kerry. Or, at least, order a revote.

The bid appears quixotic, to put it politely. Bush has been officially declared the winner by 118,000 votes and Arnebeck is arguing before a Republican-dominated Supreme Court in Ohio. Nor is the Massachusetts senator helping him out, said Arnebeck.

"I can't for the life of me understand why Kerry isn't fighting harder for this," he said. "Maybe it's some secret Skull and Bones tradition, where you're not supposed to show up the other guy."

Most of the country may have moved on, and Electoral College slates are to meet in all 50 states today to cast formal votes that will give Bush a 286-252 winning edge and a second term.

Even many who are disturbed by aspects of the recent election -- such as unconscionably long lines at polling places, or electronic "touch-screen" voting with no back-up paper audits available -- say they want future improvements but nonetheless believe Bush won a fair battle.

But for Arnebeck and thousands of others, this contest is far from over.

From a "rally to change the tally" in San Francisco to black-armband protests in Denver and Boston over the weekend against what organizers call the "media black-out of election fraud," the protests go on. But they are especially focused on Ohio, whose 20 electoral votes proved crucial.

"I would like to welcome you to Ukraine," said Susan Truitt, a speaker at a rally this month outside the Ohio statehouse, where 400 showed up to demand an inquiry into fraud allegations. She was referring to a nation about to hold a new presidential election after protests that the first one was rigged.

The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who also appeared at the rally, pointed to a recurring grievance of the groups that question the legitimacy of Bush's 2004 victory. Why is it, Jackson asked, that exit polls done for the news media seemed to point toward a Kerry victory that day?

Rather than analyzing faults in the exit polls, Jackson and others say, why aren't the media and public officials digging more aggressively for chicanery in the official tabulations?

Jackson and various protest groups point to what they say are several suspicious occurrences that demand further investigation:

In three suburban Cincinnati counties, a Democratic candidate for state chief justice received more votes than Kerry, even though she lost statewide by a wider margin than did Kerry, and the overall total of votes cast in her race was 4.4 million, well below the 5.6 million cast in the presidential race.

A "computer glitch," as local officials called it, recorded an extra 3,893 votes for Bush in suburban Columbus, in a precinct with only 638 votes cast.

Long lines forced many Ohioans to wait hours to vote and might have deterred some from voting at all. They were especially long in urban Democratic areas and in some college towns, and protesters want to know why.

Another dispute, which surfaced last year and is a continuing target of outrage, involved Walden O'Dell, the chief executive of Ohio-based Diebold Inc., a major player in the electronic touch-screen voting industry. In an August 2003 invitation to a Bush fund-raising event, he wrote that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president."

Under the certified results, Bush had 2.86 million votes, or about 51 percent, to Kerry's 2.74 million, or 49 percent. After all provisional votes were counted, the Bush margin represented a drop of about 18,000 votes from the totals announced just after Election Day.

Arnebeck, who has made two unsuccessful runs for Congress and was an Ohio coordinator for Ross Perot, is undeterred. If the court orders a full and thorough investigation, he said, Kerry will win. He wishes Kerry would join the fight.

"He and his people are too ready to disbelieve that Republicans could be this bad," Arnebeck said. "They are this bad. Ballot-box stuffing is an old American tradition, and they've just updated it."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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