Ohio recount criminal trial underway (now 2 convictions)

Monday, January 22, 2007 at 06:12 PM

WTW reported on the indictment of three Ohio election workers for flouting Ohio law on conducting recounts during the 2004 elections.  That trial is now underway, and what appears to be the main defense is, frankly, insulting as hell.

From the Columbus Dispatch:

Defense attorneys said in their opening statements that the workers in Cuyahoga County didn't do anything out of the ordinary.

"Nothing was hidden from the public," said Robert Rotatori, who represents Jacqueline Maiden, the county elections board coordinator.

Baxter said testimony will show that the three workers secretly chose sample precincts for the December 2004 recount that did not have questionable results to ensure the tally from the sample matched a previous vote count. Sample precincts were to be selected randomly before witnesses.

When the results matched, the workers were allowed to recount the rest of the county's ballots by machine, avoiding a full hand recount that would have been more lengthy and expensive, he said.

"This was a very hush operation," Baxter said.

Defense attorney Roger Synenberg, representing Dreamer, said in his opening statement that the recount was not secretive and that board employees were simply following procedures.

"They just were doing it the way they were always doing it," Synenberg said.

I know I'm impressed.  It must take an immense amount of legal talent to come up with the defense that "we shouldn't punish them for breaking the law, because they always broke the law."

AND, what gets left out of most news reports on the trial is real important:

1. As Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman report in the Columbus Free Press,:

Cleveland, which usually gives Democrats an extremely heavy margin, was crucial to Bush's alleged victory of roughly 118,000 votes out of 5.5 million counted. Some 600,000 votes were cast or counted in Cuyahoga County. But official turnout and vote counts varied wildly and improbably from precinct to precinct. Overall the county reported about a 60% turnout. But several predominantly black precincts, where voters went more than 80% for Kerry, reported turnouts of 30% or less. In one ward, only a 7% turnout was reported, while surrounding precincts were nearly ten times as high. Independent studies indicate Kerry lost thousands of votes in Cuyahoga County that rightfully should have been counted in his column.

Still not outraged?  Again from Fitrakis & Wasserman:

Similar allegations have been made in other counties. Indeed, such illegal non-random recounting procedures appear to have been common throughout the state, carried out by board of election employees with the tacit consent of Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell. Blackwell was officially charged with administering the election that gave Bush a second term while simultaneously serving as the Ohio co-chair of his Bush's re-election campaign. Blackwell has just been overwhelmingly defeated in his own attempt to become governor of Ohio.

But the trial in Cleveland represents just a small sampling of what happened during the Ohio recount. At a public hearing sponsored by the Free Press in Toledo in December, 2004, sworn testimony claimed that Diebold technicians were party to picking the "random" precincts to be recounted. At least one of the precincts lacked a memory card for the recount using the optiscan machine.

In Miami County, election officials admit that they did not recount to the official vote total, but merely ran the optiscan ballots through the ES 550 counter, and then counted them to see if they matched the machine count. In essence, what they did was a test of the counting machine, not a recount to the actual reported votes. Miami's procedures were thus as illegal as those in Cuyahoga.

Indeed, when the Free Press audited all the recount ballots from Miami County, we found the so-called recount results differed noticeably from the official results. If these differences in results were discovered at the recount in 2004, Ohio law should have triggered a hand recount of all ballots in the county. That was never done.

In Fairfield County, when the recount totals wouldn't match, Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell recommended Sam Hogsett, an ES&S employee, to assist with the process. Despite complaints from a Democratic election officer, Hogsettt worked the central tabulator and counter. Hogsett somehow managed to make the recount match, thus avoiding a full manual recount.

Hogsettt is on record in a local newspaper saying that he would like to shoot a "liberal" so the liberal would learn that it wasn't the gun that killed him, but the shooter, Hogsett. Green Party recount coordinator Paddy Shaffer complained to Delaware County election officials about Hogsett's presence during the recount and his constant use of the computer. Her complaint has had no apparent impact.

In Hocking County, Board of Elections Deputy Director, Sherole Eaton was fired after she submitted an affidavit to U.S. Rep. John Conyers outlining how Hocking BOE officials pre-selected one precinct because it had the "right" number of voters (3%), thus illegally prescreening like Cuyahoga County. Eaton also complained that a Triad technician showed up unannounced on recount day and offered her a "cheat sheet" for the recount. He just happened to have a hard drive for a 12-year-old Dell computer that served as Hocking County's central tabulator. The county's official central tabulator went down mysteriously just prior to the recount. Eaton said the Triad technician installed his hard drive and told the election officials that the recount would match up perfectly if they didn't turn off the computer. Eaton has not been restored to her BOE position, and there has been no full recount in Hocking County.

In Coshocton County, Green Party recount observer Tim Kettler acquired public records showing that election officials pre-counted in secrecy in clear violation of Ohio law. Coshocton BOE officials desperately begged Secretary of State Blackwell for advice when the recount did not match. Blackwell's office urged the county to simply send in the results as official. But after being confronted by angry recount observers, Coshocton BOE officials became the only ones in Ohio to hand count every ballot. The recount resulted in a statistically significant vote pickup for John Kerry among previously uncounted ballots.

Since most news stories do not go into any detail on how Ohio appoints people to these Boards, many assume that, Cuyahoga County being Democratic, the elections workers on trial are Democrats.  While I do not know this for a fact, my current understanding is that Ohio's election officials are, in fact, appointed by the Secretary of State.  In 2004, that was the one and only Kenneth Blackwell, and I believe that Cuyahoga County's 2004 chief electoral officer was a prominent member of the state's Republican Party.

And no matter what the outcome of the trial, and no matter what evidence Fitrakis & Wasserman compile of the extent and depth of the chicanery, there's one thing you know won't change: Our fearless leader will remain our fearless leader, 'cause our fearless leader and the fearful followers ain't going to let something as small as massive election chicanery keep the fearless leader from being the fearless leader just as loooooong as he can..

Update [2007-1-24 17:58:9 by Lee Russ]:Two of these lovely folks have been convicted: [http://www.guardian.co.uk/uslatest/story/0,,-6369109,00.html]

Election Staff Convicted in Recount Rig Wednesday January 24, 2007 10:46 PM By M.R. KROPKO Associated Press Writer CLEVELAND (AP) - Two election workers were convicted Wednesday of rigging a recount of the 2004 presidential election to avoid a more thorough review in Ohio's most populous county. Jacqueline Maiden, elections coordinator of the Cuyahoga County Elections Board, and ballot manager Kathleen Dreamer each were convicted of a felony count of negligent misconduct of an elections employee. They also were convicted of one misdemeanor count each of failure of elections employees to perform their duty. Prosecutors accused Maiden and Dreamer of secretly reviewing preselected ballots before a public recount on Dec. 16, 2004. They worked behind closed doors for three days to pick ballots they knew would not cause discrepancies when checked by hand, prosecutors said. Defense attorney Roger Synenberg has said the workers were following procedures as they understood them. Ohio gave President Bush the electoral votes he needed to defeat Democratic Sen. John Kerry in the close election and hold on to the White House in 2004. Special prosecutor Kevin Baxter did not claim the workers' actions affected the outcome of the election - Kerry gained 17 votes and Bush lost six in the county's recount.[NOTE: those figures, of course, represent the results of the sham recount which prevented a legitimate recount that might well have been VERY different] Maiden and Dreamer, who still work for the elections board, face a possible sentence of six to 18 months for the felony conviction. Sentencing is on Feb. 26.