Legal challenge in Ohio

A state Supreme Court judge hears the case of a group of disgruntled Democrats who allege widespread fraud.

Published December 1, 2004 2:42PM (EST)

George W. Bush's victory in the U.S. presidential election will be challenged in Ohio's Supreme Court Wednesday when a group of Democratic voters will allege widespread fraud. President Bush clinched reelection by winning the state of Ohio on Nov. 2 by a margin of 136,000 votes over Democratic candidate John Kerry. Despite claims of fraud and technical glitches, Sen. Kerry decided that they were not big enough to affect the result and conceded the election on Nov. 3.

However, Cliff Arnebeck, a lawyer representing a group of voters challenging the Ohio result, claimed new analysis of various anomalies suggested it was rigged.

"We'll be calling for a reversal of the result based on evidence developed in the course of litigation," Arnebeck told the Guardian Tuesday. "Exit polling and substantial irregularities excluded votes that should have been counted. There is evidence that votes cast for one candidate were moved to the column of the other candidate." Arnebeck, a legal advisor to the liberal Alliance for Democracy, said the "contest of election" lawsuit will be presented to a judge from the Ohio Supreme Court Wednesday on behalf of at least 25 disgruntled voters. He said he expected other voters and organizations to join the case.

Ohio's secretary of state, Kenneth Blackwell, has until Monday to certify the result. His office did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday, but his spokesman, Carlo LoParo, told the Associated Press: "There are no signs of widespread irregularities."

Arnebeck said that hearings held in Ohio cities have brought to light new evidence of malpractice. He said one voter of a pro-Republican group caught destroying Democratic registration documents in Nevada before the election had also been operating in Ohio.

Critics of the Ohio count have also pointed to the case of an electronic voting machine found to have credited President Bush with 3,893 extra votes in a suburb of Columbus where only 638 people voted. State officials have said those votes will not be included in the final certified totals. There have also been complaints focused on punch-card ballots, of the type that caused chaos in Florida in 2000. Voting involves making a hole in the ballot next to the chosen candidate by punching out a small piece of card, a chad, with a stylus.

In the 68 Ohio counties where punch-card ballots were used this year, according to some groups protesting at this year's election, vote counters were unable to determine a vote for the president, but did register votes for other offices.

Veteran civil rights leader Jesse Jackson is spearheading the call for an Ohio recount. "We can live with winning and losing. We cannot live with fraud and stealing," he said earlier this week.

The election challenge will be reviewed by a single judge out of the seven members of Ohio's Supreme Court, who may let the election stand, declare another winner or throw out the result, forcing a recount or even a new vote. The judge's ruling can be appealed to the full court.

Exit polls on Election Day suggested that the election could be heading toward a Kerry victory, deepening the despair in Democratic ranks at the Bush win. The anomaly was blamed on the exit polls, but Arnebeck argued that it was evidence of malpractice.

By Julian Borger

Julian Borger is a correspondent for the Guardian.

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