Back to Ohio: Prosecutor says 2004 recount was "rigged"

Three elections officials are charged with short-circuiting the legal process to avoid a full hand recount.

By Tim Grieve
Published January 18, 2007 4:56PM (EST)

In a Cleveland courtroom this morning, a prosecutor is arguing that three Cuyahoga County election workers "rigged" a preliminary recount of ballots cast in the 2004 presidential election that sent George W. Bush back to the White House.

As the Associated Press explains, Ohio law requires each county participating in an election recount to choose 3 percent of its ballots at random and then count them by hand. If the hand counts match machine counts, the county is allowed to carry out the rest of the recount using machines. If there are discrepancies between the counts, workers are to try the random-sample test again. If a second test still shows discrepancies, they must recount all ballots by hand.

Erie County prosecutor Kevin Baxter says three Cuyahoga County election workers short-circuited that process by conducting a secret pre-count to find precincts where the hand count would match the original machine counts. They then used those precincts for the 3 percent sample test, freeing the county from the risk of a second test or, possibly, a hand recount of all of the ballots cast.

"The evidence will show that this recount was rigged, maybe not for political reasons, but rigged nonetheless," Baxter said today. "They did this so they could spend a day rather than weeks or months" on the recount, he said.

The Cuyahoga County elections board has said that its employees did nothing wrong. A lawyer for one of the workers says his client was just following long-established procedures. The three workers -- the county's elections coordinator, a manager and an assistant manager -- are charged with a variety of election-related offenses, the most serious of which comes with a sentence of up to 18 months in prison.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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