An Ohio jury has convicted two election workers and acquitted a third in a criminal case arising out of charges that the workers "rigged" the recount in the 2004 presidential race.
When recounts are conducted, Ohio law requires each county to select 3 percent of its ballots at random and then count them by hand. If those hand-counted results diverge from the initial machine tallies, workers are to conduct a second random test. If that test also raises questions, the county must conduct a hand recount of all of its ballots. Prosecutors charged three Cuyahoga County election officials with short-circuiting that process in 2004 by conducting a secret pre-count to find precincts without discrepancies and then using those precincts in the supposedly "random" 3 percent test.
As the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports, a jury Wednesday found two of the election employees guilty of one felony and one misdemeanor each. They had been charged with a total of seven offenses each; the counts on which they were convicted involved negligent, not intentional, wrongdoing. A defense attorney said the mixed verdicts suggested that the jury was confused.
In closing arguments to the jury, Erie County prosecutor Kevin Baxter said that the workers rigged the recount out of laziness rather than out of any desire to skew the results. "This was not done for political reasons," Baxter said. "It was so you didn't have to do a full hand recount. Politics didn't matter."
In the final election results, John Kerry lost Ohio to George W. Bush by about 118,000 of the 5.5 million votes cast.