Two big victories boost Ohio's election protection movement
by Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman
April 5, 2007
In a victory for election protection activists, Ohio's powerful GOP Chair Bob Bennett will be forced to face a public hearing on his removal as Chair of the Cuyahoga (Cleveland) Board of Elections. And in a second triumph, Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has agreed, as part of a legal settlement, to take possession of the ballots and other key documents from the disputed 2004 election that gave George W. Bush a second term in the White House.
Brunner has requested the resignations of the entire scandal-plagued Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, which Bennett has chaired. Two Democratic members and one Republican have complied with her request. The BOE's executive director, Michael Vu, previously resigned amidst a cloud of scandal resulting from a mishandled primary election and more than $12 million in budgetary overruns. Two BOE workers have been given 18-month prison sentences for felony convictions stemming from what a government prosecutor called the "rigging" of an officially mandated recount for the 2004 presidential election.
Bennett has issued a legal challenge against his removal. But on Wednesday, April 4, Franklin County Common Pleas Judge John Connor ruled Bennett has to comply with Brunner's call for a public hearing on the matter. The hearing is scheduled for Monday, April 9.
A long-time GOP power broker, Bennett is a close personal confidante of White House advisor Karl Rove. He has been Rove's point man in Ohio's most populous county, which includes the Democratic voter rich city of Cleveland. A wide array of irregularities there were pivotal in giving Bush his narrow margin of official victory in 2004.
Bennett asked the court to rule that the Ohio statute seeking his removal was unconstitutionally vague. But Judge Connor ruled that the law was "clear and unequivocal."
This is Bennett's third major setback in three days. On Monday, April 2, Brunner put the Cuyahoga BOE under state administrative oversight because it lacked a quorum to conduct business. With the resignations of the other three board members, Bennett stood alone as the sole board member.
On Tuesday, April 3, Brunner suspended Bennett, citing the fact that as BOE chair he had allegedly "instructed" former Executive Director Vu to award a contract to a consultant without Board approval.
"Bennett instructed Vu to award a second contract to David Hopcraft in the amount of $14,750 on or about February 26, 2007, for public relations services to be paid for by public dollars by the Board of Elections," Brunner wrote in her suspension statement.
The statement adds that: "The Dayton Daily News on March 26, 2007 reported Mr. Hopcraft to be a 'GOP spokesperson.' According to Board policy, no contract for services may be awarded without Board approval if it exceeds $15,000. The extension of Hopcraft's contract for just under $15,000, without Board approval, violates Board policy," Brunner's statement says.
Brunner's order suspends all of Bennett's powers. It orders Bennett not to attend any Cuyahoga County BOE meetings or to be present at the BOE offices. The suspension is indefinite, pending the results of the removal hearing and any subsequent legal appeals.
On March 21, Bennett lashed out following the convictions of two Cuyahoga County BOE workers charged with "rigging" the 2004 presidential recount. Bennett said, in part: "… the public deserves to know that the big shots, the lawyers and the special political interests are not going to grind up the people who are doing the public's work at this Board."
Steve Hertzberg of the nonprofit Election Science Institute, which conducted an investigation of major problems that marred the 2006 Cuyahoga County primary election, responded to Bennett's attack by stating, "It is an insult to the intelligence of the Cuyahoga community that Mr. Bennett attempts to lay blame elsewhere while he attempts to maintain his lucrative position on the CCBOE. Not only should this man resign immediately, he should apologize for the myriad of mistakes and the damage he had done to the reputation of Ohio and its citizens.
"Shame on you, Mr. Bennett," Hertzberg concluded.
1 | 2