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Ohio Election Officials Whistle Past the Graveyard of 2004

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Secretary of State and Attorney General Tell Election Lawyers to Resort to Communication, Mediation Before Lawsuits

Originally posted at OhioNewsBureau

COLUMBUS, OHIO: We may never really know what happened in Ohio in 2004 when President Bush squeaked by his Democratic opponent in what some hardboiled, unyielding election advocates say was an election full of irregularities that should have been investigated by now but haven't, but the message conveyed last Friday, when the Ohio Secretary of State and Attorney General hosted a forward-looking election confab that included private attorneys and those representing the presidential campaigns of Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama, was that hidden in the new mantra of preparing for success in November is the ghost that whistles past the graveyard of the mysteries of 2004.

The meet that featured Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and high-level staffers to Ohio Attorney General Nancy H. Rogers, who is managing the office until November when a new elected AG will take over, was all about keeping lines of communications open and resolving any disputes out of court well in advance of Election Day on November 4th, so Ohio, which earned a well deserved black eye for its election performance in 2004, doesn't renew that ignominy as it girds for a predicted 80 percent voter turnout that will again make it the mother of all battleground states.

Preparing for Success

Brunner, an attorney and former judge, extolled attendees to "work together" and emphasized resolving problems by mediation and open communications, while Rogers, a former law school dean from Ohio State University, focused on the integrity and reputation of the Ohio bar, according to published reports.

Todd Steggerda, counsel for the McCain campaign said the campaign hopes elections will be "fair, open, honest." Obama's representatives and those of the Democratic National Committee came to listen.

The marketing mantra Brunner's message makers have constructed now is designed to declare success in advance of November, as she, her staff and county boards of elections, of which there are 88 in Ohio, try to plug the dyke of elections now with better poll training, a volley of statewide directives and even she said may not stave off lawsuits that may inevitably be filed. Brunner is currently engaged in a running battle with Republicans over details involving early voting that are detailed in Ohio's current election law, passed along party lines when Republicans controlled both the legislature and the office of governor.

Even though a rare conviction related to voter fraud does arise once in a Blue Moon, raising the specter of voter fraud, an issue Republicans are far more apt to trot out each election cycle although Democrats and progressives are doing so this year on the issue of payday lenders but which has little if any tangible court-conviction evidence to warrant the fear embedded in it as a real problem, Republicans say a five-day gap between the start of absentee voting on September 30th and the deadline for voter registration, during which a voter who registers can cast a vote, is inviting problems of voter fraud. Brunner has instructed boards of elections to delay registration if they are not satisfied about the validity of the application and the applicant's qualifications.

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2004 Election Irregularities Likely Lost to History

One private attorney who was in attendance said he raised the issue about the fraud he said evidence proves took place in 2004, that could take place again this year. Cliff Arnebeck, who is trying to pursue the deposition of Karl Rove and Mike Connell, a Republican computer wizard, about whether they helped rig or tilt the election four years ago to Republicans, especially for the office of president, in such a way as to be undetectable to all election officials, said to those in attendance that "irrespective of many allegations and much evidence of such fraud in 2004, there had never been an investigation by either state or federal authorities of such allegations and evidence.

"I specifically cited the allegations and evidence of fraudulent diversion of ballots in Warren County to an unauthorized location for three hours where they were subject to manipulation by Republican operatives," Arnebeck told OhioNewsBureau in an email. He said he told Brunner and Rogers that, according to reports he has received, "fraudsters are getting organized to manipulate the 2008 election."

Brunner, who has steadfastly refused to use the powers and authority of her office to determine whether allegations by Arnebeck or others that the election was stolen by Republicans in 2004, said any one who has such reports should bring them to her attention so she could address them.

Elections Near as Voting Machines Remain Flawed

The lawsuits Brunner anticipates being filed may be hastened or enabled by the still-volatile issue of voting machine flaws that have pock marked previous elections and may do so again this year. Ian Urbina wrote in the New York Times Friday that the Election Assistance Commission, the federal agency overseeing voting, has been unable to fix the flaws in both hard- and software associated with electronic touch screen voting machines, and to some extent, paper ballot scanners.

From the NYT article:

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"In Ohio, for example, which requires federal certification, election officials found that in this year's presidential primary the touch-screen machines used in 43 counties, or by more than three million voters, dropped at least 1,000 votes as memory cards sent data to the central server in each county. The discrepancy was caught and corrected before final tallies were calculated, but election officials say the risk is too high. The newer software being provided by manufacturers fixes the problem, but it has not been certified, and so the state cannot use it.

"Cuyahoga County, the most populous county in Ohio, plans to use a type of optical scan machine that lacks safeguards to prevent election officials from tampering with the ballots and affecting tallies, said the Ohio secretary of state, Jennifer L. Brunner. Those safeguards do exist on a later model, she said, but it remains uncertified.

"We need the federal oversight to create consistent standards and to hold the manufacturers to a certain level of quality, but we also have to be able to get the equipment when we need it," Ms. Brunner said. "Right now, that equipment is not coming, and we're left making contingency plans."

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