Wednesday, February 09, 2005

FBI checking Clermont, Ohio voting

Congressman claims tampering

By Reid Forgrave
Enquirer staff writer

BATAVIA - The Federal Bureau of Investigation is interviewing members of the Clermont County Board of Elections because of a Democratic Congressman's claim of vote-tampering during the presidential election.

The allegations stem from white oval-shaped stickers, about the size of an M&M, placed on fewer than 100 ballots.

Poll workers used them on Election Day to correct mistaken votes and determine intent on the optical scan ballots. Some voters, for example, marked their vote, but also etched a small mark in the space for another candidate, which threw off the machines.

Michael Brooks, a spokesman with the FBI's office in Cincinnati, confirmed Tuesday that the agency is conducting preliminary interviews with Clermont elections officials. The bureau hasn't yet decided to open a formal investigation.

The FBI is responding to a letter from Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., requesting an investigation "of vote-tampering if not outright fraud" based on recount observers' statements.

Clermont Republicans, as well as the elections board director, dismissed the allegations as a ploy by some Democrats to "muddy the waters" of President Bush's victory in Ohio - where a 118,599-vote victory over Sen. John Kerry sealed Bush's second term.

"It's a farce," said Tim Rudd, chair of the Clermont County Republican Party and member of the bipartisan elections board. "I don't know what they're trying to do here. What we did see (during the state-mandated recount) was a couple of white ovals used to correct ballots for the voters' intent. What they didn't see was 50,000 adhesive ovals on these ballots."

Critics admit the alleged discrepancy wouldn't affect the outcome, but they say every vote count is a matter of principle.

"I don't think anyone would be foolish enough to say the election was stolen," said Bob Drake, a University of Cincinnati professor and Green Party recount observer. "It has nothing to do with the outcome of the election. We simply want the count to be accurate.

Board of Elections Director Dan Bare said elections are never perfect. He denied that there was any election fraud and said he welcomed the FBI scrutiny of the counting process, which includes one Republican and one Democrat through every step.

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