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Challenges Planned to Ohio's Presidential Vote Totals

Associated Press
Monday, December 6, 2004; Page A04

COLUMBUS, Ohio, Dec. 5 -- When Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell certifies the state's final presidential election results, declaring President Bush the winner by about 119,000 votes, critics say they intend to present two challenges.

Lawyers representing voters upset about problems at the polls plan to contest the results with the Ohio Supreme Court, citing documented cases of long lines, a shortage of machines and a pattern of problems in predominantly black neighborhoods.

In addition, third-party candidates, bolstered by a favorable federal court ruling, plan to file requests for a recount in each of Ohio's 88 counties. About 400 people rallied at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus on Saturday to demand that a recount begin immediately.

The efforts represent "an incredible long shot," said Steven Huefner, an Ohio State University law professor. "Courts are just incredibly reluctant to overturn the results of an election, absent a really strong showing that something happened that affected the outcome."

Bush defeated Democrat John F. Kerry in the state by two percentage points when provisional and absentee ballots were counted. That was much closer than the totals on election night but not close enough to trigger an automatic recount.

Green and Libertarian party candidates have raised the $113,600 required to pay for a recount. A ruling by U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr. on Friday, rejecting Delaware County's attempt to stop a recount, paved the way for it to begin after Ohio's electors meet on Dec. 13.

Republicans say it will not change the result.

"There's simply nothing in the election process that could possibly meet that standard, so the contest will fail like all the other legal maneuverings that failed," said Mark Weaver, an attorney for the Ohio Republican Party.

Cliff Arnebeck, a Columbus lawyer working for the Massachusetts-based Alliance for Democracy, said overturning the result is not the objective.

"We should verify the accuracy of the vote and the process by which the vote was achieved," he said.

Arnebeck wants Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer to review evidence of election irregularities, an option allowed under state law.

The last time the law was used statewide was during Paul Pfeifer's 1990 challenge of Lee Fisher's 1,234-vote victory in the attorney general's race.

Pfeifer, a Republican now on the state Supreme Court, argued that irregularities such as discrepancies between the number of ballots and the number of signatures in poll books could have cost him the election. The court disagreed, and Fisher won.

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