What Went Wrong in Ohio
The Conyers Report on the 2004 Presidential Election

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What Went Wrong in Ohio

Data pages:
Ohio 2004 Presidential election results
analysis of the Kerry/Conally anomaly

on voting systems




index pages:

What Went Wrong in Ohio

The Conyers Report on the 2004 Presidential Election

Copyright © 2005 by Academy Chicago Publishers

Chronology of Events
The Aftermath

In Washington State, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Dino Rossi, declared victory after a partial recount; it was later found—after a full and fair recount—that the Democratic candidate, Christine Gregoire, was the victor. While national and state Republican leaders in Ohio have derided attempts to ascertain the Ohio Presidential Election result and resolve the questions described herein, Mr. Rossi, after the Washington recount, has asked for a re-vote in the State of Washington, saying it is needed for the election to be "legitimate."

In Ukraine, after the apparent defeat of the opposition leader Viktor Yuschenko in that nation's presidential election, allegations of fraud and public protests caused a new election to be held, which Yuschenko won by a significant margin. [...] United States officials called the original vote rife with "fraud and abuse," largely relying on anecdotal evidence and deviations between exit polls and reported results.

A simple lesson may be drawn from these two contexts: elections are imperfect. They are subject to manipulation and mistakes. It is therefore critical that elections be investigated and audited to assure the accuracy of results.

Detailed Findings
I. Pre-Election

A. Machine allocations—why were there such long lines [...]?

Given what we have learned in our hearings, [...] statewide, the shortage of machines could have resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of votes. The vast majority of this lost vote—caused by lengthy lines in the midst of adverse weather—was concentrated in urban, Minority and Democratic-leaning areas. As a result, this misallocation appears to be one of the pivotal factors concerning the vote and the outcome in the entire election in Ohio.
B. Cutting back on the right to provisional ballots


Instead of complying with this Federal court order, Secretary Blackwell entirely disregarded the ruling and questioned the motives of the judge. [...] Secretary Blackwell compared himself to Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and the Apostle Paul, on the grounds that he would rather go to jail—as they did—than issue an order he believed was illegal.



Some polling places contained multiple precincts that were located at different tables. As a result, 1,110 provisional ballots were deemed invalid because people voted in the wrong precinct. In about 40% of these cases, voters were at the correct polling places, which contained multiple precincts, but workers directed them to the wrong table. In other areas, precinct workers refused to give any voter a provisional ballot. Also, in at least one precinct, election judges told voters that they could validly cast their ballot in any precinct; this led to any number of disqualified provisional ballots.
C. Cutting back on the right of citizens to register to vote


Secretary Blackwell's directive to reject registration applications based on paper weight, even though eventually rescinded, undoubtedly had a negative impact on registration figures. During the period the directive was in place, the probable result was that an untold number of voters were not registered in time for the 2004 election. In addition, the directive was withdrawn in a confusing manner. [...]

[...] There is perhaps no more certain indication of the disenfranchisement bias Secretary of State Blackwell brought to his job than this controversial ruling, which was widely reviled even by Republicans.

D. Targeting new minority voter registrants—"caging"


The Ohio Republican Party attempted to engage in "caging": it sent registered letters to newly registered voters in Minority and urban areas, and then sought to challenge 35,000 individuals who refused to sign for the letters or whose mail otherwise came back as undeliverable. This number includes voters who were homeless, serving abroad, or simply did not want to sign for mail from the Republican Party.

E. Targeting minority and urban voters for legal challenges

While the Democratic Party registered only one challenger per polling place, the Republican Party had registered one challenger for each precinct (there are multiple precincts in many polling places). [...] Secretary Blackwell had changed his mind—at first limiting challengers to one per polling place and then, after the October 22 challenger registration deadline, allowing multiple challengers.
F. Denying absentee voters who never got their ballots the right to a provisional ballot


Secretary Blackwell also issued a ruling preventing the issuance of provisional ballots for voters who requested absentee ballots, even if they failed to receive the absentee ballots by the official deadline or did not receive them at all. [...]

[...] The legal ruling overturning Mr. Blackwell's restrictive ruling on absentee ballots came late in the afternoon, and as a result, many voters intending to vote that day were prevented from doing so.

G. Denying access to the news media


Mr. Blackwell's decision to prevent news media and exit polls from interviewing Ohio citizens after they voted constitutes a clear violation of the First Amendment's guarantee that state conduct shall not abridge "freedom . . . of the press." [...] His decision does not appear to have had any negative impact on the vote, but potentially made it more difficult for the media to uncover voting irregularities, discrepancies, and disenfranchisement.

II. Election Day

A. County-specific issues

1. Warren County— [...] Terrorist Threat?


On election night, Warren County, a traditional Republican stronghold, locked down its administration building and barred reporters from observing the counting. When that decision was questioned, County officials claimed they were responding to a terrorist threat [...] and the FBI has stated that it had no information about a terror threat in Warren County.

2. Mahoning County—Innumerable Flipped Votes and Extra Votes

Jeanne White, a veteran voter and manager at the Buckeye Review, an African American newspaper, stepped into the booth, pushed the button for Kerry—and watched her vote jump to the Bush column. [...] The Election Protection Coalition also confirmed these voting "glitches," noting that a voter reported, "Every time I tried to vote for the Democratic Party Presidential vote the machine went blank. I had to keep trying, it took five times." Comment
3. Butler County—The Strange Case of the Downballot Candidate [...]

In Butler County, a Democratic candidate for State Supreme Court, C. Ellen Connally, received 59,532 votes. In contrast, the Kerry-Edwards ticket received only 54,185 votes [...] Further, Connally received 10,000 or more votes in excess of Kerry's total number of votes in five counties and 5,000 more votes than Kerry's total in ten others.

detailed analysis & corrected figures
4. Cuyahoga County—Palm Beach County for Pat Buchanan-Redux?


Precincts in Cleveland have reported an incredibly high number of votes for third-party candidates who have historically received only a handful of votes from these urban areas. [...] Notably, these precincts share more than a strong Democratic history; they share the use of a punch card ballot. This problem was created by the combination of polling sites for multiple precincts, coupled with incorrect information provided by poll workers.

In Cuyahoga County, each precinct rotates candidate ballot position. Therefore, each ballot must go into a machine calibrated for its own precinct so that the voter's intent will be counted. In these anomalous precincts, ballots were fed into the wrong machine, switching Kerry votes into third party votes. This was done on the advice of poll workers who told voters that they could insert their ballots into any open machine [...]

Punch-card systems
5. Franklin County (Gahana)— [...] extra votes?


On Election Day, a computerized voting machine in ward 1B in the Gahana precinct of Franklin County recorded a total of 4,258 votes for President Bush and 260 votes for Democratic challenger John Kerry. However, there are only 800 registered voters in that Gahana precinct, and only 638 people cast votes at the New Life Church polling site.

B. Myriad other problems and irregularities

1. Intimidation and Misinformation

A caller reported that someone was going door to door telling people they were not registered to vote. A voter in Franklin County received information in the mail identified as being from the state telling him that he would have to vote by provisional ballot because he had moved; in fact, the voter had not moved and had lived at the address for ten to fifteen years. One polling place worker asked only African American voters for their address.

In Franklin County, a worker at the Holiday Inn observed a team of twenty-five people who called themselves the "Texas Strike Force," using payphones to make intimidating calls to likely voters, targeting people who had recently been in prison. These "Texas Strike Force" members paid their own way to Ohio, but their hotel accommodations were paid for by the Ohio Republican Party, whose headquarters is across the street. The hotel worker heard one caller threaten a likely voter that he would be reported to the FBI and sent back to jail if he voted.

On Election Day, a fake voter bulletin from the Franklin County Board of Elections was posted at polling locations, and fliers were distributed in the inner city, telling Republicans to vote on Tuesday and Democrats to vote on Wednesday due to unexpectedly heavy voter registration.

2. Machine Irregularities


The arrows on the absentee ballots did not align with the correct punch hole. This probably caused voters to cast a vote for a candidate other than the candidate they intended to support.

In Mahoning County, one precinct in Youngstown recorded a negative 25 million votes.

In Mercer County, one voting machine showed that 289 people cast punch card ballots, but only 51 votes were recorded for president.

Our concerns are exacerbated by the fact that there are very few companies who manufacture and operate voting machines, and they tend to be controlled by executives who donate largely, if not exclusively, to the Republican Party and Republican candidates.
3. Registration Irregularities and Official Misconduct and Errors


A Washington Post investigation found that many long-time voters discovered their registrations had been purged.

Numerous voters were incorrectly listed on the roster as felons, and thus not allowed to vote.

GCVRC registered approximately 10,000 voters before the 2004 elections, yet when they tracked the registrations, 3.5% were either not entered at all or entered incorrectly, completely disenfranchising the applicants. The Board of Cuyahoga County was alerted to this problem as early as September, but no corrective measures were taken. [...]

[...] At several locations in Cuyahoga County, all voters were being asked for ID, not just new voters. A voter called to say that all voters were being asked for ID, the poll workers were checking the address of the voter against the address on the registration and if they did not match, the voter was being turned away, often without casting a provisional ballot. In still another case, a voter was challenged because the address on the ID did not match the registration address, even though it was in the same precinct.

There were numerous cases where election workers sent voters to the wrong precinct.

A voter stated that a polling place in Cleveland ran out of ballots, and put in an emergency request for ballots, but did not receive them.

ID checking

Election protection volunteers received complaints about provisional ballots from voters, many of whom reported being denied the opportunity to vote by provisional ballot. Some polling places either ran out of provisional ballots or never had any at their location. [...]

In Franklin County, some voters who were standing in line waiting to vote outside the doors to the polling place, were sent home at 7:30 p.m. when the polls closed.

C. General Problems

1. Spoiled Ballots—Hanging Chads Again?


[...] by manipulation or otherwise, every county in Ohio except Coshocton County, avoided completing a full hand-recount. This means that the vast majority of these spoiled ballots will never be reviewed.

The problem was particularly acute in two precincts in Montgomery County which had an undervote rate of over 25% each—accounting for nearly 6,000 voters who stood in line to vote, but purportedly declined to vote for president.

2. Exit Polls Bolster Claims of Irregularities and Fraud


In the Ohio 2004 election, early exit polls, released just after noon on November 2, showed that Senator Kerry was leading President Bush by three percentage points. Shortly after midnight on November 3, exit poll data continued to indicate that 52.1% of Ohio voters selected Senator Kerry and 47.9% selected President Bush.


Elections are politically controlled, with extreme pressures for certain results. In our system, victory can become more important than an accurate vote count. [...] When key election officials are also key campaign officials, as was the case in Florida in 2000 and in Ohio in 2004, the goal of providing an accurate vote tally falls into the murky waters of winning the political contest. But pollsters lose their legitimacy and of course future contracts, if they are not accurate.

III. Post-Election

A. Confusion in counting Provisional ballots

Mr. Blackwell's failure to articulate clear and consistent standards for the counting of provisional ballots probably resulted in the loss of several thousand votes in Cuyahoga County alone, and the loss of untold more statewide. This is because the lack of guidance and the ultimate narrow and arbitrary review standards imposed in Cuyahoga County appear to have significantly contributed to the fact that in that county, 8,099 out of 24,472 provisional ballots, or approximately one third, were ruled invalid, the highest proportion in the state.
B. Justice delayed is justice denied—recounts were delayed because of a late declaration of results

Secretary of State Blackwell gave County Boards of Election until December 1 to certify their returns and then waited for another five days, until December 6, to certify the results. As a consequence, recounts could not be sought until at least December 11 [...] As a result, the recount was pending when the Secretary of State sent certificates to electors on December 7, and before the Electoral College met on December 13.
C. Triad GSI—using a "cheat sheet" to cheat the voters in Hocking and other counties


[...] Michael Barbian, Jr., a representative of Triad GSI, unilaterally sought and obtained access to the voting machinery and records in Hocking County, Ohio.

Ms. Eaton saw Mr. Barbian modify the Hocking County computer vote tabulator before the announcement of the Ohio recount. Then, when the plan was announced that the Hocking County precinct was to be the subject of the initial Ohio test recount, Ms. Eaton saw Mr. Barbian make further alterations based on his knowledge of that plan. Ms. Eaton also has firsthand knowledge that Mr. Barbian told election officials how to manipulate voting machinery to ensure that a preliminary hand recount would match the machine count. A full state recount could be done only if the hand- and machine-recounts did not match [...]

One observer asked, "Why do you feel it was necessary to point out to a team counting ballots the number of overvotes and undervotes, when the purpose of the team is to in fact locate those votes and judge them?"

Barbian responded, ". . . it's just human error. The machine count is right . . . We're trying to give them as much information to help them out."


In Monroe County, the 3% hand count failed to match the machine count twice. Subsequent runs on that machine did not match each other nor the hand count. The Monroe County Board of Elections summoned a repairman from Triad to bring a new machine and the recount was suspended and reconvened for the following day. On the following day, a new machine was present at the Board of Elections office and the old machine was gone. The board conducted a test-run followed by the 3% hand-counted ballots. The results matched this time, and the Board conducted the remainder of the recount by machine.

In Harrison County, a representative of the Triad company reprogrammed and retested the tabulator machine and software prior to the start of the recount.

E. Other recount irregularities

2. Irregularities in Applying the Full Hand-Count Requirement [...]

In Fairfield County, the hand recount of the 3% test sample did not match the machine count, even after two attempts. The Board suspended the recount and stated that Secretary Blackwell recommended that the recount should begin again "from scratch." The Green recount observers were then told that it was 4:00 pm, the building was closed, and all had to leave. The Republican recount observers, however, were allowed to stay in a conference room for an additional ten minutes or so for a private discussion. When the Board reconvened a few days later, it announced that it would be conducting a machine count of the county's votes. When a Green Party observer objected, she was told by the Board that she was not allowed to speak.

3. Irregularities in the Treatment of Ballots [...]

In Washington County, the Board of Elections had, in the first count, excluded ballots which included no votes and over-votes. During the recount, the Board altered many of these ballots to make them work. An observer protested this practice. An election official pulled a black marker [...] and stated that he was the mark-up man.

4. Irregularities in the Treatment of Witnesses at the Recount [...]

In Summit County, recount witnesses were threatened with expulsion if they spoke to counting teams. In some instances, they were expected to "observe" from up to twenty feet away [...]

In Huron County, the punch card tabulator test was observed only by Republican witnesses. This test was conducted the day before the Green Party witness was invited to observe the recount.

In Putnam County, Board of Elections officials told observers that their Board would meet on December 15 to decide the start date. When the observer called back on the 15th, she was told the recount had already taken place.

The Board stated that these ballots were locked away and would be destroyed sixty days after the election.
I. Electoral College Challenge

The voting computer company Triad has essentially admitted that it engaged in a course of behavior during the recount in numerous counties in which it provided "cheat sheets" to those counting the ballots. By ensuring that Election Boards were in a position to conform their test-recount results with the election-night results, Triad's actions may well have prevented scores of counties from conducting a full and fair recount.

Relevant Background Law
I. Federal Constitutional Law Safeguards

Under the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Reynolds and its progeny require that votes that are cast must actually be counted.

A recount is fundamental to ensure a full and effective counting of all votes. [...] Indeed, courts in states which provide a statutory right to a recount have held uniformly that an election cannot be deemed over and final until a recount provided under State law has been completed.

text checked (note x4) Oct '05

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