CLEVELAND – Three county elections workers conspired to avoid a more thorough recount of ballots in the 2004 presidential election, a prosecutor told jurors during opening statements Thursday.
"The evidence will show that this recount was rigged, maybe not for political reasons, but rigged nonetheless," Prosecutor Kevin Baxter said. "They did this so they could spend a day rather than weeks or months" on the recount, he said.
Jacqueline Maiden, the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections' coordinator, faces six counts of misconduct over how the ballots were reviewed. Rosie Grier, manager of the board's ballot department, and Kathleen Dreamer, an assistant manager, face the same charges.
Defense attorneys said in their opening statements that the workers in Ohio's most populous county did nothing out of the ordinary and hid nothing from the public.
"They just were doing it the way they were always doing it," said defense attorney Roger Synenberg, representing Dreamer.
The workers are not accused of voter fraud but of purposely breaking the law to avoid a time-consuming and expensive hand count.
Prosecutors do not allege that the defendants affected the outcome of the presidential election, which President Bush would not have won without Ohio. The recount, requested by third-party candidates, showed the Republican incumbent beat Democratic Sen. John Kerry by about 118,000 votes of 5.5 million cast.
Ohio law states that during a recount each county is supposed to randomly choose 3 percent of its ballots and tally them by hand and by machine. If there are no discrepancies in those counts, the rest of the votes can be recounted by machine.
If there is a difference, the county must randomly recount 3 percent of the ballots a second time. All the county's ballots must be recounted by hand if there is a second discrepancy, but if there isn't, all the ballots can be recounted by machine.
Baxter said testimony in the case will show that instead of conducting a random count, the workers chose sample precincts for the Dec. 16, 2004, recount that did not have questionable results to ensure that no discrepancies would emerge.
In Cuyahoga, a Democratic stronghold where about 600,000 ballots were cast, the recount had little effect on the results. Kerry gained 17 votes and Bush lost six.
It's unlikely another recount would be ordered because of the court case, which voting rights advocates have used as an example of flaws with the state's recount laws. There were allegations in several counties of similar presorting of ballots for the recounts that state law says are to be random.