A coalition of citizen-action groups announced plans yesterday to file a new lawsuit contesting the presidential election results in Ohio.
Columbus lawyer Clifford O. Arnebeck of the Alliance for Democracy joined Upper Arlington lawyer Susan Truitt and political-science professor Robert Fitrakis at a news conference outside the Ohio Supreme Court to discuss their impending legal action.
"Please make no mistake. There is nothing short of democracy at risk here," said Truitt, co-founder of Citizens' Alliance for Secure Elections in Ohio.
"There have been an abundant number of reports of irregularities in the election," Arnebeck said. "The objective is to get to the truth."
Arnebeck said Common Cause, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and People for the American Way also have been asked to join the challenge, based on two sections of the Ohio Revised Code. Arnebeck said a petition must be signed by at least 25 voters before it can be filed with the Ohio Supreme Court.
"Time is critical," he said. "We intend to file as soon as we can."
During the past week, Fitrakis, a lawyer who teaches at Columbus State Community College, helped organize several public hearings in Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland for people to voice election complaints.
Hundreds of people who were "disenfranchised, intimidated or somehow discouraged from voting" gave sworn testimony that will support the complaint, Truitt said.
At a minimum, the coalition thinks it can challenge the outcome of the election based on scientifically designed nonpartisan exit polling that found Kerry led in Ohio.
But Ohio State University law professor Edward B. "Ned" Foley disagrees with the coalition's thinking.
"I do not believe that the discrepancy between exit polls and actual (voter) rolls would be a sufficient basis for a contest action under the statute," Foley said. "The case law is clear that it is very difficult to prevail in one of these contest procedures.
"I would be extremely hesitant to bring a contest procedure in general," Foley said. "I think it is unhelpful to dispute the result when there isn't the evidence to support that dispute. We should be focusing on fixing the process in the future."
The morning after the election, with President Bush holding an unofficial 136,000-vote lead in Ohio over Sen. John Kerry and with about 155,000 provisional votes yet to be counted statewide, Kerry determined he could not win and conceded.
Arnebeck said the legal action would be aimed at protecting the integrity of the election process, not deciding a clear winner. The action is separate from a formal recount request planned by candidates for the Green and Libertarian parties.
Among voting irregularities cited by the coalition:
* There was a shortage of voting machines in precincts in Franklin and Knox counties more heavily populated by blacks or students expected to vote Democratic.
* A Gahanna precinct mistakenly recorded 3,893 more votes for President Bush because of an unexplained touchscreen machine malfunction.
* People have been found to have voted both in person and by absentee ballots in Madison and Summit counties.
* A printer in Trumbull County testified that he was asked to supply punch-card ballots on heavier bond paper, possibly making voting more difficult.
* Discrepancies were found in vote counts on machines in Miami County and some ballots may have been counted twice in Sandusky County.
* New voter-registration cards reportedly were discarded in Hamilton County.
* A former electronic-voting machine worker possibly tampered with equipment in Auglaize County.
Earlier this week, the Ohio Democratic Party announced it would join a lawsuit arguing that the state lacks clear rules for evaluating provisional ballots, a move the party said will keep its options open if problems with the ballots surface.
The federal lawsuit was filed Election Day against Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell alleging voters would not be treated equally, as the Constitution requires, because the state's 88 counties evaluated provisional ballots differently.
A separate federal lawsuit is expected to be filed next week over the planned recount.