WASHINGTON DC Accusations of election fraud rang out during a congressional hearing yesterday, but those seeking a recount of last monthÄôs election did not provide hard evidence that Republicans relied on voter fraud to win Ohio for President Bush.
In an unofficial hearing held by Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, former Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson urged an investigation into charges that Ohio officials suppressed the anti-Bush vote in critical areas of the state, particularly in black communities where voters strongly backed Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry.
"The 2004 election is not past tense," Jackson testified. He insisted that critics of the election are not "whining" about a lost election but rather fighting for a fair outcome.
"This race is not over until it is certified that every vote is counted and honored and until a full investigation shows that every vote was honored," he said.
BushÄôs 118,775-vote victory in the critical state of Ohio has provoked angry charges of voter suppression and fraud from third-party candidates as well as some Democratic lawmakers. The Green and Libertarian parties are urging a county-bycounty recount that could cost state taxpayers $1.4 million.
KerryÄôs campaign has backed the effort for a recount, although the senator issued a statement yesterday making it clear he doubts a new tabulation will result in his winning Ohio.
"ItÄôs critical that we investigate and understand any and every voting irregularity anywhere in our country, not because it would change the outcome of the election but because Americans have to believe that their votes are counted in our democracy," Kerry said.
The hearing Äî chaired by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the ranking Democrat on the judiciary committee Äî did not attract a single Democratic House lawmaker from Ohio. Because the majority Republicans control all House committee hearings, yesterdayÄôs event was more of a forum than a legal congressional hearing.
Unlike most hearings, each witness was enthusiastically applauded and cheered by the crowd. In addition to Jackson, the witnesses were Eleanor Smeal, executive director of the Feminist Majority Foundation; Susan Truitt, co-founder of Citizens Alliance for Secure Elections in Ohio; Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way; and Cliff Arnebeck, a Columbus attorney representing the Alliance for Democracy.
They argued that voting officials attempted to suppress black turnout by failing to place enough voting machines in certain areas, which created long lines and discouraged many voters from casting their ballots.
Charging that the "election system of the United States has been taken over by private corporations," Truitt asserted that one man had been fired from his job because he waited in line to vote.
"This is despicable," she said. "This is not America. This is not the America that we are from. This election needs to be dissected. We have statistical evidence of fraud in this election."
Arnebeck echoed her, saying, "The fraud in this election in Ohio must be fixed before this election is final."
Conyers invited Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell to testify, but the Republican declined.
Carlo LoParo, a spokesman for Blackwell, said Blackwell considers it "insulting" to both Democratic and Republican county elections officials who work in tandem to "assert that there was some grand conspiracy" to steal the election from Kerry.
LoParo called yesterdayÄôs hearing "irresponsible and absurd," but he added that Blackwell is cooperating with a review of the election process in various states being conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.
Blackwell this week certified the official results in Ohio.
Two protesters in Columbus, former California congressman and Green Party gubernatorial candidate Dan Hamburg and his wife, were arrested yesterday on trespassing charges when they tried to deliver a letter to Blackwell inviting him to the hearing.
William A. Anthony Jr., the chairman of the Franklin County Board of Elections and of the county Democratic Party, said recently that heÄôs offended by charges leveled by "a band of conspiracy theorists."
Dispatch reporter Mark Niquette contributed to this story.