by Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman
Thursday, April 5, 2007 by CommonDreams.org
In a victory for election
protection activists, Ohio's powerful GOP Chair Bob Bennett will be
forced to face a public hearing on his removal as Chair of the Cuyahoga
(Cleveland) Board of Elections. And in a second triumph, Ohio Secretary
of State Jennifer Brunner has agreed, as part of a legal settlement, to
take possession of the ballots and other key documents from the
disputed 2004 election that gave George W. Bush a second term in the
White House. Brunner has requested the resignations of the entire
scandal-plagued Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, which Bennett has
chaired. Two Democratic members and one Republican have complied with
her request. The BOE's executive director, Michael Vu, previously
resigned amidst a cloud of scandal resulting from a mishandled primary
election and more than $12 million in budgetary overruns. Two BOE
workers have been given 18-month prison sentences for felony
convictions stemming from what a government prosecutor called the
"rigging" of an officially mandated recount for the 2004 presidential
Bennett has issued a legal challenge against his removal. But on
Wednesday, April 4, Franklin County Common Pleas Judge John Connor
ruled Bennett has to comply with Brunner's call for a public hearing on
the matter. The hearing is scheduled for Monday, April 9.
A long-time GOP power broker, Bennett is a close personal confidante
of White House advisor Karl Rove. He has been Rove's point man in
Ohio's most populous county, which includes the Democratic voter rich
city of Cleveland. A wide array of irregularities there were pivotal in
giving Bush his narrow margin of official victory in 2004.
Bennett asked the court to rule that the Ohio statute seeking his
removal was unconstitutionally vague. But Judge Connor ruled that the
law was "clear and unequivocal."
This is Bennett's third major setback in three days. On Monday,
April 2, Brunner put the Cuyahoga BOE under state administrative
oversight because it lacked a quorum to conduct business. With the
resignations of the other three board members, Bennett stood alone as
the sole board member.
On Tuesday, April 3, Brunner suspended Bennett, citing the fact that
as BOE chair he had allegedly "instructed" former Executive Director Vu
to award a contract to a consultant without Board approval.
"Bennett instructed Vu to award a second contract to David Hopcraft
in the amount of $14,750 on or about February 26, 2007, for public
relations services to be paid for by public dollars by the Board of
Elections," Brunner wrote in her suspension statement.
The statement adds that: "The Dayton Daily News on March 26, 2007
reported Mr. Hopcraft to be a 'GOP spokesperson.' According to Board
policy, no contract for services may be awarded without Board approval
if it exceeds $15,000. The extension of Hopcraft's contract for just
under $15,000, without Board approval, violates Board policy,"
Brunner's statement says.
Brunner's order suspends all of Bennett's powers. It orders Bennett
not to attend any Cuyahoga County BOE meetings or to be present at the
BOE offices. The suspension is indefinite, pending the results of the
removal hearing and any subsequent legal appeals.
On March 21, Bennett lashed out following the convictions of two
Cuyahoga County BOE workers charged with "rigging" the 2004
presidential recount. Bennett said, in part: "... the public deserves to
know that the big shots, the lawyers and the special political
interests are not going to grind up the people who are doing the
public's work at this Board."
Steve Hertzberg of the nonprofit Election Science Institute, which
conducted an investigation of major problems that marred the 2006
Cuyahoga County primary election, responded to Bennett's attack by
stating, "It is an insult to the intelligence of the Cuyahoga community
that Mr. Bennett attempts to lay blame elsewhere while he attempts to
maintain his lucrative position on the CCBOE. Not only should this man
resign immediately, he should apologize for the myriad of mistakes and
the damage he had done to the reputation of Ohio and its citizens.
"Shame on you, Mr. Bennett," Hertzberg concluded.
In another decisive action, which may stand as a major landmark,
Brunner has agreed to take responsibility for the preservation of the
ballots from Ohio's 2004 presidential election.
The ballots were subject to destruction in early September 2006, as
the law protecting them was about to expire. However, a suit involving
the King-Lincoln Bronzeville Neighborhood Association, among others,
was filed in federal court. The suit alleges a wide range of civil
rights violations against inner city and other Ohio voters in the
conduct of the 2004 Ohio election. It also asked that then-Secretary of
State J. Kenneth Blackwell be prevented from ordering the disposal of
the ballots and other election materials, which he was poised to do.
The suit gained widespread national attention, including news
stories and editorial comment in the New York Times. On September 11,
2006, Federal Judge Algernon Marbley issued an order preserving the
ballots pending the outcome of what has become known as the
Blackwell left the office of Secretary of State earlier this year,
in the wake of his unsuccessful run as the GOP's 2006 nominee for
Governor of Ohio. By and large, the materials have been stored by
Ohio's 88 counties.
As the new Secretary of State, Brunner has now agreed to a joint
motion as defendant in the King-Lincoln suit. The motion effectively
transfers the custody of "...all ballots from the 2004 presidential
election, on paper or in any other format, including electronic data,..."
from the counties to Ohio Secretary of State's office.
Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann's office is representing Brunner.
In a Memorandum in Support of the Joint Motion, the parties state:
"To lessen the burden on the respective boards of elections and to
provide a central repository for records, the parties are jointly
requesting that an order be entered in this matter requiring the 88
county boards of elections to transfer to the custody of the Secretary
of State all ballots from the 2004 presidential election... ."
Voting rights activists have urged the state to preserve all the
records and open them to interested parties following the Florida 2000
election model, which created a centralized accessible repository
following the controversial 2000 election in the Sunshine State.
Brunner is now widely expected to do the same for the documents that
defined the disputed presidential election of 2004. Scrutinized over
the coming years, they could finally reveal what really put George W.
Bush back in the White House for a second term.
They may also illuminate Bob Bennett's role in making that happen.
Bob Fitrakis is one of the attorneys representing the King
Lincoln Bronzeville Association and Harvey Wasserman is one of the
plaintiffs. They are co-authors of HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA'S 2004
ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008 (www.freepress.org) and WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO?