In a scene reminiscent of Florida circa 2000, two teams of Republican and Democratic election workers held punch-card ballots up to the light Wednesday and whispered back and forth as they tried to divine the voters’ intent from a few hanging chads.
Observers for the presidential campaigns of John Kerry, President Bush and Green Party candidate David Cobb kept watch from chairs a few feet away.
The scene is being repeated statewide this week in a recount in the state that put Bush over the top in the election last month.
Officially, Bush beat Kerry by 119,000 votes in Ohio, but two third-party candidates collected the required $113,600 for a recount that they claim will show serious irregularities. The Kerry campaign is supporting the recount, too, though it has acknowledged it will not change the outcome.
‘A lot of hours’
The recounts began this week. At least 35 of Ohio’s 88 counties had completed their recounts or were starting Wednesday, according to a survey by The Associated Press. Some of the tallies will not be completed until next week.
“It takes a lot of work, a lot of hours,” said Kerry campaign observer Jeannette Harrison, 63, a real estate agent. “This is a job that has to be done.”
In Cincinnati, the Hamilton County workers grimaced in concentration as they examined the ballot holes up close — a scene that called to mind the five weeks of recounts in Florida that made the terms “pregnant chad” and “butterfly ballot” famous.
Statewide, about 92,000 ballots cast in last month’s presidential election failed to record a vote for president, most of them on punch-card systems.
Hamilton County workers wrote their results on tally sheets as they counted ballots from 30 precincts randomly selected from the county’s 1,013 — a total of about 13,000 of 433,000 ballots cast in November in the county.
Under Ohio law, workers must hand-count 3 percent of ballots. If the results match the certified results exactly, all other ballots can be recounted by machine. If the totals are off, all ballots must be counted by hand, adding days or weeks to the process.
Accusations of tampering
In a separate action, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Massachusetts-based Alliance for Democracy have asked the Ohio Supreme Court to reconsider the election results, accusing the Bush campaign of “high-tech vote stealing.”
Jackson said activists noticed Bush generally received more votes in counties that use optical-scan voting machines, raising suspicions that the machines were calibrated to record votes for the president.
The activists also claim there were disparities in vote totals for Democrats, too few voting machines in Democratic-leaning precincts, organized campaigns directing voters to the wrong polling place, and confusion over the counting of provisional ballots.
If the court decides to hear the challenge, it can declare a new winner or throw out the results. However, Ohio cast its 20 electoral votes for Bush on Monday.