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The Plain Dealer

Thursday, January 25, 2007

 

2 election workers convicted in '04 tally

Jim Nichols, Plain Dealer Reporter

 

A jury found two Cuyahoga County elections workers guilty Wednesday of charges that they skirted Board of Elections procedures to thwart a countywide ballot recount after the divisive 2004 presidential election.

 

The jury convicted Kathleen Dreamer, 40, of Cleveland and Jacqueline Maiden, 59, of Richmond Heights on one felony and one misdemeanor each.

 

They each had been charged with seven counts and were exonerated on five apiece, including all charges that they knowingly conspired to break the law and violate their duties. Instead, they were found guilty of being criminally negligent.

 

The jury cleared a third co-worker, 54-year-old Rosie Grier of Cleveland, on all charges.

 

Dreamer and Maiden did not show any emotion, but their lawyers said afterward that they were distressed at the verdicts, which the lawyers said were clear indications of jury confusion.

 

Maiden's lawyer, Robert Rotatori, said the result was "obviously a compromise verdict," because jurors had announced a hopeless deadlock in a message to Common Pleas Judge Peter Corrigan about two hours earlier. The judge ordered them to work harder.

 

"I don't think even the jury is sure of what it's done," Rotatori said. The defendants will appeal, he added.

 

Kevin Baxter, the Erie County prosecutor brought in to try the case, said he was pleased with the verdict.

 

Baxter investigated complaints and brought the charges because of Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason's position as the Board of Elections' lawyer.

 

Some Internet bloggers and others have complained ever since the 2004 general election that backroom shenanigans at the county Board of Elections rigged results to throw Ohio's 20 electoral votes - and the presidential election - to President Bush.

 

Prosecutors have assured the public that nothing the board staff did affected the outcome of any race. The county recount actually showed Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, gained a net of 23 votes, yet Bush won the state by more than 118,000 votes. The widely publicized misconduct eroded public confidence in elections, Baxter and others charged.

 

At issue was how the board and its staff conducted a miniature "sample" recount of ballots to test the validity of tabulating machines after third-party candidates demanded a countywide vote recount.

 

Under state law, the board must randomly select precincts representing 3 percent of the county's votes and count the ballots in those precincts by hand, in front of a crowd of nominally nonpartisan witnesses. If the hand and machine counts match, a countywide machine recount would follow. That would avert a hand recount of all 600,000-odd votes - a tedious, costly and labor-intensive exercise that could have put the county under humiliating national scrutiny.

 

The board staff rigged the sample count because the precincts actually were secretly selected in advance of the closely watched recount, Baxter said. That ensured the 3 percent sample included only precincts whose hand and machine counts matched.

 

The defendants insisted they followed long-established methods that Mason's office approved.

 

The board has since enacted reforms meant "to fully restore the public's confidence in the election process in Cuyahoga County," a spokesman said in a written statement after the verdict.

 

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

jnichols@plaind.com, 216-999-4111

 

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