The Pryce of democracy in Ohio’s 15th Congressional District
December 3, 2006
The Republican Party is on the brink of seizing another seat in the
U.S. Congress. The key race is the central Ohio
15th District Congressional House seat held by Deborah Pryce, the
fourth most powerful Republican in Congress.
On election night the preliminary vote count showed Pryce beating
Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy by 3717 votes out of more
than 200,000 cast. Nearly 20,000 votes remained uncounted after
Election Day. Kilroy refused to concede and demanded a full accounting
of provisional, absentee and uncounted machine votes.
On Monday, November 27, the final tally was announced. Kilroy
officially picked up 2482 votes, leaving Pryce ahead by 1054. The
Franklin County Board of Elections could have certified the results
earlier, but chose instead to wait until after the Big Ten championship
football game between Ohio State and the University of Michigan.
Because the margin is within 1/2% of the votes cast, Franklin County
Board of Elections Director Matt Damschroder says this will trigger an
automatic recount within ten days.
By all rights, Kilroy would seem to be an obvious winner, except for a
number of suspect statistics. For example, an analysis by the Columbus
Dispatch shows that wards with more than 90% African-American voters in
Franklin County had just a 24% turnout in the Columbus area. But in
Cleveland and Cincinnati, similar wards had a 34% and 33% turnout
The low voter turnout in Franklin County may be the lingering effect of
the 4-7 hour waits that the black community suffered in the 2004
presidential election due to the lack of voting machines. The average
voter turnout in the Columbus area overall was slightly over 50%.
BUT THERE MAY ALSO BE THEFT INVOLVED.
The Franklin County Board of Elections rejected 2600 provisional
ballots, many of them from registered voters who voted in the wrong
precinct. A 2004 directive from Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth
Blackwell for the first time disallowed the votes of registered voters
in the county if they voted out of their precinct. Historically, all
voters registered in the county had their votes counted from the county
races up to the statewide and federal races.
In another new development introduced in the 2006 election as a result
of House Bill 3, voters were flagged with a stop sign symbol by their
name in the pollbook. Free Press reporters saw some flagged voters
turned away from the polls in violation of laws and others being
allowed to vote in the wrong precinct, which would nullify their vote.
Both Pryce and Kilroy anticipate a recount, but voting rights activists
question whether an actual “random” recount will occur. While Ohio law
requires a random recount, with every ballot having an equal chance of
inclusion, Blackwell has, in the past, allowed local Boards of
Elections to determine their own methods for selection of ballots to be
recounted. A sample by the Free Press and reports from recount
observers in the 2004 presidential election, found non-random methods
of selection predominated.
If the 3% recount of the paper ballots matches the official certified
tally, the results will stand. If they don’t, then all of the ballots
will have to be recounted by hand. This would mean counting the paper
trail from the ES&S electronic voting machines in Franklin County.
When Election Science Institute recounted the ballots in Cuyahoga
County following the 2006 spring primary meltdown, they found a 5%
discrepancy between the electronic votes recorded on the Diebold
personal electronic ballots (PEBs) and hard drives and the actual paper
An audit sponsored by the Free Press in Miami County of Opti-scan machines
found a similar discrepancy of 5% between the paper ballots and the
results as scanned and centrally tabulated by a computer. The Free
Press found that the Miami County results were not discovered during
the 2004 presidential election recount because of flawed recounting
methodology. Miami County officials unsealed the Opti-scan ballots, ran
them through the counting machine, got a total, and then recounted by
hand. The problem was that the results were not compared back to the
officially certified results, but only to the machine counted results.
Numerous irregularities occurred, not just in the Kilroy-Pryce district
that includes the western portion of Franklin County and parts of Union
and Madison counties, but throughout Franklin County, which is the heart of Kilroy's support in the district.
• A total of 17,766 absentee ballots that were delivered to the
Franklin County Board of Elections during the last two days of voting
were included in the November 27 official count. A whistleblower
contacted the Free Press and stated he saw tens of thousands of ballots
stored in a post office warehouse in Columbus the weekend prior to the
election. The ballots only had one stamp on them instead of the two
required. This information was passed along to national Democratic
Party officials. This may explain why there was a massive infusion of
absentees uncounted in the 15th district. By tradition, virtually all
of them are counted and posted first on Election night.
In a related case, Franklin County Judge Carol Squire also asked for a
recount of 35 precincts where there was documented incidents where
pollworkers incorrectly downloaded vote totals or shut down machines
improperly. The Dispatch reported 26 different precincts suffered
“mechanical” errors during the election and that “there were pollworker
errors in nine precincts, including five in which results were
downloaded onto two removable cartridges instead of one.”
• The Free Press witnessed voters being unlawfully sent home for
identification and unable to vote – in violation of a federal court
order that entitled them to vote a provisional ballot with the last
four digits of their Social Security number. In a race this close, this
widespread practice may have resulted in the narrow margin of victory.
• An estimated 1,800 votes from more than 13 electronic machines that
weren’t shut down properly by poll workers were also added in to the
November 27 total. The problem remains as to the chain of custody
regarding these machines and why so many failed to be handled correctly
on Election Day.
• The Dispatch reported that nine Franklin County pollworkers
"accidentally" took cartridges home that had to be later retrieved by
• Charles R. Morrison II, a conservative Republican, was stopped by
Secretary of State Blackwell’s office from running as an independent in
the race. Had he remained in the race, his presence would have aided
Kilroy. He later lost in his attempt to be placed on the ballot in
federal court. Morrison had denounced the Pryce-Kilroy contest as the
choice between “the lesser of two liberals.”
The 2006 mid-term election problems are a continuation of the 2004
presidential election debacle in Franklin County. Election Protection
activists repeatedly warned that problems were endemic to the
electronic voting machines and that House Bill 3 was a “voter
suppression” bill. Franklin Democratic Party officials have frequently
denounced the Election Protection movement since 2004.
Ironically, Kilroy, who initially supported the election protection
movement after the 2004 presidential election, reversed her position
early on. After first calling for an independent investigation of the
Franklin County Board of Elections, she allowed the Franklin County
Board of Elections to conduct and direct its own investigation. Kilroy,
currently a Franklin County Commissioner, is responsible for funding
and overseeing the operations of the Franklin County Board of Elections
(BOE). An investigative report by Mother Jones magazine designated
Franklin County, Ohio one of the worst places to vote in the country.
Franklin County BOE Deputy Director Democrat Michael Hackett ended up
resigning in 2006 after a contract-steering scandal involving storage
carts for the new DRE machines. Former Ohio Democratic Party Chair
Denny White was selected to replace Hackett after White resigned from
state leadership following the 2004 Ohio election fiasco. Election
Protection activists have charged that the Democratic Party treats the
BOEs as patronage positions to reward Party insiders rather than as the
key positions to preserve voting rights for the people. Franklin County
BOE Director was suspended without pay for a month after he received a
$10,000 check from a Diebold lobbyist made out to the Republican Party.
His job was saved by William Anthony, who serves simultaneously as the
Franklin County Democratic Party Chair and the BOE Chair.
Pressure from local activists forced the BOE to adopt a more visible
and larger paper trail for its ES&S DRE machines. Under Ohio law, the
paper trail is the actual ballot of record for an electronic voting
machine, which will make the impending recount in the Pryce-Kilroy race
Also, under House Bill 3, Kilroy, as a federal candidate, has no right
to legally challenge her loss in Ohio state courts. After the 2004 Moss
v. Bush case that challenged the results of that presidential election,
the Republican-dominated state legislature passed the draconian House
Bill 3 including a provision barring federal candidates from legally
challenging election results in state court.
There is still indication that a truly random recount along with other revelations uncovered by the Free Press team could result in a Kilroy victory. To her credit, Kilroy has refused to concede. There is ample indication that she was, in fact, the rightful winner. Let’s hope she searches out every possible avenue and makes absolutely certain every vote is properly counted before a final verdict is reached in this crucial race.
Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors, with Steve Rosenfeld, of WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO, just published by the New Press and editors of the Free Press and http://freepress.org. Fitrakis was an independent candidate, endorsed by the Green Party for Governor of Ohio in 2006.
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