HARDBALL IN OHIO & THE LOST BALLOTS
Democrats May Lose Big with Brunner Senate Bid
“Democracy is mocked by the Senate candidacy of the chief elections official, Jennifer Brunner, who did absolutely nothing about the massive defiance by the 58 county election boards that lost or destroyed the legally mandated records of the 2004 presidential election. Some champion of democracy, some Democrat.” — Michael Collins
Ohio election politics now rival the political hardball of Texas, Illinois, and Florida at their best. As a result, the state’s Democratic Party may once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the 2010 election cycle. Through a bid for the open United States Senate seat, the self described election reform Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner puts two critical goals of Ohio Democrats at risk.
The first is the Senate seat held since 1999 by Republican George V. Voinovich who announced plans to retire at the end of his term this January. This provided a short-lived advantage for a unified Senate candidacy by Democrats. But the unity ended when the candidacy of Lt. Governor Lee Fisher, the party favorite, was challenged by Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.
Election 2008 turned the tables on Ohio Republicans. President Obama’s 51 – 48% win inverted the questionable 2004 outcome, the Bush 51% to 49% “win” over Sen. John Kerry (D-MA). Obama not only reversed the 2004 results, his 2.9 million vote total is the highest ever in Ohio, a state with static population growth since 2000.
The Brunner candidacy threatens an Ohio Senate win by Democrats in 2010.
The absence of a contested primary is always preferred by either party. Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) has the solid endorsement of top Ohio Democrat Gov. Ted Strickland. Strickland and Fisher ran as a team to defeat the Republican Governor-Lt. Governor ticket 60% to 35%.
Brunner will divide the party in the primary election. Those costs and efforts will reduce money for the general election.
Ohio currently has 18 members of Congress, with a ten to eight advantage for Democrats. Had Brunner chosen to run for re-election as Secretary of State, Democrats would have been virtually guaranteed an advantage on the state Apportionment Board. With her departure, control of the three member board would be up for grabs should Republicans win the Secretary of State contest.
Brunner offers up a slow pitch for any future opponent by holding onto her office as the chief elections official of Ohio. She’ll be running in a primary and general election (if she wins the primary then resigns) that she’s preparing for right now as the chief elections official. Former Republican Secretary of State Blackwell was severely criticized for massive conflict of interest when he did the same thing in 2006.
Brunner’s Record as Secretary of State and the Lost Ballots
Jennifer Brunner was a local judge before running for Ohio Secretary of State. She ran for and won that office as a Democrat in 2006, part of a sweep of state executive offices for the Democrats. She replaced J. Kenneth Blackwell, the most controversial Secretary of State in any state for decades. The resolutely partisan Blackwell ignored multiple warnings that helped create a catastrophe in the 2004 presidential election. This is well documented as was the pattern of election fraud throughout the country.
Brunner’s qualifications for the United States Senate seat depend largely on her record as Secretary of State. How did she do?
Brunner promised a fair and open elections program if elected. She was tested early. When a federal judge ordered the collection of 2004 presidential ballots from Ohio County election boards, 58 of 88 failed to return some to all of their ballots. The ballots were to serve as evidence of election fraud in a federal lawsuit underway in the United States District Court, Southern District of Ohio charging election fraud in the 2004 Ohio presidential contest.
The defendants are J. Kenneth Blackwell, the 2004 state Republican Party Chairman, and major election officials. After initiating the suit, attorneys for the plaintiffs got a court order mandating retention of all 2004 presidential ballots. By Ohio and U.S. Code, these were to be retained for 22 months. The court order extended those dates by telling election boards to preserve all ballots “unless and until such time otherwise instructed by this Court.” Each and every county elections board received a copy of the order. But when it was time to deliver, a majority of counties said they’d lost, “inadvertently” destroyed, or in some other manner discarded 1.8 million 2004 presidential ballots. This compromised the law suit.
More importantly, it was a massive show of defiance by county elections officials.
Many counties simply reported the ballots were no longer available without any explanation. Other counties offered a collection of excuses known as “the dog ate my homework letters.” The elections board in Allen County said the 2004 ballots were “compromised by water damage and subsequently destroyed.” Water damage was a popular theme. Holmes County said that the ballots fell on a coffee pot “and broken glass (was) strewn throughout the ballots. These ballots were destroyed later that morning, as they were saturated and covered with glass.” In Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), hundreds of thousand ballots were thought “lost.” In an explanation letter to Brunner explaining the sudden appearance of the ballots, the acting elections director, in her own hand, said, “These ballots had been found (“hidden” crossed out) in Cuyahoga’s Canal Street warehouse,” she wrote.
The most instructive letter came from a County prosecuting attorney, not the elections board, who offered the following:
“Unfortunately, the actual ballot cards were inadvertently discarded and destroyed by the Ashtabula County Board of Elections just prior to the receipt by the Board of Judge Marbley’s Order and subsequent directive to your office.” Thomas Sartini, Prosecuting Attorney, Ashtabula County Apr. 16, 2007
Did the prosecutor write this letter because federal and state laws were violated by said destruction?
This was a prime time opportunity for Brunner to open up an investigation into the sorry state of Ohio elections. What did she do? She offered this statement shortly after hearing of the lost ballots.
“If I had evidence of a cover-up, I would investigate,” Brunner said. “For me, the bigger question in 2004 was, ‘How many people were prevented from voting,’ (something) you can’t quantify.” Jennifer Brunner, Cincinnati Enquirer, Aug 12, 2007
Brunner was never asked to explain how she could have any “evidence” without an investigation. Brunner’s comment about “how many people were prevented from voting” makes little sense as an alternative pursuit. It’s “something you can’t quantify,” she said. What she failed to mention is that the widespread illegal destruction of ballots prevented a major election fraud case from answering that very question — how many citizens were prevented from voting or having their vote count? If she wanted that question answered, she would have demanded a thorough investigation of the county boards of elections that didn’t do their job.
The Democratic Party had a chance to live up to the meaning of its name when Jennifer Brunner was elected Secretary of State. The events of 2004, the ballot measures election of 2005, the Hackett-Schmidt fiasco of 2005 and all the other well documented election disasters cried out for a comprehensive investigation. There was a Democrat committed to democracy in charge. Surely there would be some justice.
Yet when 58 counties defied a federal judge’s clear order to retain ballots and, in many cases, Ohio and federal laws on ballot retention, they got the endorsement of Ohio’s elected defender of democracy.
A court filing in the federal law suit in Judge Marbley’s court by the Ohio Election Justice Campaign (OEJC) (pp. 54-63) elaborated on the cynicism of the ballot custodians. This is an email exchange on Sept. 7, 2007 regarding the failure to preserve 2004 ballots. These are actual board of elections executives:
One election official said: “Someone should tell them to give it up.”
Another responded: “I’m sorry. I’m just a little to busy trying to figure out how the government killed John F. Kennedy to deal with this.”
A third election official answered the question above: “The Trilateral Commission did it.” OEJC filing, Federal District Court, 07/10/08
OEJC continues to fight for recognition that ballot destruction is a bottom line issue by those charged with protecting the democratic rights of voters.’
Democracy was mocked in Ohio by those obliged by law to care for the election records when they lost or destroyed evidence in a federal law suit. It was mocked by the ridiculous excuses offered by those election boards that bothered to explain their malfeasance. Democracy was mocked when those who destroyed or lost ballots joked about it in emails. It continues to be mocked by the Senate candidacy of the chief elections official, Jennifer Brunner, who did absolutely nothing about the massive defiance by the 58 county election boards that lost or destroyed the legally mandated records of the 2004 presidential election. Some champion of democracy, some Democrat.
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