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For Some, the Race Remains Far From Over

Times Staff Writer

Clifford Arnebeck won’t let it go. He can’t let it go. Not, he says, while America refuses to recognize that John F. Kerry was elected president Nov. 2.

Arnebeck, a Democratic lawyer here and co-chairman of a self-styled national populist alliance, is petitioning the state’s highest court to throw out official results that favor President Bush and instead hand Ohio’s 20 electoral votes -- and thus the White House -- to Kerry. Or, at least, order a revote.

The bid appears quixotic, to put it politely, as Bush has been officially declared the winner by 119,000 votes and Arnebeck is arguing before a Republican-dominated Supreme Court in Ohio. Nor is the Massachusetts senator helping him out, said Arnebeck.

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“I can’t for the life of me understand why Kerry isn’t fighting harder for this. Maybe it’s some secret Skull and Bones tradition, where you’re not supposed to show up the other guy,” Arnebeck said, referring to the Yale secret society of which Bush and Kerry were both members.

Most of the country may have moved on, and electoral college slates are due to meet in all 50 states Monday to cast formal votes that will give Bush a 286-252 winning edge and a second term.

Even many who are disturbed by aspects of the recent election -- such as long lines at polling places or touch-screen voting machines with no paper trail for audits -- say they want future improvements but nonetheless believe Bush won a fair battle.

But for Arnebeck and thousands of others, this contest is far from over.

They feed each other’s postelection rage over the Internet, swapping reports about voter suppression and possible computer hacking or other electronic manipulation of the results.

Protests continue to be staged, including a “rally to change the tally” in San Francisco and black-armband demonstrations in Denver and Boston this weekend against what organizers call the “media blackout of election fraud.” But they are especially focused on Ohio, whose 20 electoral votes proved crucial.

“I would like to welcome you to Ukraine,” said Susan Truitt, a speaker last weekend at a rally outside the Ohio statehouse, where 400 showed up to demand an inquiry into fraud allegations. She was referring to the nation about to hold a new presidential election after protests that the first one was rigged.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who also appeared at the rally, cited a recurring grievance of the groups who questioned the legitimacy of Bush’s 2004 victory. Why is it, Jackson asked, that exit polls seemed to point toward a Kerry victory that day?

Rather than analyzing faults in the exit polls, Jackson and others say, why aren’t the media and public officials digging more aggressively for chicanery in the tabulations?

“We can live with winning and losing,” Jackson recently told a Baptist congregation in Columbus. “We cannot live with fraud and stealing.”

Officials here are not taking kindly to the charges.

“Jackson owes every election official in Ohio an apology,” said Keith Cunningham, vice president of the Ohio Assn. of Election Officials. “His accusations are outrageous, preposterous and baseless.”

Because every Ohio county election board has two Democrats and two Republicans, officials here argue, manipulation of voting would require a massive conspiracy.

But that is just what Jackson and various protest groups allege, and they point to what they say are several suspicious occurrences that demand further investigation:

* In several counties, a Democratic candidate for state chief justice got more votes than Kerry, even though she lost statewide by a wider margin than did Kerry, and the overall total of votes cast in her race was 4.4 million, well below the 5.6 million cast in the presidential race.

* A “computer glitch,” as local officials called it, recorded an extra 3,893 votes for Bush in suburban Columbus, in a precinct with only 638 votes cast. Officials say they caught the glitch and fixed it, showing that the system works; but protesters say they wonder where else such discrepancies may have gone undetected.

* Long lines forced many Ohioans to wait hours to vote and may have deterred some from voting at all. They were reported to be especially long in urban Democratic areas and in some college towns. Some voters want to know why. At Kenyon College in rural Knox County, a machine malfunction caused some students to wait as long as 10 hours to vote, college officials say, the last emerging at 4 a.m.

Another controversy, which surfaced last year and is a continuing target of outrage, involved the chief executive of Ohio-based Diebold Inc., a major player in the electronic touch-screen voting industry. In an August 2003 invitation to a Bush fundraising event, he wrote that he was “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president.”

The official, Walden O’Dell, later described himself to the Cleveland Plain Dealer as “a real novice on the political side,” and he amended company policy to prohibit himself and other top officials from making or raising political contributions or engaging in any other political activity other than voting.

Just how many people are actively protesting the election is difficult to gauge, and interviews on the street suggest that a lot of people, Democrats and Republicans alike, just want to put it behind them.

“I voted for Kerry. I wanted him to win. I thought he would win,” said Anne Matthieson, an account assistant at a downtown insurance firm. “But he didn’t win.”

Still, for those who believe otherwise, there are several websites dedicated to the cause. Several have links that allow a person, at the push of a button, to send a message to hundreds of reporters and public officials, demanding further investigation into voting problems. One accuses the media of “cowardice and complicity” in reporting on election results.

The sites are also raising money, enough to pay for a recount of the Ohio vote (which is formally being undertaken on behalf of the Green and Libertarian party presidential candidates, who are both critical of Ohio voting procedures) and for the legal challenge that Arnebeck, the Columbus lawyer, is spearheading.

State officials say the recount will cost more than the $10-per-precinct fee that the challengers are paying.

Kerry, who may be interested in running again in 2008, is walking a bit of a fine line in the matter, encouraging the recount process but dampening any expectation it will yield a political miracle.

“It’s important that every vote be counted,” said his spokesman, David Wade. “There’s no reason to believe the outcome of the election will change.”

A Democrat close to the Kerry campaign, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Kerry had received plenty of “do not make this concession” advice from party members.

“It’s not just the Internet conspiracy community,” said the Kerry ally. “The every-vote-counts community is very strong inside the Democratic Party, and one does not want to discourage them.”

Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican who also was co-chairman of the state campaign for Bush and a likely gubernatorial candidate in 2006, said he was just as interested as anyone in counting every vote.

“This was an election where you have some glitches but none of these glitches were of a conspiratorial nature, and none of them would overturn or change the election results,” Blackwell said Monday, announcing his certification of the results.

Under the certified results, Bush had 2.86 million votes, or about 51% , to Kerry’s 2.74 million, or 49%. After all provisional votes were counted, the Bush margin represented a drop of about 17,000 votes from the totals announced just after election day.

Arnebeck, who has made two unsuccessful runs for Congress and was an Ohio coordinator for Ross Perot, is undeterred. If the court orders a full and thorough investigation, he said, Kerry will win. He wishes Kerry would join the fight.

“He and his people are too ready to disbelieve that Republicans could be this bad,” Arnebeck said. “They are this bad. Ballot-box stuffing is an old American tradition, and they’ve just updated it. I’m not surprised that somebody hacked this vote.”


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