More potential 2004 election illegalities rock Ohio's Hocking County
- From: trudogg <trudogg@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sat, 31 Mar 2007 10:11:37 -0400
by Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman
As the third of four members of the Cuyahoga (Cleveland) County Board
of Elections resigns under pressure from Ohio's new Secretary of
State, additional potential illegalities in Hocking County have
resurfaced with new weight against a GOP executive director already
under serious fire.
The four members of the Cuyahoga BOE have been asked to resign by
Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat elected in November,
2006. Brunner has issued a stinging five-point complaint, much of
which derives from the report done by U.S. Congressman John Conyers in
the wake of the 2004 presidential election, and on reporting done at
http://www.freepress.org/ and research by grassroots election
The two Democratic members of the board have already resigned. On
March 27, Sally D. Florkiewicz, a Republican, became the third to
depart the board. Her departure leaves just Robert Bennett, the BOE
chair, clinging to his position. Bennett also chairs the Ohio
Republican Party, and has long been one of the state's most powerful
politicians, with close ties to the White House. Many believe Bennett
was the key point person, along with then-Secretary of State J.
Kenneth Blackwell, in the theft of Ohio's 2004 presidential election.
Karl Rove is widely believed to have personally persuaded Bennett to
stay on at the Cleveland-area BOE through the election.
Bennett's position mirrors that of Tom Noe, former chair of the Lucas
County (Toledo) BOE, once known as northern Ohio's "Mr. Republican."
Like Bennett, Noe had close personal ties to George W. Bush and Ohio
Governor Robert Taft. Taft, who left office earlier this year after
his public approval ratings sank as low as 7%, pleaded no contest to
four misdemeanors involving favors taken from Noe. Noe has since been
convicted of a wide range of crimes ranging from illegal campaign
contributions to the mishandling of state funds. He is now in prison.
Florkiewicz's resignation letter charges that "the Secretary of State
has decided to use the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections to advance a
partisan agenda." Bennett is saying much the same as he refuses to
resign. But he now, on behalf of the board he has chaired, faces a
wide range of charges involving, among other things, the mishandling
of public funds that resulted in taxpayer expenditures of at least an
additional $12,900,000 above original budget.
For Bennett to resign would widely be viewed as admission of guilt.
But a firestorm of controversy is certain to erupt should Bennett
attempt to stand up to Brunner's complaint.
The public hearing she has demanded is currently scheduled to begin
April 2. However, Bennett's taxpayer-funded special counsel, Stan
Chesley, has filed a motion in court to stop it. Pending the court's
review, Brunner's counsel John Ferron agreed to delay the hearing for
a week, according to Cliff Arnebeck who is closely monitoring the case
and spoke with Ferron Thursday afternoon. "With all of these fireworks
it will become more and more difficult for some of the Ohio editorial
boards to maintain their position that the 2004 election was not
stolen," said Arnebeck.
Meanwhile, another GOP county election official is also under
intensifying fire. Lisa Schwartze, executive director of the Hocking
County BOE, has been charged with allowing an unmonitored manipulation
of electronic memory drives before the 2004 recount could be
completed. A memo purportedly written by Schwartze also directs poll
workers to recount a precinct chosen deliberately by Schwartze, rather
than at random, as the law demands. Two Cuyahoga County poll workers
have been convicted of felonies for similar behavior, and have each
been sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Schwartze's offenses, however, may not stop there. According to sworn
affidavits from Sherole Eaton, former Hocking County DOE assistant
director, Schwartze publicly bragged of having held Republican Party
fundraisers in her executive director's office, a clear illegality.
Schwartze may also have organized the fundraisers while being paid by
the county to do her allegedly non-partisan job as executive director.
Schwartze may also have supervised the shredding of voter registration
rolls leading up to the 2004 election. Eaton's under-oath testimony
strongly indicates this destruction of vital public records may also
have been illegal.
Like Bennett, Schwartze has long been a high-profile associate of
Blackwell's, and apparently played a key role in delivering Ohio's
electoral votes to George W. Bush in 2004. Whether she did so
illegally remains to be seen.
But the fire Jennifer Brunner has set in Cleveland now seems very
likely to spread to the rest of Ohio's 88 counties. Hocking's
Schwartze is almost certain to join Bob Bennett among those feeling
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