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Democrats Press Charges of Irregularities

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe vowed today to “spend whatever it takes” to investigate potential voting irregularities during the 2004 election in Ohio and said he has the backing of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the effort.

“Our goal is to understand and report back on what happened and why,” McAuliffe said during a conference call with reporters.

McAuliffe and DNC Voting Rights Institute Chairwoman Donna Brazile said the DNC is launching its own comprehensive, rigorous investigation analyzing the election process in the Buckeye State, where voters had complained of long lines, equipment failures and difficulty in casting provisional ballots.

Republicans have criticized Democratic scrutiny of the balloting in Ohio as sour grapes, and argued that nothing could erode President Bush’s 119,000 vote margin of victory over Kerry.

McAuliffe stressed that the point of the study is not to overturn the election result, but rather to form a basis for making recommendations about any further election reforms that might be needed.

“We believe in aftermath of this election, it’s important we study what happened in Ohio,” said Brazile, who noted that Ohio was plagued by everything from shortages of ballots and voting machine failures to confusion about polling sites and excruciating waits.

Brazile is a Roll Call contributing writer.

A final report on their investigation — which they said will be conducted by independent and non-partisan experts — could be issued as early as this spring, McAuliffe said.

The DNC chairman added that Kerry has been “very involved in the process” leading up to Monday’s announcement and characterized the Senator as “very proud that the party’s stepping up to the plate to do this.”

“I have spoken to Senator Kerry almost every day since the election,” McAuliffe said. “Primarily our discussions have been around issues of voting. He obviously is very interested in this study. I briefed him last night about it. He’s very excited about it. He’s been monitoring these situations very closely.”

Several other Democratic lawmakers have also been avidly pursuing election-related issues and are ramping up their efforts this week. Reps. John Conyers (Mich.), Bobby Scott (Va.) and Mel Watt (N.C.) — Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee — have invited their colleagues to a forum this Wednesday on Capitol Hill to address “Ohio Voting Irregularities.”

“The forum will include leading advocates, election experts and investigators who have reviewed the myriad of Election Day and recount problems in Ohio, as well as numerous individuals who experienced problems and outright disenfranchisement on Election Day,” the lawmakers wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter.

Continued the letter: “This will be an important event that will help the Members and public understand the continuing controversies surrounding the Ohio vote and recount process and consider remedies for addressing these issues in the future.”

At the same time, Democratic staffers on the House Judiciary Committee are conducting their own review of allegations of election irregularities received by Members of Congress.

And last week, 12 Democratic House Members sent a separate 15-page letter to Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell requesting his assistance with their “ongoing investigation of election irregularities in the 2004 election” and asking him to respond to specific allegations of counting and procedural irregularities throughout Ohio.

Among those scheduled to participate in Wednesday’s forum in the Rayburn House Office Building are: Jesse Jackson, founder of the Rainbow Push Coalition; Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way; Jon Greenbaum, director of the Voting Rights Project, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law.

In a related development, the PFAW Foundation, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law and the NAACP today released a report containing preliminary findings from their own “Election Protection” program, which mobilized thousands of volunteers to monitor the polls at more than 3,500 precincts across the country.

The report, titled “Shattering the Myth: An Initial Snapshot of Voter Disenfranchisement in the 2004 Elections,” points to myriad systemic problems ranging from long lines and unreasonable waiting times at the voting booths to problems with registration processing and absentee ballots, machine errors, voter intimidation and suppression, as well as problems with the use and counting of the new provisional ballots mandated under new federal law.

The groups are calling for everything from improved poll worker training to funding for the Help America Vote Act, voter verified audit trails for all voting systems and public hearings by Congress, the EAC and possibly the Federal Election Commission.

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