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Return of the hanging chad: Recount continues in Ohio

CINCINNATI -- In a scene reminiscent of Florida circa 2000, two teams of Republican and Democratic election workers held punch-card ballots up to the light yesterday and whispered back and forth as they tried to divine the voters' intent from a few hanging chads.

Observers for the presidential campaigns of John Kerry, President Bush, and Green Party candidate David Cobb kept watch from chairs a few feet away.

The scene is being repeated statewide this week in a recount in the state that put Bush over the top in last month's election.

Officially, Bush beat Kerry by 119,000 votes in Ohio, but two third-party candidates collected the required $113,600 for a recount they claim will show serious irregularities. The Kerry campaign is supporting the recount, though it has acknowledged that the re-tallying of votes will not change the outcome.

The recount began this week. At least 35 of Ohio's 88 counties had completed new tallies or were starting yesterday, according to a survey by the Associated Press. Some of the tallies will not be complete until next week.

''It takes a lot of work, a lot of hours," said Kerry campaign observer Jeannette Harrison, 63, a real estate agent. ''This is a job that has to be done."

In Cincinnati, the Hamilton County workers examined the ballot holes up close -- a scene that called to mind the five-week recount in Florida that made the terms ''pregnant chad" and ''butterfly ballot" famous.

Statewide, about 92,000 ballots cast in last month's presidential election failed to record a vote for president, most of them on punch-card systems.

Hamilton County workers wrote their results on tally sheets as they counted ballots from 30 precincts randomly selected from the county's 1,013 -- a total of about 13,000 of 433,000 ballots cast in November in the county.

Under Ohio law, workers must hand-count 3 percent of ballots. If the results match the certified results exactly, all other ballots can be recounted by machine. If the totals are off, all ballots must be counted by hand.

Also yesterday, Representative John Conyers of Michigan, a senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, urged the FBI to investigate possible election tampering in Hocking County involving an employee of TRIAD Governmental Systems Inc., the company that wrote the voting software used in 41 of Ohio's counties.

According to a sworn statement from Sherole Eaton, the county's deputy director of elections, a TRIAD representative told her on Friday he wanted to inspect the county's tabulating machine. She said the employee then told her that ''the battery in the computer was dead and that the stored information was gone."

''He proceeded to take the computer apart and call his office to get information to input into our computer," Eaton said.

Conyers said similar TRIAD visits have been reported in other Ohio counties.

TRIAD President Brett Rapp told The New York Times that preparing machines for a recount was standard procedure and said he welcomed any investigation.

Also, a federal judge in Akron on Tuesday rejected a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union alleging the punch-card voting system is error-prone and ballots are more likely to go uncounted than votes cast in other ways. The ACLU also claimed Ohio violated the voting rights of blacks, a large number of whom live in punch-card counties. However, US District Judge David D. Dowd Jr. disagreed, saying, ''No one is denied the opportunity to cast a valid vote because of their race."

The Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Massachusetts-based Alliance for Democracy are backing a request on behalf of 40 voters asking the Ohio Supreme Court to reconsider the election results, accusing the Bush campaign of ''high-tech vote stealing."

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