2 election workers get 18 months for rigging presidential recount

Associated Press | March 13, 2007

CLEVELAND (AP) — A judge suspicious of more corruption pressed two former election board workers to tell what they know and then sentenced them today to the maximum 18 months in prison for rigging the 2004 presidential election recount to make their job easier.

“I can’t help but feel there’s more to this story,” said Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Peter Corrigan, who allowed the women to remain free on bond pending appeal. Some of their friends and relatives sobbed as the judge imposed the sentence.

The judge repeatedly asked Jacqueline Maiden, 60, an election coordinator who was the Cuyahoga County board’s third-highest ranking employee, and ballot manager Kathleen Dreamer, 40, if higher-ups in the board had directed the recount rigging.

“It seems unlikely your supervisors wouldn’t know,” the judge prodded.

The women, standing side by side, said they had cooperated with a state investigation of the elections board in Ohio’s most populous county. The board has been a lightning rod for critics wary since Ohio gave the 2004 election to President Bush.

“This big conspiracy, it’s not there,” Dreamer said. She said she wasn’t protecting anyone at the board and had been truthful in the investigation.

Maiden said she wouldn’t lie, even to protect someone. “I’ve never tried to do anything underhanded,” she said.

But the judge sounded skeptical. “Telling the whole truth, that’s what’s important,” Corrigan said. “I’m not convinced you’ve done that.” 

Erie County Prosecutor Kevin Baxter, appointed as an outside investigator to look into the election board in Cleveland, told that judge that the women had been uncooperative in the investigation and appealed for prison time for both.

“The defendants have never come clean,” he said.

Prosecutors said the employees broke the law when they worked behind closed doors three days before the Dec. 16, 2004, recount to pick ballots they knew would not cause discrepancies when checked by hand so they could avoid a lengthier, more expensive hand recount of all votes.

Baxter criticized the outspoken support for the women from Robert Bennett, the election board chairman and head of the Republican Party in Ohio. Endorsing such criminal behavior is “amazing, it’s astounding,” according to Baxter, who didn’t indicate if the investigation might lead to more charges.

Bennett said later in response that the prosecution was politically motivated and directed against Michael Vu — who quit as board director last month — and said he felt any errors by Maiden, a Democrat, or Dreamer, a Republican, were inadvertent.

“If they made mistakes, they were honest mistakes. They are not criminals and for anybody to paint them as criminals is a travesty of justice,” Bennett said. He knew of no criminal wrongdoing at the board run by himself, another Republican and two Democrats, he said.

Each defendant was convicted of a felony count of negligent misconduct of an elections employee.

Maiden and Dreamer also were convicted of one misdemeanor count each of failure of elections employees to perform their duty. Both were acquitted of five other charges, and a co-defendant who was an assistant manager of the ballot department was acquitted of all seven counts.

Ohio gave Bush the electoral votes he needed to defeat Democratic Sen. John Kerry in the election and hold on to the White House in 2004. Kerry beat Bush in Democratic Cuyahoga County 448,486 to 221,606.

The prosecutor did not claim the rigged recount affected the outcome of the election — Kerry gained 17 votes and Bush lost six in the county recount.

The judge rejected a motion for a new trial on the defense claim that official election duties are the responsibility of election board members, not employees.