The crowd packing an African American church in Columbus, Ohio, Nov. 28 cheered as Rev. Jesse Jackson urged the Ohio Supreme Court to set aside George W. Bush’s narrow win in this battleground state.

Jackson charged a “pattern of intentionality” in suppressing the Black vote in Ohio, which Bush claims to have won by 136,000 votes. “We can live with losing an election,” Jackson said. “We cannot live with fraud and stealing.”

His speech was a dramatic highpoint of the surging demand to investigate voter suppression in Ohio, remove Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell and recount all ballots.

Demanding the removal of Blackwell, who chaired Ohio’s 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign, Jackson said, “The owner of the team can’t also be the referee. We need federal supervision of federal elections. Right now we have 50 separate but unequal ways to vote. There can be no safe harbor for a flawed process that leaves people disenfranchised.”

He added, “You can’t have public elections on privately-owned machines, especially where one of the owners has vowed to deliver the state for George Bush.” Jackson was referring to Walter O’Dell, CEO of Ohio-based Diebold, the largest manufacturer of voting machines, who promised last spring to deliver Ohio for Bush.

“You can hack these machines,” Jackson said. “The playing field is uneven. These numbers will not go away. We as Americans should not go begging a secretary of state for a fair vote count. We cannot be the home of the thief and the land of the slave.”

The issue, he said, is not John Kerry versus George Bush. “This is about Medgar Evers and Fannie Lou Hamer and Viola Liuzzo. About Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner, and 27 years in prison for Nelson Mandela.”

A Nov. 13 hearing in Columbus by the Ohio Election Protection Coalition (OEPC) heard about widespread irregularities in sworn testimony by 32 Ohio voters, precinct judges, poll workers and legal observers.

“There is no way Bush’s margin in Ohio will hold up in a recount; there are just too many discrepancies,” OEPC statewide coordinator Jocelyn Travis told the World in a telephone interview. “The bottom line is there were too many problems that add up to suppressing the vote especially in Black and Latino precincts.”

A shortage of voting machines forced voters to wait as long as 12 hours in a cold driving rain, and some had to leave for work without voting, she said.

Travis said the number of provisional ballots raises the issue of whether all new registrants were entered correctly in the system.

“We support a recount,” she added. “I truly believe that every vote must be counted. Otherwise people are going to lose confidence in the integrity of the system.”

During the hearing, witnesses told of a Franklin County precinct that awarded Bush 4,258 votes even though only 628 people voted there. Franklin County voters waited hours to vote, yet 68 stored voting machines were never used on Election Day.

Youngstown pastor Rev. Werner Lange estimated 8,000 votes were lost from the African American community just in Youngstown because of “woefully insufficient” voting machines, and said that “would translate to some 7,000 votes lost for Kerry.”

Matthew Segal of Gambier, Ohio, told the hearing Kenyon College students and Gambier residents “had to stand in line up to 10 to 12 hours in the rain,” and many left without voting. By contrast, Republican-majority precincts had ample machines.

“We support a recount in Ohio due to the widespread irregularities,” Tim Rusch of the New York-based National Voting Rights Institute (NVRI) told the World. A joint statement by NVRI, People for the American Way, Common Cause, and the Fannie Lou Hamer Project said, “We believe it is imperative that, in a democracy, every citizen’s vote be counted.”

The statement adds, “Approximately 93,000 ballots (in Ohio) have not been counted on the grounds that voters either voted for more than one presidential candidate or did not cast a vote in the presidential race. Ohio election officials … may be improperly disqualifying thousands of the 155,000 provisional ballots that have been cast.”

Leaders of the Green and Libertarian parties have filed a lawsuit requesting a recount in Ohio and are raising the required $113,600 or $10 per precinct payment. Blackwell said state election rules allow him to limit a recount to only a few days. He said he will certify the Ohio vote by Dec. 6 and a recount must be completed by Dec. 13 when Ohio electors are scheduled to meet.

At the request of a bipartisan group in Congress including Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Gregory Meeks (D-Fla.), Louise Slaughter (R-N.Y.) and others, the Government Accountability Office will investigate 57,000 complaints of election irregularities delivered to the House Judiciary Committee during and after the 2004 elections.

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