COLUMBUS - The battle over the 2004 presidential election raged anew yesterday as a congressional committee questioned Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell over what happened on Election Day and his decisions leading up to that day.
"What you don't want to hear, or what you are not hearing, is that Ohio, whether you're talking about the National Association of Secretaries of State or any other objective measure, had one of the best election administration performances in the country," Mr. Blackwell told the House Administration Committee.
U.S. Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D., Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, countered: "Irrespective of that, there have been allegations put out there. Again, you don't want to hear that, but they're out there."
The occasionally acrimonious hearing was brought to Ohio - the state that ultimately kept President Bush in the White House - after Mr. Blackwell opted not to attend a similar hearing in Washington last month even though he was in the city that day on other business.
The committee questioned Mr. Blackwell, a panel of county elections officials, and several GOP lawmakers about long lines caused by an insufficient number of voting machines at some polling places and about changing pre-election directives from Mr. Blackwell.
Democrat John Kerry conceded Ohio's deciding 20 electoral votes to Mr. Bush the day after the election. But that didn't stop the filing of lawsuits and a challenge in Congress on Jan. 5 to the ratification of Mr. Bush's election.
Continuing hard feelings were obvious as U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a Cleveland Democrat and one of the architects of the congressional challenge, told the hearing room that Mr. Blackwell refused to shake her hand outside the committee room.
"Let's take a deep breath here," U.S. Rep. Bob Ney, the committee's chairman and a St. Clairsville, Ohio, Republican, said at one point when the discussion became too testy.
Mr. Blackwell, a Republican candidate for governor in 2006, came under fire before the election for insisting that voter registration forms, arriving at county election boards in record numbers, be on paper of a particular weight. He later retreated from that position.
He also was criticized for his advisory message that provisional ballots would be given only to would-be voters believed to live in the precinct where they were attempting to vote.
The courts later modified that directive to allow would-be voters whose names didn't appear on a precinct's registration list to be handed a provisional ballot. The ballot would not be counted, however, if subsequent investigation showed they were indeed in the wrong precinct.
Despite complaints about voters waiting in long lines in the rain and disputes over pre-election directives, nearly 1 million newly registered voters cast ballots in Ohio on Nov. 2.
"I must speak to the fabrications and exaggerations that some who dislike the fact their presidential candidate lost Ohio keep repeating," Mr. Blackwell said. "Sadly, these fabrications come not only from disappointed partisans talking to each other on the Internet boards, but also from people in responsible positions and people with enough experience in electoral politics to know better."
State Rep. Kevin DeWine (R., Fairborn) urged the committee to support a delay in the 2006 deadline for states to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act passed in the wake of problems in Florida associated with the 2000 presidential election.
Mr. Ney later said that isn't likely to happen, particularly since one of the delays experienced by Ohio in implementing the federal voting law is of its own making.
The Ohio General Assembly decided late in the process that any computerized touch-screen voting machine purchased with federal funds must be equipped with a paper receipt system that can serve as a backup for recount purposes.
As a result, Mr. Blackwell has taken the option of touch-screen voting off the table and has decided that all counties will use optical-scan voting machines that employ paper ballots read electronically.
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