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The Ohio Factor: Did Homeland Security and the FBI interfere With the Vote Count?

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In Warren County, Ohio, election officials took a rather unprecedented action on November 2: They locked down the building where the votes were being tallied, blocking anyone from observing the vote counting process. President Bush won 72% of the vote in the county. We speak with the reporter who broke the story. [includes rush transcript]

Earlier this week on Democracy Now!, we reported on a story in Ohio’s Franklin County. In one precinct, 638 people cast ballots. Yet, George W Bush got 4,258 votes to John Kerry’s 260. In reality, Bush only received 365 votes. That means Bush got nearly 3,900 extra votes. And that was just in one small precinct. This in a state that Bush officially won by only 136,000 votes. Elections officials blamed electronic voting for the extra Bush votes.

Now, questions are being raised across the state of Ohio. In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, the County’s website shows its 29 precincts had more votes than voters. In fact, it wasn’t just a handful. It registered a whopping 93,000 more votes than voters. In Fairview Park, twelve miles west of downtown Cleveland, only 13,342 people were registered voters there, but they cast 18,472 votes.

Meanwhile, in Warren County, Ohio election officials took a rather unprecedented action on November 2. They locked down the building where the votes were being tallied, blocking anyone from observing the vote counting process. County officials said they took the action in response to a terror threat warning from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. County Commissioner Pat South said they were told by an FBI agent that the county was facing a level 10 security threat on a scale of 1 to 10. George Bush won 72% of the county’s more than 92,000 votes.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by several people to talk about the vote count, but we’re going to begin with Erica Solvig, a staff reporter from the Cincinnati Enquirer. She has a front page piece today following up on another. Welcome to Democracy Now!

ERICA SOLVIG: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you summarize your piece in today’s Cincinnati Enquirer?

ERICA SOLVIG: Well, the story that ran today is reiterating the County Commissioner’s stance of Homeland Security concerns. They say, as you have already mentioned, that the county was facing a terrorist threat that ranked 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. We talked to several officials with the homeland security department as well as the FBI. They knew of no increased terrorism concerns in Warren County in particular, and just, again, raising the continuing concerns regarding Homeland Security and being locked out of the building. The primary focus of all of the articles has been on, you know, the First Amendment issues and the open government issues that are raised when the public and the media are locked out of the process.

AMY GOODMAN: You have interviewed a number of people for your pieces; among them was a news director at a local TV station?

ERICA SOLVIG: That’s correct.

AMY GOODMAN: What did he say?

ERICA SOLVIG: He called this a red herring. Bob Moreford, the News Director at channel 9, CWPO TV, the ABC affiliate here said he had never seen anything like it, and WCPO as well as the Associated Press and the Inquirer all received the same response when they tried to get into the building on election night, and that was being locked out. Moreford said that he considered it a red herring. He continued to say, “That’s something that’s put up when you don’t know what else to put up to keep us out.”

AMY GOODMAN: We’re taking a look at Keith Olbermann’s blog from MSNBC. He was quoting the statement given out by Warren County Commissioner Pat South to MSNBC. You have also been quoting her a great deal. It’s quite a remarkable quote. It says, “About three weeks prior to elections, our emergency services department had been receiving quite a few pieces of correspondence from the office of Homeland Security on the upcoming elections. These memos were sent out statewide, not just to Warren County, and they included a lot of planning tools and resources to use for Election Day security.” Pat South went on to say, “In a face-to-face meeting between the FBI and our director of Emergency Services, we were informed that on a scale from 1 to 10, the tri-state area of southwest Ohio was ranked at a high 8 to a low 9, in terms of security risk. Warren County in particular was rated at 10, 10 being the top highest risk. Pursuant to the Ohio-revised code, we followed the law to the letter that basically says no one is allowed within 100 feet of a polling place except for voters, and that after the polls closed, the only people allowed in the Board of Elections area where votes are being counted are the Board of Election members, judges, clerks, poll challengers, police, and that no one other than those people can be there while tabulation is taking place.” And yet, Erica Solvig, now the Department of Homeland Security and FBI are denying that they ever talked about a security risk here?

ERICA SOLVIG: They’re saying that they were not aware of any increased security risk in Warren County on Election Day. The county has declined to give us the agent’s name who told them this, because they haven’t talked to this agent–this is an FBI agent–anytime recently. But the Homeland Security officials that we have talked to in the area, as well as the FBI, are unaware of any increased security risk on Election Day. Again, the primary concern was being locked out of a public building on a night when the entire nation was watching, waiting for the results.

AMY GOODMAN: Is Warren County, Ohio, republican or democrat?

ERICA SOLVIG: It is Republican, but politics aside this was an unprecedented action on their part. As far as we know and as far as the Ohio Secretary of State’s office knows this is the only county in the state that locked the public out of the building.

AMY GOODMAN: One more time, as you point out in today’s Cincinnati Inquirer piece, Pat South the commissioner describes the FBI agent coming to her?

ERICA SOLVIG: The FBI agent apparently spoke with some county officials who then relayed the information to the commissioners. He actually spoke directly to Frank Young, who is quoted in the article as well.

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