Blackwell requests exception to investigative rule

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell has requested a protective order to prevent him from being interviewed as part of an unusual court challenge of the presidential vote.

Blackwell, in a court filing, says he’s not required to be interviewed by lawyers as a high-ranking public official, and accused the voters challenging the results of “frivolous conduct” and abusive and unnecessary requests of elections officials around the state.

Citing fraud, 37 people who voted for president Nov. 2 have challenged the election results with the Ohio Supreme Court. The voters refer to irregularities including long lines, a shortage of voting machines in minority precincts and problems with computer equipment.

President Bush defeated John Kerry by 119,000 votes, according to the official count by Blackwell. Ohio’s 20 electoral votes gave Bush the 270 he needed for victory. Kerry conceded the morning after Election Day.

The challenge, with support from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, is based on comparison of reports of exit polling data with the official vote. Columbus lawyer Cliff Arnebeck and other lawyers on the case say they would like to see the supporting data that produced the exit poll results.

The voters “are not trying to actually contest the presidential election but are merely using this litigation to cast public doubt on the voting system of the State of Ohio without a shred of evidence supporting their theories,” Attorney General Jim Petro, representing Blackwell, said in last week’s filing with the Ohio Supreme Court.

Petro said the voters “are again engaging in frivolous conduct” after a Dec. 20 request to interview elections board officials in 10 counties was denied.

Petro also argued that the state Supreme Court does not have jurisdiction over a federal election. Even if the court did, the attorneys for the voters aren’t following the proper timelines for collecting evidence.

Arnebeck said Blackwell’s request shows “a lack of good faith” in the process to contest elections.

On Dec. 21, officials named in Arnebeck’s challenge learned that he planned to issue subpoenas to several high-ranking officials, including Blackwell, Bush and the president’s political adviser, Karl Rove, according to Petro.

The state Supreme Court “should halt their ability to subpoena any person until such time as they make a good faith showing for the reason to take any deposition,” Petro said.

The last time a similar challenge was made to a statewide race came in 1990 when Paul Pfeifer contested Lee Fisher’s 1,234-vote victory in the attorney general’s race. Six justices of the court sided with Fisher.