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New criminal investigation into Ohio elections

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A criminal investigation is to be launched into the way the November 2006 elections were run in Cleveland, Ohio, according to reports.

The new probe has been sparked by a report compiled by election board public monitor CSU's Candice Hoke. County Prosecutor Bill Mason read the report and said there were several "worrying" things within.

In Cuyahoga County officials were given special dispensation to scan early postal votes. They were specifically prohibited from counting the votes, however, until the polls had closed.

But, according to Mason, Hoke's report suggests that a clock on the computer controlling the election seemed to be changed several times in the two days prior to the election in November.

"There is a possibility that there were some totals that were run during that 48-hour period, that's a concern," Mason told a local Fox news station. He says there is no evidence that anyone tampered with the result, but that it looks as though someone had access to the system.

Other security blunders include allowing people with access to the election computer to share the same password. Keys to the tabulation room were kept in an unlocked box, and a cable to the computer controlling the election was apparently left plugged in all night on the evening of the election.

Now Bill Mason has appointed special prosecutor Kevin Baxter to investigate. Baxter was the man behind the investigations that led to last week's conviction of two election workers for rigging the recount in the 2004 presidential elections. There is no suggestion they were trying to alter the outcome: merely that they wanted to avoid a more thorough review of the count.

Bob Bennett, head of the elections board, says Mason is criminalising honest mistakes, but Mason says all he wants is for people to do their jobs. If they did, he argues, "then there'd be nothing to worry about".

Newly elected Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner says she is prepared to fire all four board officials for the 2004 fiasco if they don't resign. Two have already fallen on their swords, but the remaining pair look ready to fight it out. A removal hearing is expected to begin on 2 April. ®

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