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Democrats challenge Ohio electoral votes

Move delays official certification of presidential election


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Congress debates an objection challenging presidential vote in Ohio.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Alleging widespread "irregularities" on Election Day, a group of Democrats in Congress objected Thursday to the counting of Ohio's 20 electoral votes, delaying the official certification of the 2004 presidential election results.

The move was not designed to overturn the re-election of President Bush, said Ohio Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones and California Sen. Barbara Boxer, who filed the objection.

The objecting Democrats, most of whom are House members, said they wanted to draw attention to the need for aggressive election reform in the wake of what they said were widespread voter problems.

In a letter to congressional leaders Wednesday, members of the group said they would take the action because a new report by Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee found "numerous, serious election irregularities," particularly in Ohio, that led to "a significant disenfranchisement of voters."

"How can we possibly tell millions of Americans who registered to vote, who came to the polls in record numbers, particularly our young people ... to simply get over it and move on?" Tubbs Jones told reporters.

The House of Representatives and Senate met Thursday afternoon in a constitutionally mandated session to count the electoral votes. Vice President Dick Cheney, in his role as president of the Senate, presided over the session.

The results from each state, read in alphabetical order, were ticked through quickly until Ohio was called, and a clerk read the letter of objection from Boxer and Tubbs Jones.

Cheney then ordered the lawmakers back to their respective chambers for two hours of debate on the merits of the challenge.

It is only the second such challenge since the current rules for counting electoral votes were established in 1877. The last was in 1969 and it concerned a so-called "faithless elector," according to congressional researchers.

Four years ago, after the disputed election results in Florida, members of the Congressional Black Caucus attempted to block Florida's electoral votes from being counted.

In a scene recalled in Michael Moore's movie "Fahrenheit 9/11," lawmaker after lawmaker was gaveled down by Vice President Al Gore because no senator would support the objections, as the law requires.

House Democrats involved in this year's protest worked for weeks to enlist the support of a senator in their party, and Boxer agreed to join the effort Wednesday.

"This is my opening shot to be able to focus the light of truth on these terrible problems in the electoral system," Boxer told a press conference.

"While we have men and women dying to bring democracy abroad, we've got to make it the best it can be here at home, and that's why I'm doing this."

If one member of each body of Congress objects, congressional rules require that lawmakers return to their chambers to vote on the merits.

A simple majority vote in each chamber would overturn the challenge -- something that should be easily achieved in the GOP-controlled Congress.

Republicans dismissed the effort as a stunt, noting that specific allegations of voting problems in Ohio have been investigated by journalists and, the Republicans said, found to be untrue.

"But apparently, some Democrats only want to gripe about counts, recounts, and recounts of recounts," said Rep. Deborah Pryce, an Ohio Republican.

"So eager are they to abandon their job as public servants, they have cast themselves in the role of Michael Moore, concocting wild conspiracy theories to distract the American public."

White House press secretary Scott McClellan dismissed the challenge as "partisan politics."

"The election is behind us," he said. "The American people now expect their leaders in Washington to focus on the big priorities facing this country."

Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee for president, released a letter Wednesday saying he would not take part in the protest.

"Our legal teams on the ground have found no evidence that would change the outcome of the election," Kerry said.

Bush carried Ohio by more than 118,000 votes -- the Buckeye State win providing the margin of victory in the Electoral College race. The president received 286 to Kerry's 252 electoral votes.

"There are very troubling questions that have not yet been answered by Ohio election officials," the senator from Massachusetts said.

"In the coming months I will present a national proposal to ensure transparency and accountability in our voting process."

Kerry was not on hand Thursday. He is in Iraq to thank U.S. troops for their service.

CNN's Ted Barrett contributed to this report.


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