The AP story linked below is -- as are the prosecutors in the case* -- at pains not to suggest that the defendants' motive was anything beyond laziness, and not to claim that their actions affected the outcome of the 2004 presidential election. Problem is, there's no way to know without the hand recount their allegedly criminal actions prevented.
Like many jurisdictions, Ohio provides that where a recount is requested, it'll be done in two parts: first, a hand recount of a random sample of the ballots, to make sure there aren't significant discrepancies; then, if there aren't, a machine recount of the remaining ballots (which takes about a day, and nearly always gets pretty much the same results it did the first time).**
Problem is, in several Ohio counties -- in one of which criminal charges have been brought -- apparently election workers "pre-screened" the ballots to find ones without major discrepancies, and then made these squeaky-clean ballots their "random sample." This is illegal.
From the article: http://www.ohio.com/mld/beaconjournal/news/state/16486387.htm
"There were allegations in several counties of similar presorting of ballots for the recounts that state law says are to be random.
[Prosecutor] Baxter said testimony will show that the three workers secretly chose sample precincts for the December 2004 recount that did not have questionable results to ensure the tally from the sample matched a previous vote count. Sample precincts were [legally required] to be selected randomly before witnesses"...just what these workers did not do.
Perhaps the election workers really were just being lazy; and in any case perhaps a complete hand recount would still have given Ohio to President Bush. OTOH, if one were aware of serious election fraud, a "pre-screening" to find "clean" ballots -- to then use as your sample "selected randomly before witnesses" -- would be the easiest way to cover up fraud.***
I don't know which it is. I do know it's not stupid to wonder...and that those who religiously disbelieve in the possibility of electoral fraud are looking just a little bit naive today. ;)
93 93/93 -- AJ
EDIT. Interesting detail on how the case was brought, which I got by rewatching the relevant section of the HBO documentary "Hacking Democracy." I posted this in a comment, but wanted to add it topside, as well:
"The dead giveaway that necessitated a prosecution was even simpler than the videotaped admissions, however. On looking over the "random selection" meant to be "publicly recounted" that day, the witnesses immediately noticed that before the recount started, the votes had already been "clumped": the Bush votes were all clumped together, as were the Kerry votes. The original machine count wouldn't produce this result; only a hand count would. By definition, then, the "random public recount" taking place before them that day was staged, a publicity stunt, a complete fraud for public consumption. The votes in question had already been checked to make sure they were "safe." Hence the charges."
* I might have handled it the same way, in the face of the possibility that this presidential election, too, was stolen, in a way not traceable to the administration itself. Things are bad enough already. :(
** I'm summarizing; the full procedure is explained in the article.
*** For that matter, if the votes were all clean, how would pre-sorting to find a clean sample save them any work? Wouldn't the pre-screening only make sense if they at least suspected discrepancies were there to be found?