- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 5, 2004

BROADVIEW HEIGHTS, Ohio (AP) — President Bush said yesterday he was confident in the integrity of ballot-counting systems throughout the country, but his campaign manager said Republican lawyers stood ready “to make sure all eligible voters can vote” four years after the Florida recount.

“We learned some lessons in the last campaign that we’ve got to be — that we needed election reforms,” Mr. Bush said at a question-and-answer session with supporters in Ohio. A law was passed “to encourage good, honest elections and to make sure that the registrations are good and honest, to make sure that every ballot is counted.”

The president’s remarks were in response to a question about counting military ballots, a major point of contention in the 2000 recount. Election officials rejected hundreds of military absentee ballots, many because they lacked postmarks or signatures.

“I’m confident that there will be a greater awareness when it comes to counting these ballots,” Mr. Bush said.

With thousands more troops overseas because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, military voting could be an even bigger issue this year, and Mr. Bush has courted this constituency aggressively. One of the legal fights during the 2000 recount was about overseas votes.

“Certainly we intend to make sure we have the appropriate lawyers and others to make sure that all eligible voters can vote,” Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman said.

Mr. Mehlman, a lawyer, was field director during the 2000 recount in Florida, overseeing all the Republican ballot-counters. Mr. Bush won the state’s 27 electoral votes when the Supreme Court ordered an end to recounts.

Mr. Bush rolled across northeast Ohio on his fourth bus tour of the state, with another planned this week. From Ohio, he traveled to Pennsylvania for a second day, part of a drive into places where he performed poorly in 2000.

His campaign bus was emblazoned with a new slogan, echoing the motto of the recently completed Republican convention: “A safer world, a more hopeful America.”

The president spent the night in Cleveland, close to the airport, but drove 15 miles south to rally supporters. His campaign considers the suburbs more fertile ground for his message.

Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer said Mr. Bush avoided stumping in Cleveland to avoid having to explain new government figures that show the Lake Erie city had the highest poverty rate among big cities last year.

The Bush camp was buoyed by new polls that showed the president with a double-digit lead over Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, though Mr. Mehlman cautioned that the surveys are not likely to firm up until this week.

Mr. Bush seemed upbeat as he mingled with supporters at an ice cream shop in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, but he struck a cautious tone when asked about the polls.

“I’ve got a lot of work to do,” the president said.

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