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Smacking Church Lady 

Somebody had to get hit. Might as well pick the easy target.

Something stinks: The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office signed off on everything, but Jacquie Maiden was still picked to take the fall. - WALTER  NOVAK
  • Walter Novak
  • Something stinks: The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office signed off on everything, but Jacquie Maiden was still picked to take the fall.

She wears the pastel pinks of Easter, the warmth and dignity of mother and grandmother, a comfort with where she's been, a confidence with where she's going. Her husband's a Baptist minister; she's the First Lady of the church. "The young women look up to her as a role model," he says. No, the woman sitting before you is not with the bad guys. Of this you are certain.

But it wasn't long ago that Jacquie Maiden sat in a holding cell. The essence of her crimes: Felonious Laziness. The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections employee is accused of rigging a recount of the 2004 presidential election because she didn't want the extra work.

It seems a plausible theory. The words "lazy" and "county worker" are so intermingled they might as well be a job title. Throw in Cuyahoga's history of corruption and the combustible 2004 election, which the left has long believed was rigged, and you have the fixings for some quality finger-pointing.

Bonus round for conspiracy theorists scoring at home: The man overseeing it all is none other than board Chairman Bob Bennett, who's also chairman of the Ohio Republican Party -- a group that may lack the criminal finesse of the Genovese Family, but is doing its best to compensate with volume.

So when Maiden and two other employees were indicted, the internet was abuzz. To the misfortune of America, this weird and warped place we call home is a deciding factor in presidential elections. Now there was proof that we'd fixed the game.

In 99 percent of the cases, guilt would be a lock. But this was the rare exception. There was no malice. There was no crime. And it takes but a cursory investigation to prove it.

Here's the deal:

Following the election, the Green Party asked for a recount. This isn't unusual. The election board had already conducted four recounts that year. It's the nature of the job.

The first step is to do a hand recount of 3 percent of the precincts, which are randomly selected. If something is amiss, the board is obligated to recount all 650,000 ballots.

For 23 years, it's always been done the same way. Choose a mix of precincts east and west, black and white, rich and poor -- 21,000 votes in this case, from large precincts that would provide an accurate picture. It seemed a logical way to satisfy the "random" requirement. In two decades, no one objected. No one was charged with a crime.

Unfortunately, they weren't quite following the letter of the law when it came to that whole "random" thing. This isn't unusual, because this is Ohio. We suck at precision governance. We're more like the carpenter who eyeballs his measurements.

But nobody knew they were doing wrong. Transcripts make this clear. Board members openly discussed their methods -- and whether they were doing right -- at multiple public meetings. The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office even signed off on the deal, just as it has for 23 years.

"We requested advice from two different public prosecutors," says Bennett. "We were told to not change the way we've done it since 1981."

This is not how people behave if the fix is in. Even our guys understand that if you're gonna run a scam, it's best not to consult a prosecutor on the efficacy of your criminal venture.

Still, someone filed a complaint. Erie County Prosecutor Kevin Baxter was called to investigate. Whether it was national pressure, the county's reputation for corruption, or simply a small-town prosecutor looking to make a play under the big-city limelight, conditions dictated that someone go down.

By the time he was done, Baxter had teed up three women, all well below the realm of ultimate decision-making. They're accused of purposely selecting precincts where the numbers would add up so they wouldn't have to conduct a full recount.

The charges are beyond explanation.

Spend some time with Jacquie Maiden, and you'll find yourself in the company of a straight-up, by-the-book church lady. She uses "love" so much to describe her work, she seems to be having an affair with her job. Despite being on paid leave, she still shows up every day, as do the other two women. These aren't people afraid of work.

Nor was there any political motive. Folks in these parts don't cotton to a trust-fund president who sends working people's kids to war. Though it was the left that complained, John Kerry won the county by an astounding 227,000-vote margin, the largest presidential win in Cuyahoga's history.

The left seemed to have missed something: We're a nearly all-Democratic county. If we wanted to fix this, we would have fixed it for them, not conservatives. But voters had already taken care of it.

Finally, there was no explanation of why Baxter would indict the three women. Election board Director Michael Vu knew about this. Board Chairman Bob Bennett knew about this. At least two prosecutors from Bill Mason's office knew about this. Yet for some reason, three lower-level women were charged. It looked suspiciously like someone needed to get lit up, and that someone was the easiest target.

"It's the biggest waste of taxpayers' money," says Maiden's lawyer, Cara Santosuosso, "but it gets the prosecutors on TV."

Ah yes, TV. Since the indictments, Baxter has discovered that he's not allergic to television cameras, though he wouldn't respond to questions from Scene. Nor would Reno Oradini, Mason's liaison to the election board, who's long known about its methods.

So, yeah, there's a stink around here. But it isn't coming from the three women.

It's coming from the left, which is obsessed with refighting past elections, instead of reexamining why it keeps getting its ass kicked by a former male cheerleader. And it's coming from Baxter and Oradini, who need a refresher course in how to man up.

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