Police state : voting : Ohio & Diebold


Richard Moore


Has American Democracy died an electronic death in Ohio
2005's referenda defeats?
by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman
November 11, 2005

While debate still rages over Ohio's stolen presidential
election of 2004, the impossible outcomes of key 2005
referendum issues may have put an electronic nail through
American democracy.

Once again, the Buckeye state has hosted an astonishing
display of electronic manipulation that calls into
question the sanctity of America's right to vote, and to
have those votes counted in this crucial swing state.

The controversy has been vastly enhanced due to the
simultaneous installation of new electronic voting
machines in nearly half the state's 88 counties, machines
the General Accountability Office has now confirmed could
be easily hacked by a very small number of people.

Last year, the US presidency was decided here. This year,
a bond issue and four hard-fought election reform
propositions are in question.

Issue One on Ohio's 2005 ballot was a controversial $2
billion "Third Frontier" proposition for state programs
ostensibly meant to create jobs and promote high tech
industry. Because some of the money may seem destined for
stem cell research, Issue One was bitterly opposed by the
Christian Right, which distributed leaflets against it.

The Issue was pushed by a Taft Administration wallowing in
corruption. Governor Bob Taft recently pleaded guilty to
misdemeanors stemming from golf outings he took with Tom
Noe, the infamous Toledo coin dealer who has taken $4
million or more from the state. Taft entrusted Noe with
some $50 million in investments for the Ohio Bureau of
Workers' Compensation, from which some $12 million is now
missing. Noe has been charged with federal money
laundering violations on behalf of the Bush-Cheney
campaign. Taft's public approval ratings in Ohio are
currently around 15%.

Despite public fears the bond issue could become a
glorified GOP slush fund, Issue One was supported by
organized labor. A poll run on the front page of the
Columbus Dispatch on Sunday, November 6, showed Issue One
passing with 53% of the vote. Official tallies showed
Issue One passing with 54% of the vote.

The polling used by the Dispatch had wrapped up the
Thursday before the Tuesday election. Its precision on
Issue One was consistent with the Dispatch's historic
polling abilities, which have been uncannily accurate for
decades. This poll was based on 1872 registered Ohio
voters, with a margin of error at plus/minus 2.5
percentage points and a 95% confidence interval. The Issue
One outcome would appear to confirm the Dispatch polling
operation as the state's gold standard.

But Issues 2-5 are another story.

The Dispatch's Sunday headline showed "3 issues on way to
passage." The headline referred to Issues One, Two and
Three. As mentioned, the poll was dead-on accurate for
Issue One.

Issues Two-Five were meant to reform Ohio's electoral
process, which has been under intense fire since 2004. The
issues were very heavily contested. They were backed by
Reform Ohio Now, a well-funded bi-partisan statewide
effort meant to bring some semblance of reliability back
to the state's vote count. Many of the state's best-known
moderate public figures from both sides of the aisle were
prominent in the effort. Their effort came largely in
response to the stolen 2004 presidential vote count that
gave George W. Bush a second term and led to U.S.
history's first Congressional challenge to the seating of
a state's delegation to the Electoral College.

Issue Two was designed to make it easier for Ohioans to
vote early, by mail or in person. By election day, much of
what it proposed was already put into law by the state
legislature. Like Issue One, it was opposed by the
Christian Right. But it had broad support from a wide
range of Ohio citizen groups. In a conversation the day
before the vote, Bill Todd, a primary official
spokesperson for the opposition to Issues Two through
Five, told attorney Cliff Arnebeck that he believed Issues
Two and Three would pass.

The November 6 Dispatch poll showed Issue Two passing by a
vote of 59% to 33%, with about 8% undecided, an even
broader margin than that predicted for Issue One.

But on November 8, the official vote count showed Issue
Two going down to defeat by the astonishing margin of
63.5% against, with just 36.5% in favor. To say the
outcome is a virtual statistical impossibility is to
understate the case. For the official vote count to square
with the pre-vote Dispatch poll, support for the Issue had
to drop more than 22 points, with virtually all the
undecideds apparently going into the "no" column.

The numbers on Issue Three are even less likely.

Issue Three involved campaign finance reform. In a lame
duck session at the end of 2004, Ohio's Republican
legislature raised the limits for individual donations to
$10,000 per candidate per person for anyone over the age
of six. Thus a family of four could donate $40,000 to a
single candidate. The law also opened the door for direct
campaign donations from corporations, something banned by
federal law since the administration of Theodore

The GOP measure sparked howls of public outrage. Though
again opposed by the Christian Right, Issue Three drew an
extremely broad range of support from moderate bi-partisan
citizen groups and newspapers throughout the state. The
Sunday Dispatch poll showed it winning in a landslide,
with 61% in favor and just 25% opposed.

Tuesday's official results showed Issue Three going down
to defeat in perhaps the most astonishing reversal in Ohio
history, claiming just 33% of the vote, with 67% opposed.
For this to have happened, Issue Three's polled support
had to drop 28 points, again with an apparent 100%
opposition from the previously undecideds.

The reversals on both Issues Two and Three were
statistically staggering, to say the least.

The outcomes on Issue Four and Five were slightly less
dramatic. Issue Four meant to end gerrymandering by
establishing a non-partisan commission to set
Congressional and legislative districts. The Dispatch poll
showed it with 31% support, 45% opposition, and 25%
undecided. Issue Four's final margin of defeat was 30% in
favor to 70% against, placing virtually all undecideds in
the "no" column.

Issue Five meant to take administration of Ohio's
elections away from the Secretary of State, giving control
to a nine-member non-partisan commission. Issue Five was
prompted by Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell's
administration of the 2004 presidential vote, particularly
in light of his role as co-chair of Ohio's Bush-Cheney
campaign. The Dispatch poll showed a virtual toss-up, at
41% yes, 43% no and 16% undecided. The official result
gave Issue Five just 30% of the vote, with allegedly 70%

But the Sunday Dispatch also carried another headline: "44
counties will break in new voting machines." Forty-one of
those counties "will be using new electronic touch screens
from Diebold Election System," the Dispatch added.

Diebold's controversial CEO Walden O'Dell, a major GOP
donor, made national headlines in 2003 with a fundraising
letter pledging to deliver Ohio's 2004 electoral votes to

Every vote in Ohio 2004 was cast or counted on an
electronic device. About 15%---some 800,000 votes---were
cast on electronic touchscreen machines with no paper
trail. The number was about seven times higher than Bush's
official 118,775-vote margin of victory. Nearly all the
rest of the votes were cast on punch cards or scantron
ballots counted by opti-scan devices---some of them made
by Diebold---then tallied at central computer stations in
each of Ohio's 88 counties.

According to a recent General Accountability Office
report, all such technologies are easily hacked. Vote
skimming and tipping are readily available to those who
would manipulate the vote. Vote switching could be
especially easy for those with access to networks by which
many of the computers are linked. Such machines and
networks, said the GAO, had widespread problems with
"security and reliability." Among them were "weak security
controls, system design flaws, inadequate security
testing, incorrect system configuration, poor security
management and vague or incomplete voting system
standards, among other issues."

With the 2005 expansion of paperless touch-screen machines
into 41 more Ohio counties, this year's election was more
vulnerable than ever to centralized manipulation. The
outcomes on Issues 2-5 would indicate just that.

The new touchscreen machines were brought in by Blackwell,
who had vowed to take the state to an entirely e-based
voting regime.

As in 2004, there were instances of chaos. In inner city,
heavily Democratic precincts in Montgomery County, the
Dayton Daily News reported: "Vote count goes on all night:
Errors, unfamiliarity with computerized voting at heart of
problem." Among other things, 186 memory cards from the
e-voting machines went missing, prompting election workers
in some cases to search for them with flashlights before
all were allegedly found.

In Tom Noe's Lucas County, Election Director Jill Kelly
explained that her staff could not complete the vote count
for 13.5 hours because poll workers "were not adequately
trained to run the new machines."

But none of the on-the-ground glitches can begin to
explain the impossible numbers surrounding the alleged
defeat of Issues Two through Five. The Dispatch polling
has long been a source of public pride for the powerful,
conservative newspaper, which endorsed Bush in 2004.

The Dispatch was somehow dead accurate on Issue One, and
then staggeringly wrong on Issues Two through Five. Sadly,
this impossible inconsistency between Ohio's most
prestigious polling operation and these final official
referendum vote counts have drawn virtually no public

Though there were glitches, this year's voting lacked the
massive irregularities and open manipulations that
poisoned Ohio 2004. The only major difference would appear
to be the new installation of touchscreen machines in
those additional 41 counties.

And thus the possible explanations for the staggering
defeats of Issues Two through Five boil down to two:
either the Dispatch polling---dead accurate for Issue
One---was wildly wrong beyond all possible statistical
margin of error for Issues 2-5, or the electronic machines
on which Ohio and much of the nation conduct their
elections were hacked by someone wanting to change the
vote count.

If the latter is true, it can and will be done again, and
we can forget forever about the state that has been
essential to the election of every Republican presidential
candidate since Lincoln.

And we can also, for all intents and purposes, forget
about the future of American democracy.

Updated November 13, 2005


Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of HOW
available at http://www.freepress.org/ and
http://www.harveywasserman.com/, and, with Steve
Rosenfeld, of WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO, available from The
New Press in spring, 2006.


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