This is the eleventh blog in our election integrity series
Our last two blogs about Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell’s role in rigging the 2004 election focused on the barrage of tactics used to disenfranchise potential Democratic voters and to electronically shift the vote count to insure a victory for Bush-Cheney. We have a database that shows meddling by the U.S in elections in other countries more than 80 times between 1946 and 2000, and some of the techniques that were pioneered abroad were also used in the 2000 U.S. election, most notably in Florida, so Blackwell did not have to invent them. To summarize:
- Because Democrats were registering large numbers of new voters, Blackwell announced shortly before the October 4th registration deadline, that election officials would process registration forms only if they were printed on eighty-pound unwaxed white paper stock. This action was a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
- Blackwell also violated the rights of thousands of low-income Ohio citizens by failing to provide voter registration opportunities in public assistance offices as required by the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993
- Partisan election officials working under Blackwell set up additional roadblocks to voter registration, such as processing new voter registration forms from Republican but not from Democratic areas, and mutilating voter registration forms.
- Blackwell illegally purged more than 300,000 mostly Democratic voters from the rolls. Sadly, on June 11, 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decided 5-4 along partisan lines, to make this process legal, so we can expect to see it replicated in other states.
- Blackwell also worked to deny the vote to citizens who had served jail time for felonies, even though felons had the right to vote in Ohio after their release. Because of the use of voter intimidation and misinformation, a significant portion of released prisoners falsely believed they were ineligible to vote while on probation or parole.
- Blackwell used caging to reduce the numbers of likely Democratic voters on the rolls. Republicans targeted more than 200,000 newly registered minority voters by zip code.
- Voter misinformation included tactics such as falsely advising potential Democratic voters by mail, by phone, by going door to door, and via flyers, door hangers, or bulletins, that they must vote the day after Election Day; that their polling places had changed; or that they not properly registered.
- Voter intimidation included tactics such as placing partisan vote challengers in polling places to ask minority voters for various forms of identification, and officers ticketing and towing cars that were legally parked at Democratic polling places.
- Blackwell eliminated many inner-city polling places in areas that voted Democratic, increasing confusion and making voting more difficult on Election Day, and effectively suppressing the minority vote. As polling places were shifted, the Ohio Secretary of State’s website maintained out-of-date information, frequently directing citizens to places where they would not be able vote, or where provisional ballots would be required.
- Blackwell created extremely long lines in Democratic areas. Because of Democratic voter registration drives, they knew there would be many more voters in Ohio in 2004 than in 2000. Ohio did not provide opportunities for early voting, and it did not issue sample ballots to shorten the lines on Election Day, and Blackwell reduced the number of polling places in Democratic but not Republican areas. This created waits of up to ten hours in places.
- Misallocation of voting machines made the long lines even longer. In Democratic areas including Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo and on college campuses, election officials allocated far too few voting machines. One polling place in Cuyahoga County had to “shut down” at 9:25 A.M. because there were no working machines at all. Thousands of voters left without voting. Several precincts appealed for the right to distribute paper ballots to speed up the process, but Blackwell denied the applications.
- Some Democratic polling places were moved to new locations that were too small, so voters had to wait outside in the freezing rain.
- When it came time for the polls to close, some precinct workers sent away citizens who were still waiting, in violation of Ohio law.
- Although Blackwell had been in charge of a $2.5 million voter education program, he had failed to inform voters and poll workers that they were allowed to vote at their local Board of Election Offices if their local precincts were too busy.
- Blackwell failed to provide Spanish-speaking poll workers as required by law in heavily Hispanic precincts, especially in Cleveland.
- The NAACP testified that approximately “30 precincts did not have curbside voting machines for seniors and disabled voters.”
- Republicans hired election challengers who not only intimidated minority voters, but who also slowed down the voting process even further, effectively disenfranchising thousands more Democratic voters.
- Blackwell issued several roadblocks to casting provisional ballots. He was able to both reduce the number that should have been cast, and to invalidate large numbers of those that were cast.
- Blackwell instituted similar roadblocks to absentee voting for likely Democrats: voters had to give reasons for voting absentee; they were falsely told they were not registered; many absentee ballot applications were lost; and thousands did not arrive until after Election Day. Blackwell, issued a directive barring anyone who requested an absentee ballot, whether or not it was received, from getting a provisional ballot.
- Another tactic for suppressing the vote was to make the ballot as confusing as possible in Democratic districts, so a large number of ballots would be disqualified as spoiled. Ballots contained names of disqualified candidates, third party candidates, in confusing positions.
- In 2004, Ohio had about 93,000 spoiled ballots. These are ballots on which either no vote for president was recorded (undervote) or more than one vote was recorded (overvote). Some of these were caused by confusing ballots, but there are other reasons as well. For example, in Toledo in 2004, undervotes were caused by the wrong markers being distributed for marking optical-scan ballots, so that the votes could not be read by the machine. Some voters were given punch cards that were pre-punched for Bush.
- In several rural counties, there was evidence of ballot tampering. For example, in Clermont County, election observers provided sworn affidavits to the House Judiciary Committee stating that marks for Kerry on optical scan ballots were covered by white stickers and marks for Bush were filled in to replace them.
- There was also evidence of electronic ballot tampering, under the guise of computer “glitches” that overwhelmingly favored Republicans. For example, some counties had more Bush votes than registered voters.
- Blackwell barred reporters and exit pollsters from the polls, as well as a distinguished international team from the United Nations.
Techniques used after Election Day
There is evidence that Blackwell’s tactics preceding and during the election disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Democratic voters and by themselves were enough to swing the 2004 election from Kerry to Bush. But Blackwell’s most outrageous coup against democracy was privatizing the vote count and recount. As a result of a lawsuit, it was revealed that Blackwell had signed a no-bid contract with GovTech Solutions, a private IT firm owned by Michael Connell.
Connell was a devout Catholic who cited his belief that abortion is murder as a primary reason for his work for the Republican Party and his strong desire to defeat candidates who supported legal abortion. He was also a long-time Bush family operative: In 1988, he designed the RNC database software system under George H.W. Bush. In 1990, he was fired from his position as Director of Voter Programs for Dan Coats’ (R-IN) Senate campaign after he provided scripts for a push poll on behalf of Republican candidate (and current VP) Mike Pence. A push poll is an attempt to manipulate voters’ views under the guise of conducting an opinion poll; Coats called Connell’s behavior “clearly unethical.”
New Media, GovTech, SMARTech, DCI, AirNet
In 1994, Connell established his business as New Media Communications, an Ohio-based Republican website and internet services firm. New Media worked with GOP fundraising groups like John Kasich’s (R-OH) Pioneer PAC, Dick Armey’s (R-TX) Majority Leader’s Fund, and John Boehner’s (R-OH) Freedom Project PAC as well as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and www.georgewbush.com. . In 1998, Jeb Bush hired Connell as Internet strategist for his Florida gubernatorial campaign, and Connell created the Bush/Cheney websites in 2000 and 2004. He provided Internet campaign services and strategy not only for Bush/Cheney, but also for Dick Armey, Spencer Abraham, Heather Wilson, Rick Santorum, John Thune, and more. He designed GOP.com for the Republican National Committee (RNC), RGA.org for the Republican Governors Association, and between two and three dozen state Republican sites. Connell was also the Chief IT Consultant for Bush policymaker Karl Rove
While retaining its base in Ohio, New Media opened satellite offices in Tallahassee, FL and Washington, D.C. and eventually joined forces with the DCI Group, a public affairs and lobbying firm, and became DCI/New Media. The DCI Group was headed by Tom Synhorst, a well-known Republican operative. DCI Group, founded in 1996, is a Washington, D.C.-based Republican public relations, lobbying, and business consulting firm. One of DCI Group’s specialties was “grassroots” communications,i.e. the creation of front groups that serve corporate interests while posing as grassroots activists. In 2006 the author of a YouTube video parodying Al Gore’s global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth was traced back to DCI Group. DCI Group also engaged in climate change denial campaigns on behalf of their client ExxonMobil, paying scientists to write editorial pieces denying climate change. Other notable clients of the firm have included Boeing, General Motors Corporation, Microsoft, the U.S. Telecom Association and the military dictatorship of Myanmar.
In 2000, Connell and Synhorst launched GovTech, an offshoot of New Media, to specialize in federal government clients. By 2004, GovTech’s clients included more than 20 members of the U.S. House of Representatives; the web sites of the House Republican Conference; and the House Intelligence, Judiciary, Financial Services, Ways and Means, and Administration committees.
New Media Communications and GovTech also worked closely with SMARTech, a company based in Chattanooga, TN. SMARTech was owned and operated by former evangelical Christian publisher Jeff Averbeck. GovTech and SMARTech together built Republican and right-wing websites that were hosted on SMARTech servers. One of the sites was Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, an anti-Kerry group that, among other things, challenged the legitimacy of the combat medals awarded to Kerry by the U.S. Navy. Although their campaign against Kerry’s presidential bid was later discredited and “swiftboating“, came to mean an unfair or untrue political attack, their work was praised by conservatives as contributing to Kerry’s defeat.
Connell’s company also hosted GWB43.com, a private Internet domain run by the RNC. The domain name is an abbreviation for George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States. It became the subject of a scandal in 2007 when it was found that this and other non-governmental accounts had been used by White House officials to avoid creating a public record of their communications. SMARTech servers also hosted Karl Rove’s private email accounts from the White House. Millions of Rove’s email files since mysteriously disappeared – including those related to the Valerie Plame scandal and the firing of seven United States attorneys – despite repeated congressional and court-sanctioned attempts to review them.
In 2001,GovTech Solutions was selected to reorganize the Capitol Hill IT network. Connell bragged that his was the only private-sector company to gain permission from House Information Resources to place its server behind the firewall.
All this work enabled Connell to develop various software tools for database mining, web hosting, content management systems, push-poll phone banks, voter turnout projection models and micro-targeting email campaigns.
Eventually, SMARTech became part of Airnet Group, Inc., based in Chattanooga, TN. At the time, Airnet’s website described it as “a leading provider of advanced Internet hosting, network and applications solutions for business, delivering services via secure state-of-the-art Internet Data Centers.” Coptix Inc., another Chattanooga-based company, “provided backup DNS hosting for Smartech/Airnet.”
All GovTech and SMARTech’s data for all of its GOP and government clients were hosted on Airnet’s servers, resulting in a massive amount of public data being collected in one place. This was likely the first collection of its type and size in the history of the United States. Using this data, Connell and Averbeck pioneered Voter Vault, an extensive database of nearly every voter in the country. Voter Vault, which was a 20-year project of the RNC, is an enhanced voter file, which means that it is cross-matched with public and consumer information such as phone numbers, drivers licenses, hunting and fishing licenses, veteran records, property records, and census data. Voter Vault was first used in 2002 and by 2004 it had about 168 million entries. GOP political operatives with access have the ability to utilize troves of data to be used in various ways to benefit whatever agenda they have in mind.
In August 2004, SMARTech hosted the Republican National Convention in New York City.
On Feb. 24, 2003, Ohio Sec. of State, Kenneth Blackwell was summoned to the White House by Karl Rove. Rove told Blackwell that Ohio would play a crucial role in the 2004 presidential election. No Republican since the Civil War has won the White House without winning Ohio. Shortly thereafter, Blackwell announced that Ohio would pay $100 million for new voting machines.
An Ohio state senator proposed a bill requiring a voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) for Ohio elections, and U.S. Congressman Rush Holt proposed the same thing at the federal level. These efforts were opposed by Republicans in both places. Blackwell had already entered into agreements to purchase $100 million in touch screen voting machines without VVPATs, similar to those used in the 2000 presidential elections, made mostly by Diebold and ES&S. Diebold’s CEO, Walden O’Dell was a prominent fund-raiser for Bush who had famously declared that he was “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president” Diebold and ES&S together counted more than half the votes in the U.S. in 2004. Prior to a 2010 merger, Diebold, ES&S, and Sequoia were estimated to control 80% of black box voting in the United States. They all had donated exclusively to the Republican party in 2003, and Diebold and ES&S were owned by essentially the same people. In July 2003, Ohio state senator Jeff Jacobson asked Blackwell to disqualify the Diebold machines after security problems had been discovered in its software, but Blackwell refused. In April 2006, Blackwell revealed that he had owned stock in Diebold at the same time his office negotiated a deal with the company to purchase voting machines.
Late on Election Day, John Kerry showed an insurmountable lead in exit polling both in Ohio and nationwide, and many considered his victory all but certified. However, the vote count inexplicably flipped at 12:21am, changing from Kerry winning by over 3 percentage points to Bush winning by over 3 percentage points. Overall, there was an unexplainable rapid 6.7% shift in the vote count. In one Ohio precinct, exit polls indicated that Kerry should have received 67 percent of the vote, but the certified tally gave him only 38 percent. The odds of such an unexpected outcome occurring only as a result of sampling error are 1 in 867,205,553. To quote Lou Harris, who has long been regarded as the father of modern political polling: “Ohio was as dirty an election as America has ever seen.”
The exit polling had been carried out by the National Election Pool (NEP), which is a consortium consisting of news organizations ABC, AP, CBS, CNN, Fox News, and NBC. On election night in Ohio, the NEP sample gave Kerry 52.1% of the vote and Bush 47.9% according to a time-stamped screen shot from CNN.com at 12:21 AM on November 3. Steven Freeman and Joel Bleifuss in their 2006 book, Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count analyze the data and find that the shift from exit poll projections for Kerry to vote count results for Bush in Ohio and nine other battleground states (FL, IA, MI, MN, NE, NH, NM, and PA) are too large to be statistically possible. CNN quickly removed the unadjusted data from their website, and the NEP refused to release it. The only data made available has been adjusted to conform to the vote counts. In December, 2004, NEP contracted with two polling organizations to conduct the exit polls: Edison Media Research, run by Joe Lenski, and Mitofsky International, run by Warren Mitofsky. John Conyers, who was the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee at the time, asked Warren Mitofsky to release the raw precinct data. Mitofsky replied that “the data are proprietary and I am not at liberty to release them.” David Moore, a former vice president and managing editor of Gallup, believes that the whole issue could be resolved if the NEP would make the raw, unadjusted, precinct-level data available to the public. “Our great, free, and open media are concealing data so that it cannot be analyzed,” Moore charges.
After the 2004 election, the Green and Libertarian Parties paid for a statewide recount. According to Ohio recount rules, 3% of a county’s votes must be tallied by hand, and typically one or more whole precincts are selected and combined to get the 3% sample. The 3% must be randomly selected, and all hand counts must be performed in public, with observers. After the hand count, the sample is fed into the tabulator. If there is no discrepancy, the remaining ballots can be counted by machine. Otherwise, a hand recount must be done for the whole county.
However, these procedures were not followed.
Non-Random Selection of Precincts
In more than 80 of the 88 Ohio counties, the precincts selected for the recount were not randomly selected. The Boards of Election (BOEs) in most Ohio counties pre-selected the precincts that would be hand counted several days before the count. Thus employees and, in some cases, the voting machine company technicians, knew in advance the precincts that would be hand counted. In almost all cases in which observers requested that precincts be selected randomly at the beginning of the recount, they were denied. In Allen County, Mr. Keith Cunningham, Director of the BOE, explained that it would take considerably longer to carry out the recount if there were a random selection process employed.
For example, in Cuyahoga County, precinct selection was done on the basis of only choosing precincts with 550 or more votes in a cross-section of areas. According to Professor Cyrus Taylor of Case Western Reserve University, this selection criterion meant that only 8% of all precincts qualified for having their ballots closely examined in the hand recount, and that the “small fraction of precincts are not reflective of the county as a whole. Overall, the qualifying precincts have significantly higher proportion of votes for Bush than for Kerry, even though the county voted for Kerry by a 2:1 margin….The vast majority of precincts have fewer than 550 ballots cast. It is thus possible in principle to fiddle with the returns from most of the county without fear that they would be checked in the hand recount of 3% of the returns.”
It seems that the fiddling did indeed occur. In 2007, two election workers were convicted of rigging a recount of the 2004 presidential election to avoid a more thorough review in Cuyahoga, Ohio’s most populous county. Jacqueline Maiden, elections coordinator of the Cuyahoga County BOE, and ballot manager Kathleen Dreamer each were convicted of one felony and one misdemeanor count for secretly reviewing preselected ballots before a public recount on Dec. 16, 2004. They worked behind closed doors for three days to pick ballots they knew would not cause discrepancies when checked by hand, prosecutors said. Their defense attorney said the workers were following procedures as they understood them.
In Hocking County, the Board decided to only consider the precincts in which the vote totals for Bush and Kerry were similar. The Green Party observer objected, stating that selecting a precinct without a large difference in totals wasn’t a random selection, but the BOE did not change its selection method.
Refusal to Conduct 100% Hand Recounts
In Fairfield, Greene, and Huron Counties a full recount should have been ordered when the second hand count of the 3% sample did not match the machine vote totals. In Fairfield County, when the hand recount did not match the machine totals, the BOE asked the recount observers to waive their right to a 100% hand recount. The observers refused, saying that the law was very clear, requiring a mandatory hand count of the entire county. Based on what county officials said was a recommendation from Secretary Blackwell’s office, however, the recount was “suspended” until they could get a new machine from the vendor.
In Allen County, recount observers requested, but were not permitted, to inspect the voter registration books [pollbooks]. They were also told that they would not be allowed to view absentee or provisional ballots until January 10, 2005.
In Auglaize County, observers were not allowed to see the absentee ballots. A witness inquired as to the capability of the DRE to print an image of the ballots as cast. When the witness then requested that images representing 3% of the ballots cast be printed, the Director of the Board of Elections denied the request.
In Champaign County, observers requested access to the signature books, the poll books, the late or voided absentee ballots (envelopes), and the rejected provisional ballots. They were denied access to everything but the poll books for 2 precincts.
In Licking County, the BOE decided that the recount teams would not be allowed to inspect the voting machines and their ballot assemblies to insure correct rotation of candidate names. Neither were they allowed to check rejected provisional ballots to determine if denials were justified.
Election Tampering by Triad GSI
While Connell’s New Media designed the Ohio election reporting system in 2004 and Averbeck’s SMARTech hosted the back-up vote tabulation, the maintenance on the electronic voting machines in Ohio was done primarily by a third secretive right-wing company. Triad Governmental Systems, also known as Triad GSI, was owned by the Rapp family, who also owned Rapp Systems, Psephos Corp., and Odyssey Online. Psephos designed the infamous butterfly ballot used in Florida in 2000, and Rapp Systems Corporation actually sells commemorative editions of it. Tod Rapp started Rapp Systems Corp. in 1979, and Triad Governmental Systems, Inc. was incorporated in 1983. Its stated purpose was “…to develop, promote, sell, distribute, market and service computer systems, software, and hardware and to consult with federal, state and local government authorities and private industry.” Triad and its affiliates were “the leading suppliers of voting machines involved in the counting of paper ballots and punch cards in the critical states of Ohio and Florida [during the 2004 election].”
Connell, Averbeck and the Rapps — or New Media, Smartech and Triad — were all heavily committed to the Right-to-Life movement and Republican politics. These private, far-Christian Right companies counted the vote in Ohio, under the authority of far-right Christian Secretary of State Blackwell.
During the recount of the 2004 presidential election in Ohio, allegations were made that the Rapp family was aiding in rigging the recount for George W. Bush. Triad Governmental Systems maintained the computers in 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties, mainly in southern rural Ohio.
In the twelve Ohio counties in which votes seem to have been switched from Kerry to Bush to change the outcome of the election, the hard drives of the computers were removed before the recount in what appeared to be an effort to destroy evidence. This made it impossible to do the necessary forensic analysis to find out whether the votes were really switched.
David Cobb, the 2004 Green presidential candidate, raised the hard disk incident when testifying at a congressional field hearing by the House Judiciary Committee’s Democratic staff in Ohio in December 2004. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), who chaired the committee, asked the FBI to impound vote-tabulating computers in at least one county and investigate suspicions of election tampering in the state. However, nothing came of the investigation.
Conyers had sought the investigation after an Ohio election official in Hocking County disclosed in an affidavit (.pdf) that an employee of Triad Governmental Systems, the company that wrote voting software used with punch-card machines in 41 of Ohio’s 88 counties, dismantled Hocking County’s tabulation computer days before the recount and “put a patch on it.”
Conyers called the action “inappropriate and likely illegal election tampering.” A spokesman for the Green Party, one of the parties requesting the recount, called it “compelling evidence” of deliberate tampering.
The fact that someone had unsupervised access to tabulating equipment before the recount was a breach of security procedures and might even violate Ohio election law.
According to the affidavit, Michael Barbian, a technician for Triad, called on Dec. 10 to say he’d be coming to the office to “check out” the elections computer before the recount Dec. 14. When he arrived to examine the machine, a 14-year-old Dell PC, the computer wouldn’t boot up. Barbian said that the computer’s internal battery was dead and that “stored information” on it was “gone.” He said he “could put a patch on” the computer and “proceeded to take the computer apart and call his office to get information” to put into the computer. When the computer was fixed, Barbian asked which precinct the county planned to hand-count, then returned to the tabulating room. When he came out again, he said the computer was ready and told them to reboot it once to reset the internal clock, then leave it on so the battery could recharge.
Voting activists have seized the detail about the “patch” and the precinct as proof that Barbian rigged the machine. Under Ohio’s recount law, a county must first hand-count 3 percent of ballots and then run them through a machine count. If the hand tally matches the machine tally, the county can recount the remaining ballots by machine only. But if the hand and machine counts differ, the county must hand-count all ballots. So activists say Barbian asked about the precinct so he could set the machine to record only those ballots correctly, while tampering with votes in other precincts.
Brett Rapp, president of Triad, said Barbian installed no patches on the computer system; he merely fixed a piece of equipment that was broken.” Rapp said he believed Barbian asked about the hand-counted precinct because he was trying to make sure the election officials, who had never conducted a recount before, understood what they were doing and which precinct they were going to count.
However, the same kinds of problems occurred in other counties:
Fulton & Henry Counties: In a letter to Brett A. Rapp of Triad (12/23/04), Congressman Conyers indicated that officials in Fulton and Henry counties confirmed that Triad had remote access to tabulating computers controlled by the BOEs. Officials stated “your company did not come into the Board of Election to adjust the tabulation software, because it could be, and had been done remotely”. Congressman Conyers asked whether Triad used their remote access to inquire how machine votes would be counted in order to instruct the board how to manipulate the 3% hand count to avoid a county-wide hand count.
Lucas County: Catherine L. Buchanan gave sworn testimony on 12/14 that Diebold OptiScan machines were being re-programmed. The re-programming involves deleting information from the memory cards in the central tabulating machine.
Mercer County: A recount observer reported the following: A Triad technician had been at the BOE the day prior to the recount. The technician was also there during the recount. The tech reported that he had disassembled the tabulator at 7:30 on the morning of the recount. He said he’d replaced a box containing a switch, and then made a remark that he didn’t have anything to do with the software, that he’s just a hardware technician.
In Van Wert County: the Green Party recount observer reported: “When asked if Triad had serviced the machine, the deputy director and a board member stated that they had serviced the machine over the phone via modem on December 9th.”
Hardin County: An observer, Cathy from the Democrats, reported she had seen Brandon [the Diebold technician] the day before alone with the tabulators testing the machines.
Shelby County: Kay E. Baker, Director of the Shelby County BOE, indicated in a letter to Harvey Wasserman of Columbus, Ohio that “tabulator test decks were discarded after [the] election…” The destruction of these test decks appears to be a violation of state law.
In addition to the Triad issues, there were issues with ballot tampering and ballot security noted during the recount:
In Allen and Champaign Counties, recount observers noted that ballots were not stored securely; some ballots were stored in open containers, others were stored in tin containers with neither seal nor lock.
In Clermont County, one recount observer noticed that on some ballots, the Kerry vote was covered with a sticker. No one could explain these stickers. Later other witnesses noticed stickers on other ballots.
Coshocton County: The recount observer noted that ballots had been handled prior to the recount. Witness P. stated that a board employee informed her that “a few precincts” had been already counted prior to the start of the recount, not in the presence of witnesses. Witness, Patricia Stout, stated that “one of the precincts I observed was already separated into Republicans, Democrats and Other. It was clear that this pile had been counted.”
Cuyahoga County: As reported by a recount observer: “…In response to the question “How are the ballots in order?” Jacqui Maiden’s response was “How they come out of the machine.” Anomalies were found. Almost all of the witnesses that I spoke with felt that the ballots were not in random order–that they had been previously sorted. There would be long runs of votes for only one candidate and then long runs for another, which seemed statistically improbable to most.” (In 2007, Maiden and a co-worker were convicted of rigging the recount of the 2004 presidential election to avoid a more thorough review in Cuyahoga County).
The Conyers Report
Representative John Conyers, Jr., the Ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, found that Blackwell had interfered in the recount in several ways (Conyers, pp. 72-79):
- Blackwell’s failure to issue specific standards for the recount contributed to a lack of uniformity in violation of both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clauses. We found innumerable irregularities in the recount in violation of Ohio law, including (i) counties which did not randomly select the precinct samples; (ii) counties which did not conduct a full hand count after the 3% hand and machine counts did not match; (iii) counties which allowed for irregular marking of ballots and failed to secure and store ballots and machinery; and (iv) counties which prevented witnesses for candidates from observing the various aspects of the recount.
- Additionally, Blackwell had set deadlines that “effectively precluded recounts from being concluded prior to the December 13 meeting of the electors. By setting the vote tally deadline so late and then delaying the declaration of results—it took a full thirty-five days after the November 2 election for the results to be certified—Secretary of State Blackwell ensured that the time for completing recounts would not occur until after the date of the Electoral College meeting. It would appear that Mr. Blackwell has intentionally ensured that the controversies concerning the appointment of electors could not be resolved by December 7, 2004, thereby causing Ohio to lose the benefit of the Electoral College “safe harbor” in which their appointment of electors is not necessarily binding on Congress. In addition, this diminishment of the recount law may violate the voters’ right to Equal Protection and Due Process, as well as undermine the entire import of Ohio’s recount law” (Conyers, p. 74).
- Conyers also found that the voting computer company Triad has essentially admitted that it engaged in a course of behavior during the recount in numerous counties to provide “cheat sheets” to those counting the ballots. The cheat sheets informed election officials how many votes they should find for each candidate, and how many over and under votes they should calculate to match the machine count. In that way, they could avoid doing a full county-wide hand recount mandated by state law.
Representative John Conyers, Jr., the Ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, asked the Democratic staff to conduct an investigation into irregularities reported in the Ohio presidential election and to prepare a Status Report concerning the same prior to the Joint Meeting of Congress scheduled for January 6, 2005, to receive and consider the votes of the electoral college for president.
The report found that, based on all the irregularities, (1) there were ample grounds for challenging the electors from Ohio, (2) Congress should appoint a joint select committee of the House and Senate to investigate, and (3) Congress should institute election reform. Of course, Congress did none of these things.
Objection to certification of Ohio’s electoral votes
On January 6, 2005, Senator Barbara Boxer joined Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio in filing a Congressional objection to the certification of Ohio’s Electoral College votes due to alleged irregularities including disqualification of provisional ballots, alleged misallocation of voting machines, and disproportionately long waits in poor and predominantly African-American communities. The Senate voted the objection down 1–74; the House voted the objection down 31–267. It was only the second Congressional objection to an entire State’s electoral delegation in U.S. history; the first instance was in 1877, when all the electors from three southern states were challenged, and one from Oregon.
Bronzeville vs. Blackwell
On Aug. 31, 2006, the King Lincoln Bronzeville Neighborhood Association et al v. J. Kenneth Blackwell et al case was filed. The plaintiffs, a combination of individual voters and voters’ rights groups, charged Blackwell and other Ohio officials with: “election fraud, vote dilution, vote suppression, recount fraud and other violations,” including allocating election resources in a racially discriminatory manner and instituting racially discriminatory procedures for provisional voting, purging voters from the statewide voter registration database, and maintaining the chain of custody of ballots. The complaint alleged that these actions led to the dilution and/or cancellation of plaintiffs’ vote due to ballot cancellation and tampering, long poll lines, mechanical difficulties with voting machines, and unclear precinct boundaries. Since plaintiffs reasonably feared these problems would recur in the November, 2006, election, they asked the court to appoint a special master to perform Blackwell’s election administration duties in that election.
In order to prove their case, plaintiff’s counsel, noted voting rights attorney Cliff Arnebeck, needed all of the ballots from the 2004 election. Federal law stipulates a 22 month retention period for all federal elections, as does Ohio law for state elections. The presiding judge in the case, Algenon L. Marbley, issued a court order on September 6, 2006 extending the retention requirements for an additional 12 months. Blackwell was instructed to distribute the order to Ohio’s boards of elections.
The Judge then ordered that the ballots be turned over to the new Secretary of State, Democrat Jennifer Brunner on April 7, 2007. Brunner sent a request out for the ballot evidence two days later. Fifty six of Ohio’s 88 counties replied that they no longer had some or all of the ballots requested. Only 41 bothered to provide an explanatory letter as to the missing ballots. Fifteen counties offered no reason at all for noncompliance. Counties failing to return complete sets of ballots accounted for a majority of Ohio’s 2004 presidential votes. You can read the explanatory letters here.
Federal and State Law on Preserving Ballots
In the section on “Federal Election Records,” federal law (United States Code) clearly states the rule: Every officer of election shall retain and preserve (“records and papers”) for a period of twenty-two months from the date of any general, special, or primary election (involving federal candidates)
Ohio law requires that “the board shall carefully preserve all ballots prepared and provided by it for use in that election, whether used or unused, for twenty-two months after the day of the election.”
As required, on July 2004 Secretary of State Blackwell issued a reminder to all of the county boards regarding the 22 month retention standard for election records.
Through the Secretary of State, a federal judge, and the lead attorney in a lawsuit, the 88 counties received multiple notices that they were to retain all ballots from the 2004 election for federal office, president in particular, for at least 22 months, and after that “until such time as otherwise instructed by the court.”
The five types of ballots requested were: (1) voted; (2) unvoted; (3) absentee; (4) provisional; and (5) spoiled. All ballots are required to determine if fraud took place. Unvoted ballots are no exception. There is an assumed standard of care for ballots that includes concerns like chain of custody and secure and safe storage.
Reaction by Ohio’s Secretary of State and Attorney General
Although Attorney General Dann and Secretary of State Brunner, both Democrats, made clear promises during their election campaigns to pursue 2004 election fraud investigations, after they were elected and faced with the massive destruction of evidence from the 2004 election, they both reneged. The Cincinnati Enquirer of August 11, 2007 reported Brunner’s remarks: “If I had evidence of a cover-up, I would investigate. For me, the bigger question in 2004 was how many people were prevented from voting (something) you can’t quantify?” Attorney General Marc Dann (D), also elected in 2006, responded quickly by seconding Brunner’s position.
Both Democratic officials refused to meet with voting rights activists to discuss the extensive data and analysis that supports election fraud in the 2004 presidential election. The destruction of the election records frustrates efforts by the media and historians to determine the accuracy of Ohio’s 2004 vote count, because in county after county the key evidence needed to understand vote count anomalies apparently no longer exists. “The extent of the destruction of records is consistent with the covering up of the fraud that we believe occurred in the presidential election,” said Cliff Arnebeck, a Columbus attorney representing the King Lincoln Bronzeville Neighborhood Association, which filed a voter suppression suit. “We’re in the process of addressing where to go from here with the Ohio Attorney General’s office.”
“On the one hand, people will now say you can’t prove the fraud,” he said, “but the rule of law says that when evidence is destroyed it creates a presumption that the people who destroyed evidence did so because it would have proved the contention of the other side.”
Spoonamore testimony: How the election was stolen
Ohio’s 2004 votes were outsourced to SMARTech in Chattanooga, Tennessee, owned by right-wing evangelical publisher Jeff Averbeck, subcontracted by Mike Connell. The vote count inexplicably flipped at 12:21am, changing from Kerry winning by over 3 percentage points to Bush winning by over 3 percentage points. Overall, there was an unexplainable rapid 6.7% shift in the vote count. SMARTech was also, curiously, the company that handled Karl Rove’s private email accounts from the White House. Millions of Rove’s email files mysteriously disappeared, despite repeated congressional and court-sanctioned attempts to review them.
Blackwell had hired Connell’s company GovTech on July 1, 2003 for supposedly nonpartisan election administration work. But Connell’s other company, New Media Communications, was working closely at the same time with SMARTech. The other two subcontractors working with Connell on Election Night were Averbeck and the Rapp family, which owned the company Triad. Connell, Averbeck, and Rapp were all far-right Christians and right-to-life activists, like Secretary of State Blackwell.
During the Bronzeville case, Secretary of State Blackwell’s office was forced to produce the election computer system configuration chart that was used in Ohio’s 2004 presidential election when there was a sudden and unexpected shift in votes for George W. Bush. This “architectural map” clearly shows the election night server layout system from the Ohio Secretary of State’s office to servers owned by SMARTech at the Old Pioneer Bank in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Stephen Spoonamore is a renowned bank and computer fraud expert and a Republican. In September 2008, he agreed to serve as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the Ohio vote-rigging lawsuit, King Lincoln Bronzeville Neighborhood Association et al v. J. Kenneth Blackwell et al, before the United States District Court in Columbus, Ohio. Spoonamore served as the Chief Executive Officer and/or Chief Technology Officer of companies engaged in the design and development of digital systems. He has designed or consulted on secure elements of digital systems for MasterCard, American Express, Chubb Insurance, Bloomberg, Boeing, NBC-GE, NewsCorp, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Navy, The U.S. Department of State and other government agencies.
Because of his concern about data security and in democracy, Spoonamore has closely followed security issues involved with electronic voting in the United States. His understanding of the vulnerabilities of American elections to fraudulent manipulation is based upon conversations with professionals in election administration working within state governmental structures, as well as information technology specialists working in private industry on a contract basis for state governments. His interest and expertise about these issues led him to agree to serve as an expert resource and witness for plaintiffs’ counsel and the King Lincoln case in federal court in Ohio.
Spoonamore concluded from the architectural maps of the Ohio 2004 election reporting system that: “SMARTech was a man in the middle. In my opinion they were not designed as a mirror, they were designed specifically to be a man in the middle.”
A “man in the middle” is a deliberate computer hacking setup, which allows a third party to sit in between computer transmissions and illegally alter the data. A mirror site, by contrast, is designed as a backup site in case the main computer configuration fails.
In a sworn affidavit to the court, Spoonamore declared: “The SMARTech system was set up precisely as a King Pin computer used in criminal acts against banking or credit card processes and had the needed level of access to both county tabulators and Secretary of State computers to allow whoever was running SMARTech computers to decide the output of the county tabulators under its control.”
“The King Pin I thought was probably sitting somewhere in the middle on the high speed line. The King Pin is a computer with a person sitting at it that doesn’t just steal the information and then use it later like we saw, it’s a person who has onboard their Kingpin computer the code and instructions for the Secretary of State’s office and the code and the instructions for a county tabulator. Instead of this happening, this happens….So at 9:00 in the evening Kerry’s leading in Ohio and the Kingpin in watching these results go through and this operator is sitting here in a company called SMARTech,” Spoonamore told “Free For All” documentary filmmaker John Ennis.
“And remember when I speculated this, everyone said that’s ridiculous, that’s completely impossible. Well, we now found that not only was I right, and we know where it was sent. We didn’t just have it introduced, it was designed in the Secretary of State’s office that they could switch the control from their computer talking to the counties to having Smartech do it. When we found out who owned it and then we found out it was also doing Karl Rove’s email,” Spoonamore said.
Former Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, Blackwell’s successor, confirmed: “This office had a backup system, election night reporting system, with SMARTech.” On December 14, 2007, she released her evaluation and validation of election-related equipment, standards and testing, the Everest study, which found that touchscreen voting machines were vulnerable to hacking with relative ease.
Arnebeck asked Spoonamore whether or not SMARTech had the capability to “input data” and thus alter the results of Ohio’s 2004 election. Spoonamore responded: “Yes. They would have had data input capacities. The system might have been set up to log which source generated the data but probably did not.” Spoonamore explained that “they [SMARTech] have full access and could change things when and if they want.”
Arnebeck specifically asked “Could this be done using whatever bypass techniques Connell developed for the web hosting function?” Spoonamore replied “Yes.”
Spoonamore also swore that “…the architecture further confirms how this election was stolen. The computer system and SMARTech had the correct placement, connectivity, and computer experts necessary to change the election in any manner desired by the controllers of the SmarTech computers.”
“I do not believe George Bush won, I believe Kerry won and I’m a member of the GOP,” admitted Spoonamore.
In a September 2008 affidavit filed in federal court in the above-mentioned case, Spoonamore described the vulnerabilities of Diebold touchscreen voting machines: “In my opinion, there is NO POSSIBLE WAY to make a secure touch screen voting system. None. That is because the voting systems are designed to mask the identity of voters, whereas in banking, each account holder is identified by several layers of secure authentication. It is impossible to have a system that does both.” It is possible to design relatively secure optical scan machines, but even these can be hacked in even the best of cases. In the case of optical scan (systems where hand-marked paper ballots are scanned by computer counters) you have the ability to recount manually the paper ballot itself, and the ability to spot check the machines for errors against a sample of hand recounting.”
You can watch an interview with Stephen Spoonamore in which he discusses the shortcomings of electronic voting machines and how elections have been stolen here.
Mike Connell’s testimony
In July 2008, the lead attorney in the King Lincoln Bronzeville Neighborhood Association v. Blackwell case, Cliff Arnebeck, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey seeking protection for Connell as a witness in the case, saying he had been threatened. Arnebeck wrote, “We have been confidentially informed by a source we believe to be credible that Karl Rove has threatened Michael Connell, a principal witness we have identified in our King Lincoln case in federal court in Columbus, Ohio, that if he does not agree to ‘take the fall’ for election fraud in Ohio, his wife Heather will be prosecuted for supposed lobby law violations.” Arnebeck claims that months later, his source called back and warned that Connell’s life was in danger.
Stephen Spoonamore reportedly met Mike Connell several times. At an October 11, 2006 meeting between Spoonamore, Connell, and GovTech Solutions President Randy Cole, he reports that Connell asked him about ways to “permanently destroy hard drives.” Spoonamore said “If this is what I think you’re talking about, this meeting is over.”
Spoonamore has said that Mike Connell “agreed that the electronic voting systems in the US are not secure” and told Spoonamore in 2007 “that he (Connell) is afraid some of the more ruthless partisans of the GOP may have exploited systems he in part worked on for this purpose.”
“Mr. Connell builds front end applications, user interfaces and web sites,” Spoonamore said in his September 17, 2008 affidavit. “Knowing his team and their skills I find it unlikely they would be the vote thieves directly. I believe however he knows who is doing that work, and has likely turned a blind eye to this activity. Mr. Connell is a devout Catholic. He has admitted to me that in his zeal to ‘save the unborn’ he may have helped others who have compromised elections. He was clearly uncomfortable when I asked directly about Ohio 2004.”
Spoonamore urged Connell to testify before Congress and come clean on the 2004 election. Contacts were made first with U.S. Congressman John Conyers’ office and later directly with Representative Dennis Kucinich. Conyers’ office initially agreed to allow Connell and other skeptics of the 2004 election results to testify, but suddenly withdrew the offer. Kucinich agreed in principle to set up a hearing, but meanwhile the 2008 election was fast approaching and Connell had decided to lawyer up.
Connell was subpoenaed and ordered to produce documents related to the Bronzeville case. He responded by hiring three high-powered GOP-connected attorneys, including Bill Todd, former counsel to Bush/Cheney ’04. Connell’s attorneys filed a motion to quash the subpoena and an affidavit stating that his information is confidential.
On November 3, 2008, Connell was forced to testify about events leading up to and during the 2004 Election. Ohio attorney Cliff Arnebeck was gathering evidence to file a racketeering claim against Karl Rove, which included the charge that Rove masterminded the theft of the 2004 election. “We identified Connell as the key witness, as the implementer for Rove.”
Initially Connell denied any role in choosing SMARTech to host the mirror site. Questioned further, he admitted he “may have” made use of the Tennessee servers, but denied any knowledge of whether the mirror site had even been activated in 2004. His job, he insisted, was simply to display vote counts, “taking the public results as they are currently being reported and aggregating them into totals.” He did verify that there was no justification for transferring the vote count from Ohio to SMARTech in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This should have only happened if there was a complete failure of the Ohio computer election system on Election Night. However, Connell swore under oath that, “To the best of my knowledge, it was not a failover case scenario – or it was not a failover situation.”
Bob Magnan, an IT election specialist for the Secretary of State during the 2004 election, agreed that there was no failover scenario. Magnan said he was unexpectedly sent home at 9 p.m. on Election Night 2004 and that private contractors ran the system for Blackwell.
On December 19, 2008, Michael Connell was killed in a plane crash. An accomplished pilot, he was heading home from Washington D.C. when his Piper Saratoga plane suddenly dove to the ground. The site was roped off, cleaned up within two hours at night against protocol, and the next day his wife found his Blackberry missing from his still intact knapsack.
Connell’s sister contacted the Columbus Free Press to voice doubts that the crash was an accident. She later told a Wisconsin newspaper, The Daily Page: “At first, it was really hard for me to believe Mike was dead because somebody wanted him dead. But as time goes on, it’s hard for me not to believe there was something deliberate about it.” Connell reportedly had canceled two flights because of suspicions that something was wrong with his plane.
After Connell’s death, a redacted government document arrived by mail at the Free Press office addressed to Arnebeck stating that Connell’s death was authorized since he was a “NST” – National Security Threat
Connell’s death came at a moment where election protection attorneys and others appeared to be closing in on critical irregularities and illegalities. Examining attorneys in the King-Lincoln-Bronzeville civil rights lawsuit, stemming from the 2004 election theft, were confident Connell had far more to tell. There was widespread concern that this might have been the reason he died.
End of investigation
On February 7, 2012, Judge Marbley dismissed the Bronzeville case, and that was the end of the investigation of the Ohio 2004 election. Two consecutive Presidential elections had pretty clearly been stolen, and yet, outside of a few brave individuals, neither the state government, the United States government, the judiciary, nor the mainstream media has shown much interest in investigating past elections or in preventing the rigging of future ones.
It’s also pretty clear that government, the judiciary, and the media all know what would be required to have fair elections. We must use paper ballots. The ballots can be scanned, but the scans must be checked by randomly selected hand counted samples, and there must be observers throughout the whole process. Above all, anyone who does not follow these rules must be prosecuted. Without fair elections, we don’t have democracy. Why don’t they care?