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
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 percent.
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 percent of the vote. Official tallies showed Issue One passing
with 54 percent 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 1,872 registered Ohio voters, with a margin of
error at plus/minus 2.5 percentage points and a 95 percent 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 percent to 33 percent, with about 8 percent 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 percent against, with
just 36.5 percent 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
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 Roosevelt.
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
percent in favor and just 25 percent opposed.
Tuesday's official results showed Issue Three going down to
defeat in perhaps the most astonishing reversal in Ohio history, claiming just
33 percent of the vote, with 67 percent opposed. For this to have happened,
Issue Three's polled support had to drop 28 points, again with an apparent 100
percent 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 percent support, 45 percent opposition, and 25 percent
undecided. Issue Four's final margin of defeat was 30 percent in favor to 70
percent 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 percent yes, 43 percent no and 16 percent
undecided. The official result gave Issue Five just 30 percent of the vote,
with allegedly 70 percent opposed.
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 Bush.
Every vote in Ohio 2004 was cast or counted on an electronic
device. About 15 percent -- 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
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 scrutiny.
Though there were glitches, this year's voting lacked the
massive irregularities and open manipulations that poisoned Ohio in 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
margins 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.
Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA'S
2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008, available at www.freepress.org, and, with Steve
Rosenfeld, of WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO, to be published this spring by The New