Shocking Diebold conflict of interest revelations from secretary of state further taint Ohio's electoral credibility
By Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman
Journal Guest Writers
Apr 6, 2006, 21:28
Ohio is reeling with a mixture of outrage and hilarity as
Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell has revealed that he has owned stock in
the Diebold voting machine company, to which Blackwell tried to award no-bid
contracts worth millions while allowing its operators to steal Ohio elections.
A top Republican election official also says a Diebold operative told him he
made a $50,000 donation to Blackwell's "political interests."
A veritable army of attorneys on all sides of Ohio's
political spectrum will soon report whether Blackwell has violated the law. But
in any event, the revelations could have a huge impact on the state whose
dubiously counted electoral votes gave George W. Bush a second term. Diebold's
GEMS election software was used in about half of Ohio counties in the 2004
election. Because of Blackwell's effort, 41 counties used Diebold machines in
Ohio's highly dubious 2005 election, and now 47 counties will use Diebold touch
screen voting machines in the May 2006 primary, and in the fall election that
will decide who will be the state's new governor.
Blackwell is the frontrunner for Ohio's Republican
nomination for governor. The first African-American to hold statewide office,
the former mayor of Cincinnati made millions in deals involving extreme
right-wing "religious" radio stations.
As part of his campaign filings he has been required to
divulge the contents of his various stock portfolios. Blackwell says that in
the process he was "surprised" to learn he owned Diebold shares.
According to central Ohio's biggest daily, the conservative Republican
"Columbus Dispatch," Blackwell claims his multi-million-dollar
portfolio has been handled "by a financial manager without his advice or
Blackwell says he gave verbal instructions to a previous
fund manager about which stocks not to buy, but failed to do so when he brought
in a replacement. He claims the new manager bought 178 Diebold shares in
January 2005 for $53.67/share. He says 95 shares were sold sometime last year,
and that the remainder were sold this week after Blackwell conducted an annual
review of his portfolio. He says both sales resulted in losses.
Prior to the 2004 election, Blackwell tried to award a $100
million no-bid contract to Diebold for electronic voting machines. A storm of
public outrage and a series of lawsuits forced him to cancel the deal. But a
substantial percentage of Ohio's 2004 votes were counted by Diebold software
and Diebold Opti-scan machines which frequently malfunctioned in the Democratic
stronghold of Toledo. Many believe they played a key role in allowing Blackwell
to steal Ohio's 20 electoral votes -- and thus the presidential election -- for
Bush. Walden O'Dell, then the Diebold CEO, had pledged to "deliver"
Ohio's electoral votes to Bush.
Blackwell has since continued to bring in Diebold machines
under other multi-million dollar contracts. In 2005, while he owned Diebold
stock, Blackwell converted nearly half Ohio's counties to Diebold equipment.
Those machines have been plagued by a wide range of
problems, casting further doubt on the integrity of the Ohio vote count. A
number of county boards of elections are trying to reject Diebold equipment.
Two statewide referendum issues on electoral reform were defeated in 2005 in a
vote tally that was a virtual statistical impossibility. The deciding votes
were cast and counted on Diebold equipment.
In recent months, Blackwell has ordered all 88 county boards
of elections to send into his office the memory cards that will be used in the
primary election, in which Blackwell expects to win the gubernatorial race.
There is no effective statewide monitoring system to protect those cards from
Matt Damschroder, the Republican chair of the Franklin
County (Columbus) Board of Elections, has also reported that a key Diebold
operative told Damschroder he made a $50,000 contribution to Blackwell's
"political interests" while Blackwell was evaluating Diebold's bids
for state purchasing contracts. Blackwell denies the contribution was made to
Damschroder is former chair of the Franklin County GOP. He
says former Diebold contractor Pasquale "Patsy" Gallina boasted of
making the contribution to Blackwell. Damschroder himself has publicly admitted
to personally accepting a $10,000 check from Pasquale, made out to the Franklin
County GOP. That contribution was made while Damschroder was involved in
evaluating Diebold bids for county contracts.
Damschroder was censured but not removed from office. On
Election Day 2004, Franklin County voting officials told the Free Press that
Blackwell and Damschroder were meeting with George W. Bush in Columbus. AP
accounts place both Bush and Karl Rove unexpectedly in Columbus on Election
Day. Damschroder has denied that he met personally with Bush, but refuses to
clarify whether or not he was at GOP meetings with Bush in attendance on
An eyewitness ally of Blackwell told a small gathering of
Bush supporters, with a Free Press reporter present, that Blackwell was in a
frenzy on Election Day, writing percentages and vote totals on maps of rural
Republican counties, attempting to figure out how many votes, real or
manufactured, Bush would need to overcome the exit poll results in Cleveland
Meanwhile Blackwell has run one of the most vicious primary
campaigns ever seen in Ohio politics. A series of expensive television ads have
assaulted Blackwell's GOP opponent, Attorney General Jim Petro, vehemently
charging him with extreme corruption and dishonesty. GOP operatives fear
Blackwell's attacks could shatter the party.
Now Blackwell's Diebold revelations have both Petro and the
state's extremely feeble Democrats jumping for joy. Petro, who has a large
portfolio of his own, says he will pursue the question of whether Blackwell has
broken the law. "Considering Ken Blackwell's history with Diebold, I think
this warrants further investigation to remove any hint of impropriety,"
says Petro campaign manager Bob Paduchik.
Democratic candidate Ted Strickland has reported no stock
portfolio at all. "If [Blackwell] doesn't know what's going on with his
own checkbook, why in the world would voters want him to be in charge of the
checkbook as governor?" asks Democratic spokesperson Brian Rothenberg.
The common statewide wisdom is that "Ken Blackwell will
never lose an election in which he is in charge of the vote count."
But Ohio Democrats never seriously questioned Blackwell's
rigged 2004 vote count that put Bush back in the White House. They've mounted
no serious campaign challenging Blackwell's handling of the tally in 2005.
They've presented no plan for guaranteeing the integrity of the upcoming 2006
November election, which will again be run by Blackwell, even though he may be
the GOP nominee.
Attorney-General Petro has become Blackwell's sworn enemy. A
rugged campaigner with extensive statewide connections, it's not likely Petro
would quietly accept an election being stolen from him. That might explain
Blackwell's vehement attacks on his fellow Republican.
But having accused his cohort of widespread corruption, and
with a long history of scornful contempt for all those who challenge him,
Blackwell's own Diebold revelations have opened a Pandora's Box. What comes
flying out could affect state and national politics for years to come.
Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of "How
the GOP Stole America's 2004 Election and Is Rigging 2008".
They are co-editors, with Steve Rosenfeld, of "What Happened in
Ohio?" soon to be published by The New Press.
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