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Columbus Dispatch Endorses Untested Hackable Computer Voting Machines

The notoriously pro-Republican Columbus Dispatch is on another of its bizarre crusades. They’re out to make Ohio safe for easily hacked and illegally manipulated computer voting machines. Using the disgusting tactics pioneered by the tobacco, nuclear and Big Oil companies, the Dispatch has endorsed a position where compromised vendors who work for the secretive voting machine manufacturers are unbiased and independent academics who come to informed, factually-based opinions, are biased.

In the Dispatch’s editorial fantasy land, the “…busy election [of 2006] went ahead without significant problems, and there was no evidence that the results were tainted.” Apparently, Dispatch reporters and editors aren’t allowed to read other Ohio newspapers or, for that matter, their own website.

On August 7 of this year, Dispatch reporter Mark Niquette wrote: “Voting machines used in more than half of Ohio’s counties were determined to be vulnerable to tampering in studies completed in California and Florida, reports show.”

Perhaps the Dispatch crowd missed the Dayton Daily News report on March 21, 2007 that said, “After two days of tests, the results are in: about 2500 people cast ballots in November on 56 malfunctioning electronic touch-screen voting machines in Montgomery County, …” There were an unexplained 300,000 “undervotes” – no vote recorded as expected – in the U.S. Senate race in that county. The test indicated that this was due to improper machine calibration.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that 10% of the machines tested malfunctioned in Cuyahoga County as well in the 2006 primary.

In Franklin County, the only African American female on the Domestic Relations Court, an endorsed Democrat, lost her bid for re-election in a race that had 34,000 statistically unexplained undervotes. A Franklin County court found that this was the result of machines that had been improperly tampered with prior to the election by technicians working for the voting machine vendors.

How does the Dispatch see this? “The touchscreens and optical scanners worked as intended, and both systems are far superior to punch card voting. The election process is the best gauge of reliability.”

This is a curious comment, considering that statewide Democratic candidates lost across the board between 10-12% of the votes predicted by the Dispatch in its historically reliable pre-election poll. For decades, the Dispatch has prided itself on having the most accurate polls in Ohio, so much so that their editors have co-authored articles in a refereed political science journal about the Dispatch polls’ uncanny accuracy. 

With the rise of voting machines, the Dispatch has become perhaps the worst polling newspaper in the state.

Or maybe the Wolfe-family owned Dispatch means literally what it says. Voting machine hardware and software controlled by partisan Republican vendors protected by proprietary software is doing exactly was it was designed to do. Program the vote. After all, the last time the Dispatch endorsed a Democrat for President was Woodrow Wilson in 1916. And only then, because the Wolfe family’s German ancestry favored the slogan “He kept us out of war.”

The Dispatch and its Republican allies in the Statehouse have resurrected their favorite smear phrases for the fight. The Dispatch offered the following absurd comments in its editorial: “Conspiracy theorists and some Democrats warned for months before the election that Blackwell, the GOP’s candidate for governor, might use his office to slant the vote to favor him and fellow Republicans.” The Dispatch points to the fact that “Ted Strickland trounced Blackwell for the top job.”

What they fail to point out is that the normally reliable last Dispatch poll predicted Strickland would win with 36% of the vote. He only won by 24%. Now, if they predicted that Blackwell would be winning by 12% and that vote disappeared and Strickland won in a squeaker, say, a la Bush in 2000, the Dispatch would have seen this as election theft.

The crux of the Dispatch crusade is against university computer science professors proposed as part of Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner’s voting machine testing plan. State Senators Steve Stivers and John Carey are leading the charge against the academics. Stivers demanded to know “How many tests are we going to have to do?” He and his Republican cohorts appear to favor no security measures being tested.
On September 10, Stivers and Carey successfully postponed the testing of voting machines in Ohio, blocking it 4-3 along party lines. The Dispatch immediately leaped to their defense stating “The State Controlling Board is right to seek more information on a proposal to re-test Ohio electronic voting machines.” The Dispatch comes right to the point, “The questions pertain to the scope of the study, who will conduct the test and what standards will be applied.”

Dispatch news stories and editorials have no problem with Battelle Memorial Institute as project manager for the tests, despite the fact that they botched the 2002 exit polls that saw the improbable defeat of Max Cleland on Diebold electronic voting machines with no paper trail in Georgia. Battelle’s long relationship with the CIA and the U.S. Intelligence community is never questioned.

Nor are any questions raised about SysTest, the vendors’ tester of choice, despite the fact the SysTest was de-certified by the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) earlier this year after New York Times raised question about its CEO Brian Phillips’ relationship to the Republican Party. 

The Republican Party’s favorite “unbiased” tester was de-certified, the Denver Post reports, one month after Phillips accepted an invitation from a Florida law firm that represented a Republican candidate to “…witness a recount in a Florida election” on behalf of the candidate.

Donetta Davidson, former Colorado Secretary of State, told the Post: “When there’s a conflict over an election like there was in Florida we don’t want (these companies) to be hired by one party or another.”     

But in the Dispatch’s world, testers that work for Republican candidates and are financed by the voting machines companies are pure, while insulated academics are not to be trusted.

This is the same approach that said the academic scientists were wrong about cigarettes and radiation causing cancer and fossil fuels causing global warming. In the Dispatch’s world, all of those who whore for the Republican Party are vestal virgins and those with no ties are biased. Or, as Senator Carey denounced the academics in California who tested their voting machines and found them vulnerable causing their Secretary to State to decertify them, they are “leftists and extremists.”

Every test and study of the voting machines – from the General Accountability Office to the Carter Baker Commission, from Princeton to Stanford to Johns Hopkins, from liberal California to conservative Florida – have come to the same conclusion. Electronic voting machines are eminently hackable. That’s why the Columbus Dispatch doesn’t want them tested.
Bob Fitrakis is the editor of the Free Press and www.freepress.org. He co-authored “What Happened in Ohio: A documentary record of theft and fraud in the 2004 election,” New Press, with Harvey Wasserman and Steve Rosenfeld.