by Gerry Bello and Bob Fitrakis
October 24, 2012
Election officials lie to cover the facts
Since the Columbus Free Press broke the story of Tagg, Mitt, HIG Capital and your e-vote, there has been a bi-partisan effort on the internet to restore faith in the system. There are Democrats who wish the Free Press would remain silent, fearing that exposure of these facts will demoralize their base and lead to low voter turnout. Pundits like Chuck Todd have used the phrase “conspiracy theory” and even gone so far as to say “The voting machine conspiracies belong in same category as the Trump birther garbage.” An industry shill, Michelle Shafer, who currently works as media director for Scytl, a Spanish-based vote-counting company, and has worked for all but one of the major voting machine manufacturers, has replied via comment to our articles with additional falsehoods and misrepresentations.
As stated in a previous Free Press article, through a closely held equity fund called Solamere, Mitt Romney and his wife, son and brother are major investors in an investment firm called H.I.G. Capital. H.I.G. in turn holds a majority share and has three out of the five board members on Hart Intercivic, a company that owns the notoriously faulty electronic voting machines that will count the ballots in swing state Ohio on November 6. Hart is majority owned by a private equity firm run by fundraisers for the Romney campaign.
The biggest current lie is that Hart Intercivic has little or nothing to do with the maintenance of its voting machines in the current election. That lie was recently told to the Washington Post by an official in Hamilton County, “Hamilton County director of elections Amy Searcy said Tuesday that officials purchased the system five years ago and that Hart is not involved with its operations or maintenance.”
A statement that Hart has nothing to do with the voting machines in Hamilton (Cincinnati) or Williams counties in the key swing state of Ohio is simply incorrect. Not only does Hart Intercivic have contracts to maintain some of their voting machines, but in Hamilton and Williams counties the tabulation software which will be used to count the votes on Election Day is also made and maintained by Hart, according to public records.
In April as the Free Press geared up for the general election, the Free Press obtained public records relating to election-related hardware, software, contracts, serial numbers and voter registration record storage contracts for all 88 counties in Ohio. According to records given to us by the Hamilton County Board of Elections (read Hamilton County’s actual response email) and Williams County, Hart Intercivic still has a contract to maintain and repair its equipment in each of those counties.
When asked by the Free Press who controlled the “vote tabluation and/or software” in Hamilton County, their board of elections replied “Hart Intercivic.” Also, in Williams County, Hart Intercivic also has the contract to write and maintain the tabulation software which runs on Dell-made computers.
A common practice during the disputed 2004 presidential election in Ohio involved both Triad and ES&S voting machine technicians showing up unexpectedly with “software patches” to install in voting machines just prior to the election. Election protection activists should be on the lookout for this behavior between now and November 6. With a maintenance contract, Hart’s technicians could add software patches right before Election Day that could possibly change the functionality of these machines. Adding patches without them being certified by the Secretary of State is illegal.
A software patch, ostensibly to fix some bug or increase functionality, inserted at the last minute, is one of the best ways to defraud an election. If a malicious attacker waits until the last minute, the software patch can be compiled to reflect the latest poll numbers, thus assuring that votes will be flipped within a seemingly undetectable margin of error.
County election officials from around the country have taken to social media to claim that the machines were bought a long time ago, and Hart has nothing to do with them. Diane Thompson, for instance, wrote:
“I am an Election Authority in the State of Missouri. We use electronic voting equipment….I can tell you, once we purchased those machines, the company that designed/built them has nothing to do with them. They are programmed by a third company not affiliated with their design.” This was posted on ThinkProgress.org.
A former Board of Elections official from Greene County, Ohio posted this misleading statement on his Facebook page 2 days ago:
“Many of my Facebook friends have posted about voting machines being owned by Bain Capital and therefore by members of the Romney family. At least in Ohio that does not threaten the integrity of the vote counting. In Ohio, machines are owned by the individual county Boards of Elections. …The vote tabulations are done in each county, not on a computer in Columbus (or Chattanooga). Spreading fears and doubts about vote integrity may end up suppressing the turnout.”
Voting machines, once purchased, have maintenance contracts. In fact, as is common in the computer industry, most of the money in a contract is in the maintenance of the software, not the sale of the hardware.
Hart could potentially apply software patches in two Ohio counties. Additionally, in many counties these systems interface with voter registration systems maintained by Triad Governmental Services (Triad GSI). Triad, based in Xenia Ohio, is a small family run operation. The Rapp family, who founded Triad, are hard-right evangelicals. Triad technicians “helped” with the recount in Ohio after the 2004 presidential election by bringing in new hard drives and performing maintenance on machines in county boards of elections to make sure “…the count would come out perfect” and the election officials would not have to do a full hand recount of their county.
The Democrats have it half right. The only way to ensure that election fraud will not happen is to have a massive voter turnout that makes cheating within the margin of error impossible. However, a citizen’s obligation to vote does not negate a citizen’s obligation to vigilantly defend the democratic franchise that lies at the center of our society.
Gerry Bello is the chief researcher at the Columbus Free Press. He holds a degree in computer security from Antioch College. Bob Fitrakis is the Editor of the Free Press. He holds Ph.D. in Political Science and a J.D. from the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University
Revised October 25, 2012