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Ohio Sec of State: election could have been stolen

Ohio Secretary of State confirms 2004 election could have been stolen


by Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman

Ohio's Secretary of State announced this morning that a $1.9 million official study shows that "critical security failures" are embedded throughout the voting systems in the state that decided the 2004 election. Those failures, she says, "could impact the integrity of elections in the Buckeye State." They have rendered Ohio's vote counts "vulnerable" to manipulation and theft by "fairly simple techniques."

Indeed, she says, "the tools needed to compromise an accurate vote count could be as simple as tampering with the paper audit trail connector or using a magnet and a personal digital assistant."

In other words, Ohio's top election official has finally confirmed that the 2004 election could have been easily stolen.

Brunner's stunning findings apply to electronic voting machines used in 58 of Ohio's 88 counties, in addition to scanning devices and central tabulators used on paper ballots in much of the rest of the state.

Brunner is calling for widespread changes to the way Ohio casts and counts its ballots. Her announcement follows moves by California Secretary of State Deborah Bowen to disqualify electronic voting machines in the nation's biggest state.

In tandem, these two reports add a critical state-based dimension to the growing mountain of evidence that the US electoral system is rife with insecurities. Reports from the Brennan Center, the Carter-Baker Commission, the Government Accountability Office, the Conyers Committee Task Force Report, Princeton University and others have offered differing perspectives that add up to the same conclusion.

Coming in the state that decided the 2004 election for George W. Bush, Brunner's confirmation of the electoral system's vulnerabilities adds huge new weight to the charge that the Buckeye State's vote count was stolen.

In a series of investigative reports dating to well before the 2004 election, the Columbus Free Press and Freepress.org have documented several dozen different means used by the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign to steal the official 2004 vote count.

The final official tally for Bush---less than 119,000 votes out of 5.4 million cast---varied by 6.7% from exit poll results, which showed a Kerry victory. Exit polls in 2004 were designed to have a margin of error of about 1%.

In various polling stations in Democrat-rich inner city precincts in Youngstown and Columbus, voters who pushed touch screens for Kerry saw Bush's name light up. A wide range of discrepancies on both electronic and paper balloting systems leaned almost uniformly toward the Bush camp. Voting procedures regularly broke down in inner city and campus areas known to be heavily Democratic.

In direct violation of standing federal election law, 56 of Ohio's 88 counties have since destroyed all or part of their 2004 election data. The materials were additionally protected by a federal court injunction in the King-Lincoln-Bronzeville federal civil rights lawsuit (in which we are attorney and plaintiff). To date, no state or federal prosecutions have resulted from this wholesale destruction of presidential election records, including 1.6 million ballots, cast and uncast, needed for definitive auditing procedures. However, two Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) election officials have been convicted of felony manipulation of an official recount. The Cleveland Plain-Dealer, the state's largest newspaper, recently editorialized that there is "no evidence" the 2004 election was stolen, but omitted mention of the destruction of the electoral records by more than half the counties in the state. The Plain-Dealer and other mainstream media have consistently ignored findings by the Free Press and others indicating widespread manipulation and theft of the kind Brunner has now confirmed was eminently do-able within the Ohio system.

Brunner says "the results underscore the need for a fundamental change in the structure of Ohio's election system to ensure ballot and voting system security while still making voting convenient and accessible to all Ohio voters." Among other things, she advocates replacing touch-screen machines with optical-scan units that include a paper balloting system.

The study was managed by the Battelle Corporation, and conducted by Columbus-based MicroSolved Inc., SysTest Labs of Denver along with a consortium of academic subcontractors. It was reviewed by a dozen county officials, and included scrutiny of voting systems produced by Election Systems & Software (ES&S), Hart Intercivic and Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold).

Brunner is the Democratic successor to Republican J. Kenneth Blackwell, who administered the 2004 election as Secretary of State while also serving as state co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign. The report comes as part of her pledge to guarantee a fair and reliable vote count in the upcoming 2008 presidential election.

Under Blackwell, Ohio spent some $100 million installing electronic voting machines as part of the Help America Vote Act, passed by Congress in the wake of the scandals surrounding the 2000 election. Former Ohio Congressman Bob Ney, HAVA's principle author, now resides in a federal prison, in part for illegalities surrounding his dealings with voting machine companies.

Blackwell, who was defeated in a 2006 race for the Ohio governorship, outsourced web hosting responsibilities for the 2004 vote count to a programming firm that also programmed the web site for the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign. Blackwell's chosen host site for the state's vote count was in the basement of the Old Pioneer Bank Building in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the servers for the Republican National Committee, and the Bush White House, were also located.

Brunner has now recommended that all Ohio's voting be done on optical scan ballots, with reliance on central tabulation. Voters with disabilities could use AutoMark machines with bar coding devices that allow the marking of ballots with little or no additional assistance.

"It's a testament to our state's boards of elections officials that elections on the new (federally) mandated voting systems have gone as smoothly as they have in light of these findings," Brunner said.

Conversely, it is also a testament to the ease with which the 2004 election was stolen by election officials who had clear conflicts of interest aimed at keeping George W. Bush in the White House.

*************

Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA'S 2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008 (www.freepress.org) and of WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO? (The New Press) with Steve Rosenfeld. THE FITRAKIS FILES are available at www.freepress.org, where this article first appeared. Wasserman's SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH, A.D. 2030, is at www.solartopia.org.

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