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U.S. | Government & Elections

GOP's Ohio election hit squad
by Steven Rosenfeld and Bob Fitrakis
Tuesday Apr 24th, 2007 9:20 PM
Did the most powerful Republicans in America have the computer capacity, software skills and electronic infrastructure in place on Election Night 2004 to tamper with the Ohio results to ensure George W. Bush's re-election?

The answer appears to be yes. There is more than ample documentation to show that on Election Night 2004, Ohio's "official" Secretary of State website – which gave the world the presidential election results – was redirected from an Ohio government server to a group of servers that contain scores of Republican web sites, including the secret White House e-mail accounts that have emerged in the scandal surrounding Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s firing of eight federal prosecutors.

Recent revelations have documented that the Republican National Committee (RNC) ran a secret White House e-mail system for Karl Rove and dozens of White House staffers. This high-tech system used to count and report the 2004 presidential vote– from server-hosting contracts, to software-writing services, to remote-access capability, to the actual server usage logs themselves – must be added to the growing congressional investigations.

Numerous tech-savvy bloggers, starting with the online investigative consortium epluribusmedia.org and their November 2006 article cross-posted by contributor luaptifer to Dailykos, and Joseph Cannon's blog at Cannonfire.blogspot.com, outed the RNC tech network. That web-hosting firm is SMARTech Corp. of Chattanooga, TN, operating out of the basement in the old Pioneer Bank building. The firm hosts scores of Republican websites, including georgewbush.com, gop.com and rnc.org.

The software created for the Ohio secretary of state’s Election Night 2004 website was created by GovTech Solutions, a firm co-founded by longtime GOP computing guru Mike Connell. He also redesigned the Bush campaign's website in 2000 and told "Inside Business" magazine in 1999, "I wouldn't be where I am today without the Bush campaign and the Bush family because the Bushes truly are about family and I’m loyal to my network."

Ohio's Cedarville University, a Christian school with 3,100 students, issued a press release on January 13, 2005 describing how faculty member Dr. Alan Dillman’s computing company Government Consulting Resources, Ltd, worked with these Republican-connected companies to tally the vote on Election Night 2004.

"Dillman personally led the effort from the GCR side, teaming with key members of Blackwell's staff," the release said. "GCR teamed with several other firms – including key players such as GovTech Solutions, which performed the software development – to deliver the end result. SMARTech provided the backup and additional system capacity, and Mercury Interactive performed the stress testing."

On Election Night 2004, the Republican Party not only controlled the vote-counting process in Ohio, the final presidential swing state, through a secretary of state who was a co-chair of the Bush campaign, but it also controlled the technology that allowed the tally of the vote in Ohio's 88 counties to be reported to the media and voters.

Privatizing elections and allowing known partisans to run a key presidential vote count is troubling enough. But the reason Congress must investigate these high-tech ties is there is abundant evidence that Republicans could have used this computing network to delay announcing the winner of Ohio's 2004 election while tinkering with the results.

Did Ohio Republican Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell or other GOP operatives inflate the president's vote totals to secure George W. Bush's margin of victory? On Election Night 2004, many of the totals reported by the Secretary of State were based on local precinct results that were impossible. In Clyde, Ohio, a Republican haven, Bush won big after 131 percent voter turnout. In Republican Perry County, two precincts came in at 124 percent and 120 percent respectively. In Gahanna Ward 1, precinct B, Bush received 4,258 votes despite the fact that only 638 people voted for president. In Concord Southwest in Miami County, the certified election results proudly proclaimed at 679 out of 689 registered voters cast ballots, a 98.55 percent turnout. FreePress.org later found that only 547 voters had signed in.

These strange election results were routed by county election officials through Ohio's Secretary of State's office, through partisan IT providers and software, and the final results were hosted out of a computer based in Tennessee announcing the winner. The Cedarville University releases boasted the system "was running like a champ." It said, "The system kept running through the early morning hours as users from around the world looked to Ohio for their election results."

All the facts are not in, but enough is known to warrant a serious congressional inquiry. Beginning with a timeline on Election Night after a national media consortium exit poll predicted Democrat John Kerry would win Ohio, the first Ohio returns were from the state's Democratic urban strongholds, showing Kerry in the lead.

This was the case until shortly after midnight on Wednesday, Nov. 3, when for roughly 90 minutes the Ohio election results reported on the Secretary of State's website were frozen. Shortly before 2am EST election returns came in from a handful of the state's rural Republican enclaves, bumping Bush's numbers over the top.

It was known Bush would carry rural Ohio. But the vote totals from these last-to-report counties, where Karl Rove said there was an unprecedented late-hour evangelical vote giving the White House a moral mandate, were highly improbable and suggested vote count fraud to pad Bush’s numbers. Just how flimsy the reported GOP totals were was not known on Election Night and has not been examined by the national media. But an investigation by the House Judiciary Committee Democratic staff begun after Election Day 2004 and completed before the Electoral College met on Jan. 6, 2005, was first to publicly point to vote count fraud in rural Ohio.

That report, "Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio," cited near-impossible vote totals, including 19,000 votes that were mysteriously added at the close of tallying the vote in Miami County. The report cited more than 3,000 apparently fraudulent voter registrations – all dating back to the same day in 1977 in Perry County. The report noted a homeland security emergency was declared in Warren County, prompting its ballots to be taken to a police-guarded unauthorized warehouse and counted away from public scrutiny, despite local media protests.

In our book, "What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election" (The New Press, 2006), we go beyond the House Judiciary Democratic report to analyze precinct-by-precinct returns and we print copies of the documents upon which we base our findings. We found many vote-count irregularities based on examining the certified results, precinct-level records and the actual ballots.

The most eyebrow-raising example to emerge from parsing precinct results was finding 10,500 people in three Ohio's 'Bible Belt' counties who voted to re-elect Bush and voted in favor of gay marriage, if the official results are true. That was in Warren, Butler and Clermont Counties. The most plausible explanation for this anomaly, which defies logic and was not seen anywhere else in the country, was Kerry votes were flipped to Bush while the rest of the ballot was left alone. While we have some theories about how that might have been done by hand in a police-guarded warehouse, could full Republican control of the vote-counting software and servers also have played a role?

The early returns on the Secretary of State's website suggest Blackwell's vote-tallying and reporting system could manipulate large blocks of votes. Screenshots taken during the early returns in Hamilton County, where Cincinnati is located, gave Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb 39,541 votes, which was clearly incorrect. Similarly, early return screenshots in Lucas County, where Toledo is located, gave Cobb 4,685 votes, another clear error. (The screenshots are in our book). Were these innocent computer glitches or was a GOP vote-counting and reporting system moving and dumping Kerry votes?

There's more evidence the late returns from Ohio's Republican-majority countryside were not accurate. During the spring and summer of 2006, several teams of investigators associated with Freepress.org, notably one team led by Ron Baiman, a Ph.D. statistician and researcher at Chicago's Loyola University, examined the actual election records from precincts in Miami and Clermont Counties. These records – from poll books where voters sign in, to examining the actual ballots themselves – were not publicly accessible until last year, under orders from Ohio’s former Republican Secretary of State. Baiman compared the number of voters who signed in with the total number of votes attributed to precincts. He found hundreds of "phantom" votes, where the number of voter signatures was less than the reported vote total. That discrepancy also suggests vote count fraud.

There was other evidence in the observable paper trail of padding the vote, including instances in Delaware County where in one precinct, 359 of the final punch-card ballots cast on Election Day contained no Kerry votes, which means the day's last voters all were Bush supporters, which also is improbable. In another Delaware County precinct, Bush allegedly received the last 210 votes of the day. Were partisan local election workers trying to mask what was happening electronically to tilt the vote count?

Ohio's 2004 ballots were to be destroyed last September. However that fate was blocked by a federal judge, who ruled in the early phase of trying a Voting Rights Act lawsuit that accused Ohio officials of suppressing the minority vote in Ohio's cities. The state's new Secretary of State and Attorney General, both Democrats, are now holding settlement talks for that suit, suggesting its claims have merit. However, unlike Florida after the 2000 election, there still has yet to be a full accounting of Ohio's presidential vote.

What's clear, however, is the highest ranks of the Republican Party's political wing, including White House counselor Karl Rove, a handful of the party's most tech-savvy computer gurus and the former Republican Ohio Secretary of State, created, owned and operated the vote-counting system that reported George W. Bush's re-election to the presidency. Moreover, it appears the votes that gave Bush his 118,775-vote margin of victory – the boost from Ohio's countryside – have yet to be confirmed as accurate. Instead, the reporting to date suggests that what happened on the ground and across Ohio's rural precincts is at odds with the vote tally released on Election Night.

As numerous congressional committees attempt to retrieve and examine the secret White House e-mails surrounding Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' firing of eight federal prosecutors, those panels must also probe the privatization and partisan manipulation of the 2004 presidential vote count in Ohio. The lessons from 2004 have yet to be fully understood or learned.

Similarly, the House Administration Committee, which is expected to soon mark up H.R. 811, a bill by Rep. Rush Holt, D-NJ, to regulate electronic voting technology, also must take heed. The vote count and outcome of American elections cannot be left in the hands of known partisans, who can control and manipulate how the votes are counted and what is reported to the media and American people.

Public vote counts on private, partisan servers and secret proprietary software have no place in a democracy.

--

Bob Fitrakis is a political science professor and attorney in the King Lincoln Bronzeville civil rights lawsuit against Ken Blackwell. Fitrakis, Rosenfeld and Harvey Wasserman are authors of "What Happened in Ohio? A documentary record of theft and fraud in the 2004 election," (New Press, 2006).

KEY LINKS: To trace the site-hosting history of election.sos.state.oh.us, go to:
http://toolbar.netcraft.com/site_report?url=http://election.sos.state.oh.us
(You will note on Nov. 3, 2004, the Ohio Secretary of State's website was moved from a Columbus-based company, OARnet, to SMARTECH CORPORATION.)

Ken Blackwell Outsources Ohio Election Results to GOP Internet Operatives, Again
http://scoop.epluribusmedia.org/story/2006/11/7/115314/922
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/11/7/144314/082

Who is Michael L. Connell? Part II: Behind the firewall
http://scoop.epluribusmedia.org/story/2007/4/2/6328/14926

The White House, vote theft, and the email trail
http://cannonfire.blogspot.com/2007/03/ gwb43-white-house-vote-theft-and-email.html

Cedarville University A Major Player in Ohio's Election Tallying Efforts
http://www.cedarville.edu/departments/ marketing/publicrelations/newsarticle.cfm? ID=2132271177

"What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election," by Robert Fitrakis, Steven Rosenfeld, Harvey Wasserman.
http://www.thenewpress.com/index.php?option=com_title&task =view_title&metaproductid=1597

Rove-ing emails: what else could go missing? by Todd Johnston
http://scoop.epluribusmedia.org/story/2007/4/22/ 33926/1773

http://scoop.epluribusmedia.org/story/2006/11/9/61233/1283
This shows a screen capture of the TN server 64.203.98.137 which in 2004 was where election.sos.state.oh.us was hosted from, and in 2006 it was still getting live data from Ohio, even though election.sos.state.oh.us was hosted on OARnet servers in Ohio.