Bush gets his vote and maybe theirs

“Ask questions. They might lead to something.” —Yogi Berra

Ohio Republicans were delighted recently. In a fund-raising letter to the GOP, the chief executive of a voting machine company who is trying to sell his machines to Ohio said he is “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.”

The story was first reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The Aug. 14 letter was signed by Walden O’Dell, chief executive of Diebold, Inc., makers of touch-screen voting machines. The machines and their operations drew heavy criticism in a recently released report prepared by computer scientists at Johns Hopkins and Rice universities.

O’Dell has become very active in George W. Bush’s re-election campaign. His letter rang some alarm bells among Ohio Democrats, who question the propriety of letting Diebold count the votes in the 2004 presidential election.

O’Dell was among very affluent Bush benefactors attending a strategy session at the president’s Crawford, Texas, ranch early last month. The group members are known collectively as “Rangers” and “Pioneers.”

Following that meeting, O’Dell sat down in his mansion in the Columbus suburb of Upper Arlington and sent out invitations to a $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser for the Ohio Republican Party’s federal campaign fund. Part of that money will go toward Bush’s campaign.

Just before that letter hit the mails, Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, another Republican, was ready to qualify Diebold as one of three companies eligible to sell electronic voting machines to Ohio counties before the election next year.

Blackwell still hasn’t made his qualifying announcement because of a court challenge by a competing company, Sequoia Voting Systems. That firm questions the fairness of the selection process. Sequoia is a disqualified bidder.

In his fund-raising letter, O’Dell asked the potential guests to consider giving or raising up to $10,000 apiece to fatten the federal account of the state GOP organization. The money would be used to aid Bush and other federal candidates.

Democratic leaders in the Ohio legislature charged that money could come back to benefit Blackwell. They urged him to take Diebold out of the running for selling voting machines to the state.

It is the second time Blackwell has been asked to disqualify Diebold. The first request came from State Sen. Jeff Jacobson, a Republican from the Dayton area, after security concerns were disclosed about Diebold’s machines.

“Ordinary Ohioans may infer that Blackwell’s office is looking past Diebold’s security issues because its CEO is seeking $10,000 donations for Blackwell’s party—donations that could be made with statewide elected officials right there in the same room,” Jacobson said.

A Diebold spokeswoman said O’Dell has conducted fund-raisers in his home for a number of causes, including the Columbus Zoo and Ohio State University.

Jason Mauk, an Ohio GOP spokesman, said the party approached O’Dell about having the event at his home and not the other way around. He said the party is barred from using any federal account funds to aid state-level candidates.

“To think that Diebold is somehow tainted because they have a couple folks on their board who support the president is just unfair,” Mauk said.

Blackwell said Diebold isn’t the only company with political connections. He said lobbyists for voting-machine makers read like a who’s who of Columbus’ powerful and politically connected.

“Let me put it to you this way: If there was one person uniquely involved in the political process, that might be troubling. But there’s no one that hasn’t used every legitimate avenue and bit of leverage that they could legally use to get their product looked at. Believe me, if there is a political lever to be pulled, all of them have pulled it,” Blackwell said.

Meantime, an Ohio judge is considering whether Sequoia was unfairly disqualified by Blackwell.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!