Viewpoint: Ohio vote counts reek of corruption

If you still doubt there was any vote rigging in the 2004 presidential election, all you need do is take a hard look at the revelations coming out of Ohio.

A large amount of excellent work has been done on this story by reporters Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman.

They say Ohioans are both angry and amused at the latest disclosure that Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell owns stock in the Diebold company, makers of the voting machines used in Ohio in the 2004 election, which Blackwell oversaw.

Worse than that, Blackwell tried to award no-bid contracts to Diebold that were worth millions of dollars. He also turned a blind eye to any manipulations by Diebold to steer the election to George W. Bush. Diebold’s CEO, Wally O’Dell, had pledged to deliver the state to Bush in that year.

Diebold’s GEMS election software figured in about half the Ohio counties in 2004. Through Blackwell’s effort, 41 counties used Diebold machines in the equally suspect 2005 election in Ohio, and 47 counties will use Diebold touch screen voting machines in the May primary and in the fall election to choose a new governor. Guess who’s running? Yep, ol’ buddy Blackwell is the front-runner for the nomination. These machines are of a type similar to those just dumped by the state of Maryland for unsatisfactory performance.

Fitrakis and Wasserman reported a small army of attorneys, representing all points of political views, are nearly ready to report on whether Blackwell broke the law in 2004. Whatever the findings, they will have a strong and certain effect on the state that gave its electoral votes to George W. Bush under suspicious circumstances.

Blackwell’s ownership of Diebold stock came to light when he had to list it in his campaign disclosure forms. He is the first African-American to hold a statewide office. As former mayor of Cincinnati, he made a bundle in deals that involved extreme right-wing “religious” radio stations, the reporters stated.

Blackwell claimed he was “surprised” to learn he owns Diebold shares. The largest daily newspaper in central Ohio, the conservative Republican Columbus Dispatch, reported Blackwell claims his multimillion dollar portfolio has been handled by “a financial manager without his advice or review.” If you buy that, there’s a long line of con men selling everything from “miracle fuel” to pristine swamp land.

Blackwell claims his fund manager was replaced and that the new manager bought 178 Diebold shares for $53.67 per share in January 2005. He claims 95 shares were sold last year, and the remainder were sold last week after he made his annual review of the portfolio. Both sales, Blackwell said, resulted in losses.

Before the 2004 election, Blackwell tried to give Diebold a no-bid $100 million contract for their voting machines, but public outrage and a series of lawsuits made him quit the deal. Nonetheless, a good percentage of the 2004 votes in Ohio were counted by Diebold software and Diebold Opti-scan machines. The machines frequently malfunctioned, especially in the Democratic strongpoint of Toledo. Many think the machines were a key part in permitting Blackwell to hand Ohio’s 20 electoral votes, and the election, to George W. Bush.

Since then Blackwell has awarded other multimillion-dollar contracts to Diebold for their machines, according to Fitrakis and Wasserman. Last year, while he still owned Diebold stock, Blackwell switched almost 50 percent of Ohio’s counties to Diebold machines.

The equipment has exhibited a wide range of problems and put the integrity of the state’s vote count under a bigger cloud. Many election boards in the state are trying to refuse Diebold equipment. Two referenda on electoral reform in the state lost in 2005. Fitrakis and Wasserman reported the final vote tally was a statistical impossibility. The decisive votes were cast and counted on Diebold equipment.

In the past few months, Blackwell has told all 88 electoral boards to send his office the memory cards to be used in the May primary. Blackwell expects to nail down the gubernatorial nomination then. The two reporters said there is no statewide monitoring system to prevent those cards from being rigged. Diebold CEO, Wally O’Dell, was a heavy contributor to the Bush-Cheney campaign.

The former chairman of the Franklin County GOP and now Republican chairman of the Franklin County Board of Elections, Matt Damschroder, told Fitrakis and Wasserman that a key Diebold operative said he had given $50,000 to Blackwell’s campaign while Blackwell was weighing Diebold’s bids for state purchasing contracts. Blackwell denies the allegation.

Damschroder, however, said a former Diebold contractor boasted of making the contribution to Blackwell. Damschroder admits taking a $10,000 check from the contractor for the Franklin County GOP. That donation came as Damschroder was evaluating Diebold bids for county contracts.

Damschroder drew a reprimand for his action but remained in office. In 2004, voting officials in Franklin County told the Free Press that Blackwell and Damschroder were meeting in Columbus with George W. Bush. Reports by the AP put Bush and Karl Rove in Columbus on election day. Damschroder claims he did not personally meet with the president, but won’t say if he was at GOP meetings on election day where Bush was present.

An eyewitness told a small group of Bush supporters that Blackwell was frantic on election day, writing percentages and vote totals on maps of rural Republican counties, trying to determine how many votes, real or imagined, Bush would need to overcome exit poll results in Cleveland and Columbus.

Fitrakis and Wasserman said Blackwell ran one of the most vicious primary campaigns Ohio has ever seen. A series of television ads have attacked the character of Blackwell’s opponent, Attorney General Jim Petro, accusing him of extreme corruption and dishonesty. Some GOP officials are fearful Blackwell’s attacks could weaken the party.

Now, Petro and state Democrats are elated at the disclosures of Blackwell’s Diebold stock. Petro has a large stock portfolio of his own. He said he will pursue the question of whether Blackwell has broken the law. Bob Paduchik, Petro’s campaign manager, said: “Considering Ken Blackwell’s history with Diebold, I think this warrants further investigation to remove any hint of impropriety.”

Democratic candidate Ted Strickland, who hasn’t reported any stock holdings, observed: “If [Blackwell] doesn’t know what’s going on with his own checkbook, why in the world would voters want him to be in charge of the checkbook as governor?”

Most political observers in Ohio believe that Blackwell will never lose an election so long as he controls the vote count. That bears out the quote attributed to Joseph Stalin that said: “It’s not who votes that matters, it’s who counts.”

Ohio Democrats have mounted no serious challenges to the 2004 election, nor the count in 2005, and they have no plan to guarantee the honesty of the upcoming November election. That election will be run by Blackwell, even if he is the GOP nominee for governor.

From the April 12-18, 2006, issue

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