The chair of the Athens County Democratic Party and a lobbyist who once worked
indirectly for Diebold Election Systems are giving two very different versions
of a meeting they had in October 2003.
The meeting between party chair Susan Gwinn and long-time state Democratic
Party figure William H. Chavanne provided the lead paragraphs for a story that
ran on the front page of The Columbus Dispatch Sunday.
The story detailed reports from various county elections boards around the
state that Diebold representatives used pressure tactics and offers
of money to try to induce the boards to choose Diebold to provide their new
legally mandated voting systems. The state has gotten $116 million
in funding to replace punch-card voting systems, making it a lucrative market
to win these contracts.
Gwinn said Chavanne offered to make a $1,000 contribution, first to
the Athens County Democratic Party, then to a party "operating fund"
that would not have been legally required to identify contributors, and then
finally to Gwinn herself.
Chavanne admitted he offered to make a contribution to the local Democrats,
but said it was not meant to make Diebold a more attractive choice for the county
elections board. He flatly denied offering money to either an operating
fund (which the Athens County Democratic Party did not have), or to Gwinn personally.
"I simply have no idea why she said what she said. It simply is not true,"
Chavanne maintained Tuesday. "All I did was, after we were done talking
about Diebold, I offered to help the Democratic Party, and basically she said
she didn't want my help."
Gwinn said that after she turned down the offer of a check for the party, at
some point Chavanne suggested he could make the check out to Gwinn to use as
she saw fit. Didn't happen, Chavanne insisted.
"Of course I didn't (do that)," he declared. "Anybody that knows
me... knows I would never do that with anybody."
Since the meeting with Chavanne, the Athens County Board of Elections has voted
to go with an optical-scan system, not manufactured by Diebold. At the time
of the meeting, however, it appeared the board was ready to buy Diebold electronic
touch-screen machines. Its two Republican members were in favor of Diebold,
as was one Democrat, with Gwinn the lone holdout.
Though she believes Chavanne was trying to influence her in favor of Diebold
with his offers of financial contributions, Gwinn admitted that she can't understand
the logic of this, as Chavanne must have known he already had three of four
votes. (Chavanne confirmed that he did know this.) So why would he bother to
entice her with money?
"I really, quite frankly, don't know," Gwinn said. "What happened
is just what I said (in the Dispatch story). The thing of it is, he already
had three votes. And if anybody knew me, they would probably know there was
no way they would ever get me to change my vote."
She said she agreed to meet with Chavanne "just to be courteous."
After talking about the Diebold machines, she said, Chavanne asked about the
prospects for Democrats in local elections, and she told him the party faced
some challenging races. "I said, 'Man, it's going to be tough,'" she
At that point, according to Gwinn, Chavanne "said something to the effect
that 'That's one of the reasons I came down,'" i.e. to help out the Democratic
After Gwinn refused Chavanne's offer of a "personal contribution"
to the party, believing it inappropriate, she said, Chavanne made the suggestion
about giving cash to the party's "operating fund."
"I said, 'We don't have such a thing, I don't think it's legal, and I
can't accept such a contribution,'" she claimed. It was then, she alleged,
that Chavanne suggested making the check out to Gwinn.
"He said, 'I could just write a check out to you, personally,' and I said,
'Absolutely not,'" she contended.
Chavanne insisted that his motive in offering the $1,000 was simply to help
the party he's been working for for years, including stints as the chief of
staff for Anthony Celebrezze when he was attorney general and secretary of state.
In working on behalf of Diebold, he said, he was not directly employed by the
North Canton company, but had been hired by a firm contracting with it. He said
he was not even involved in selling Diebold's machines, but had been asked merely
to reassure nervous Democrats that the machines wouldn't deliver the vote to
the GOP by some computerized hanky-panky.
Concerns on this score were raised by reports that the machines' vote tallies
could be tampered with via the Internet, and perhaps even more so by comments
from a top Diebold official who promised to "deliver Ohio" for the
Bush presidential campaign.
"The combination of those two (reports) created among many Democrats a
very serious feeling that we were trying to sell machines that, no matter how
we voted in Ohio, Bush was going to win," he recalled. His job was to dispel
this notion, which he said was baseless.
"Can you take a Diebold machine, go home, or go to your laboratory, and
alter it? I'm sure you can," he said. "But who in the world is going
to let you do that?"
While Gwinn says she can't understand what motive Chavanne would have for trying
to buy her vote, he says likewise that he can't fathom why she's telling what
he considers an inaccurate story about what took place during their meeting.
"I haven't any idea," he said. "I've got to say that it puzzles
me. I think the only thing to say in general terms is, she must not like me."
Gwinn stuck to her guns, however, insisting that whatever his reasons, Chavanne
did offer her a check with her name on it -- even though, as mentioned, he denies
this as flatly as Gwinn asserts it.
"OK -- I guess that's his version," she said.
Howard Stevens, a Republican member of the county elections board, said he
was shocked to read the Dispatch account of Gwinn's allegations, and disappointed
that she didn't share them at the time with the rest of the board.
"I was totally surprised, didn't have any inkling of it at all, and I
guess my reaction was that I thought it would have probably been well if she
had told the other board members about it at least privately," Stevens
He reported that prior to the Dispatch story running, he and fellow GOP board
member Richard Mottl were contacted by a reporter from the paper, and both told
the reporter they had not been approached with offers like the one alleged by
He recalled that the reporter asked him what he would have done if Chavanne
had offered him a contribution.
"I said, 'I'd have probably thrown him out of the building,'" Stevens
The elections board actually voted once to choose the Diebold machines, but
then was told by Ohio Secretary of State C. Kenneth Blackwell that it had to
The second time the board split 2-2, with the Democrats favoring optical-scan
machines and Mottl and Stevens voting for Diebold. Blackwell broke the tie and
picked Diebold for Athens County, but later ruled that all of the counties in
the state would have to vote for a third time on which systems to use.
At the third vote, Stevens could not attend, and over Mottl's opposition, the
board voted 2-1 along party lines for the optical-scan machines made by Election
Systems & Software.