While debate still rages over Ohio's stolen presidential election of
2004, the impossible outcomes of key 2005 referendum issues may have put an
electronic nail through American democracy.
Once again, the Buckeye state has hosted an astonishing display of electronic
manipulation that calls into question the sanctity of America's right to vote,
and to have those votes counted in this crucial swing state.
The controversy has been vastly enhanced due to the simultaneous installation
of new electronic voting machines in nearly half the state's 88 counties, machines
the General Accounting Office has now confirmed could be easily hacked by a
very small number of people.
Last year, the US presidency was decided here. This year, a bond issue and
four hard-fought election reform propositions are in question.
Issue One on Ohio's 2005 ballot was a controversial $2 billion "Third
Frontier" proposition for state programs ostensibly meant to create jobs
and promote high tech industry. Because some of the money may seem destined
for stem cell research, Issue One was bitterly opposed by the Christian Right,
which distributed leaflets against it.
The Issue was pushed by a Taft Administration wallowing in corruption. Governor
Bob Taft recently pleaded guilty to misdemeanors stemming from golf outings
he took with Tom Noe, the infamous Toledo coin dealer who has taken $4 million
or more from the state. Taft entrusted Noe with some $50 million in investments
for the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, from which some $12 million is
now missing. Noe has been charged with federal money laundering violations on
behalf of the Bush-Cheney campaign. Taft's public approval ratings in Ohio are
currently around 15%.
Despite public fears the bond issue could become a glorified GOP slush fund,
Issue One was supported by organized labor. A poll run on the front page of
the Columbus Dispatch on Sunday, November 6, showed Issue One passing with 53%
of the vote. Official tallies showed Issue One passing with 54% of the vote.
The polling used by the Dispatch had wrapped up the Thursday before the Tuesday
election. Its precision on Issue One was consistent with the Dispatch's historic
polling abilities, which have been uncannily accurate for decades. This poll
was based on 1872 registered Ohio voters, with a margin of error at plus/minus
2.5 percentage points and a 95% confidence interval. The Issue One outcome would
appear to confirm the Dispatch polling operation as the state's gold standard.
But Issues 2-5 are another story.
The Dispatch's Sunday headline showed "3 issues on way to passage."
The headline referred to Issues One, Two and Three. As mentioned, the poll was
dead-on accurate for Issue One.
Issues Two-Five were meant to reform Ohio's electoral process, which has been
under intense fire since 2004. The issues were very heavily contested. They
were backed by Reform Ohio Now, a well-funded bi-partisan statewide effort meant
to bring some semblance of reliability back to the state's vote count. Many
of the state's best-known moderate public figures from both sides of the aisle
were prominent in the effort. Their effort came largely in response to the stolen
2004 presidential vote count that gave George W. Bush a second term and led
to U.S. history's first Congressional challenge to the seating of a state's
delegation to the Electoral College.
Issue Two was designed to make it easier for Ohioans to vote early, by mail
or in person. By election day, much of what it proposed was already put into
law by the state legislature. Like Issue One, it was opposed by the Christian
Right. But it had broad support from a wide range of Ohio citizen groups. In
a conversation the day before the vote, Bill Todd, a primary official spokesperson
for the opposition to Issues Two through Five, told attorney Cliff Arnebeck
that he believed Issues Two and Three would pass.
The November 6 Dispatch poll showed Issue Two passing by a vote of 59% to 33%,
with about 8% undecided, an even broader margin than that predicted for Issue
But on November 8, the official vote count showed Issue Two going down to defeat
by the astonishing margin of 63.5% against, with just 36.5% in favor. To say
the outcome is a virtual statistical impossibility is to understate the case.
For the official vote count to square with the pre-vote Dispatch poll, support
for the Issue had to drop more than 22 points, with virtually all the undecideds
apparently going into the "no" column.
The numbers on Issue Three are even less likely.
Issue Three involved campaign finance reform. In a lame duck session at the
end of 2004, Ohio's Republican legislature raised the limits for individual
donations to $10,000 per candidate per person for anyone over the age of six.
Thus a family of four could donate $40,000 to a single candidate. The law also
opened the door for direct campaign donations from corporations, something banned
by federal law since the administration of Theodore Roosevelt.
The GOP measure sparked howls of public outrage. Though again opposed by the
Christian Right, Issue Three drew an extremely broad range of support from moderate
bi-partisan citizen groups and newspapers throughout the state. The Sunday Dispatch
poll showed it winning in a landslide, with 61% in favor and just 25% opposed.
Tuesday's official results showed Issue Three going down to defeat in perhaps
the most astonishing reversal in Ohio history, claiming just 33% of the vote,
with 67% opposed. For this to have happened, Issue Three's polled support had
to drop 28 points, again with an apparent 100% opposition from the previously
The reversals on both Issues Two and Three were statistically staggering, to
say the least.
The outcomes on Issue Four and Five were slightly less dramatic. Issue Four
meant to end gerrymandering by establishing a non-partisan commission to set
Congressional and legislative districts. The Dispatch poll showed it with 31%
support, 45% opposition, and 25% undecided. Issue Four's final margin of defeat
was 30% in favor to 70% against, placing virtually all undecideds in the "no"
Issue Five meant to take administration of Ohio's elections away from the Secretary
of State, giving control to a nine-member non-partisan commission. Issue Five
was prompted by Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell's administration of
the 2004 presidential vote, particularly in light of his role as co-chair of
Ohio's Bush-Cheney campaign. The Dispatch poll showed a virtual toss-up, at
41% yes, 43% no and 16% undecided. The official result gave Issue Five just
30% of the vote, with allegedly 70% opposed.
But the Sunday Dispatch also carried another headline: "44 counties will
break in new voting machines." Forty-one of those counties "will be
using new electronic touch screens from Diebold Election System," the Dispatch
Diebold's controversial CEO Walden O'Dell, a major GOP donor, made national
headlines in 2003 with a fundraising letter pledging to deliver Ohio's 2004
electoral votes to Bush.
Every vote in Ohio 2004 was cast or counted on an electronic device. About
15%---some 800,000 votes---were cast on electronic touchscreen machines with
no paper trail. The number was about seven times higher than Bush's official
118,775-vote margin of victory. Nearly all the rest of the votes were cast on
punch cards or scantron ballots counted by opti-scan devices---some of them
made by Diebold---then tallied at central computer stations in each of Ohio's
According to a recent General Accounting Office report, all such technologies
are easily hacked. Vote skimming and tipping are readily available to those
who would manipulate the vote. Vote switching could be especially easy for those
with access to networks by which many of the computers are linked. Such machines
and networks, said the GAO, had widespread problems with "security and
reliability." Among them were "weak security controls, system design
flaws, inadequate security testing, incorrect system configuration, poor security
management and vague or incomplete voting system standards, among other issues."
With the 2005 expansion of paperless touch-screen machines into 41 more Ohio
counties, this year's election was more vulnerable than ever to centralized
manipulation. The outcomes on Issues 2-5 would indicate just that.
The new touchscreen machines were brought in by Blackwell, who had vowed to
take the state to an entirely e-based voting regime.
As in 2004, there were instances of chaos. In inner city, heavily Democratic
precincts in Montgomery County, the Dayton Daily News reported: "Vote count
goes on all night: Errors, unfamiliarity with computerized voting at heart of
problem." Among other things, 186 memory cards from the e-voting machines
went missing, prompting election workers in some cases to search for them with
flashlights before all were allegedly found.
In Tom Noe's Lucas County, Election Director Jill Kelly explained that her
staff could not complete the vote count for 13.5 hours because poll workers
"were not adequately trained to run the new machines."
But none of the on-the-ground glitches can begin to explain the impossible
numbers surrounding the alleged defeat of Issues Two through Five. The Dispatch
polling has long been a source of public pride for the powerful, conservative
newspaper, which endorsed Bush in 2004.
The Dispatch was somehow dead accurate on Issue One, and then staggeringly
wrong on Issues Two through Five. Sadly, this impossible inconsistency between
Ohio's most prestigious polling operation and these final official referendum
vote counts have drawn virtually no public scrutiny.
Though there were glitches, this year's voting lacked the massive irregularities
and open manipulations that poisoned Ohio 2004. The only major difference would
appear to be the new installation of touchscreen machines in those additional
And thus the possible explanations for the staggering defeats of Issues Two
through Five boil down to two: either the Dispatch polling---dead accurate for
Issue One---was wildly wrong beyond all possible statistical margin of error
for Issues 2-5, or the electronic machines on which Ohio and much of the nation
conduct their elections were hacked by someone wanting to change the vote count.
If the latter is true, it can and will be done again, and we can forget forever
about the state that has been essential to the election of every Republican
presidential candidate since Lincoln.
And we can also, for all intents and purposes, forget about the future of American