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Checks and Balances

County leaders say electronic voting machines are appropriately monitored, despite connections to Romney-supporters

By John Lasker · October 31st, 2012 · News
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In the late hours of this upcoming Presidential Election night, one Democrat commissioner and one Republican commissioner from the Hamilton County Board of Elections will tally the final vote to see whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney wins the county. 

Hamilton County’s final outcome is significant — as in changing the course of world history significant. 

Hamilton County has become “Ground Zero” for Ohio, often an undecided state with a game-changing 18 electoral votes at stake. The major media has taken notice, such as the Today Show and Bloomberg, saying whoever wins Cincinnati and its surrounding suburbs should win Ohio and thus the White House. Keep in mind no Republican candidate has ever won the Presidential Election without taking the Buckeye State.

But as election day nears, the shadow of vote rigging is looming over the Hamilton County tally. Spreading across the Internet like a forest fire is the fact that the hardware and software Hamilton County Board of Elections (BOE) will use to make every precinct’s final tabulation, and the county’s final tabulation, was manufactured by Hart Intercivic, a company with strong ties to many of Romeny’s biggest financial supporters. 

The Freepress.org, a liberal news website based in Columbus, recently reported that Hart Intercivic’s main investor is HIG Capital. Seven of HIG Capital’s directors were formerly employed at Bain and Co., and two of these men, John P. Bolduc and Douglas Berman are Romney “bundlers,” a term used to describe those who bring in stacks of cash for their candidate.

This is another eye-opening scoop for the award-winning Freepress.org, which for eight years has been chasing the suspicious events of what occurred on election night in Ohio in 2004, when President Bush defeated Sen. Kerry. 

Through court filings, the FreePress.org discovered Sen. Kerry was defeating Bush by 200,000-plus votes at 12:20 a.m. on the 2004 election night, when mysteriously, the final Ohio vote count conducted by the Secretary of State suddenly shifted to a server in Tennessee. Within this same building were servers used by the Republican National Committee. 

“It was command central for all right-wing forces and the RNC,” says Bob Fitrakis, editor of the FreePress.org, about the building.

“At the same time they were calculating the Ohio vote.”

Also keep in mind the Secretary of State’s office in 2004 was led by Kenneth Blackwell who was holding down two jobs at the time — he also sat on the Ohio Committee to Re-Elect Bush and Cheney.

Bush would jump ahead with a 2 percent lead, winning with an official margin of more than 118,000 votes. The FreePress.org says such a shift is a virtual statistical impossibility.

Not too long ago, the entire country hand-counted all paper ballots to determine a winner. But since the “hanging chad” debacle of 2000, the federal government has attempted to modernize the nation’s voting by utilizing electronic voting machines throughout all levels of government elections. However, the Hamilton County BOE still makes voters take their ballot on paper. But then Hart Intercivic electronic machines powered by its software are utilized to complete final tallies.

For instance, at every Hamilton Country voting precinct there is a single machine owned by Hart. And at the county BOE at 825 Broadway St. there are two critical Hart machines — what BOE directors call the “Rally machine” and the “Tally machine.”

The single Hart machine at every precinct is called the “eScan Precinct Digital Ballot Imaging System.” After a Hamilton County voter casts his or her vote on a paper ballot, it is scanned into the eScan machine. That machine’s tally card, or “MBB” card, is sent to the county BOE where it is inputted by a bi-partisan group of county BOE employees into the Hart Rally machine. The Rally machine then uploads the precinct totals into the Tally machine where one county BOE Democratic commissioner and one Republican commissioner compute the final vote. Each one of these commissioners knows half the code that allows access to the Tally machine. 

The Hamilton County BOE told CityBeat that all Hart machines and their software “are programmed” by county BOE IT specialists and that Hart only manufactures the equipment while also having a maintenance contract with the county BOE. However, whether Hart has a maintenance contract is in dispute, as the Hamilton County BOE told the Washington Post recently, “Hart is not involved with its operations or maintenance.” 

Cincinnati attorney Tim Burke, who is also the chairman for the county BOE board, a group of two Democrats and two Republicans, is fully aware that Hart has strong ties to Romney. Burke, a Democrat commissioner, says nearly all electronic voting machine manufacturers have Republican ties, so there was no way around it. 

But Burke is confident the county BOE made the right choice back in 2005 when it decided to go with Hart. The main reason it chose Hart is because unlike all the other electronic voting machine manufacturers that were considered, Hart’s machines leave a paper trail. 

“I was one of the people who was intrigued by the pure computer system, but in the end we ended up being one of the few Ohio counties that opted for the paper ballots that Hart systems rely on,” says Burke. “And that’s the greatest checks and balances that we have — unlike the other systems where everything is on the computer, we’ve got the actual paper ballots that people voted on.”

Nonetheless, Hart machines have come under the Secretary of State’s microscope. According to a study the office conducted in 2007, Hart election machines provide “numerous opportunities to manipulate election outcomes or cast doubt on legitimate election activities.”

The Hamilton County BOE insisted to CityBeat that no Hart machine is connected to any Internet connection or satellite link. The county BOE also said “there is no software on the Hart equipment that we do not have access to.” The Hart software, by the way, is called B.O.S.S, or Ballet Organization Software Systems.

As the storm clouds grow over Hamilton County’s election systems, Burke is confident the Hart machines will be up to task, nonetheless. 

“We have had the experience of having to go back to do recounts in very close elections, and our post election audits have had good results, and very consistent with what the Hart Machines have counted,” he says. 

Fitrakis of the FreePress.org says with the addition of electronic voting machines, the threat of rigging an election is greater than ever. 

“The reality is, nobody wants to think that people would cheat at American politics, the most powerful nation on earth,” he says. “Unless you put procedures in place, of course, both sides will cheat because so much power is at stake.”  ©

 
 
 
 

 

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