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Electronic Voting: The Catastrophe that Wasn't

     Like claims the U.S. was responsible for 9/11 and Republicans were fixing gas prices, the media promoted the left-wing electronic vote-rigging conspiracy.

 

     Now that the votes have been cast and counted, Republicans lost, and the silence of the national media has been deafening.

 

     The idea was that somehow the company Diebold had programmed the machines to let Republicans win. The theory, perpetuated by left-wingers posting on Daily Kos and The Huffington Post and Bev Harris’ book, “Black Box Voting,” was embraced by all three broadcast networks, as well as CNN and MSNBC.

 

     Following Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) defeat in 2004, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann ignored statements by the candidate’s own Ohio attorney about the lack of evidence of “confirmed fraud.” Instead, Olbermann ranted for days about fraud causing the Kerry defeat during his show “Countdown with Keith Olbermann.”

 

     Leading up to the 2006 election. Lou Dobbs and Kitty Pilgrim waged a five-month long, two-person war against electronic voting in regular “Democracy at Risk” segments during CNN’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight.”

 

     Dobbs fostered mistrust of electronic voting throughout his broadcasts. “When it comes to the federal government, don’t expect much assurance that your electronic vote will be counted accurately. New standards for electronic voting machines may not be ready in fact, for years,” he warned on Oct. 29, 2006.

 

     And on election day 2006, NBC’s Brian Williams said there were complaints of “plain old trickery at the polls.” As Williams tossed the story to reporter Chip Reid, the response came, “Well, most of it, Brian, is electronic voting.”

 

     Ironically, electronic voting went national because of a bipartisan push for election reform after the disastrous 2000 Florida recount. But that bipartisan support for such voting machines turned into allegations and conspiracy theories after the 2004 elections.



Media on the Attack      

 

     Before the 2006 election, news media were buzzing about the dangers of electronic voting, parroting left-wing vote-stealing conspiracies and even warning that Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez might sway the results. That story was forgotten almost as soon as the ballots were tallied.

 

     But from 2004 to Nov. 7, 2006, the media dragged the Diebold Corp. – the largest of the four makers of electronic voting machines – through the mud. Some even went so far as to color Diebold as a potential election thief.

 

     “The CEO of the company last year held a fund-raiser for the Republicans, and he said that he believed his job was to make sure that he got every delegate in Ohio voting for George W. Bush,” NBC reporter Tom Costello said of Diebold on Olbermann’s MSNBC show Oct. 20, 2004. “That is the CEO of a company that is making voting machines. You can understand why there’s some mistrust out there.”

 

     Despite CEO Walden O’Dell’s resignation from Diebold in late 2005, the media continued the onslaught.

 

     CBS Chief Investigative Correspondent Armen Keteyian did a story on suspicion of the corporation on Nov. 1, 2006, “Evening News.” “Diebold is the largest supplier of electronic voting machines. The absolute control over the election process that a company like Diebold potentially could have from tabulation to the software that’s inside, to the certification, it’s concerning to people.”

 

     The media interviewed liberal experts critical of Diebold or those who believed elections had been rigged. Bev Harris, author of “Black Box Voting,” was interviewed or mentioned in stories by all five networks. Harris has been lionized by liberals, called “heroine” by the left-wing site Buzzflash.com and has held a joint press conference with Ralph Nader.

 

     Another expert critical of Diebold was David Dill of Stanford University and founder of VerifiedVoting.org. He popped up on CBS, CNN and MSNBC.

 

     “That person who hacked the machine could be an insider, even a programmer at the company,” said Dill during a discussion about the possibility of hacking Diebold machines on CBS “Evening News.” That was May 1, 2004. What the networks didn’t say is that Dill is listed as a contributor to the liberal Huffington Post blog.

 

     Although it wasn’t a news program, HBO too featured Diebold prominently in a documentary titled “Hacking Democracy” the week before the 2006 election.    

 

     Meanwhile, on the Oct. 20, 2006, edition of ABC’s “The View,” Rosie O’Donnell accused Diebold of cheating Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) out of the presidency in 2004.

 

     “What was he doing conceding the day after when the votes weren’t all counted and they were cheating with the Diebold machines?” O’Donnell asked.

 

    In reality, when election day rolled around there were not many fingers left pointing at Diebold, although ABC News did mention one. Democratic Senate candidate Harold Ford, Jr. worried about “Diebold machines not working” during Nov. 7, 2006 “World News Tonight with Charles Gibson.”

 

    “I guess Diebold has finally been vindicated,” quipped conservative commentator Ann Coulter in her Nov. 8, 2006, column.



One More Conspiracy

 

     Fortune Magazine wrote at length about Diebold Corporation and how they came to be “notorious” in the Nov. 13, 2006, issue. The magazine asserted that Diebold simply jumped into a business it didn’t understand, and the company has been paying for it with bad press ever since.

 

     Still, Fortune’s Barney Gimbel wrote, “after a close look at Diebold and its operations, it’s hard to see the company as evil.”

 

     But network media reports frequently ran counter to Gimbel’s, at least until the 2006 election. The idea of a Bush–Diebold conspiracy – that the company rigged elections in favor of Republicans – found its legs in 2003. That was when Harris wrote her book about the possibility of hacking Diebold machines and named then-CEO Walden O’Dell as a strong Bush supporter.

 

     After Kerry’s presidential bid failed in 2004, belief that Republicans had stolen the vote intensified. Presidential candidate Ralph Nader said the 2004 Ohio vote “was hijacked from A to Z.”

 

     Joan Claybrook, President of the left-wing think tank Public Citizen, wrote an op-ed skeptical of Bush’s Ohio victory in early 2005. The group, founded by Nader, is a staunch anti-corporate advocate that seeks heavier government regulation.     

 

     The liberal political action committee MoveOn.org also embraced the stolen election theories and began advocating voter-verified paper records of votes. MoveOn.org said it wanted everyone’s vote to be ready for a recount, but actively campaigned against voter identification requirements, calling them “undemocratic.”

 

     The media regularly entertained the conspiracy theory that Diebold rigged elections in favor of Republicans, without proof.

 

     For five months prior to the 2006 election, CNN’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight” featured a nightly “Democracy at Risk” segment all about the dangers of electronic voting machines. Dobbs also had an hour-long special by the same name that aired multiple times beginning on Oct. 29, 2006. In the special, Dobbs and reporter Kitty Pilgrim talked about the hacking potential of many different electronic voting machines, glitches, and about foreign ownership of American voting machines, by none other than Hugo Chavez.

 

 

There Hugo Again

 

     Diebold wasn’t the only voting machine company that got national media attention. Another threat did get some media attention, although it wasn’t even close to the amount of coverage of the Diebold conspiracy theory which spanned two years.

 

     Kitty Pilgrim reported on “Lou Dobbs Tonight” that a Venezuelan company with ties to Hugo Chavez, Smartmatic, bought up another voting machine company, Sequoia, in 2005.

 

     “Smartmatic’s machines were used in Venezuela’s controversial 2004 recall election. Many experts say those voting machines were manipulated in Venezuela to give President Hugo Chavez a victory,” said Pilgrim on Oct. 29, 2006.

 

     Investor’s Business Daily said in an editorial on Nov. 6, 2006, that “Mathematicians Ricardo Hausmann of Harvard and Roberto Rigobon of MIT, who studied the [Venezuelan] referendum, declared it fraudulent with 99% certainty, pointing to manipulation of the Smartmatic software in the counting room, where two-way electronic communication seemed to take place as the votes were tallied.”

 

     IBD also pointed out that it was after receiving $120 million for their work during the Venezuelan recall that Smartmatic purchased Sequoia Voting Systems for $16 million.

 

     On Nov. 2, 2006, Dobbs said Chavez would be “sending observers and monitors” for the U.S. election. “There are times I keep expecting the country to just sort of go into a group scream over these e-voting machines,” Dobbs said.

 

     Despite the worries that Chavez rigged his own election, and could now exert power over U.S. elections, the media didn’t even comment about it post-election day.