By Andrew Kreig
NBC Political Director Chuck Todd ridiculed election machine critics at a major conference of vote-counters last weekend — thereby underscoring how Washington works.
Todd told the National Association of Secretaries of State that their critics must be paranoid to fear that anyone would deliberately alter results. Allegations against Karl Rove are among the most common.
“That’s just stretching the bounds of reality,” NBC’s chief White House correspondent said in response to my question asking him to amplify his Tweet last fall on vote-tampering claims. “That’s feeding the conspiracy.” Todd had Tweeted: “The voting machine conspiracies belong in same category as the Trump birther garbage.”
Todd won a round of applause for his response, the only such interruption during his enlightening and entertaining Jan. 26 address and Q&A. Audience members were mainly state secretaries of state at their mid-winter conference, plus sales reps for voting machine and software companies.
The rest of this column examines why those involved are so reluctant to discuss election machine fraud publicly except to deny its existence. Hint: Silence is golden.
Suspicious Elections Prompted Study
The secretaries of state, the voting machine companies, and a traditional media benefiting heavily from campaign ads do not want voters thinking about election machine software. But Karl Rove, a longtime consultant to the Bush family, long ago discovered the possibilities. Let’s retrace Bush-Rove footsteps. Three elections beginning in 2000 helped create an “election integrity” movement in reaction. Opponents of software fraud advocate paper ballots and similar protections for the public.
First was the 2000 presidential race. Greg Palast’s reporting for the BBC and The Guardian documented how the Florida administration of Gov. Jeb Bush used the ChoicePoint subsidiary Database Technologies Online (DBT) secretly to remove some 91,000 eligible voters, mostly Democrats and minorities, from Florida’s rolls just before voting began. This helped the Bush-Cheney ticket to eke out a victory by a little over 200 votes in the recount.
In 2002, a second notorious milestone occurred in Alabama’s gubernatorial election. Incumbent Democrat Don Siegelman, a potential future presidential nominee, went to bed believing he had been re-elected to a second term by some 3,000 votes. He awoke the next day to learn that 6,000 votes had mysteriously disappeared from his column in rural Baldwin County. Authorities later framed Siegelman on trumped-up corruption charges and imprisoned him with the help of a trial judge who secretly controlled a company receiving $300 million in defense contracts.
The third landmark was the 2004 Bush-Cheney victory in Ohio, whose electoral votes decided the presidency. Suspected IT fraud in that election prompted grassroots activists to try to prevent reoccurence in 2008 and 2012.
These elections implicated Republicans as the main suspects and beneficiaries. Serious but less-documented allegations concern suspected Democratic plots.
Last Oct. 24, election fraud sleuths Jill Simpson and Jim March presented a chart at the National Press Club to warn against fraud in 2012. Simpson, an Alabama lawyer, had broken with the Republican Party in 2007 to testify that a Rove-inspired plot had framed Siegelman. March is an IT consultant, Libertarian, and member of a local election commission in Arizona. They have created a non-profit group, Election Protection Action, showcasing the chart below.
In the late summer of 2012, the two documented leads that Simpson says she developed while working with Rove and his allies as an opposition researcher against Democrats. Rove denies ever talking with her, or any misconduct. The Simpson-March chart alleges an eco-system whereby partisan Republicans train and finance prospective candidates, and also help election machine companies in ways ignored by mainstream media.
The chart supported several news reports last fall by the Free Press of Columbus, Ohio. Co-founder Robert Fitrakis, attorney Clifford Arnebeck, and their colleagues for years have alleged fraud in electronic-ballot-counting in ways decisive to important elections. A Fox News affiliate in Cincinnati illustrated the problem in “Reality Check: Can Ohio Voting Machines Be Hacked?” The WXIX-TV video report also focused on a Romney family investment in voting machines.
Just before the Nov. 6 presidential election, Fitrakis filed suit against Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted in federal and state court after hearing from a whistleblower that Husted’s office had authorized secret software on the state’s voting machines.
A Bush-appointed federal judge denied an injunction. Husted boasted that the ruling absolved the state from suspicion. Husted failed to comment on the state court ruling. It denied an injunction but warned state officials the suit might continue if irregularities occurred. Arnebeck and other election fraud investigators believe Rove’s Election Night meltdown on Fox News occurred because he was expecting vote-flipping in Ohio and elsewhere, and wanted to prevent a premature concession. The officials and their vendors deny any irregular or sinister conduct. My book, Presidential Puppetry, explores this topic upon publication next month.
Working the Room
The rest of this column suggests reasons why news coverage of election machine fraud is so sparse. Officials and the media tend to have collegial relationships these days. One visual illustration is the backup dance routine by NBC’s David Gregory with Rove in the “MC Rove” skit, excerpted here and then lampooned by Jon Stewart. The occasion was a black-tie, broadcasters’ gala in the spring of 2007. This was as the U.S. attorney purge scandal unfolded across the nation involving Rove and such political targets as Siegelman.
The politico-media relationships are ongoing. The traditional media are heavily reliant on quotations from officials and former officials, and the revenue from campaign ads. Also, most media organizations these days are small parts of larger companies that depend financially on favorable government action.
The five-member Federal Communications Commission regulating the nation’s news media has always had since 2001, curiously enough, at least one member, and usually two members, drawn from the small Bush-Cheney Florida vote recount team created post-election to ensure the GOP victory. Kevin Martin commission chairman from 2005 to 2008, after leading the Florida team and serving as an FCC commissioner, benefited from an especially close relationship with the Bush White House. Martin’s wife was communications director for the vice president and then for the president. In essence: her job was to influence the media, and his was to regulate it.
Furthermore, politics is a way of life for all concerned. Many of the top political reporters have spouses who are campaign consultants or office-seekers. Todd’s wife, for instance, co-founded Maverick Strategies and Mail, a political consultancy.
Rove is the ultimate example of DC cross-pollination between the media, campaigns, and elected officials. He receives press passes as a journalist. Also, he dispenses hundreds of millions of dollars to political causes, thereby creating vast loyalties and dependencies for years ahead. Think about it: Most of that spending goes to media organizations, especially broadcasters.
Cleaning Up Washington
For the secretaries of state, Todd waived his usual speaking fee as a goodwill gesture. “I owe you a ‘thank you,’” Todd told the officials at the beginning of his remarks. “The more complicated elections are state-by-state,” he joked, “the harder it is for NBC/Universal to get rid of me.”
The officials and their vendors obviously welcomed the presence of a media celebrity, and sought to leverage it even in small ways. Ohio’s Husted, an executive committee member of the secretary of state association, boasted on Twitter afterward, “Enjoyed having lunch today with NBCs @chucktodd — he and I agree Redistricting reform needs to happen in OH and across the US.”
This, then, is your Washington. Officials and the media seem to be getting along quite well.
Even better — as always when one hand washes the other — everyone looks clean.