Between the hours of 12:20 and 2:00 am, on election night in 2004, an electronic swing of more than 300,000 votes switched Ohio’s electoral votes from John Kerry to George W. Bush, and nothing could be done. A federal injunction was issued, but 56 of Ohio’s 88 counties had destroyed election records, making a recount impossible. It should be noted that Ohio’s Secretary of State, responsible for administering the vote, and the Governor were both Republicans, as are the governors and secretaries of state in nine swing states this election year.
In 2004, long-time friend and supporter of Bush, Walden O’Dell, vowed to deliver Ohio’s electoral votes to George W. Bush. O’Dell’s company, Diebold, owned the software used to tabulate Ohio’s electronic votes. Ohio’s Secretary of State, Ken Blackwell, awarded the contract for e-vote tabulation to IT engineer and long-time Bush family affiliate Michael Connell, owner of the Ohio-based company GovTech. Ohio’s votes were housed on servers in the Old Pioneer Bank Building in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which also carried e-mail for Karl Rove and the national Republican Party.
Connell was observed installing “software patches” in voting machines just prior to the election. Unfortunately, Connell died before he could answer to a federal lawsuit regarding his part in the 2004 presidential election, so we may never know what happened, if anything. You might say it’s only cause for speculation; possibly a great screenplay or the product of a wild imagination. But consider one more tidbit of information: no Republican Presidential candidate has ever won the White House without Ohio.
Today the e-voting controversy is back with a vengeance in Ohio. It seems Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney and his family is connected to Hart InterCivic, the company that records and tabulates the vote in Ohio. Solamere Capital, a company founded by Romney’s son, Tagg, with seed money from his father and investments from his mother Anne and uncle Scott, is partners with H.I.G Capital. H.I.G. purchased Hart InterCivic, the nation’s third largest voting machine company, last year. Of Hart Intercivic’s five member board of directors, two are H.I.G. employees and a third is appointed by H.I.G., assigning firm control of Hart InterCivic to H.I.G. Capital. The Washington Post and Forbes have confirmed this relationship. I must add that Solamere Capital did not deny its relationship with H.I.G. Capital, but made clear that their investments in H.I.G. are not directed at any specific funds, including Hart InterCivic.
It should also be noted that H.I.G. Capital employee Brian Schwartz made a $50,000 contribution to the Romney Victory PAC on May 1, as did employee Douglas Berman on May 15. Coincidentally, the price of admission to Romney’s fundraiser in Boca Raton, held in May of this year, was $50,000 payable to the Romney Victory PAC. Boca Raton is none other than where Romney’s infamous 47 percent speech took place.
What does this all mean? Absolutely nothing, unless you feel the appearance of impropriety matters; that a conflict of interest matters. Apparently, Hart InterCivic believes it does matter; otherwise they would have never released a response defending themselves. Their statement reads: “Hart InterCivic has a long track record of supporting a fair and open democratic process. Any suggestions that the Company might try to influence the outcome of election results are unfounded.” Hart InterCivic’s statement is accurate and there is absolutely no known evidence to suggest that the results of this election will somehow be manufactured or manipulated. The reality is that any mysterious deviation in the vote will have to contend with lawyers lined up, in each camp, ready to attack any anomaly that does not favor their candidate.
However, there is little doubt that this election highlights a process riddled with contentious and malicious rhetoric and mysterious undisclosed campaign financing, the product of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case. The people of this country certainly do not need another concern piled on the heap of refuse that will linger well past the election. The appearance of impropriety and conflict of interest should matter to all of us, every day. If every night, on your way home from work, you spotted your congregation’s minister exiting a strip joint and zigzagging through the streets, you may have cause for concern. When you question the minister he explains that he is attempting to save souls and drinks only so that he can relate to sinners and they to him. His response is creative at best, but it does not silence the appearance of impropriety or conflict of interest. This may seem rather straightforward, but regardless of how it is wrapped and how sophisticated the presentation may appear, there are basic undeniable principles that should never come into play when something so important is at stake: our democracy. Why tempt it? Why place our vote in harm’s way?
Our vote represents our freedom, our democracy, and our way of living. At no time in our history should we jeopardize or place our vote in the hands of those with a vested interest in its outcome. Steadily, government has contracted out its responsibilities, sometimes successfully, sometimes disastrously. Arguments can be made regarding the prison industry on both sides of this equation, but the election of our nation’s leaders is not like any other government responsibility. Our vote is guaranteed by our constitution and this administrative responsibility is assigned by the people to government, not to Romney supporters or Obama supporters.
In certain cases where e-voting is implemented, local government does not have the authority or means to examine or scrutinize the tabulation of votes because of proprietary software license restrictions. Venture capitalist and investment firms like H.I.G. Capital and Bain Capital will argue that these lucrative government contracts create private sector jobs and grow the economy. But according to Romney, government doesn’t create jobs. Is it worth the inherent risk that accompanies this position?
I would not, unlike Vice President Cheney, hire the private sector to fight our wars for profit and I do not agree that our vote should be assigned to the private sector. There are certain responsibilities that should never fall into the hands of profiteers: our military means to defend this nation, our public education system, and most importantly, our vote, because it is our vote that governs the rest.