How Voting Machine Fraud in Ohio, in 2004, May Have Caused John Kerry to Lose the Presidential Election

How Voting Machine Fraud in Ohio, in 2004, May Have Caused John Kerry to Lose the Presidential Election
American Values 2024 | April 9, 2024

By Dick Russell, Special to The Kennedy Beacon

(A version of this article was originally published as Chapter 25 in

Bobby found Miller’s findings impressive enough to bring up the subject a few days later when he went skiing with Jann Wenner, the Rolling Stone founder/publisher and a longtime friend. “I encouraged him to do a piece,” and he said, “We’ll print one if you write it,” Bobby recalled. After initial hesitation, he agreed.

This led him to the official record of a congressional inquiry into the election, presided over by Rep. John Conyers of Michigan. In testimony released by the House Judiciary Committee in January 2005 and later turned into a book, witnesses from both parties – elected officials, poll observers, voting machine company employees, and numerous voters – spoke about the harassment and actual vote suppression they’d endured in Ohio the previous November. Bobby started calling them up. He spent the next six months researching what happened.

Like many of what became at least temporary crusades, this one had roots in his family history. “I’d spent a lot of time thinking and writing about populism and racial justice in the South, because of my family’s involvement,” he told me in 2022. “My father and uncle and Martin Luther King had all come to the same conclusion, that the key to civil rights in our country was voting rights. So the initial hook that got me into this was realizing how the Blacks were being systematically disenfranchised by right-wing groups.”

“First there were the so-called felon purges, with a wide net, because they would find a felon named Washington or Jefferson or Lincoln and purge everybody with that name from the voting rolls. They were making it harder for the military to vote, because so many were Black. Then I saw how some of the counties would send a single voting machine to a Black neighborhood where there’d be 11-hour lines, and ten machines to a Christian college which made voting very easy.”

“These manipulations were basically overruling all the things my father had done to make it possible for Blacks to vote – abolish poll taxes and literacy tests and all the tricky mechanisms used during the Jim Crow era.”

As Bobby told an interviewer upon publication of his latest article in Rolling Stone in June 2006: “The Republican Party has been using old-fashioned, Jim Crow, apartheid-type maneuvers to steal the last two national elections. If you look at who’s being denied the right to vote, on absentee ballots, on provisional ballots, it’s Hispanics, it’s Blacks and it’s Native Americans, and the Democratic Party ought to be touting this as the biggest civil rights issue of our time. But they are ignoring it, and that really is shocking.”

Bobby said his investigation had uncovered more than 350,000 principally Democratic voters in Ohio had been prevented from casting ballots or having their votes counted. Those votes would have been more than enough to put John Kerry in the White House, given that President Bush won the state by only 118,000 votes.

Bobby cited three factors in maintaining that “our democracy is broken” – a campaign finance system “of legalized bribery allowing corporations and the very wealthy to control the electoral results”; “the failure of the American press” to expose a “culture of corruption,” and the suppression and fraud surrounding the voting process.

It is instructive to look back almost twenty years at what Bobby examined, given the current commandeering of election integrity by Donald Trump. As Russ Baker writes on the WhoWhatWhy website (October 10, 2022): “Among ‘reasonable’ people, it’s taken as axiomatic that our elections are secure. But that’s not true. It’s a crisis for our country, beyond the hundreds of election deniers running for key positions overseeing future elections, and the situation sets us up for future disasters.”

Baker is talking about precisely what Bobby was – “the vulnerabilities of electronic voting systems….that can be manipulated in various ways that are difficult to detect.” In June 2006, Bobby had filed what’s called a qui tam lawsuit (meaning an action against a person or company on the government’s behalf) against some of the voting machine companies. He pointed out that the Help America Vote Act passed in 2002 was Orwellian sleight-of-hand. Orchestrated by Rep, Bob Ney of Ohio, a key provision discouraged vote verification by paper ballots while requiring states to buy voting machines from the Diebold corporation.

Bush’s predecessor, Bill Clinton, read Bobby’s article and urged others to do so, believing it “made a very persuasive case, and what was clear is that the Secretary of State [Ohio’s Kenneth Blackwell] was a world-class expert in voter suppression.” The former president wasn’t alone. Senator Howard Dean added that he was “not confident that the election in Ohio was fairly decided.” Bobby quoted Lou Harris, the father of modern-day political polling, stating that “Ohio was as dirty an election as America has ever seen “

Interestingly, it was Salon – co-publisher of Bobby’s piece on mercury and vaccines a year earlier – which now led the backlash against his voting rights effort. Farhad Manjoo, in a critique as long as the article itself, wrote: “There could have been an earnest exploration of the issues in order to finally shed some light on the problems we face in elections, and a call to urgently begin repairing our electoral machinery….Whatever his aim, RFK Jr. does not appear intent on fixing the problem. He’s more content to take us through a hit parade of the most popular, and the most dismissible, theories purporting to show that John Kerry won Ohio….If you do read Kennedy’s article, be prepared to machete your way through numerous errors of interpretation and his deliberate omission of key bits of data.”

A few days later, the two squared off on Salon in a pair of articles, with Bobby expressing how it was good to see Manjoo weigh in. Bobby wrote: “Unlike reporters in the mainstream media, Manjoo has displayed a willingness to actually read the published reports that document the electoral travesty that occurred in Ohio. It is a shame, however, that in his attempt to debunk my article, he commits precisely the sins of omission and distortion that he accuses me of having perpetrated.”

Without citing evidence on either side of the argument, The New York Times went after Bobby in a Sunday Styles piece headlined “Another Kennedy Living Dangerously” (June 25, 2006). Here reporter Mark Leibovich denigrated the “increasingly audacious leaps into political swamps that transcend the environment…. Mr. Kennedy is hitching his name to a cause that has largely been consigned so far to liberal bloggers and which nearly all Democratic leaders and major news media outlets have ignored and which, unsurprisingly, Bush supporters have ridiculed.” After quoting Manjoo on the “numerous errors” and “deliberate omissions,” the Times reporter continued: “It is impossible to read the Rolling Stone article without wondering how Mr. Kennedy’s audacious accusations might relate to his philosophical evolution or even affect his political viability.” Might the reporter have received encouragement from Times higher-ups unhappy with Bobby’s thimerosal campaign and subsequent ‘overstepping’?

Bobby addressed the Ohio findings on his “Ring of Fire” weekend radio show, part of the Air America network. He agreed to an interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox, who at the end called this “not a crackpot theory, but a serious issue” and urged viewers to read Bobby’s 10-page piece. On the other end of the political spectrum, he went on the radio show of Thom Hartmann, who reminded him how The New York Times, in November 2001, headlined an article: “Study of Disputed Florida Ballots Finds [Supreme Court] Justices Did Not Cast the Deciding Vote.” The paper’s implication was that, by the thinnest of margins, Bush had assuredly defeated Gore and democracy remained intact. However, Hartmann noted that buried in paragraph 17 was a sentence reading: “An approach Mr. Gore and his lawyers rejected as impractical – a statewide recount – could have produced enough votes to tilt the election his way, no matter what standard was chosen to judge voter intent.”

Bobby concurred. “They deep sixed that, deep, deep in the story. This was the product of a one-year investigation by a whole raft of newspaper syndicates that actually went out and counted all of Florida. And the product of that investigation wasn’t released until a month after 9/11, and the editorial staff of The New York Times decided to bury it because they thought it was a time of national emergency. But it was a momentous story that should have been on the front page – that the wrong person was in the White House.”

Early in August, 2006, Bobby took me up on my offer to help with the second piece for Rolling Stone. With the midterm elections looming and eighty percent of the ballots to be tallied by four touch-screen electronic voting machine companies (three of which had strong ties to the Republican Party), it seemed not only important but urgent.

My key source was a consultant for Diebold Election Systems in Georgia named Chris Hood, who had helped the company promote its new touch-screen electronic voting machines. Hood was an African American whose parents fought for voting rights in the South during the 1960s. In a series of phone conversations, he painfully explained how he’d become part of a scheme to illegally install uncertified software in the machines capable of altering the ballots – prior to surprise victories by Republican candidates in the Senate and the Governorship. “What I saw,” Hood told me, “was basically a corporate takeover of our voting system.”

A substantial percentage of Ohio’s 2004 votes were also counted by Diebold software and Opti-scan machines, which malfunctioned particularly in the Democratic stronghold of Toledo. Not only was the man in charge of oversight, Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, Bush’s campaign manager for the state, he turned out to own Diebold stock.

The article ran in the October 5, 2006 issue of Rolling Stone, headlined “Will the Next Election Be Hacked?” under Bobby’s byline and his acknowledgment that it had been written with my collaboration. Who knows whether it opened some eyes, but in the election a month later, the Democrats won control of both houses of Congress. In late 2006, Diebold removed its name from the front of the voting machines in what a spokesperson called “a strategic decision on the part of the company.”

Diebold sold its voting machine operation to ES&S in 2009. In October 2013, Federal prosecutors filed charges against the Ohio-based security and manufacturing firm, alleging that Diebold had bribed government officials and falsified documents to obtain business in China, Russia and Indonesia. Diebold agreed to pay $50 million to settle the two criminal counts.

In March 2008, I attended a fundraiser for then-Minnesota Senator Al Franken at a friend’s home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Senator Kerry attended and was generally surrounded, but I caught him alone in a free moment and asked whether he’d seen the piece that Bobby and I wrote about the rigged election in Ohio that cost him the presidency. Initially taken by surprise, Kerry began nodding his head vigorously and then responded: “I know what happened,” Kerry told me. “I know we won the election. We had all these lawyers on the ground, but they couldn’t come up with a smoking gun. Not until months later, and then it was too late. Did you see that Ohio threw out all the analysis?”

I said I hadn’t, walked away, and brought out my pocket notebook to write down Kerry’s words while they remained verbatim in my mind. Then I pondered the question: What was the greater threat to democracy? Was it coming out and telling the truth about what you knew to the American people, taking the risk that many might wonder if their vote still meant something? Or was it going along with the myth that the powers-that-be in this country would never stoop so low as to allow an illegitimate president to be in office for two full terms?

Dick Russell, born and raised in the Midwest, is the eclectic author of sixteen books. Four books co-authored with former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura spent weeks on the New York Times Best-Seller list. Eye of the Whale was named among the best books of 2001 by three major newspapers. The Man Who Knew Too Much, about a conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy, was hailed as “a masterpiece of historical reconstruction” by Publisher’s Weekly. Striper Wars: An American Fish Story, recounts the fight to save the Atlantic striped bass. As an environmental activist, Russell was a recipient of the citizen’s Chevron Conservation Award.

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