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5 Reasons Karl Rove Is NOT Going To Electronically Steal This Election

Too many voting machine activists are scaring people unnecessarily.

Progressives who fear that Karl Rove Republicans will steal the 2012 election through voting machine skullduggery should stop worrying.

There have been a rash of recent reports in national magazines like Harpers, websites like FreePress.org and BradBlog.com, articles in The New York Times and activists briefings that suggest a range of scenarios where votes could be cast and disappear—or fabricated to steal the White House. Most of these scenarios are not just far-fetched or worse, but they distract from more visible and widespread issues that could impact the 2012 results. If you're nervous, vote early and help others to vote on Election Day.

The activists and authors who are raising fears about electronic voting rarely talk to activists focused on more traditional civil rights issues—such as overcoming barriers at the polls. That makes it harder for the public to understand what is and isn’t a real worry. As a reporter, I've been involved with both camps since 2004.

What I’m seeing in the final weeks of the 2012 campaign from the electronic side of this spectrum is not helpful. There are things to worry about, but they’re not what’s breathlessly flying around in the lefty media. Let’s go through what's out there and then you can decide.

My biggest filter to judging scenarios, apart from what’s not a theoretically possibility but is also technically probable, is how many votes are affected. Too often headlines scream about 100 votes and ignore something much bigger—because it’s less sexy and less conspiratorial, but actually far more real.

1. Is Mitt Romney’s son going to hijack Ohio’s vote count?

In recent weeks, Columbus-based FreePress.org—where I wrote many articles after 2004 examining what happened in that election—has been reporting that Mitt Romney’s son Tagg is an owner in a voting machinery company whose equipment will be used to scan and count paper ballots in Hamilton County, where Cincinnati is located, and another small rural county up north. The implication is that the company’s employees will pre-program high-speed scanners to register more votes for Romney than Obama.

Is this likely? The short answer is no. The longer answer is there are many more serious things to worry about in Ohio. Obviously, a candidate’s family having an ownership stake in a voting technology firm is a conflict of interest and discouraging to voters. It is not the first time that a voting machine company owner has sided with a Republican presidential candidate in Ohio. Having a partisan GOP secretary of state is another conflict of interest—a bigger one, actually. But that doesn’t mean these votes are goners.

Even if an investment (which is fairly hands-off) led to some sort of manipulative scanning (which is far-fetched) that wasn’t caught in pre-election audit testing (even more far-fetched), the problem with this theory is that any significant deviation from the expected turnout models and exit polls (and pre-election polls) will lead to an examination and audit of the paper ballots. Any real deviation would not just be noticed; it would be quarantined and examined. If you’re planning to steal an election, leaving a paper trail is not how to do it.

This is a guilt-by-association theory. Too many eyes are on every step of the voting process this year. It’s not 2004. And the machines in question are no better or worse than optical scan systems from other manufacturers, Ohio's former Democratic secretary of state found in independent testing. In contrast, other electronic voting machines used across Ohio don't leave as extensive a record of actual balloting as the optical scan systems, as they rely on cash register-like tape rolls to record every vote. 

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