Will precinct-by-precinct, 15 minute-by-15 minute election night results that are available only to the Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, compromise the security of the statewide election?

In Ohio’s notorious 2004 presidential election, called by pollster Lou Harris “one of the most corrupt in U.S. history,” one of the signs of election tampering was the impossible results flowing from precincts in Republican rural Ohio. In Cyde, Ohio they initially reported 130 percent voter turnout.

In Perry County, one precinct came in at 120 percent, another at 114 percent. In Miami County, the Concord Southwest precinct claimed 679 out of 689 voters cast ballots overwhelmingly for Bush. They later admitted to The Free Press that only 549 people signed into the polls and that the other votes had been the result of bad computer tallies.

Now with Ohio’s new election night reporting system it is easier than ever to stack the deck and bring in the cybervote at the precinct level.


Secretary of State’s strange secret software patches suspected purpose to steal election


Late in October 2012, The Free Press reported that secret, uncertified and untested software patches had been installed on county tabulators in Ohio’s largest counties. Per the contract, these custom “experimental” software patches provided detailed information to the Secretary of State's (SoS) office on a regular basis during Election Day, permitting an accurate count on a candidate, race and precinct basis.

Candidates and the media were not permitted access to these important precinct level election results. A number of potential illegalities surfaced surrounding the way the unbid contract was awarded and executed. Serious questions regarding the software’s cost and security emerged.

Due to the dangers to the democratic process and the apparent violations of Ohio election law, Free Press Editor and Ohio Green Party Congressional candidate Bob Fitrakis brought an eleventh hour legal challenge to the implementation of the software in both state and federal court. A request for an injunction against Secretary of State John Husted and the software manufacturer Election Systems and Software (ES&S) failed in federal court.

Despite an affidavit from one of the world’s leading computer experts Michael Doniho, who swore under oath that “If the sole purpose of this new software is to fit the data into the state reporting system, the logical place to put the new software is on the state’s computer, not on 39 or 44 county computers.”

While State Judge Serrott was not inclined to grant a restraining order against the installation of the software, he was willing to entertain post-election arguments should irregularities occur. Irregularities did not occur, much to the public chagrin of Karl Rove, who clearly expected them and had an election night meltdown on Fox when they did not materialize. There was a gun pointed at the head of democracy, but the trigger was not pulled because witnesses were present.


Expanding the use of software patches in 2014


Two years later that gun is still here and John Husted's finger is still on the trigger. It also has fresh ammunition. Husted’s office once again is demanding precinct-by-precinct election data from all of Ohio’s counties and again, he is refusing to share this public information with the media, candidates or citizens.

The software patches planned for election night reporting, now encompass 65 out of 88 Ohio counties, some reporting every hour, others every half hour and the largest counties every 15 minutes, each to specific election officials. This reporting scheme is outlined in SoS Directive 2014-10.

The Directive clearly states “All counties must use the upload tool that was successfully piloted by 20 counties in 2012. If your vendor has not already installed this in your county contact the Secretary of State's office.” Thus, at the direction of the Secretary of State's office, the use of the election night reporting software manufactured by ES&S in 2012 – and installed untested – is now mandatory.

This list includes the three non-urban counties, Clermont, Butler and Warren, which in 2004 allegedly provided George W. Bush with more votes than his entire statewide victory margin. The list also includes Delaware County, that provided Bush with 335 straight votes in one precinct, which is statistically improbable. These are the same counties cited by Rove, during his infamous 2012 election night meltdown on Fox News, that would give the state to Romney instead of Obama.

Husted's office had claimed during the 2012 court proceedings that the purpose of this untested software was to provide accurate data to election officials and the press. The Free Press saw this as a worthy goal. This data could provide live statewide election coverage that would keep electronic irregularities from recoccuring, as they did in the 2004 presidential election.

Former Ohio SoS Jennifer Brunner told The Free Press that it was positive to require the counties to report their information as soon as it’s available. She also stressed that the information should be made transparent to the public.


Hey Mr. Husted, where’s the data?


If Husted’s justification for secretly placing software “patches” on voting machine tabulators was to post precinct-by-precinct data on his website, what has become of the data? How did that work out after the 2012 election?

For ten years, Greg Kilcup, OSU physics professor, has served as an election observer for the Green Party. In mid-February 2013, Kilcup sent a message to the SoS inquiring when the 2012 precinct-by-precinct data would be available to the public. Alexis Zoldan, a new liaison and Deputy Press Secretary, gave him a surprising answer: “Unfortunately, the precinct by precinct data is collected at the county level. Therefor [sic], we do not have and will not have this information available on our website. Again, I encourage you to contact the local boards [of elections] if you wish to view this information.”

Kilcup sent two more messages to the SoS asking if there had been a data reporting policy change, but never received a response. Kilcup did contact the counties and it required substantial work over several weeks to obtain and distill the data, which was provided in a variety of formats, ranging from spreadsheets to scans of printouts.

In May 2013, Kilcup contacted the office of his State Representative John Patrick Carney. A junior staffer, Tessa Gilcher, talked to the SoS office. The staffer’s message back to Kilcup reads as follows: “I contacted the Elections Division once again and the woman I spoke to said they were not providing that data. She suggested going to all 88 counties to ask for the information you are looking for.”

Despite the fact that Husted had justified his “experimental” secret software patches as an election night reporting system, Carney’s staffer wrote to Kilcup, telling him that the Secretary of State’s office just didn’t ask the county boards of elections for the precinct-by-precinct information. She said, “When I asked her why they didn’t ask for said information, she told me there was no reason, they just were no longer asking [for precinct-by-precinct information].”

On July 11, 2013, Brian Halaiko, a staffer in Rep. Carney’s office, filed an open records request for the 2012 precinct-by-precinct election results. On November 5, 2013, Election Day, the SoS office responded to the public records request by finally posting the data promised one year earlier to the media.

In May 2014, Kilcup testified before the National Commission on Voting Rights, stating “I am concerned that the Secretary of State’s office is so keenly interested in precinct-level results that he has created a new system for real-time data collection, the election night reporting system, and at the same time he is unwilling to share this data with the public. The obvious fear is that he has a private, and perhaps partisan, use for this real-time data on election night.”

Free Press inquiries to employees named in various Secretary of State Directives were referred to and belatedly answered by press spokesperson Matt McClellan. At first he denied that precinct level data was available or was being created. When reminded that there had been a court case, and that his office had testified that the precinct level reporting was for the press, McClellan began to stammer. When asked if his office had lied to a federal judge, he excused himself from the call to consult with “some people.”

In a subsequent call, McClellan claimed that precinct level data was not available and the county boards of election would have to be individually consulted. He claimed that precinct level data was not received. When the specifications outlined in the contract were reiterated to him, he claimed unfamiliarity. When emailed a copy of the original contract, he consulted “some IT people” and then called back. McClellan claimed that precinct level data is not collected by the Secretary of State's office until the election was certified, which will happen on November 25 for the upcoming general election.

According to Secretary of State Directive 2014-12, “Each board of elections must submit an electronic precinct-level abstract of votes to the Secretary of State using the export tool provided by your voting system vendor for use with your central tabulating system. The file format has been provided to the vendors by the Secretary of State’s Office.” McClellan called this information a “summary.” In reality, the SoS’s office is providing the software and storage devices, hiring the vendor, and integrating the precinct-level data into the county central tabulators for his eyes only.


Election data for Husted’s eyes only


Two years ago, untested election night reporting software was introduced into the Ohio election system in 20 counties. Now, Husted has mandated that this customized software will be used in all 88 Ohio counties during an election in which he is a candidate and if past practices continue, he will be the only person with access to the data. Before Election Day, the public needs to know: What is the goal of election night reporting? Who is behind this plan? Where does the final data end up? How can we make this system transparent to the public?