Convicted high-ranking officials include a circuit court judge, county clerk and school superintendent
Each face up to 20 years in broad conspiracy that included manipulation of electronic voting machines...
By Brad Friedman on 3/25/2010, 3:24pm PT  

All eight defendants in Clay County, Kentucky's election fraud trial have been found guilty today by a federal jury. Six of those eight were high-ranking election officials, including the county clerk, a circuit judge and the school superintendent. The conspirators were charged with having manipulated federal elections in 2002, 2004 and 2006 by buying and selling votes and manipulating electronic voting machines.

According to AP, each of the now-convicted felons could face up to 20 years in prison for what prosecutors had described as a conspiracy to manipulate elections for decades in the rural, heavily Republican county.

In additional to federal racketeering, several of the defendants were also convicted of charges that included mail fraud, extortion and laundering money used to buy votes.

The BRAD BLOG has been following this story since the conspirators were originally arrested in March of last year, and as details of the election officials' manipulation of ES&S iVotronic touch-screen voting machines has emerged...

Supporters of unverifiable electronic voting, such as election officials and voting machines companies, had long argued that, though manipulation of such systems was possible, nobody had actually ever done so. While that dubious argument was difficult to independently verify one way or another --- since the private vendors make public oversight of such systems virtually impossible by blocking citizen inspection and oversight of such systems due to claims of "trade secrecy" --- the denialists arguments are no longer valid.

Furthermore, the verdict underscores what many critics of e-voting have long argued: the greatest security threat to such systems come from election insiders, not from the voting public and dubious claims of "voter fraud".

We recently detailed the testimony of one of the witnesses in the case who described how she was trained by the county's chief election official, Clerk Freddy Thompson (one of those convicted today), to change votes cast by voters on the county's ES&S touch-screen voting systems after they'd left the voting booth. The witness, Wanda White also detailed how she was instructed to change her own voter registration from Republican to Democratic so that she could serve as a Democratic precinct official.

The ES&S iVotronic touch-screen systems secretly manipulated by the cabal of election officials in Kentucky to change voter's votes, are used in a total of 18 states, including Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

And, just for good measure, we'll take this opportunity to remind readers, yet again, that the community organization ACORN --- who has long been used as a red-herring by the Republican Party to suggest the existence of massive Democratic "voter fraud" --- has never been charged with, or found guilty of aiding in the illegal casting of a single vote. Ever. Anywhere. No actual evidence has ever been presented in support of such a charge either.

Nonetheless, a recent survey by the the non-partisan polling outfit, Research 2000 found that one in five (21%) self-identified Republicans believe that ACORN stole the 2008 election for Barack Obama. Another 55% are "not sure" if they did or not.

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UPDATE 3/26/10: Lexington Herald-Leader's Bill Estep, the local reporter who has owned this story for the past year, offering top-notch coverage every step of the way, offers some excellent details on the convictions today along with background on the entire sprawling conspiracy, including the $3.2 million the conspirators have been found liable for "based on the salaries and contracts they were able to get as a result of illegal acts."

Yes, it was a huge money-making proposition for the folks involved, and this federal prosecution only covered the elections from 2002 to 2006. At one point during the trial, defendant R. Cletus Maricle, formerly the Circuit Court Judge, admitted to having bought votes in 1983 (but claimed he hadn't done so since).

Estep also notes there could be more related indictments in the future. "The verdict raised the possibility that more people could be charged with vote fraud in the county," he writes. "Prosecutors and witnesses at the trial identified a number of others, including former and current public officials, who allegedly took part in buying votes."

We'll recommend Estep's coverage in full, but here are a few items of note worth flagging here from his report:

A bit about how the vote-machine rigging worked (since the AP report we linked to above hadn't offered details)...

In 2006, with the FBI a persistent presence in town, Maricle and others tried a new vote-fraud tactic that involved fewer people than buying votes — stealing votes, the indictment said.

The county had new voting machines that year that required people to push two buttons after making their choices — one to review choices and the second to record them.

That created opportunity for a scam in which corrupt precinct officers duped people into thinking they had voted after pressing the first button, then switched the votes, according to trial testimony.

Thompson, Jones and Stivers helped "school" her in how to do that when she worked as a precinct officer in May 2006, Wanda White testified.

On how widespread the election fraud had become in Clay County...

Testimony at the trial indicated that vote-buying has been chronic and widespread in the county, to the point many people saw nothing wrong with it.

After Eugene "Mutton" Lewis, a convicted drug dealer who said he'd bought votes for decades, described a candidate giving him $1,000 and asking for help, a defense attorney asked whether there weren't ways to help a candidate besides buying votes.

"Not that I know of," Lewis responded.

And finally, Estep's report ends on a hopeful note for democracy in the county which has been racked by years-long federal investigations and multiple prosecutions of high-ranking officials for narcotics trafficking, witness intimidation and election rigging in what had become an entirely political machine-owned-and-run corner of the state...

Manchester Mayor Carmen Webb Lewis said there are a lot of good people in Clay County. Election corruption had caused many to become disillusioned with politics, and even to stop voting, but federal agents' work to root out corruption is changing that, she said.

One sign is that there are people running for office this year who wouldn't have before, she said.

"That is kind of uplifting. I think it's wonderful," she said of the investigation, "and so many people do."

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