By Brad Friedman on 5/9/2011, 5:39pm PT  

It is now officially impossible to know whether thousands of paper ballots being counted in the state of Wisconsin's Supreme Court election "recount" are the same ones actually cast on Election Day. It didn't have to be that way, unlike in Kentucky, where the voters never had a chance, and where high-ranking election officials have now been sentenced to more than 150 years in federal jail following "decades" of manipulated elections.

Thanks to serious chain of custody violations in Wisconsin --- such as ballot bags discovered to have been left "wide open" and unsealed in Waukesha County, and ballots left completely unsecured for weeks in the office of the Verona City Clerk in Dane County --- that now make it quite likely the real winner of the April 5th election for a 10-year term on the bench of that state's highest court will never be known for certain. That, even though thousands of votes have now been verified as having been miscounted during the state's partial hand-count, and even as the hotly-contested seat in question will determine the ideological balance of the court during one of the most contentious moments in Badger State history.

The majority of voters in Wisconsin cast their votes on hand-marked paper ballots. However, due to a failure to count those ballots publicly on Election Night, at the precinct, in front of the public (as per "Democracy's Gold Standard"), citizens are left guessing and forced to place misguided trust in partisan election officials like GOP activist and Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus and her unsecure chain of custody and election reporting procedures.

With results that will never be known for certain, the razor-thin contest has now become a fully "faith-based election," in contradiction to the checks and balances necessary for true self-governance.

But where Wisconsin could have had an overseeable and fully verifiable election in which voters might have had confidence, voters in Kentucky, for years, never even had a chance as they were forced to vote on 100% unverifiable touch-screen voting machines.

The good-ish news? That is changing, as much of the Bluegrass State is finally turning to the use of hand-marked paper ballots, though they plan on tallying them similarly to Wisconsin, via oft-failed, easily-manipulated optical-scan systems manufactured by private vendors, rather than counting them transparently in front of the public.

Given Kentucky's recent history, that's a particularly troubling prospect, as underscored by several developments in two different counties in the state of late.

In 2009, a spate of high-ranking election officials in Clay County, KY --- including the County Clerk, a Circuit Court Judge, the School Superintendent, a former Magistrate, and several polling place officials --- were arrested in a massive vote buying/selling and electronic vote-machine rigging conspiracy which netted the criminals millions of dollars over the past decade. The federal charges included the County Clerk and other members of the Board of Elections having intentionally falsified election reports to include inaccurate voting results when submitted to the state.

One Republican election official pleaded guilty after the arrest two years ago, and the other eight were found guilty and convicted last year in federal court. They were sentenced this past March to a total of more than 1,871 months in federal prison.

And last week, in a separate, newly developing case, state officials impounded electronic voting machines in Perry County, KY, after Republican candidates in last November's election complained of "vote rigging" on the county's 100% unverifiable electronic voting machines...

Clay County, KY Officials Sentenced

The BRAD BLOG has reported on the Clay County election rigging conspiracy since the nine defendants --- seven of them were the county's top-ranking election officials, the other two a married business couple who made millions in contracts based on the outcome of the stolen elections --- were rounded up and arrested in 2009 for what federal officials described as the tail end of "decades" of manipulated elections there.

In addition to buying and selling votes and falsifying election results reports in primary and general elections in 2002, 2004 and 2006, the conspirators were also found to have changed the votes of voters after they were cast on electronic ES&S iVotronic touch-screen voting machines once voters had thought they had finished voting.

Following one of the officials, Republican election judge Paul Bishop, changing his plea to guilty and cooperating with prosecutors shortly after the arrests, the other eight were charged in a federal racketeering conspiracy and found guilty in March of last year. This past March they were all finally sentenced to a total of 1,871 months --- 156 years --- in federal prison. (We were neck deep in Fukushima coverage at the time of their separate sentencing throughout March and hadn't gotten the chance to report on it until now.)

In addition to the election rigging charges, the jury also found the eight who stood trial to be liable for some $3.4 million in salaries and contracts from which they profited as a result of the years-long conspiracies, according to the U.S. Attorneys office.

The sentencing of all nine is as follows...

  • Freddy Thompson, 47, Republican Clay County Clerk, Chairman of the Board of Elections, 150 months (12 1/2 years): "As chairman of the board of elections, Thompson helped the Clay County elections board control the outcomes of the primary and general elections for the years 2002, 2004 and 2006. ... He also instructed the officers how they could use the voting machines to steal votes. ... As part of the scheme, Thompson and others switched the votes of county residents. ... On more than one occasion, after the elections had ended Thompson helped prepare false election reports to be sent to Frankfort that intentionally contained inaccurate voting totals."
  • Cletus Maricle, 67, Clay County Circuit Court Judge, 320 months (26 1/2+ years): "Described as the leader of a long running criminal enterprise that made millions of dollars and controlled politics in the county ... Maricle helped create a culture of lawlessness in the county that existed for three decades. ... Maricle led a scheme that used $400,000 to bribe 8,000 voters during the course of the conspiracy. ... Maricle headed up the Clay County board of elections that controlled the outcomes of the primary and general elections for the years 2002, 2004 and 2006. ... Maricle promised one female election officer a job and to help with her brother's case, who was a defendant in Maricle's court, if she promised to participate in the criminal enterprise by stealing votes as an election officer. ... Maricle served as circuit court judge from 1991 until 2007."
  • Douglas C. Adams, 59, Clay County School Superintendent, 293 months (Almost 24 1/2 years): "[O]ne of the most powerful individuals in Clay County ... Adams recruited other members from the school board to join the conspiracies and used his power to bribe others to get prominent jobs in the county for individuals who cooperated with the conspiracies. ... Prosecutors described Adams as a political boss and a conspiracy leader in the county who used his influence over others to corrupt the election process in the county. ... As a result, the enterprise gained power and authority over the county's politics. ... Smith said Adams solicited bribe money from candidates for city and county offices. He told the candidates that they had to contribute money to the enterprise in order to get elected. ... Testimony proved that he also bribed other county residents to join the criminal scheme. In one instance, he promised an individual that drug charges against him would be dropped if he joined the enterprise."
  • Stanley Bowling, 60, former Magistrate, 180 months (15 years): "Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Parman described Bowling as a 'crucial cog' in the conspiracy to fix elections. ... [U.S. District Judge Danny] Reeves recommended that Bowling, who suffers from multiple medical conditions, serve his time at a federal medical facility near his home."
  • Paul Bishop, 61, Republican Precinct Judge 36 months (3 years) after pleading guilty and cooperating with prosecutors: "Reeves credited Bishop...for his cooperation with the government and reduced his potential sentence because of his age, poor health and other factors. ... Bishop admitted he allowed Adams to use his garage for a meeting where vote-buying was discussed. ... At that meeting before the May 2002 primary election, candidates pooled at least $150,000 to be used to buy votes. ... Bishop also said he served as an election officer in the early, absentee voting in May 2002, working inside the polling place to make sure people who had sold their votes cast ballots for the people they'd been paid to support. ... [Also] Bishop said that in 2004, Clay County school Superintendent Douglas C. Adams gave him $2,000 to bribe voters. Bishop said he paid around 100 voters about $20 each to vote for a slate of candidates that included state Rep. Tim Couch. ... Couch, a Hyden Republican, had defeated Rep. Barbara White Colter in the 2002 GOP primary and was running for re-election in 2004. ... Bishop said people involved in the scheme pooled $150,000 to $250,000 at a meeting in his garage days before the 2002 primary election."
  • William E. Stivers, 58, Board of Elections Officer, 292 months (24+ years): "As an election officer, Stivers helped control the Clay County board of elections ... Testimony at last year's trial proved that during the elections, Stivers helped ensure victories for the candidates the conspirators wanted in office by changing votes at the voting machines, paying voters, and recruiting others to transport voters to the polls for the purpose of vote buying among other illegal actions."
  • Charles Wayne Jones, 71, Board of Elections Commissioner (father-in-law of County Clerk and Board Chair Thompson), 240 months (20 years): "A former democratic election commissioner in Clay County ... Jones picked election officers who assisted in corrupting the voting process at Jones' direction. Jones also gave specific instructions to the officers on how to manipulate the voting machines to steal votes. This was done so that the enterprise could ensure victory for the slate of candidates they wanted in county offices. ... Jones also intentionally prepared false election reports to be sent to Frankfort that inaccurately reported voting totals to help conceal the conspiracy."

    [NOTE: Though Jones is said to have been a "Democratic" official, most of the gamed elections were Republican primaries, as Clay County is one of the poorest and most Republican counties in the state. Generally, the winner of the Republican primary in many races would go on to run unopposed in the general, or otherwise win it handily. Moreover, during the course of the trial, as we reported last year, at least one witness testified that, after being asked to do so by Judge Maricle, she changed her party affiliation from Republican in order to serve as a "Democratic" official at the polling place in order to help pull off the conspiracy by changing voters' votes at the touch-screen machine after they thought their vote had been cast. As Jones was also the father-in-law of Republican County Clerk Freddy Thompson, Jones' party affiliation is likely to have been as much a matter of convenience in order to help pull off the years of criminal conspiracies to steal elections, rather than a true conviction to the Democratic Party. In any case, the conspiracies here seemed to be much more about money and power than about party ideology.]

  • William B. Morris, 52 and Debra L. Morris, 51, 240 months (20 years) and 120 months (10 years), respectively: "The couple bought votes for individuals running for city council because those council candidates controlled contracts related to their sanitation company to perform city work. The company was given millions of dollars worth of contracts as a result of the criminal enterprise. ... Both defendants distributed some of that money to absentee voters and to other conspirators to buy votes. They also transported voters to the courthouse where other co-defendants stole their votes."

There were others charged in various elements of the conspiracies as well, such as Richard Brian Hubbard, who "pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI ... [after] he was charged with sending a threatening photo of himself holding a gun to two people who have cooperated in the investigation of the officials."

Likely of most interest to readers of The BRAD BLOG was the scheme used to change votes on the electronic voting machines. It was a rather low-tech "hack", really a social engineering exploit of sorts, allowed by a horrific design flaw in the ES&S iVotronic touch-screen systems Clay County began using in 2006. Essentially, while the system featured a big red "VOTE" button at the top of the machine (see photo at right), pressing the button doesn't actually complete the voting process, though that is what some voters in Clay County were told by the conspirators working at the polling places. Instead, voters needed to press yet another selection on the touch-screen to "confirm vote" before the vote would, in theory, be internally recorded as cast.

It was that design flaw that the Clay County criminals took advantage of in 2006. After instructing voters their vote had been cast after the red "VOTE" button was pressed, the Republican and "Democratic" poll judges would then go to the machine, change the vote to whomever they liked, and then complete the voting process, casting the vote for whomever they, not the voters, had chosen.

Computer scientist Matt Blaze has more details on the specifics of this low-rent "hack" which, since the insider conspirators seemed to have virtually complete control of the election system, could have likely been more efficiently by simply changing the results at the central tabulator. It's likely, however, that they may not have had the technical skills to pull that off, particularly that soon after their counties received the new voting machines. Or, perhaps, they felt the scheme they used was easier to hide.

At any rate, the Clay County case in 2009 effectively under-cut the last of the electronic voting industry denialists claims in the wake of scientific study after study demonstrating that all such systems could be very easily manipulated. In early 2009, all that was left for the Baghdad Bobs of the e-voting industry was to claim that while e-vote manipulation was possible (contrary to their years of assertions to the contrary) it hadn't been proven to have actually occurred in any elections. Well, so much for that excuse too.

And yet, the same systems are still used across the country, with the iVotronic used in dozens of states, including in South Carolina where last year they reported Alvin Greene, an unknown, unemployed army veteran who had no campaign website and did no campaigning at all, as somehow defeating a four-term state legislator, Judge Vic Rawl who had campaigned across the entire state. Greene was able to inexplicably win the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate on these same, 100% unverifiable voting machines. (The same machines would then be used to declare incumbent Republican Sen. Jim DeMint as the easy winner over Greene in the November general election.)

E-Voting Machines Impounded in Perry County, KY

And while one e-voting conspiracy comes to a close in Kentucky, yet another one may be just beginning.

Last week, all of Perry County's Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, usually touch-screen, though some are push-button in Perry) were impounded by the state as part of an investigation into candidate complaints about possible vote-rigging in the November 2010 election.

According to the Hazard Herald last Friday, "Perry County Clerk Haven King, whose office oversees local elections, requested that the grand jury review the election."

Last November, the paper reported:

The Perry County grand jury could be looking into allegations that voting machines used in the county’s November 2 election were rigged.

Those charges were made by some candidates in the wake of last month’s election after they said they were contacted by some voters who claimed they didn’t feel their votes were being counted for the correct candidate.

Several candidates who waged unsuccessful campaigns requested a re-canvass of their races to Perry County Clerk Haven King. That re-canvass was held and none of the vote totals changed, but King said he wants the grand jury to look into the matter to determine once and for all if there was any wrongdoing.
He told the Herald in November that there was “no way” the machines could have been tampered with, but hopes a grand jury investigation can determine for sure.

“There was just accusations made that said machines had been tampered with,” King noted. “I want to know.”

David Sandlin, a Republican who ran for PVA, said he had “several people” relate to him irregularities in the voting process. Specifically, he said, some voters noted that when they cast a vote for their candidate of choice on the old machine, the light beside the other candidate’s name would light up.

As county clerk, Haven King also serves as chairman of the county election commission and said any issues with the election are his responsibility. He ... said he also hopes that an inquiry into the matter can not only determine if the machines were rigged, but if so, who was responsible.

“That’s a very serious accusation to me, that I guess they’re saying the election was stolen,” he said. “We just need to find out. They (the former candidates) say they’ve got people that know this, so we need them to come in front of the grand jury and tell us who they were.”

Richie Miller ran for sheriff on the Republican ticket, and said last month that their concerns had been forwarded to the attorney general and the FBI.

In Friday's report, the Herald said Commonwealth Attorney Teresa Reed confirmed that the Kentucky AG's office launched their grand jury investigation in Perry County last November.

"The grand jury was requested by Haven King to consider the November 2010 election," Reed said. "I think that he wants to make sure that elections in Perry County are absolutely the way they’re supposed to be, and I think he deserves a lot of credit for that."

On Wednesday, Perry County's replacement machines for upcoming elections were photographed unguarded in the hallway of the Perry County Courthouse.

According to the database, Perry County used Shouptronic DRE push-button systems by Danaher Controls for most voters, and eSlate DREs made by Hart Inercivic for disabled accessible voting as of 2008, when the database was last updated for Perry. Kentucky has finally been getting rid of many of its DRE systems, thankfully, so we're not sure what systems are currently being used there. We have a query into Clerk King and will update here when we can confirm the systems in use.

As with Clay County and Wisconsin, and so many other elections that citizens have almost no ability to oversee in any way any more, we will continue to report noteworthy developments as we are able to learn them in the Perry County case.

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