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Hens in the Fox House
Fox News’ Vote Machine Hack Myth

Where the bloody hell did Fox News mouthpieces Lou Dobbs, Tucker Carlson, Maria Bartiromo, Rudi Giuliani and Donald Trump get the whack-o idea that voting machine software could be hacked to flip your vote and steal an election?

Look in the mirror, comrades.  Some of my goodly-hearted progressive colleagues were the first to traffic in this Hack-and-Flip canard.  And now half of America, MAGA America, has fallen into this Fox hole we helped dig.

Yesterday, Fox News Corporation agreed to pony up three-quarters of a billion dollars to Dominion Voting Systems for broadcasting the bonkers claim that Dominion fiddled the software on its voting machines to cheat Trump out of his reelection.  But Fox’s costly mea culpa won’t convince the MAGAts.  And that only provides accelerant to the wildfire of their new “election integrity” (read: vote suppressing) crusade.

Flipping Votes? That’s Flipping False

For two decades, I’ve been exposing election theft skullduggery, from George W. Bush’s specious victory in Florida in 2000 to the electoral shafting of Stacey Abrams in Georgia in 2018.  And not once, not ever, have I uncovered evidence of a single proven case of a software hack, of electronic vote flipping.

Not one solid case.  And believe me, I’ve looked.

But wait! Aren’t you the Greg Palast who revealed the theft of one election after another for the Guardian, for BBC, for Rolling Stone, for the ACLU, for Democracy Now?   Oh, yes.  Half a million words and half of my life.  But never, ever, has anyone shown me hard evidence of a secret software “hack” that flips votes. 

So, why go after the purveyors of the “hacked” canard now?

But let me be clear:  there was damn good circumstantial evidence – a lot of stinky, smelly activities that raised real questions about the old “push-and-pray” machines from scoundrel firms like GOP-controlled Diebold and ES&S—touch screen voting machines which did not produce a paper-printed verifiable ballot you can recount.  You touched the screen and prayed it got counted.

Our investigations found a lot of smoke…but no smoking guns.

Check out the chapter “The Amnesia Machine” in How Trump Stole 2020, the bestseller I wrote before the election as a warning, not a prediction.  I’ll make it easy for you.

The Palast Fund is making both the audiobook AND e-book available this month for no charge—though we won’t turn down a much-needed donation should you want to support our continuing investigations.

Campaigns launched by historian Harvey Wasserman, attorney Robert Fitrakis and other voting rights advocates, defeated these paperless touch screen machines which are now banned in every state except Louisiana. The new Dominion and Smartmatic machines, Mr. Trump, print paper ballots which can be re-counted.

It’s sad that some of my progressive (or once-progressive) colleagues simply refuse to accept victory. Nevertheless, why go after the purveyors of the “hacked” canard now?

Voting Rights Movement Apartheid

As I’ve crisscrossed the Land of the Free, from one jacked election to another, I’ve watched an unspoken but horribly disturbing split growing between some White and Black activists.

In LA and Santa Fe, I’ll hear diatribes against Bush’s victory and other clearly bogus election results, blaming suspect tallies on “vote flipping,” evil software that changes your vote from Gore to Bush, Kerry to Bush, Bernie to Hillary, and so on.  Invariably, the speaker who insists the touch-screens and tabulators are “hacked” is white.  And the audience applauding is, typically, 90% white.

Then I stop at an AME Church in Milwaukee, or a Black Voters Matter strategy session in Atlanta, and the discussion is focused on vote suppression:  stopping voters by outlawing “souls-to-the-polls” early voting, by banning ballot drop boxes, by shunting voters to provisional ballots that will never be counted, and especially by the ugly ethnic purges of the voter rolls. 

Why this racial divide?  Let’s be blunt.  What color are the purged voters, what color the souls who are blocked from the polls, what color is the voter who is handed the back-of-the-bus provisional ballot?  Vote suppression has one big aim:  to screw voters of color.

When I asked an audience in Palm Springs if anyone had ever been forced to a “provisional” ballot, only two people raised their hand—the only two Black men in the audience.  Let’s not play games about this:  white people are generally not threatened by suppression tactics. 

But many white voters fear that hacked software could, if real, threaten their votes as much as non-white voters.

Of all my good friends who claim that hidden software “flips” votes, not one is a racist.  And many are also on the front lines fighting all the vote suppression tricks I’ve listed and more.  I have reported and confirmed the concerns of experts such as Law Prof. Robert Fitrakis who have identified suspicious “vulnerabilities” in electronic voting.  But “vulnerability” is not evidence of a crime.  

Did Hugo Chavez steal the election from Trump?

The pinnacle of “hacked” crazy was the claim peddled by Lou Dobbs and others on Fox that somehow President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela wormed into voting machine software to steal the election from Trump.

Their main evidence: Chavez launched what is now the computer voting systems operator Smartmatic.

But there are problems with Fox-broadcast theory that Chavez stole the election from Trump:Chavez is dead, long dead.

    1. Smartmatic did not steal Arizona nor Georgia nor Pennsylvania – because it does not operate in those states. In fact, Smartmatic does not run any election in the USA except in a single city, Los Angeles.
    2. Smartmatic computers don’t actually tabulate votes. They print out a paper ballot which is reviewed by the voter who then places the ballot in a sealed ballot box.

But hey, Fox facts are not fact facts.  And now, it looks like Fox will pay.  In April 2021, Smartmatic filed a suit against Fox, its hosts and Giuliani.  The suit, as of today, is re-invigorated by Fox’s admission and payout to Dominion.

(Since Chavez is gone, if you want to blame someone for Smartmatic, blame me.  In 2002, while covering Venezuela for BBC Newsnight, Chavez asked me how he might secure electoral systems.  I suggested Venezuela–and America–would applaud a computer machine that could simultaneously print paper ballots.  In 2004, in Venezuela, Smartmatic conducted the world’s first election using computer-generated paper ballots.)

Paper Ballots are the Gold Standard of Voting—Fool’s Gold

Florida is the queen of vote suppression states – and all voting is on paper ballots.  And let’s remember that for two centuries before the Voting Rights Act (and too often after the Act), Black, Asian-American, Hispanic voters were denied the ballot – the paper ballot.  The idea that paper ballots are a panacea for America’s democratic deficit is absurd.

And as a statistician, I assure you that the cold numbers show paper ballots are measurably worse than Smartmatic-style computer-aided, paper-trail voting systems.  In 2016, for example, the US Elections Assistance Commission indicated that 1,913,000 ballots cast in person were “residual,” that is, disqualified and never counted, mostly paper ballots.  In addition, the EAC and an MIT study suggest that as many as three million mail-in ballots, all paper, were rejected or simply unaccounted for.

Don’t blame the robot

Think about that:  Millions of Americans cast ballots that were not counted.  How the hell does that happen?

Let’s take the case of Michigan.  In 2016, Donald Trump won Michigan by a dinky 10,704 votes.  Officially.  But in that election, in Detroit, 75,355 paper ballots were cast but not counted.  

In response, Green Party candidate Jill Stein paid for what was mis-named a “re-count.”  In fact, it was mostly a count of those ballots that had not been counted in the first place.  Ultimately, Trump got a court order to stop the count, which if continued, would have given the state to Hillary Clinton.

Was this the fault of machines?  Yes, but manipulations of touch-screen had nothing to do with it.  All voting in Michigan is done on hand-marked paper ballots.  The ballots weren’t counted because in-precinct scanners in Detroit broke down. 

In other words, paper ballots are terrific – but only if you count them.

And that brings us to the scary fact that….

Touch-screen computers and electronic tabulators steal elections

What?!  But, Palast, I thought you said you didn’t find a single proven instance of machines stealing votes.

Nope.  Pay attention.  I can’t find an election that was stolen by secret software that flips votes or toys with vote counts. 

But machines have been used again and again to steal the vote.  The method is ridiculously simple.  The machines break down.  And, as a mountain of studies from the Brennan Center, Harvard Kennedy School and others show, machines mysteriously fail or break down, overwhelmingly, in minority and low-income areas like Detroit. 

Coincidence?  In the case of Detroit 2016, well before the November election, City Clerk Janice Winfrey told the state government that many of the city’s old scanners were broken or not likely to make it through a presidential election.  But the bankrupt Black township of Detroit could not spend the funds for scanner replacements without approval of state-appointed financial managers appointed by Republican Governor Rick Snyder.  The GOP-picked overlords refused the funds for new scanners. 

And that’s how the system takes the votes of Black folk.  They don’t need a computer whiz to hack the scanners.  Just don’t replace the busted ones.  And that’s a lot more effective than Klan Night Riders burning crosses.

In the vote biz it’s called, “spoilage”

Let’s go back to George Bush’s “defeat” of Al Gore in 2000, taking the Presidency by just 537 votes.  We all know of the infamous “butterfly” paper ballot stealing votes in Palm Beach  That’s because when rich white voters lose their ballot, it’s rare, and you hear about it around the world.

But what you didn’t hear about was Gadsden, the Blackest of Florida’s 67 counties.  In Gadsden that year, a breathtaking one in eight ballots were disqualified.

One method:  Gadsden’s paper ballot listed the presidential candidates plus a line that said, “write in candidate.” Notice the hyphen missing from “write-in.”  More than 700 voters wrote in “Al Gore,” enough to elect him President.  And voters also checked the box next to his name.

So, every one of these ballots was disqualified as “overvoted.”  In the vote biz it’s called, “spoilage.”  That little trick chose our President.

But not all votes spoil equally.  In lily-white Republican Sarasota, the spoilage was a mere 1%.   In white-majority Tallahassee (Leon County), if a voter accidently checked say, Bush’s name and also wrote in “George Bush,” the in-precinct scanner would reject it, return it instantly to the voter, and the voter received another, replacement ballot.  But poor, Black Gadsden could not afford a scanner in each precinct.  The tabulator at the central office could only discard the ballot.

That’s how the system works.  Or, I should say, how it doesn’t work—and that’s how they like it.

Not that the Bush gang took any chances.  I discovered that Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, in connivance with his Secretary of State, purged over 90,000 voters from the rolls just before the election, tagging them as “felons” barred from voting.  In fact, not a single one was an illegal voter.  But most where Black.  And that purge, not the electorate, chose our President.  No software flipped their vote.  They never got to vote at all. 

As voting rights attorney Santiago Juarez told me, “Let’s forget the Hollywood idea that some guy in a cave is pulling a switch and changing your vote.  That’s not how it’s done.”

He knows how it’s done:  Racially targeted vote suppression. 

Millions of Americans are in peril. To my good progressive colleagues who’ve been suckered into the “hacker” fantasy, I suggest it’s time to crawl out of the Fox hole. 

* * *

Palast Fund experts are continuing investigation of vote suppression, especially the “vigilante” voter challenge system that originated in Georgia and is spreading to Texas, Arizona and a dozen other states.  We are also digging into the highly successful Right-wing attack on mail-in voting and ballot drop-boxes and new purge operations targeting voters of color.

We need your help to complete this work before the 2024 election.  We are steadfastly non-partisan, constitutionally non-corporate, and penuriously non-profit.   Please make your tax-deductible donation today. And we, not a robot, will thank you.

Greg Palast (Rolling Stone, Guardian, BBC) is the author of The New York Times bestsellers, Armed Madhouse, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits and the book and documentary, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.
His latest film is Vigilante: Georgia's Vote Suppression Hitman

Palast is currently working on a new documentary Long Knife, exposing the Koch Brothers' theft of Osage oil, to be released in 2024.

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