Voting machines in Ohio with business ties to Romney raise alarm

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Manuel Sanders, 59 of Wilson, North Carolina, casts his vote at the Board of Elections early voting site on October 18, 2012 in Wilson, North Carolina. Today is the last day to register and the first day to vote for the election in North Carolina. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)

Manuel Sanders, 59 of Wilson, North Carolina, casts his vote at the Board of Elections early voting site on October 18, 2012 in Wilson, North Carolina. Today is the last day to register and the first day to vote for the election in North Carolina. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)

With just two weeks until the presidential election the race for the White House is still remarkably close.

Recent polls show President Barack Obama and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, in a neck-and-neck race. For instance, according to a new nationwide NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, the two candidates are tied.

Indeed, it’s widely agreed among political analysts that every single vote counts in this election, especially in key battleground states like Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania.

In fact, with the incredibly close race comes a growing fear that Republicans are trying to steal the election with a dirty tactics to intimidate voters and manipulate the electoral process.

Democrats argue the push for voter ID laws, shortened early voting time frames or the spreading of rumors that voters will be chastised on Election Day, are all moves to disenfranchise without legitimate justification.

Now, the integrity of electronic voting machines is back in the spotlight. Reports are circulating there are “dubious links” between the voting machines in some counties [Hamilton and William] in Ohio and Governor Romney.

The machines are supplied by Hart Intercivic, a national e-voting company. The Austin-based firm is partially owned by H.I.G Capital, an investment company that has business ties to Solamere Capital, Tagg Romney’s [Mitt’s oldest son] equity firm.

The suggestion is that the Romney link is at best a conflict of interest, with even the potential for bias, fraud or irregularity.

Though, Amy Searcy, director of the Hamilton County’s Board of Election, flat out disagrees. “These allegations are completely false and baseless,” she told theGrio.

“We purchased our voting equipment — developed by Hart [Intercivic] – in 2005 but it’s owned by Hamilton County,” she added. “It’s a paper-based ballet which is scanned into an optical reader. Hart doesn’t have any involvement with the ballot processing or tabulation, that’s all done by our staff.”

Despite Searcy’s assurances those familiar with e- voting say there is good reason not to trust the technology we use to count votes.

Dr. DeForest Soaries, the former U.S. Elections Assistance Commission Chair (EAC), says there are three areas where there is potential for flaws.

There are “no standards” for voting systems, volunteers at polling places are often senior citizens who are out of touch with new technology and finally, individual states are not required to send voting records to federal government, says Soaries.

“I am a tech person,” says Douglas Jones, a computer science professor at the University of Iowa and author of Broken Ballots: Will Your Vote Count? ”If I was programming these machines I would know how to make them cheat. That is why I don’t trust them.”

Jones says we should all be worried about the integrity of the election. Nonetheless, he concedes, “If elections are run right then it shouldn’t matter who owns the machines.”

“You have to do an audit based on the actual ballot votes” to limit the potential for errors, this however, only happens in some but not all US states. Testing or inspecting electronic voting machines isn’t enough, he adds.

“We need to be careful when we bring in another level of technology”, says NAACP Ohio State Conference President Sybil Edwards-McNabb. “The fastest way is not always the best way.”

With so much at stake and polls showing a razor thin margin in battleground states it is not surprising analysts are so concerned the election is free and fair. In fact, according to political pundits, a presidential victory could come down to a couple of counties, and of course, Ohio is crucial for Romney to win the 2012 election.

Nevertheless, speculation the system has the potential for irregularity is a two-edged sword. On the one hand it could encourage eligible voters to participate so the election isn’t stolen and on the other people might think their votes don’t matter and sit out on the election.

“Whoever is spreading these rumors is needlessly unsettling voters about things that are not true,” says Searcy. Any kind of discontent in the electoral process is based in false rumor, she adds.

For Edwards-McNabb, however, she hopes all the controversies surrounding the presidential election will motivate the electorate to vote. “It’s been an ugly and negative campaign” in Ohio, she says. “It’s a campaign that should activate the consciousness of voting citizens to fulfill their responsibility to come out and vote.”

Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter at @Kunbiti