Votes without voters - the notion seems like something from "The Twilight Zone." Yet this outcome, the result of a mysterious computer glitch, may have helped re-elect Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid over his Republican challenger, Sharron Angle, last week by a 50.2%-44.6% margin. Actually, the "mystery" is very likely the doing of a local of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which nationwide provides votes, money and muscle for the Democratic Party. Critics are charging that voting machines throughout Clark County (Las Vegas), where about three-fourths of the state's population resides, were rigged to place check marks next to Reid's name before a person even had voted. County officials insist that no tampering has occurred. But the possibility can't be dismissed out of hand, especially given that one of Reid's sons is county commission chairman.
The Service Employees, now with around 2.2 million members and affiliates, has emerged as one of the most powerful forces in American politics. This union of public- and private-sector employees by now has become a virtual adjunct to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party; i.e., most of the party. It has good reason for assuming this role. SEIU leaders know that if its preferred candidates win, they can achieve an enlarged government sector at all levels. And that means more contracts, employees and dues for the union. Andrew Stern, who stepped down as Service Employees president this spring after 14 years, last year boasted his organization spent $60.7 million to get Barack Obama elected president. The union spent an estimated $44 million in the most recent election cycle, almost all of it on Democrats. The union long has cultivated close relationships with another unofficial party appendage, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN. Indeed, SEIU Locals 100 and 880 (the latter recently reorganized as SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana) were founded during the Eighties as ACORN projects.
It would be difficult to identify a high-priority issue or candidate of the Democratic Party that the union hasn't visibly supported. The SEIU, having done its work in the trenches, has been richly rewarded. Records show that Stern was the most frequent visitor to the White House last year, and with a frequency that raised suspicions of violations of federal lobbying statutes. President Obama's political director, Patrick Gaspard, had been a top operative for SEIU and a number of ACORN fronts. Few unions worked harder and longer to secure congressional support for Obama initiatives, most crucially, for the expensive health care overhaul whose sleight-of-hand passage was heavily engineered by Harry Reid.
The Service Employees doesn't just operate at the national level. It has dedicated cadres of organizers and fundraisers in many states. Nevada, with its large hotel-casino workforce, is very much part of the union machinery. During the recently concluded election cycle, for example, the SEIU donated $500,000 to Patriot Majority PAC, a Washington, D.C.-based political action committee formed in October 2009 by Democratic Party strategist Craig Varoga; the PAC spent $1.3 million on Reid's Senate campaign alone.
But the Service Employees also may be supplying labor for Democrats in a rather insidious way. A collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between Clark County and SEIU Local 1107 puts the union in charge of servicing all voting machines. The agreement reads as follows:
The County hereby recognizes the Union as the sole and exclusive collective bargaining representative of the County employees assigned to the classifications listed in Appendix A who are eligible to be represented by the Union except as limited by Section 2 of this Article. The Union shall be notified of additions to the list of classifications (Exhibit A) within seven (7) days of posting for the position classification and shall receive 30 days advance notice of any deletions.
Page 75 of this agreement indicates "Voting Machine Technician" to be a classified SEIU position in Exhibit A. Although the CBA expired on June 30, 2010, it remains in force because of language in Article 43 which grants an indefinite year-to-year extension until one party deems it unworkable.
Given that SEIU Local 1107 technicians run Clark County voting machines, any glitches in the end must be the responsibility of these workers. And these glitches appear to have been more than an accident. In late October, during early balloting, for example, a number of voters in Boulder City complained Reid's name already was checked. According to one eyewitness, Joyce Ferrara, the problem was rampant. "Something's not right," she said. "One person, that's a fluke. Two, that's strange. But several within a five-minute period of time - that's wrong."
Clark County Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax doesn't see any evidence of vote fraud. He cited high-sensitivity touch screens as the most likely explanation for any discrepancies between voter intent and result. He stated that it would have been impossible for voting machines to put a check mark next to a candidate's name without a voter's consent, adding that nobody had reported the problem to him or anyone else on his staff. Nevada SEIU spokesman Nick Di Archangel also dismissed the possibility of fraud. "The machines cannot be compromised," he assured Fox5Vegas.com in an e-mail. Yet such responses raise the issue of why Reid's opponent, Sharron Angle, didn't benefit from these apparent mishaps.
Angle's lawyer, Cleta Mitchell, was blunt about what she saw as the reason, adding a new charge as well. In a campaign fundraising e-mail she wrote:
Harry Reid intends to steal this election if he can't win it outright. As a result, we need to deploy literally dozens of election law attorneys and poll watchers to combat these tactics at a cost of nearly $80,000. That's over and above our current budget...Now, this week in Las Vegas, at our election hotline, we received reports that some teachers' union representatives were offering Starbucks cards to people to get them to vote for Harry Reid. It is even more disturbing and may be possible that they are using their influence and authority as educators to entice students on behalf of Reid.
Nevada isn't the only state where electronic voting "malfunctions" seemed to selectively afflict GOP candidates in 2010. Here's one account from North Carolina:
In North Carolina, an incident was reported in which a voter tried to vote a straight Republican ticket and instead the voting machine indicated that a straight Democratic ticket was voted.
Sam Laughinghouse of New Bern said he pushed the button to vote Republican in all races, but the voting machine screen displayed a ballot with all Democrats checked. He cleared the screen and tried again with the same result, he said. Then he asked for and received help from election staff.
They pushed it twice and the same thing happened,' Laughinghouse said. That was four times in a row. The fifth time they pushed it and the Republicans came up and I voted.'
Whether or not union members serviced voting machines in that state, the reality remains this: Electronic voting is less than tamper-proof. And that creates a window of opportunity for fraud.
What raises a cloud of suspicion over Harry Reid's victory by nearly six percentage points is that he actually had been the underdog. Four separate Rasmussen polls prior to the election had Angle ahead. Two weeks before the big day, she was up 50% to 47%. A week later, she'd extended her lead to 49%-45%. In other words, the pendulum had swung in Reid's favor by around 10 points in the final week. That's a rather odd turn of events amid a Republican landslide.
It's noteworthy that Senator Reid's eldest son, Rory, serves as chairman of the Clark County board of commissioners and was the Democratic nominee in the 2010 governor's race, losing convincingly to Republican Brian Sandoval. One could argue, in Devil's Advocate fashion, that if Rory Reid couldn't rig his own victory, there is no way he could have done likewise on behalf of his father. It's a valid point, but it doesn't necessarily let Reid the Younger off the hook, who was behind in the polls by at least 20 percentage points. Sandoval wound up winning by 53.4% to 41.6%. A Rory Reid victory in the gubernatorial race might have raised too many suspicions for comfort, whereas Harry Reid, who had far more at stake, was close enough in his own race to make a rigged victory look legitimate.
Is this idle speculation? An investigation would be the only way to find out. Unfortunately, a recount is not likely possible. In addition to being highly vulnerable to hacker attacks that switch out memory chips (thus altering how votes are tallied), computerized voting leaves no audit trail to see who voted for whom. Moreover, Nevada's Sequoia AVC Edge touch-screen machines have a documented history of high vulnerability to errors and infiltration. And most egregiously, state voting officials in that state, like others, may have a habit of removing memory cards and hard drives not long after the polls close, thus eliminating evidence of voter intent. In federal elections, such a practice is against the law. The Retention of Voting Documentation Act requires retention for 22 months "all records and papers, which came into their [election officials] relating to an application, registration, payment of a poll tax, or other act requisite to voting." If Clark County, Nevada has been less than punctilious about observing this statute, it would be a reflection of who's in charge.
A criminal investigation, then, appears the only way of getting at the truth. It wouldn't be a first for Nevada. A state probe of voter registration fraud in connection with the 2008 elections yielded evidence that dozens of ACORN-hired canvassers from a state prison release program had submitted hundreds of suspect, if not phony, registration cards. Former Las Vegas ACORN Field Director Christopher Edwards eventually pleaded guilty to two gross misdemeanor counts. Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government, issued a post-election statement calling for a joint federal-state investigation of Harry Reid's recent Senate election:
It is positively outrageous that in Clark County, Nevada, the SEIU Local 1107, which supports Harry Reid, controls the ballot boxes by contract through their representation of the voting machine technicians. It is not surprising that Senator Harry Reid's name was automatically checked off on the ballot when individuals went to vote. The U.S. Attorney's Office, the Nevada State Attorney General, and the U.S. Marshals need to act now to ensure that the SEIU does not continue to compromise the integrity of ballots in Nevada, and anywhere else in the country.
What if an investigation turns up nothing? At the very least, Nevada and other electronic-voting states should go back to manual voting for the time being, and hire more poll watchers and attorneys. The monstrous Josef Stalin famously declared: "Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything." In a perverse way, he was right. We're finding that out in Nevada.