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Does the Romney Family Now Own Your e-Vote?

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Romney family owns controlling interest in the Hart voting machine company, used in Ohio elections.


Through a closely held equity fund called Solamere, Mitt Romney and his wife, son and brother are major investors in an investment firm called H.I.G. Capital. H.I.G. in turn holds a majority share and three out of five board members in Hart Intercivic, a company that owns the notoriously faulty electronic voting machines that will count the ballots in swing state Ohio November 7. Hart machines will also be used elsewhere in the US.

In other words, a candidate for the presidency of the United States, and his brother, wife and son, have a straight-line financial interest in the voting machines that could decide this fall's election.

These machines cannot be monitored by the public. But they will help decide who "owns" the White House.

Read more including what happened in Ohio in 2004:

They are especially crucial in Ohio, without which no Republican candidate has ever won the White House. In 2004, in the dead of election night, an electronic swing of more than 300,000 votes switched Ohio from the John Kerry column to George W. Bush, giving him a second term. A virtual statistical impossibility, the 6-plus% shift occurred between 12:20 and 2am election night as votes were being tallied by a GOP-controlled information technology firm on servers in a basement in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In defiance of a federal injunction, 56 of Ohio's 88 counties destroyed all election records, making a recount impossible. Ohio's governor and secretary of state in 2004 were both Republicans, as are the governors and secretaries of state in nine key swing states this year.

I keep looking at the map:

Now more than ever, it seems like whoever wins Ohio wins the election.

Hart electronic voting machines -- which Romney owns -- decide who wins Ohio.

Think the 2000 Florida Recount Was Bad? Just Wait Until November 6.

While the nation fixates on stamping out non-existent voter fraud with photo-ID requirements, the perils of electronic voting go unchallenged:

Old-school ballot-box fraud at its most egregious was localized and limited in scope. But new electronic voting systems allow insiders to rig elections on a statewide or even national scale. And whereas once you could catch the guilty parties in the act, and even dredge the ballot boxes out of bayou, the virtual vote count can be manipulated in total secrecy. By means of proprietary, corporate-owned software, just one programming could steal hundreds, thousands, potentially even millions of votes with the stroke of a key.

It's the electoral equivalent of a drone strike.

Read more.

Electronic voting

Do we even live in a democracy, anymore?

Kind of.

The United States' democracy is the very best democracy money can buy.

ONE OF THE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES owns the company that makes the voting machines but it's the OTHER party that is accused of voter fraud?!?

Here's a great New Yorker article on the voter fraud myth:

With legions of citizen watchdogs on the lookout for fraud, voters confused about the documents necessary to vote, and the country almost evenly divided politically, von Spakovsky is predicting that November 6th could be even more chaotic than the 2000 elections. He will play a direct role in Virginia, a swing state, where he is the vice-chairman of the electoral board of Fairfax County.

Joining us at the conference table at the Heritage Foundation, John Fund, von Spakovsky’s co-author, told me, “If it’s close this time, I think we’re going to have three or four Floridas.” Von Spakovsky shook his head and said, “If we’re lucky only three or four.” If there are states where the number of provisional ballots cast exceeds the margin of victory, he predicts, “there will probably be horrendous fights, and litigation between the lawyers that will make the fights over hanging chads look minor by comparison.” Pursing his lips, he added, “I hope it doesn’t happen.” But, if it does, no one will be more ready for the fight.

Read more.

Your wording makes it sound like the Romneys have a controlling interest, or something close.

Rather, Romneys are investors in HIG Capital, a giant private equity firm that has a controlling stake in Hart Intercivic, the voting-machine company. If 100% of Mitt Romney's reported wealth ($250MM) was in HIG Capital, it'd still be <2.5% of HIG Capital's >$10B managed.

Other nefarious groups invested in HIG Capital -- and thus also Hart Intercivic -- include MIT, Yale University, and the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association (TIAA, according to Wikipedia "the leading retirement provider for people who work in the academic, research, medical and cultural fields").

Voting machines are a bad idea, no doubt. But the security risks they present are far more likely to be exploited by small, surreptitious infiltrators at the implementation level than via formal, widely-shared fractional ownership. If you wanted to sneak exploits into, say, Linux, would you rather have board seats at RedHat/Ubuntu/etc, or confederates hired at the ground level?

Last I heard, MIT was not running for President of the USA. If this were a so-called "third world" or developing country, I would be shocked that a presidential candidate had this kind of financial interest in a voting technology. And since you bring it up, didn't it used to be customary or the law for presidential candidates to put their investments into trusts for just this reason? Or at least voluntarily reveal what they were invested in?

Also if I wanted to sneak exploits into Linux QUICKLY I would DEFINITELY want to be on the board of RedHat! Single chokepoints are way more efficient than a lot of piecemeal interventions. If you wanted to steal an election, which would you do: bribe a single programmer to put in a bug at the last minute, or get a bunch of Ohio counties to suddenly up their counts for your candidate in the dead of night while illegally destroying all corroborating evidence, or somehow convince millions of people to pretend to be other people and vote multiple times? Hint: if the last technique was so great, Chicago would still be doing it. :)

Gordon, two things come to mind.

1. Where is the separation of concerns? Because of his stake in HIG Capital (however small), it makes sense that HIG Capital go out of its way to help Romney any way they could.

2. Even if a horrendous exploit in Linux was discovered after the election, it would presumably be rolled back. But a presidential election cannot be rolled back by anyone except maybe the Supreme Court. And even then, not really.

Joyce, when you say "this kind of financial interest", you again make it sound large. It's likely tiny, and twice removed (through Solamere, through HIG Capital). The fact that it's disclosed here does seem indicate it's been 'voluntarily revealed' in public information, doesn't it? (There is no suggestion that this is based on Truthout receiving confidential information.)

Yes, MIT is not running for President, but if this extremely-dilute ownership interest gave the kind of influence Truthout (and now you and Adam) seem to be suggestion, it would have to work its way through HIG Capital (which also has its duties to all sorts of educational institutions, banks, and pension funds) and then the Hart Intercivic board, down through to the implementors. That's the absurd scenario.

Board members of that sort won't have any commit rights for company codebases/security-design and if they were to actually take an interest in dictating such details, they'd have to involve -- and raise the suspicion of -- many others. That's the worst possible place to try to sneak something in.

When you mention bribing a programmer, that's exactly my point. And such bribes get *harder* to pull off, not *easier*, if you're in a known formal role on the company board.

Here, let me offer a 10X more credible version of your paranoia:

Hart Intercivic is owned completely by private equity. Private equity firms -- even those without any Romney money -- tend to prefer Romney/Republicans. So simply based on their class interest, they might exert influence or prompt managers to look the other way about anomalies in normal procedures while other super-sneaky types corrupt the implementations/deployments.

That's way more likely than a tiny sliver of ownership giving enough influence to pull-off a vote-stuffing conspiracy. And it's still vanishingly unlikely, because again it involves the exercise of top-down formal influence when the real risk from voting machines is of direct endpoint corruption. If you have to take an order from your boss, who got an order from the CEO, who got an order from the board, who got an order from the PE firm, who got an order from some of its many, many investors... you're doing conspiracy wrong.

BTW, Solamere, the Romney-related investment entity alleged to own the interest, has gone on record denying any direct or indirect investment in Hart Intercivic, though they have made other investments in HIG Capital funds. So again: ownership interest case is weak. If you want to fan the paranoid flames, go with the class-interest angle.

Adam, regarding 'separation of concerns', given the recent Solamere statement, the 'however small' interest seems to be 0%. But what if it's 1%? How many crimes would you commit to curry the favor of a 1% investor?

And what of the 'combined concerns' that arise because elections are largely administered by public bureaucrats who are overwhelmingly, both as individuals and through their powerful unions, supporters of Obama? Does it also "make sense" that all of them will "go out of their way to help Obama any way they could", including fraud?

Or, more likely, is almost everyone except a few unhinged wingnuts going to follow the rules?

Rollbacks/correctability are a separate issue. (And, fixing an exploit in a later revision won't undo all the 0WN3D systems in the meantime.)

Do you really think ownership stakes in technology companies would be the best way to sneak exploits into their products and get away with it?

Gordon, no offense but if you have never worked in a technology company where a board member can "suggest" a few hires -- especially if they are for technical positions -- then you must be working in a different industry than I am. Even in 50 person startups, I've often heard VP-level execs say that they expect a certain number of hires for their cronies. Or even more innocuously, I've seen PLENTY of investors who want to "send great engineers" to their investments to "help". Do you really never see this?!?!?

And let's not even get into the cronyism involved in venture or private equity funds. Let me just say that it's not the PERCENTAGE of ownership that is the key... it's the INTERESTEDNESS of the parties. If you haven't witnessed this in person, I really envy you.

Oh, and in terms of the percentage of financial interest... wasn't Mitt Romney's ENTIRE FORTUNE made through deals where a small amount of capital was leveraged into a total controlling interest in the company? I think your understanding of private equity might need a brush-up.

Class interest is a nebulous and actually historically debunked concept, please don't try to hang that on me. Let me put it in technical terms: IF YOU HAVE A HAMMER, EVERYTHING LOOKS LIKE A NAIL. The habits of thought that you learned as a programmer are the ones you apply to every problem. The habits of thought that other people learn in private equity are the ones they apply to every problem.

Also, in no way am I accusing Mitt Romney of illegally buying the election! I am merely saying:

1) The lack of transparency in Romney's financial interests in troubling to me.

2) The lack of transparency in the programming of a public good -- voting machines -- is trouble to me AS A PROGRAMMER. If it's not troubling to you, good for you -- sleep tight, don't let bedbugs bite, etc.

The statement I have the biggest problem with is: "Romney family owns controlling interest in the Hart voting machine company, used in Ohio elections."

This is unfair and untrue -- even if you believe the particular investment-relationships alleged in the initial Truthout report, and discount the Solamere denial. A 'controlling interest' means something specific that's not in evidence here.

The implication I also object to is that this alleged ownership stake, no matter how tiny, would be a competent way to pull off a machine-rigging conspiracy, though layers of management. That's absurd. In fact it's so absurd it threatens to distract from the real problems of electronic voting machines.

It's unfair of you to portray me as being unconcerned about the transparency of voting machines. I already said they're bad. And your previous comments in this thread hadn't mentioned concerns with machine transparency, only tenuously-alleged Romney financial influence.

Romney connections are a distraction based on flimsy Truthout allegations and a far-fetched concept of what an investment stake can achieve.

The problems electronic voting machines have -- opaqueness of design, inadequate testing, inherent weaknesses in audit-ability -- is another separate discussion we could also have, and we would probably vehemently agree about many of those issues.

OK, I must now admit that the Romney family DOES NOT have a financial interest in the Hart electronic voting machine:

It's important that even reputable news sources be double-checked and that holders of opinions should admit when the facts show these opinions were wrong.

Gordon makes some good points, and Joyce thanks for finding this.

The net-net is that it doesn't take the Romney family owning Hart to make messing with the voting machines possible.

Which means that stealing the election is still possible.

But yeah, we'll tone down the paranoia.

It's unfortunate that even in Silicon Valley, people don't understand enough about how private equity works to give credence to this particular rumor.

Even if Solamere had invested a small amount of money in Hart, it would have practically no ability to influence the company.

In general, coverage of private equity in this country reveals incredible ignorance of how the industry works. There are things that private equity shops do that are shady (taking over a company, saddling it with debt, issuing an immediate dividend that more than repays the original investment), but they are all completely legal.

I think it's the shady-but-legal that we're reacting to.

Bush v Gore in 2000 was legal -- the Supreme Court was the one who decided.

It was legal but was it legit? I'm still not sure.

Knowing that the legal system does make mistakes -- well, that's why we got paranoid in the first place. Where's the assurance that the 2012 election will be legit?

There's no such assurance. And that's where the uneasy feelings are coming from.

Then you'll really love the fact that if an Electoral College tie occurs, it goes to the House of Representatives, where the Republicans hold a significant advantage.

Wow, it really feels like the cards are stacked.

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