A new conspiracy theory being floated around the liberal blogosphere claims that a voting machine company with distant ties to Bain and Company is planning to fix the election for Mitt Romney before the ballots are even cast. The theory, circulated by Truthout, BradBlog, and others, suggests that Hart Intercivic, a company that owns electronic voting machines in Ohio, will program the machines to tally the votes for Romney. Their motivation for committing this serious crime stems from a sort of investment capital telephone game: Hart Intercivic is partially owned by HIG Capital, an investment company that has business ties to Solamere Capital, Tagg Romney’s equity firm. They also note that four HIG Capital directors have helped raise money for Mitt Romney. Based on these connections, these theorists are concerned that the potential conflict of interest could lead the e-voting machine company to tamper with the election results.
This rigged machine theory is based on actual reporting on Tagg Romney’s Solamere and its cozy relationships with many businesses interested in lobbying the government. However, there is absolutely no evidence that this crony capitalist network extends to interference with voting machines. Furthermore, Hart Intercivic machines are only being used in two counties in Ohio. Though it is not implausible that the election could come down to two Ohio counties, it seems like quite a gamble to plant these supposedly rigged machines so sparsely.
Dwelling on the possibility that a company tangentially related to the Romney family may tamper with their own product distracts from the very real and far more insidious ways that conservatives are trying to manipulate the election. For starters, the Republican National Committee and state-level Republican parties hired a voter registration firm that is openly fabricating and even destroying voter registration forms. Though the Republican Party has attempted to cut ties with this firm, its operatives are still hard at work on its behalf. Besides these operations, Tea Party group True the Vote plans to dispatch hundreds of volunteer poll watchers whose only role is to try to discredit voters before they cast their ballots. Some local classes have been caught instructing these volunteers to challenge legal voters. If they could simply flip a switch on a machine to negate a voter’s choice, there would be no reason to push voter ID laws, purge voter rolls, disseminate misleading information, or threaten to fire employees if they don’t vote for Romney.
The rigged machines myth is not only distracting, but harms the effort to get out the vote. Conservative groups have been promoting vote suppression tactics for a reason: votes count. In Ohio, for instance, despite the Republican Party’s best efforts to restrict early voting hours, voter turnout is on pace to surpass 2008, with Obama leading among people who have already voted. Spreading the myth that the system is so corrupt that these votes don’t matter tells voters they may as well sit out the election.
This post previously included a Forbes piece that expresses concern about the conflict of interest presented by the Romneys’ ties to Hart Intercivic. However, the piece includes a caveat that the author does not believe there will be any intentional foul play with voting machines.