Were the election officials who allegedly manipulated votes on e-voting machines in Clay County, KY, Republican or Democratic? And does it actually make any difference?...
By Brad Friedman on 3/23/2009, 4:09pm PT  

Since I first covered the story of the arrest of election officials (including a circuit court judge, the county clerk, the school superintendent and other members of the county elections board) in Clay County, KY, for buying and selling votes, as well as manipulating votes on electronic voting machines without the knowledge of voters, folks have been asking about the political affiliation of the conspirators and whether they were working on behalf of any particular political party.

The subject came up, as well, while I was on the Mike Malloy Show last Friday discussing these arrests, as they had just come to light.

You can download the MP3 of that interview, or listen to it online here (appx. 17 mins)...

While the federal indictment [PDF] notes that a number of those involved in the cabal appear to be members of the local Democratic Party, the scheme also involved at least one conspirator who served as the Republican Party's polling place judge at one of the precincts. Clay County is also a heavily Republican county.

On this point, a commenter who wrote in to respond to last week's article, who claims to be "from Clay County" and to know "each of the people arrested," writes that "ALL of the eight arrested this week" were actually Republican. "They registered as Democrat and took leadership roles in the local party to control precinct officer seats, ensuring all officers at the precinct were hand picked." I can't yet confirm that fact, but that reader's comment is posted in full below, with another one from a Kentucky writer, as both contain some helpful background.

Of course, it could still very well be the case that the crooks were Democrats at work. Either way, from what I'm able to understand about the scheme so far, it seems that it was more about personal power and financial enrichment than anything else. If they were Democrats, they don't seem to have been particularly successful in affecting Democratic wins in their county, even though their scheme was "successful" enough to be repeated election after election and year after year. At the heart of their scheme, after all, was bribing money out of candidates in order to be placed on a "slate" that the cabal would then help to get elected.

As the commenter suggests, it could well be that these "Democratic" officials were only signed up as such in order to affect primary elections (in order to ensure the weakest possible "D" candidate, for example) or even in hopes of adversely affecting general elections as "Democrats," secretly working on behalf of the Republican Party.

I've been unable to learn the party affiliations, yet, of the candidates who paid to be on their "slate," which, once we learn that, could be somewhat instructive. Maybe. But until then, a major point that I'd to make in any case: I don't really care what their party affiliations were.

Here's why...

Whomever these folks were representing, Rs, Ds, or just themselves, they were violating the democratic (small "d") rights of voters in Clay County and, more disturbingly, had concocted a new way to exploit electronic voting systems --- by taking "low-tech" advantage of a poorly devised user interface on the touch-screen voting machines --- in order to do so.

(NOTE: I hope to have more soon on how their scheme worked, and why it's so troubling, in the near future. And no, the same scheme to change the votes of voters without their knowledge, a major aspect of the alleged crimes, could not have happened the same way with paper ballots, as some, like this blogger, have suggested. At least not in a way that would make detection as difficult, and allow them to continue the scheme without being caught for so long, over so many elections, before being caught.)

Nonetheless, for the moment, on the political issues at play here, I'd like to defer to a couple of comments left by readers of last Thursday's article. One is from the person I mentioned above, who claims to be "from Clay County," who says they "knew each of the people arrested." The other is from "someone who grew up in that part of the country."

I believe both comments may be instructive here, as to understanding the underlying political environment at work in Clay County. Both of the comments underscore, in their own ways, how the known political affiliations of the accused bad guys aren't necessarily indicative of much of anything. They point out how, in this case, "party is irrelevant," as one of the commenters writes, not just in regard to the disturbing revelations of the ability to undetectably exploit the electronic voting system to compromise elections by any party or election insider, as I mention above, but more to the cultural background issues at play in this particular part of rural Kentucky.

Party affiliations, both commenters suggest, don't necessarily have the same meaning there that many of us likely understand them as meaning in different parts of the country. As reader "Mark" wrote:

A little background from someone who grew up in that part of the country:

The party is irrelevant. Many, if not most rural Kentucky counties are registered 95% one party or the other. It's a self perpetuating system, if you grew up there, you register the majority party because all the elections are decided in the primary elections. Many counties do in fact have competitive elections, the "reform" factions and "status quo" factions operate under the same party registration. At the local level, there's very little (if any) ideological difference in the Republican and Democratic counties, it's really just a name. Frequently, the ruling faction has control over the party apparatus of the other party, which makes it easier to control an election because you can field both election judges in a given precinct.

School superintendents are extremely powerful in rural Kentucky. In the more corrupt counties, it's a powerful position of political patronage, frequently the biggest employer in a poor, small county. I don't think it's an elected position, but appointed by the school board. That's why some of the most highly contested elections are for school board. [ed note: One of the conspirators arrested was, in fact, the local school superintendent. - BF]

I think Clay is a Republican County. I've seen this pattern repeated many times in rural Kentucky, and as i've said before, party affiliation is completely irrelevant.

And, even more directly to the point, from reader "CCKY":

I am from Clay County, Kentucky and know each of the people arrested. I also knew the officials previously convicted who are in prison now (former mayor Daugh White, former county Clerk Jennings White, former Asst. Chief of Police Todd Roberts, former 911 Director Vernon Hacker, former Manchester Fire Dept. Chief Charles "Dobber" Weaver, and former city councilman Darnell Hipshire). There will likely be more to follow the current group arrested. Clay County is roughly 90 percent Republican, including ALL of the eight arrested this week. They registered as Democrat and took leadership roles in the local party to control precinct officer seats, ensuring all officers at the precinct were hand picked. Notice that all of the elections in question are PRIMARY elections. It's common knowledge that if you win the Republican primary in Clay County you will win the general election. If you want just check the political registration of the county and the party affiliation of current and former elected officials. I can't attest to the guilt or innocence of any of those most recently arrested but I know for a fact that Clay County is very much a Republican county. By the way, Jennings White's attorney prior to his guilty plea was David Williams, the Republican President of the Kentucky Senate. Look it up. It's all public record.

(Hat-tip to ArsTechnica's coverage for graphic inspiration and sampling!)

CORRECTION 3/24/09: I had originally linked to Brian's coverage at Incertus, as an example of someone who had suggested that the election fraud at the polls in Clay County "could not have happened the same way with paper ballots." I had meant to link to Jeremy's article at Abqorida instead, where he had incorrectly argued: "Paper ballots wouldn't help - the same types of vote buying and stealing can happen with paper ballots." I've substitued one link for another in the appropriate graf above by way of correction. After my mistake, Brian had subsequently written a new article at Incertus which helped to point out my error. All of which reminds me how confusing it can get when using computers, and why they should never be used in American democracy ("paper receipt" or otherwise, Brian!) Apologies to Brian for my error and accidental mischaracterization of his original post in the above.

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