Aug 1 2006

The ‘Cheat Sheets’

[Note: This piece is a sidebar to “Subverting, Not Preserving, Democracy.”]


One of the many issues raised in Rep. John Conyers’ report on the 2004 Ohio election but not tackled in the press was the accusation that the electronic voting company Triad had provided a “cheat sheet” for election officials participating in the Ohio recount, with the intent of artificially jibing results to avoid further scrutiny.

In a sworn affidavit, Sherole Eaton, who in 2004 was the deputy director of the Board of Elections in Hocking County, Ohio, claimed that a representative from Triad had come to assist her office with the upcoming statewide recount. She said he took apart the machine, connected to a spare computer in her office, called Triad, and eventually said the machine was ready for the recount. He then gave the “cheat sheet”—instructions on how to make sure the votes in their recount would match the machine’s totals. Eaton was later fired, saying “they are targeting me as a whistle-blower” (Logan Daily News, 5/21/05).

As the Conyers Report notes, “The cheat sheets informed election officials how many votes they should find for each candidate, and how many over and under votes they should calculate to match the machine count.” If the initial recount, which was only of 3 percent of the county, provided results close enough to the machine count, then a full countywide hand recount, as mandated by Ohio law, could be avoided.

Although Mark Hertsgaard, in an examination of vote fraud claims in Mother Jones (11-12/05), noted that Eaton “is quick to volunteer that [Triad] never used the phrase ‘cheat sheet’—those were her own words,” and that she says she “still [doesn’t] know if there was fraud,” her story still seems like one the press would investigate themselves, to independently assess whether or not fraud was likely to have occurred.

While Hertsgaard was aiming to debunk the “cheat sheet” theory by actually talking to Eaton, it is worth noting that most of his colleagues seemingly preferred to debunk it by ignoring it altogether. Her affidavit was referenced once by the New York Times (12/15/04) in an article about Conyers’ request that the FBI investigate the “election tampering” in Hocking County and other counties in Ohio. The Times downplayed Conyers’ request, not only by noting it “is based largely” on one person’s account (Eaton’s), but by giving it only 362 words and burying the account on page 29.

But at least the Times reported on Eaton’s claims, no matter how tepidly. The Washington Post and USA Today, as well as all three major nightly newscasts, avoided any discussion of Eaton.