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Professor Dan Tokaji
Election reform, the Voting Rights Act, the Help America Vote Act, and related topics -- with special attention to the voting rights of people of color, non-English proficient citizens, and people with disabilities

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Equal Vote
Sunday, July 17
 
Did Diebold Pay to Play?
The Columbus Dispatch reports that a representative of voting system vendor Diebold may have been spreading money around the State of Ohio, in order to influence the election officials' purchasing decisions. The Dispatch story is available only by subscription but the AP has this report. The story comes as the state is still reeling from an influence-peddling scandal by rare-coin dealer and GOP contributor Tom Noe.

The latest allegations concern the actions of Paschale Gallina, who's reportedly a consultant working for Diebold. Matt Damschroeder, the Director of Franklin County's Board of Elections, says that Pasquale approached him wanting to make a $10,000 contribution -- and asking whom the check should be made out to -- on the same day as the county started taking bids for voter-registration software. Damschroeder says he told Pasquale "you're certainly not going to make it out to me," but that Gallina instead wrote a check to the Franklin County Republican Party instead. Damschroeder (who is a Republican) says he took the check and sent it to the county party, something he now admits was a mistake: "I should have thrown Mr. Gallina out of the building." Diebold didn't get the contract, and Damschroeder says he never recommended the company, but he's now reportedly under investigation by the county prosecutor.

Even more disturbing are some of the statements that Gallina allegedly made to Damschroeder about his efforts to curry influence with Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell's office. According to Damschroeder, Gallina bragged about $50,000 that he'd given to Blackwell's "political interests." The Secretary of State's spokesperson denied any such payment, but acknowledged that Gallina had contributed $8000 to Blackwell's campaigns since 1998. Gallina refused to tell the Dispatch whether he'd written a $50,000 check to any organization associated with Secretary Blackwell, but the AP reports that Gallina denied any such contribution.

The revelations apparently came to light as the result of a lawsuit that Diebold's rival voting machine vendor ES&S has pending against Secretary Blackwell, which I've previously discussed here. In related news, the Toledo Blade reports that the Ohio Supreme Court will consider whether ES&S's lawsuit should be transferred to the Ohio Court of Claims, which ordinarily hears matters involving monetary relief against state officials.

My take: Paying to play in Ohio? Say it ain't so.

As I discussed in this Findlaw.com column, spreading around money to obtain political influence appears to be a routine practice in Ohio. The contributions of Tom Noe, for example, never even raised an eyebrow -- until some $12 million in state assets turned up missing. It therefore would come as little surprise if Diebold or other voting machine makers were spreading money around in hopes of obtaining favorable government consideration. In fact, if you looked carefully at campaign contributions, I suspect you'd find this sort of thing happening all the time, be it on voting machines, rare coins, or any other type of business.

In short, the latest news isn't just about voting machines, any more than the Noe scandal is just about rare coins. It's about how those with money use it to influence official decisionmaking.

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Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University