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Election Rigging Plotted on ABC’s Scandal: The Real Life Backstory

In a flashback scene on last Thursday night’s (1/17/2013) episode of ABC’s searing political drama Scandal, a cabal of five voted to rig the upcoming presidential election to ensure that their man “Fitz” won. The personal agendas of four of them were revealed to viewers. Ultimately, Hollis – the gang leader – made a call to a computer wiz he knew and told him “It’s a go!”

Logo of ABC's Scandal

Was a recent episode of scandal based on real events?

Who is the nerd that Hollis called to rig the election?

Could the character be based on the late Michael Connell, the hard-right-anti-abortion-true-believer, who many allege handed George W. Bush the 2004 election by rigging in Ohio?  I think so.  As a national expert on election rigging, I have evaluated what we know and I believe we can trace how Connell fixed the Ohio election through computers in Chattanooga, Tennessee, via a company called SMARTech. Connell was Karl Rove’s high tech operative.  He died, suspiciously perhaps, in a small airplane crash.  Like the characters in Scandal, he also had a personal agenda. He viewed abortion as murder and wanted an anti-abortion president.

In fictional Scandal, the election was rigged via the touchscreen electronic voting machines in Defiance, Ohio; we saw this earlier in the “Defiance” episode. Thursday night, in the flashback, viewers learned that the vote in three counties in Ohio — Defiance, Franklin and Summit — could cause Fitz to lose Ohio.  In the real-life 2004 presidential election in Ohio, Franklin and Summit went to Kerry; Defiance went to Bush.

In real life, Richard Hayes Phillips a scholar and the author of Witness to a Crime: A Citizens Audit of an American Election, provides a detailed report about what happened in thirteen counties in Ohio in the 2004 presidential election where there was evidence of fraud. He writes:

… in at least six counties, the methods of fraud we observed may well have been related to SMARTech…. We believed at the time that we were observing an after-the-fact attempt to get the ballots to match a fraudulent vote count, and we are more convinced of it now.

In the real Ohio presidential election, evidence of fraud was found by voting rights activists in 13 counties.  Scandal’s producer and writer Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy as well, is absolutely correct to include in her script that there was election fraud in Ohio in the 2004 presidential election.

In her depiction of election fraud, she is on the money. To someone like me, who has watched election rigging close up, I like her characters too.

Four of the members of that cabal want something for themselves from this rigging – and somewhere in their insides, perhaps they might really think Fitz is the best person for the job. Or they are lying to themselves about this.

At first, Olivia holds out. She does not want to rig the election.  In total turmoil — and like the confused soul she has become — she gives in. I would say her romantic feelings for Fitz get in the way, big time.

Hollis wants to rig the election because he wants the pipe line laid throughout the country.  Verna agrees to the rig because she wants to be a Supreme Court Justice. Cyrus wants to be Chief of Staff.  Mellie wants to be First Lady.  And what about Fitz?  I think he is in on it too.  He has told Olivia that he wants to win this election. That he is going to win.  He adds, “It’s mine.”  What a horrible bunch of self-serving, grandiose self-willed people. They want to run the country and care not a bit about we the people. If only their fictional characters did not remind me that they could have real life counterparts.

One big question this terrific series poses is what the American people want in their elections.  Surely they want their votes to be counted as cast and not rigged by electronic voting machines.

Advice to Shonda Rhimes: In a flashback or not, show some jurisdictions counting by hand two times in a publicly observed election and getting it right.  And show some other jurisdictions counting by electronic voting machines once and getting the count wrong – by an undetectable hacking. Publicly observed, secure hand-counted paper ballots (HCPB) elections are the only way to ensure transparent, fair and honest elections.

Sheila Parks, Ed.D. has been involved with the current wave of voting rights since the crimes, including the rigging, of the 2000 presidential election in Florida. She is the founder of the Center for Hand-Counted Paper Ballots and the author of WHILE WE STILL HAVE TIME: The Perils of Electronic Voting Machines and Democracy’s Solution: Publicly Observed, Secure Hand-Counted Paper Ballots (HCPB) Elections. She is an ardent feminist, internationalist and peace & justice activist.

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Sheila Parks

Sheila Parks

An ardent and longtime feminist, internationalist, and peace & justice activist, I defended the abortion clinics with my body for a very long time. I do not want to go back to doing that and fervently hope that those of you who have not had to do so, never will. I was in the Women's Caucus of occupy boston and after that an affinity group in ob. Active in the current wave of voting rights since the crimes of the 2000 Florida presidential election, I am opposed to all electronic voting machines and for publicly observed, secure hand-counted paper ballots (HCPB) elections, and am the founder of the Center for Hand-Counted Paper Ballots. I spent a year in prison for a Plowshares non-violent direct action against first strike nuclear weapons.