Shonda Rhimes and her crew did it again – standing ovation – for the episode Truth or Consequences, aired January 31st. Millions of Americans watching the dramatic television series Scandal saw one way an operative could rig an election. Although the series is fictional, the process it revealed could be a real one.

Logo of ABC's Scandal

Sheila Parks ongoing review of TV's election drama, Scandal.

This episode opens with an official showing a memory card to a small group of people, as he explains that Defiance County, Ohio has brand new touchscreen electronic voting machines.  This memory card will be inserted into the touchscreens in the morning before the polls open.  He adds that the memory card stores and tabulates votes and eliminates paper ballots – thus making progress.  So he says. What the people are not told is that touchscreen voting machines – and also optical scan electronic voting machines – can be easily hacked.  Then we see Jesse Tyler (Adam Shapiro) from Cytron exchange the demonstration voting machine for another one from his backpack – reprogrammed for the hack, of course – so that Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) wins the election.

Cytron is a fictional Internet security company that also secretly develops software unofficially used for electronic voting machines.  In the demo in Defiance, the machine is clearly marked “Cytron Software Voting System.”  Lobbyist and oil tycoon Hollis Doyle (Gregg Henry) has sent a package to Tyler at Cytron which explodes when he opens it, killing him and 7 other people.  Hollis presumably kills Tyler because he is asking for more millions from him for the machine swap out and/or to silence him.

The scene then flashes to one in which David Rosen (Joshua Malina) – a truth-seeking Assistant State Attorney – tells Hollis that he is questioning him because he (Rosen) has information that an explosion at Cytron was an attempt to cover up evidence that the election had been rigged.  Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), who is having an affair with the president of the USA and who also was in on the rigging of his election is now riddled with guilt and shame and is now telling the truth.  She is the one who told Rosen about Hollis. Rosen puts it to Hollis in startling and plain language: “…I have reason to believe that you were part of this conspiracy…and you had co-conspirators, possibly ones at the highest reaches of the White House…I will be talking with these individuals, looking to make a deal in exchange for their cooperation in revealing the details of this scheme to rig the election and subvert the will of the American people.”

It would be so wonderful if Scandal would integrate more real life events into the fictional drama.  Perhaps by fictionalizing them, as with the rigged election itself?  Or perhaps by incorporating events that really happened.  This would give viewers an idea of what was going on around the real rigged election in real time. These events should have gotten much mainstream media coverage. They got little, if any. Hearing about them in the context of Scandal might very well inspire people to act now and stop the rigging that will surely continue until we use publicly observed hand-counted paper ballots in all our elections.

In real life:

  • In 2004, whistleblower and software computer programmer Clint Curtis testified under oath to a Congressional Commission on Election Fraud, that in 2000, Tom Feeney (R), then speaker of the House in Florida, tried to hire him to write software that would rig electronic voting machines.  Feeney was also a registered lobbyist and attorney for Yang Enterprises in Florida [yes, that is correct, Feeney held all those positions] where Curtis worked.   Curtis refused; he was at that time a life long Republican.  He is now a Democrat.
  • On January 6, 2005, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, the first African American from Ohio to be elected to Congress, spoke and tried to prevent the certification of Ohio’s electoral votes in the 2004 presidential election because there was evidence of “election irregularities” in some counties.  She stated, [at 37.29 and 43.20 minutes] “I, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a representative from Ohio, and Ms. Boxer, a Senator from California, object to the counting of the electoral votes of the State of Ohio on the ground that they were not, under all of the known circumstances, regularly given….”  Thirty-one representatives, most from the Congressional Black Caucus, joined Tubbs Jones and Boxer; no senators did so.  See my blog from the January 17 episode for more details about the rigging that took place in Ohio.
  • Others tried to persuade Senator Kerry not to certify the Ohio electoral vote. The Coalition Against Election Fraud [which I co-founded] held nightly vigils for a week outside his Beacon Hill home in MA.  We also left him written documents. (No soap.) Then we boarded a plane and went to Congress to our dream team of Senators, asking them not to certify the vote in Ohio (no soap again, except for Boxer, whom we did see and who did, along with Tubbs Jones, vote not to certify Ohio’s electoral votes).
  • Wally O’Dell, president, chair and CEO of Diebold Corporation in 2004, and also a huge fund-raiser for the re-election of Bush, said he would help deliver Ohio’s electoral votes to Bush.  Although no Diebold touchscreens were used in Ohio in the 2004 general election, other corporations’ touchscreens were – the paperless ES&S iVotronic and Infinity DRE from Microvote, also paperless.

Rhimes and the other Scandal writers say, through David Rosen and James Novak (Dan Bucatinsky) – a reporter who Rosen has been feeding info to about the Defiance rigging – that this is the “crime of the century.” I agree and so do many others. This is a story that belongs to the American people. I would like to sit in the writers’ room and share my experience and knowledge on this matter of election rigging and the solution.

Sheila Parks, Ed.D. has been involved with the current wave of voting rights since the crimes, including the rigging, of the 2000 Florida presidential election. 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.