Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Times rediscovers Ohio but Zeller files a head scratcher of an article

Thanks to a November 12th article, Tom Zeller is infamous to many readers of this site for being the writer of  the only front page story the Times has done on the Ohio voting problems -- one that tossed around terms like "conspiracy theorists"; "twitchy cloak-and-dagger thrust"; and generally derided and dismissed anyone questioning the accuracy of the vote ("Vote Fraud Theories, Spread by Blogs, Are Quickly Buried.")
Guess who's back?  Tom Zeller with an A23 article "Lawmaker Seeks Inquiry Into Ohio Vote" (
Using House Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (Michigan) letters to the FBI "and a county prosecutor in Ohio" as a starting point, Zeller attempts to address one (only one) issue:
. . .  Ms. [Sherole] Eaton says in her affidavit that a representative of Triad Governmental Systems, the Ohio firm that created and maintains the vote-counting software in dozens of Ohio counties, made several adjustments to the Hocking County tabulator last Friday, in advance of the state's recount, which is taking place this week.
Ms. Eaton contends that the Triad employee asked which precint Hocking County planned to count as its representative 3 percent, and upon being told, made further adjustments to the machines.
Wow.  That's seems pretty big.  Certainly a skeptical reporter like Zeller will dig deep to find out about this allegation, right?  And readers will be informed about the process Eaton observed and we'll get various experts explaining the situation to us, right?
Wrong.  There's no indication that Zeller attempted to reach Eaton on the phone.  More importantly to assure readers that the events Eaton describes are no cause for worry, Zeller goes to . . . Bert Rapp.  Who?  President of Triad. 
What is the process for retabulating machines and why is it done?  Should anyone be present other than a county employee and the Triad worker? 
Rapp could answer the first question.  (And may have.  If so, Zeller forgets to inform the readers.)  As for the second question, that's beyond Rapp's scope.  This is where Zeller needs to go to someone knowledgable in the laws governing electronic voting.
In his Nov. 12th article, Zeller mentioned "Voting Technology Project, a cooperative effort between the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology."
Did he attempt to contact them regarding this issue?
This is bad writing.  Zeller never even explains why the machines need to be retabulated or the process for it -- and having spoken to Rapp for this article, Zeller presumably had access to an explanation. 
Daniel Okrent (public editor at the Times) blogged on November 21st regarding the paper's coverage of the Ohio vote:  "And more, I expect, will be explored and explained in future articles if meaningful allegations can indeed be established as facts."
Granted, I'd love to see meaningful allegations established as facts.  But my criticism of Zeller's "Lawmaker Seeks Inquiry Into Ohio Vote" is that Zeller's exploration (research) on this story hasn't led to any explanation for the readers. 
Are the events Eaton observed something to be concerned about?  A U.S. Congress member thinks so, the owner of the Triad company doesn't.  (Actually, private citizen Eaton also thinks it is cause for concern.)  Is what Eaton observed, if true, normal?  Is it legal?   Should any representative involved in the recount request have been present for the adjustments made to the tabulator?
Zeller doesn't inform us.  The Times is mildly interested in Ohio again.  But instead of assigning the story to Albert Salvato (who's been covering this topic for the paper since Zeller's Nov. 12th story) the story goes back to Zeller  -- and the readers suffer.

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