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Tagg Romney, Voting Machines And Ohio 'In Context'


Now, to the election and a rumor that's been going around. Have you heard the story about how Mitt Romney's son Tagg is going to steal the election for his dad? It swept the liberal blogosphere in recent days, and it's not true. But like all good conspiracy theories, it is based on kernels of truth. As part of our series In Context, NPR's Tamara Keith joins us to explain where the story came from. And, Tamara, first, walk us through this conspiracy.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: This conspiracy centers on voting machines in Ohio. And as we all know, Ohio is a key battleground state. A couple of Ohio counties use voting machines made by a company called Hart InterCivic. A little over a year ago, a private equity firm called H.I.G. Capital invested heavily in Hart and took over its board. And Tagg Romney, he has a private equity firm called Solamere. It invested in H.I.G. So goes the story, Tagg Romney could fix the election for his dad.

CORNISH: All right. So what are holes here? What's wrong with the story?

KEITH: Well, let's start with the voting machines. In Ohio, there are only two counties that use machines from Hart. I called Hamilton County - it's the most populous county. And aside from one election machine in each polling place for disabled voters - and those are electronic - the county uses what's called the Hart eScan machine.

So voters actually vote on paper ballots, and then those ballots are fed into a scanner that tabulates the votes. But there is always a paper backup so that if there is a recount, there is something to count. The county bought these machines back in 2005, so way before H.I.G. ever invested in Hart InterCivic. I spoke with Sally Krisel at the Board of Elections. She says Hart isn't involved in the election in any way.

SALLY KRISEL: We do all of our own pretesting on it, maintenance, diagnostics on it. And we do all of our vote tabulation, ballot preparation. All of that is done by bipartisan teams of people here in Hamilton County.

KEITH: She told me that they opted for this paper-based system so that they could be confident in their results.

KRISEL: We feel really comfortable with this system, and that kind of makes the most recent press really disheartening because we feel good about the system that we chose and the system that we operate.

CORNISH: And what is Tagg Romney's connection to the voting machine company?

KEITH: It turns out it isn't a real connection. According to H.I.G., Solamere is not invested in the fund that has an interest in Hart. So there is no direct financial interest or connection to the voting machines. That said, several top executives at H.I.G. are what's known as bundlers for the Romney campaign. That's according to a database created by USA Today and the Sunlight Foundation. And that means they've raised tons of money for Romney. There are also three H.I.G. executives on the board of Hart InterCivic, and two of them have given money to Mitt Romney. The one also has given money to President Obama.

And this does create the appearance that there could be something fishy. That's the kernel of truth in the conspiracy. But I would just take you back to Hamilton County and the machines there and the bipartisan election officials there who say Hart is absolutely not going to be able to tamper with their vote.

CORNISH: Tamara, I mean, why do you think this story took hold?

KEITH: Part of it is that in 2004, there was a similar controversy involving election machines made by Diebold. Also, these are just complex financial relationships that are difficult to understand. And it's Ohio, which is at the center of the fight and every vote counts.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. Tamara, thanks.

KEITH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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