Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Baseless 2020 Conspiracies Complicate Ohio Effort To Buy Voting Machines


President Trump's effort to overturn a democratic election failed, but the departure from reality at the heart of that effort persists. A favorite conspiracy theory of the president's allies involved voting machines changing votes. The evidence-free claim was disproven in places like Georgia that recounted ballots on paper. But the false tale about Dominion voting machines persists, affecting politics in a county in Ohio. Here's Nick Castele of our member station WCPN Ideastream.

NICK CASTELE, BYLINE: Stark County is home to Canton, Ohio. It voted twice for Barack Obama and twice in landslides for Donald Trump. Last December, the bipartisan Stark County Board of Elections voted unanimously to replace its aging voting machines with new ones from Dominion Voting Systems. Since then, the county's three top elected officials, all of whom are Republican, say they've been getting an earful.


BILL SMITH: The board of commissioners has received hundreds of communications from concerned citizens.

CASTELE: This is Commissioner Bill Smith speaking at a public hearing about the purchase.


SMITH: This response from the public has far exceeded the response any of us have ever received on any topic to come before our board.

CASTELE: During this two-hour hearing in early February, Smith pushed the board of elections director to address voters fears that Dominion machines are not secure.


SMITH: They just want to make sure that its ballot is counted. So you're going with the one with the cloud right now, OK, over its head.

CASTELE: A cloud not based in fact but created by Trump and allies such as Rudy Giuliani. At least one conservative group has tried to keep stirring the opposition to Stark County's Dominion purchase. The county's top elections official is Jeff Mathews. He's also the chairman of the local Republican Party. On top of that, he runs the board that tests and certifies voting machines statewide. At the meeting, Matthews defended Dominion and the integrity of the 2020 election.


JEFF MATTHEWS: Refusing to recognize that this election was safe, secure and accurate can be viewed as nothing less than attacking the peaceful transfer of power. Some of the claims made about Dominion Voting Systems are beyond absurd and require one to suspend all critical thought.

CASTELE: In the weeks since that meeting, the county's commissioners have yet to approve the more than $6 million contract, but a decision could come this month. Neither they nor Matthews responded to interview requests. Election officials here want to replace their machines before the fall. The particular Dominion voting machine that the county board wants to buy is a touch screen with a paper audit trail and was used in 11 Ohio counties last year, according to the Ohio secretary of state's office. Trump won all of those counties post election audits found the results in nine of those counties to be 100% accurate. The minuscule discrepancies in the other two counties were not attributed to the machines.

KAY STIMSON: Our hope is that we continue to have a really honest and open conversation about facts versus fiction.

CASTELE: Stimson is a spokeswoman for Dominion Voting Systems. She says the company has been available to answer local officials questions, sending a sales rep to meetings.

STIMSON: We are showing up to do the hard work of cutting through disinformation and at the most granular levels in Stark County. We're also very much supported by the Ohio secretary of state's office.

CASTELE: The other way Dominion is trying to cut through the disinformation is in the courts. The company has filed massive defamation lawsuits against Giuliani and other Trump allies about their false rhetoric. Stimson says there are more such lawsuits to come.

For NPR News, I'm Nick Castele.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOUSE ON THE KEYS' "REFLEXION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nick Castele