No Comment — December 22, 2008, 10:54 am

A Troubling Black Box Death

Michael Connell was well-known to those who follow the “black box” voting drama. A voting technology expert from Akron, Ohio, Connell faithfully served the Republican Party, and in particular its chief electoral guru, Karl Rove–faithfully, that is, up until a few months ago. Under subpoena and court order, Connell was compelled to testify about his role in managing the 2004 election tabulations in Ohio. In that race, Connell both served as information technology consultant to the Bush-Cheney campaign and, under contract with the state of Ohio, managed the vote tabulation from servers he maintained in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He emerged as the focal witness in the current controversy over voting machine manipulation in Ohio. In 2004 exit polls put Kerry on top, but official results in black box districts, strongly at variance with the exit polls, gave the state, and the race, to Bush. After Connell was reportedly threatened by Karl Rove, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the litigation appealed to Attorney General Mukasey for protection late last summer. Now Connell is dead, the victim of a crash on the approach of his plane to the Akron airport on Friday. The Akron Beacon Journal reports:

Mr. Connell, founder and chief executive of New Media Communications in Richfield, died instantly when the single-prop airplane he was piloting crashed into a vacant house about three miles short of the Akron-Canton Airport. State Highway Patrol Lt. Eric Sheppard said Mr. Connell’s plane was in communication with the airport control tower just before the crash, but he could not detail whether the radio transmissions were calls for help. “We have no reason to believe at this point it was anything other than an unfortunate crash,” Sheppard said.

Connell had recently come into public view in connection with a lawsuit raising allegations of vote fraud in 2004:

…the lawsuit alleges that by 9 p.m. on Election Night 2004, the results were switched from the state server to one set up by Connell’s, in the former Pioneer Bank Building in Chattanooga, Tenn. It is alleged the same server was used to bundle and remove White House e-mails regarding the 2005 federal prosecutor firing scandal. Mr. Connell tried to fight the subpoena, but a judge ruled against it and he gave a deposition on Nov. 3. It was through the fight over the subpoena that attorneys who brought the case learned that Mr. Connell and his wife had allegedly been threatened with federal prosecution by Rove.

Bob Fitrakis, one of the Columbus attorneys who filed the lawsuit, a former Green Party candidate for president and a political blogger known for his conspiracy theories on election stealing in Ohio, said word of Mr. Connell’s death ”sent a chill down my spine.”

Larisa Alexandrovna also links Connell to another important technology controversy: the “disappearance” of millions of emails connected with Karl Rove from the White House servers. The emails had been repeatedly subpoenaed and the White House had claimed they were “lost,” a response which few are buying.

Mike Connell set-up the alternate email and communications system for the White House. He was responsible for creating the system that hosted the infamous accounts that Karl Rove and others used. When asked by Congress to provide these emails, the White House said that they were destroyed. But in reality, what Connell is alleged to have done is move these files to other servers after having allegedly scrubbed the files from all “known” Karl Rove accounts.

Connell may very well have died as a result of an innocent accident, but the circumstances are such that some observers will never believe that. He will be viewed as “the man who knew too much.”

NYU professor and Harper’s Magazine contributor Mark Crispin Miller discusses the case on today’s Democracy Now.

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