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The Ghost of Rigged Elections Past: New Revelations on the Death of Michael Connell

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Michael Connell, the Bush family and Karl Rove's IT guru, was heading home from Washington D.C. to attend his company's Christmas party on Friday, December 19th in 2008. An accomplished pilot, he was flying from the College Park, Maryland airport to the Akron-Canton airport in Ohio under unremarkable weather conditions. Yet his Piper Saratoga plane suddenly dove to the ground between two houses in an upscale neighborhood, when he was just 2.5 miles from the airport. The site was roped off, cleaned up within two hours at night against protocol, and the next day his wife found his omniscient Blackberry missing from his still intact knapsack. 

The Free Press has uncovered crucial documents that shed light on Connell's mysterious death as the fifth anniversary of his tragic accident approaches. The document reveals that then-Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell had signed a legal Statement of Work (SOW) contract with Connell for IT work on the infamous Election Night 2004, when Kerry unexpectedly lost when exit polls showed him winning. Connell and Blackwell agreed fourteen months prior to the 2004 election that that Connell would have "remote monitoring capabilities" to the computer counting Ohio's presidential vote. That means Blackwell planned more than a year in advance for Connell's private partisan external third party company and a subcontractor to have unfettered secret access to Ohio's 2004 vote tally.

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The newly discovered contract contains an "Exhibit B" which called for a "mirror" website to handle Ohio's 2004 actual vote count on Election Night provided by Connell's company, GovTech. The document stated: "GovTech shall install and host (as set forth in Exhibit B) a Mirror site of the Application to provide a fail over solution in the event of failure of the primary installation on Election Day."

This "hot rollover configuration," as the document explained, "can completely re-point the site if the primary site should fail by using some remote monitoring capabilities." And that's exactly what happened at 11:13pm when Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry was up three points over Republican incumbent George W. Bush.

Ohio's 2004 votes were outsourced to Smartech in Chattanooga, Tennessee, owned by right-wing evangelical publisher Jeff Averbeck, subcontracted by Connell. The vote count inexplicably flipped at 12:21am changing from Kerry winning by over 3 percentage points to Bush winning by over 3 percentage points. Overall, there was an unexplainable rapid 6.7% shift in the vote count.

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Smartech was also, curiously, the company that handled Karl Rove's private email accounts from the White House. Millions of Rove's email files have since mysteriously disappeared -- including those related to the Valerie Plame scandal and the firing of seven United States attorneys -- despite repeated congressional and court-sanctioned attempts to review them.

The timing of Connell's accident was very suspicious. The prior month, on the day before the 2008 November election, Ohio attorneys Cliff Arnebeck and this author took Connell's under oath deposition. The purpose was to inquire about his actions during the 2004 vote count and his continued involvement in IT operations for the GOP, including his access to Rove's email files and the circumstances behind their disappearance.

In his 2008 deposition Connell was generally evasive, but did disclose key pieces of information that may have proved damaging to Karl Rove and the GOP. Why the vote count was transferred from Ohio to Smartech in Chattanooga, Tennessee remains a mystery. This would have only happened if there was a complete failure of the Ohio computer election system on Election Night. However, Connell swore under oath that, "To the best of my knowledge, it was not a failover case scenario -- or it was not a failover situation."

Bob Magnan, an IT election specialist for the Secretary of State during the 2004 election, agreed that there was no failover scenario. Magnan said he was unexpectedly sent home at 9 p.m. on Election Night 2004 and that private contractors ran the system for Blackwell.

Who was Michael Connell?

A long-time, outspokenly loyal associate of the Bush family, Connell created the Bush-Cheney website for their 2000 presidential campaign and may have played a role in various computer malfunctions that helped the GOP claim the presidency in 2000. As a chief IT consultant and operative for Karl Rove, Connell was a devout Catholic and the father of four children. In various statements Connell cited his belief that abortion is murder as a primary motivating factor in his work for the Republican Party.

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In 2001, Michael Connell's GovTech Solutions, LLC was selected to reorganize the Capitol Hill IT network, the only private-sector company to gain permission from HIR [House Information Resources] to place its server behind the firewall, he bragged.

Blackwell hired Connell's company GovTech on July 1, 2003 for seemingly nonpartisan election administration work. But Connell's other company New Media Communications was working closely at the same time with SmartTech, a company owned and operated by former evangelical Christian publisher Jeff Averbeck. GovTech and Smartech together built Republican and right-wing websites that were hosted on SmartTech servers. Among their clients were the Republican National Committee, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and -- yes, that's George W. Bush, 43rd

In fact, the other two subcontractors working with Connell on Election Night, Averbeck and the Rapp family which owned the company Triad were all ardent right-to-life activists.

The King Pin strikes

Connell's death came at a moment where election protection attorneys and others appeared to be closing in on critical irregularities and illegalities. On the night of the 2004 election, exit polls and initial vote counts showed John Kerry the clear winner of Ohio's presidential campaign. The Buckeye State's 20 electoral votes would have given Kerry the presidency.

Connell was deposed as part of the King Lincoln Bronzeville v. Blackwell case that alleged civil rights violations during the 2004 election. During the case, the Ohio Secretary of State's office was forced to produce the election computer system configuration chart that was used in Ohio's 2004 presidential election when there was a sudden and unexpected shift in votes for George W. Bush. This "architectural map" clearly shows the election night server layout system from the Ohio Secretary of State's office to servers owned by Smartech at the Old Pioneer Bank in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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