Bloggers form theory New Hampshire vote was rigged

KAREN BROOKS
The Dallas Morning News
Friday January 11, 2008

AUSTIN – The results weren't even in when the blogosphere started to hum with a theory that sharply divided Democrats online: Barack Obama lost to Hillary Rodham Clinton in New Hampshire because the vote was rigged.

"Something stinks in New Hampshire," a commenter posted on the popular liberal site Americablog.com.

Curious about the "wildly inaccurate" polls that put Mr. Obama in a double-digit lead going into Tuesday's primary, blogger Brad Friedman, a Los Angeles-based election-fraud watchdog, questioned the results as soon as they arrived, and all day Wednesday.

"Other folks that I've spoken to, who follow this sort of thing, share my concern at this hour," he wrote on bradblog.com. "If I was Barack Obama, I'd certainly not have conceded this election this quickly. I'm not quite sure what he was thinking."

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An Obama representative said the campaign is not alleging that fraud occurred. Clinton aides did not return calls seeking comment.

But the buzz grew all day Wednesday as bloggers across the nation keyed into the fact that 81 percent of New Hampshire votes were being counted on machines that an HBO documentary alleged are easily hacked. It also didn't hurt that New Hampshire was the site of a recount after allegations of fraud in 2004, spotlighted in the much-praised documentary.

It wasn't just on the Democratic side: Supporters of Texas Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Paul were pointing to discrepancies in at least one town, where dozens of votes cast were initially counted as zero – before an elections official corrected the error. Mr. Paul's campaign did not return calls seeking comment.

From Americablog.com to Crooks and Liars to several news blogs, readers posted their concerns – drawing the gleeful eye of conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh on Wednesday morning, who pointed to a debate raging on Democratic Underground.

That site, which has more than 100,000 registered users, was alive with debate throughout the day – mainly between Obama supporters and Clinton fans.

"Please come back to your senses," one commenter wrote. "What is most disturbing is the fact some people are accusing the fellow Democrats of fraud. Please, dear reasonable Obama supporter, tell those people to stop."

Some of the nation's most prominent bloggers sparred over the issue as well. Markos Moulitsas, who runs the popular site DailyKos, called the allegations "a load of bull" from "a bunch of cranks." Mr. Moulitsas, who has said he'll vote for Mr. Obama, also said it was typical of the blogosphere to host a "tiny minority" who pose "wild claims."

"This is the price you pay for a medium that democratizes media access," he said. "But really, is that any different than traditional media outlets who pushed the conspiracy theory that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction? A little skepticism from the public in regards to all media would be well advised."

Mr. Friedman took issue with that characterization, saying the process should be transparent and trustworthy, and that the polls were "wildly out of whack" with the results – combined with the questionable machines – should be enough to raise concerns.

"It's no longer a theory that these systems are vulnerable to tampering," he said. "And it doesn't take a conspiracy, it takes one real person."

Online-buzz trackers said the conversation still hasn't grown to the point where it's more than a blip on the radar, if even that. But that could change if the objections gain traction, said Pete Blackshaw, executive vice president of strategic services for Nielsen Online, which tracks blogs and buzz on the Web.

"It could bubble into a broader conversation," he said. "What will be interesting is, to what extent does the hoopla run into the next [contest]? ... For a lot of the bloggers, they're going to have to run the calculus of [whether] prying into this issue of alleged fraud is ... a better conversation starter than the next primary."

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