Menge: Who Owns Indiana’s Voting Machines?
by Margaret Menge
The question of who owns voting machines and the software they run on has resurfaced since the Nov. 3 election with the Trump campaign pointing fingers at Smartmatic, which was started by three Venezuelans.
One company that has escaped scrutiny thus far is Hart InterCivic, the third-largest maker of voting machines in the United States, which makes the voting machines used in seven Indiana counties: Cass, Gibson, Harrison, Monroe, Ohio, Washington and Wayne, as well as several counties in southern Michigan, two in Pennsylvania and many in California and Texas.
Hart InterCivic, unbeknownst to . . . pretty much everybody . . . was recently acquired by an investment company founded by the son of Clinton associate Strobe Talbott, who helped distribute the Steele dossier – seen by many on the Right as a concocted effort to tie President Donald Trump to the Russian government and to overturn the results of the 2016 presidential election.
Why this was not announced anywhere will surely be a topic for conversation going forward, and perhaps result in a push for more transparency about the ownership of machines that count the votes and determine the winners in every American election.
A little background on Hart InterCivic: The company is based in Austin, Texas, and was founded in 1912 as a commercial printer involved in printing ballots for Texas counties. In the 1990s, Hart purchased three election-services companies and thus got into the business of manufacturing electronic vote-tallying equipment.
In 2011, Hart InterCivic was purchased by a Miami-based private equity firm called HIG and in July was sold to a group backed by Enlightenment Capital.
Enlightenment Capital is an investment company founded in 2012 by Devin Talbott, age 44, and defense expert Pierre Chao. It is based in Chevy Chase, Maryland, a wealthy suburb of Washington, D.C.
Devin Talbott is the son of Strobe Talbott, who was ambassador-at-large, Russia advisor and then deputy secretary of state under President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 2001 and the president of the Brookings Institution, Washington’s premier liberal think tank, from 2002 until 2017. It was recently revealed that a Russian citizen who worked at Brookings under Talbott and went on to work for Christopher Steele – Igor Danchenko – was the main or perhaps the only Russian source of information on Trump and Russia in the Steele dossier. It was also reported that Talbott obtained the dossier from Steele and helped distribute it inside the United States – making him a key figure in the Russia collusion narrative that gripped American politics for much of President Donald Trump’s first three years in office.
The son, now the managing director of Enlightenment Capital, has also been politically involved. Devin Talbott made 86 political contributions in this election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records, including to the Biden campaign, the Lincoln Project, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, the Michigan Democratic State Central Committee and the Mark Kelly for Senate campaign in Arizona.
Devin Talbott did not return calls and messages seeking comment. Hart InterCivic also did not return several calls asking who owns the company and also did not reply to email messages. HIG did reply to emails, confirming they sold Hart InterCivic but said it was to a manager group, and that they were unaware of Enlightenment Capital’s involvement.
Bloomberg’s Corporate Action Calendar records that Enlightenment Capital acquired Hart on July 3, 2020 and Axios confirmed this on Nov. 16.
According to its website, Enlightenment Capital invests in defense-related companies, most of which are involved in information technology, data analytics, machine learning, cloud services and intelligence. One of those companies is Tyler Technologies, which produces software that is used by election officials to display voting results.
Enlightenment Capital does not list Hart InterCivics on its website among the companies it is invested in.
The lobbyist for Hart InterCivic, Sam Derheimer, also did not respond to messages left for him. Derheimer sits on the Election Infrastructure Sector Coordinating Council, which advises the Department of Homeland Security on election integrity, and on Twitter and on his Facebook page, took credit for helping draft the Nov. 12 statement calling this year’s presidential election “the most secure in American history.”The statement seemed dismissive, or at least premature, given that there certainly hadn’t been enough time to run down and examine allegations of fraud, irregularities and violations of election law in several states.
It will probably come as a surprise to most Americans to learn that the people who own and run voting machine companies are not prohibited from being involved in politics, though most people would agree that it doesn’t contribute to confidence in the system.
“It damages these companies if their owners are partisan actors,” says Dan Wallach, a Rice University professor of computer science who focuses on election security. Even hacked machines can pass certifications, he said. “When you don’t have security and you have partisan ownership, it’s bad news.”
And it’s fair to ask why the high-finance son of Strobe Talbott would want to buy a voting machine company.
“It’s a tiny little market,” says Wallach, adding that the voting business is so limited that it would be a “round-off error” on the balance sheet of a big tech company like Apple.
No one was answering calls at the Indiana Secretary of State’s Election Division on Tuesday, and a junior staffer who returned a call said he didn’t know whether the state, which certifies and approves voting machines for use by counties, ever inquires as to who owns the companies that make the machines.Hart InterCivic voting machines are used in the entire state of Hawaii and in select counties in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, California, Texas, New Jersey, Washington, Tennessee, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri and Idaho.
Margaret Menge, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation and a veteran journalist now residing in Bloomington, has reported for the Miami Herald, Columbia Journalism Review, InsideSources, Breitbart, the New York Observer and the American Conservative. She also worked as an editor for the Miami Herald Company and UPI.