How Eric Coomer Turned the ‘Excellent Villain’ for Voting Conspiracists
Coomer watched the video in shock. He insists that he never took part in an Antifa phone call and felt disgusted by the accusation that he did everything he could to change the election result. The Trump campaign and its allies have launched more than 60 election fraud lawsuits in that country, but no court has found convincing evidence to support the idea that Coomer, Dominion, or anyone else involved in the vote count altered the election results. Non-partisan ballot scrutiny in highly competitive states like Georgia and Arizona confirmed Biden’s victory; and prominent Republicans, including Attorney General Bill Barr and Trump’s electoral cybersecurity official, have reiterated the basic facts of the election: overall, the results were correct, the electoral process was secure, and no widespread fraud that could alter the outcome has been exposed .
Oltmann is now the subject of a libel suit from Coomer. She currently names as co-defendants 14 parties responsible for spreading Oltmann’s allegations about this alleged Antifa phone call, including Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani and the Trump campaign. (Dominion has filed separate defamation suits against Giuliani, Powell, Fox News, and others. Giuliani, Powell, and the Trump campaign lawyers declined to comment. Fox called the Dominion litigation “baseless” and defended his right to “both sides” of telling the story.) Oltmann’s best defense would be to back up his claims about that phone call – he said there were up to 19 people on the phone – but he has so far refused.
When Coomer watched the video, however, he felt a second strong emotion: a strong feeling of regret – because the Facebook posts were actually authentic. Why, he thought, hadn’t he just deleted it? Coomer could imagine what his words would sound like to almost any Republican, let alone someone who’d heard on Fox News that Dominion switched votes for Biden. He told me that he believed every word he said on Facebook, but when colleagues later asked him what he thought he was frank: he screwed it up. Coomer had given conspiracy theorists a valuable resource, a grain of sand to turn into something that felt – the false promise – of evidence.
Elections in The United States is incredibly confused. Each county – and in some states, every township – holds its own elections, creating a patchwork system in which voters in one location can have a remarkably different voting process than their neighbors just a few miles away. This variation can arouse suspicion: if voters in one district believe their voting process is being carried out correctly, they may be suspicious of other methods in other districts.
Local governments also rely on private companies like Dominion and its competitors ES&S and Hart InterCivic, which together control 90 percent of the voting machine market, to provide machines, software and technical support. For Americans suspicious of – or arousing suspicion – an election result, these relatively obscure private companies are an obvious target. In 2004, after George W. Bush narrowly won the presidency, the Democrats focused on possible anomalies in Ohio, his 20 votes would have given John Kerry the presidency. The voting machines in use in Ohio that year came from Diebold, whose chairman Walden O’Dell was a longtime Republican donor. A year before the election, O’Dell wrote a letter to about 100 people inviting them to a fundraiser: “I pledge to help Ohio get its president voted for next year,” he wrote. The language increased the distrust of Diebold machines among some Democrats. O’Dell later said the letter was a “big mistake,” and Diebold eventually sold his voting machine business.
Dominion was formed after another controversy: the failure of the punch card voting machines – and their infamous hanging chads – in the 2000 election. After Congress funded a bill to replace these machines, many counties bought electronic voting machines (DRE) with direct Record, which completely abolished the paper ballot. The limits of this approach became clear in 2006 when a congressional race on ES&S DRE machines in Sarasota, Florida led to a result that seemed unlikely to partisans and neutral observers. ES&S stood by the results, but due to a lack of paper choice, doubts and uncertainty remained.
Dominion was well positioned at that moment. John Poulos, the company’s CEO and one of its founders, started the company in 2003 and served a small circle of customers who preferred a paper choice. In addition, Dominion has developed a tab that saves a digital image of the ballot papers for easy review. (They also sold machines that met the needs of visually impaired voters, with audio interfaces and headphones that allowed independence and anonymity.)