Fox lawsuit highlights impact of conspiracy on Dominion

PHOENIX — In Arizona’s most populous borough, elected officials are preparing for what could happen when it comes time to replace his $2 million annual voting equipment contract.

Officials in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, say they have no concerns about their current provider, Dominion Voting Systems. The problem is that since the 2020 presidential election, the company has become entangled in a web of conspiracy theories that have undermined public confidence in the US election among conservative voters, prompted calls in some places to ban voting machines, and death threats against poll workers across the United States have triggered the country.

“I have concerns about my own personal safety if we re-recruit Dominion,” Maricopa County clerk Stephen Richer, a 2020 Republican-elect, said in a court filing. “It went from a company no one had heard of to a company that is perhaps one of the most demonized brands in the United States or the world.”

This sudden fortune turnaround for the Colorado-based voting machine company is at the heart of a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit it has filed against Fox News. The trial is scheduled to begin in mid-April. Dominion alleges Fox defamed it by repeatedly making false claims about the company’s voting machines and software. Court filings and witness testimonies showed several Fox anchors and executives didn’t believe the claims made by former President Donald Trump and his allies since the 2020 election, but continued to air them, in part because they worried about losing viewers.

Fox has argued the network reported allegations that were newsworthy as Trump and his Republican allies disputed his loss to Joe Biden, a Democrat. The network said Dominion overstated its value and downplayed security concerns about its machines. His attorneys also argue that the documents presented in the case show Dominion is in a solid financial position.

Dominion has presented evidence showing lost contracts and business opportunities over the past two years. It cites misinformation as the reason officials in some counties in Nevada, Pennsylvania and Tennessee have canceled their contracts with him, and other counties in Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey and Ohio have opted not to renew.

PHOTOS: Fox lawsuit highlights conspiracy impact on Dominion

One expert, in a report provided by Dominion in November as part of its lawsuit, estimated that the company had suffered nearly $16 million in lost profits from customers who either terminated their contracts early or chose not to renew.

The same estimate puts Dominion already suffering $72.3 million in lost opportunities, including potential contract renewals, additional equipment sales and service contracts with existing customers, and new business.

Overall, the expert estimated that the company had lost $920 million in value, including estimated taxes the company would have to pay if it were awarded damages. The expert also estimated additional future missed opportunities that have yet to be publicly detailed.

“The evidence will show that Dominion was a valuable, fast-growing company executing on its expansion plan before Fox began promoting and promoting unsubstantiated lies about Dominion voting machines,” Dominion spokeswoman Stephanie Walstrom said in a statement.

The company’s challenges don’t end there, as conspiracies about the last presidential election have permeated much of the Republican Party. Trump allies continue to travel the country, meeting with community groups and hosting forums to promote election conspiracies.

The conspiracies have been cited by some county officials, who say they are responding to voter concerns, as justification for refusing to confirm election results and have fueled attempts to decertify or ban voting machines.

“People don’t act rationally,” said Lawrence Norden, an election security expert at the Brennan Center for Justice, which has advocated for increased voter access and polling station funding. “They are terminating contracts at great cost to their taxpayers.”

Not included in the Dominion Expert’s report are recent actions, including in Shasta County, California, where the Board of Directors terminated its contract with Dominion early. At a January meeting, the board cited a loss of public confidence in the machines used in the county to tabulate hand-marked ballots.

In 2020, Trump won Shasta County with 65% of the vote.

“Dominion needs to show me that we have a free and fair election,” said Board Chairman Patrick Henry Jones, who led the effort to end the contract. “Just because we’re all sitting up here and elected doesn’t mean we’ve had free and fair elections every time.”

The board is now pursuing a plan to hand-count the ballots, a process that experts in all but the smallest jurisdictions say is less accurate and more time-consuming. Trump ally Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow, has promised to support their efforts to get rid of their voting machines.

In an interview, Lindell said he is willing to help cover the costs of any legal proceedings Shasta County may face.

“You have the right to participate in paper ballots and a hand count,” Lindell said. “You have to be brave or we won’t get rid of these machines.”

Cathy Darling Allen, Shasta County’s elected secretary and voter registry, has defended the voting equipment, accusing “debunked conspiracy theories” of undermining the voting system and the county’s staff. She has warned that the county is at risk of not being able to hold elections.

“Your actions have jeopardized the security of our elections and set a dangerous precedent that emboldens outsiders to subvert our county-level elections,” Darling Allen wrote before Congress earlier this month.

She estimated that manually counting all the ballots in a presidential election with 50 nominations would cost at least $1.6 million and would require hiring nearly 1,300 temps. The county has more than 111,000 registered voters.

Election security experts feared that even before the 2020 election, the market for voting machines was limited and dominated by three companies. A Dominion competitor, Election Systems & Software, has not reported any contract terminations but has also been forced to defend its reputation amid voting machine conspiracies.

Erin Murphy, an attorney for Fox, told the Delaware Superior Court judge presiding over the defamation case in a recent hearing that Dominion had “a real speculation problem” regarding its claims for damages, saying the argument was on Dominion’s behalf lost profits on what appears to be the assumption that if Fox had not reported the voter fraud allegations, it would have gotten every contract it sought.

This ignores the fact that Dominion’s competitors have sometimes offered lower bids or more attractive technologies, Murphy said. Fox has highlighted internal communications, including a chat in which a Dominion employee said, “God, our products suck,” as well as a federal advisory detailing potential vulnerabilities that have been reported in a Dominion system.

Arizona’s Maricopa County has been at the forefront of Dominion conspiracy theories. The GOP-controlled Legislature in 2021 used its subpoena power to seize the county’s voting equipment and hired a Trump-supporter-run firm to search them looking for evidence compromising the machines. They found none, and Doug Logan, who oversaw the project, conceded that “the Dominion machine is actually pretty accurate” in a private text message that surfaced in an independent court case. Nonetheless, distrust remains widespread.

Dominion’s executive vice president of sales, Waldeep Singh, said in a court filing that the situation in Arizona has made it impossible to do business there. He blamed conspiracy theories for scuttling the company’s chances of winning business in Yavapai County, a conservative rural county north of Phoenix.

“All I can tell you is that based on my experience and what we were doing in Arizona at the time, we were headed in a very positive direction,” Singh said.

Now he said, “I don’t think we’re going to win anything again in Arizona.”

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