- Despite the wide-spread, and perfectly reasonable belief
that the government counts the national vote on election night, the reality
is entirely different: The vote is counted by a little-known private corporation
named Voter News Services (VNS) located in New York City. VNS is a major
media conglomerate comprised of all the major networks, including Fox and
CNN, and also the wire services, the New York Times, and the Washington
Post. All of the vote results tabulated in each county, mainly by computer,
are transferred to VNS where they are tabulated in secret and disseminated
to the public, who accepts them without question. The computer tabulated
votes at the county level leave no paper trail. Only the corporations who
program the software to count votes in each state know for sure if the
results are fair, or if fraud has indeed been been committed. There are
no checks and balances. The software is not open to public scrutiny. Neither
- Created in 1970 as News Election Services (NES), VNS
has existed in near total secrecy for thirty years and may well be the
most powerful corporation in the world. Most people who know of their existence
incorrectly believe they are little more than a polling organization. The
fact is that they have co-opted the vote count in America, despite their
claims that the results they disseminate are "unofficial." These
results are accepted across the board on election night by Americans and
election officials. VNS is very well aware of this uncontested power. They
know that very few Americans have the time or inclination to challenge
the vote count. They also know that when they are challenged, they have
little to fear. Understandably, they have responded to accusations of vote
fraud with the arrogance befitting the power of a private and unaccountable
- On May 18th, E. Baylis, a reporter for the Asheville
Global Report called VNS and requested information about their organization.
Ms. Baylis spoke with Lee C. Shapiro, the press secretary for VNS. The
simple conversation was quickly aborted when Baylis asked if a citizen
watchdog group existed to oversee the function of VNS on election night.
Shapiro replied that she was "not going to get into this with you,"
and insisted she had a meeting to attend.
- On May 20th, another Global Report writer, Victoria Collier,
called VNS. She was told that Ms. Shapiro was in a meeting. Collier asked
only one question: if there was any literature about VNS that could be
sent through the mail, such as a brochure. The secretary had no answer,
then put her on hold for nearly five minutes. The next person to appear
on the other end of the line was the head of VNS himself, Bill Headline.
He wanted to know why she was calling. The following is the transcript
of the ensuing conversation.
- (Editors note- The stuttering and stammering on the part
of Bill Headline offered Collier ample time for transcribing the conversation
as it took place, but has been largely edited for the sake of the reader.
What remains is necessary to give you a feeling for his extreme nervousness.)
- Victoria Collier
- Interview with Bill Headline--VNS Executive Director,
New York City May 20, 2000
- Collier- Yes, I was calling to ask if you had any information
you could send to me. Any literature about your organization.
- Headline- Ah, well. . . um. . . . . (laughs) . . I hesitate
only because we don't really have anything in the way of literature. Uh.
. . we have a fax sheet that we're in the process of putting together but
it's not ready for distribution. Um. . .
- Collier- Oh. And you don't have a Website?
- Headline- Well, no, we don't have a Website.
- Collier- But, people poll for you? I mean, you do poll?
- Headline- We. . uh, we do exit polling.
- Collier- Do you have volunteers who do that?
- Headline- No, we hire people around the country to do
- Collier- So, if somebody wanted to work for you, how
would they get information on how to do it?
- Headline- Well they would, uh. . . they would drop us
a note and say that they were interested in. . uh. . in doing that. And
I'd be happy to uh. . . to receive such a note. And uh. . . we have a .
. uh. . . a group of people who recruit for exit polling on election night.
- Collier- Well, it is strange that you don't have any
written information that you could send out. I mean--
- Headline- Why is it strange?
- Collier- Well just because your organization has been
around for such a long time, and it seems that in all this time there would
be something written up. For the public?
- Headline- We uh. . . we do a little, a little . . . as
I say, we have a fax that's in uh, that's in development. And uh, we have
a . . . a brochure that gets sent out to people who have been hired to
work for us.
- Collier- Oh, you do have a brochure.
- Headline- A. . . well, brochure is kind of stretching
it, it's a. . . it's one page.
- Collier- It's one page?
- Headline- But I, uh. . I mean. . .(laughs) I am aware
that this is not the first contact between uh. . . uh. . . your organization
and ours. So, I mean. . . . What is it that you want to know?
- Collier- I would like to know exactly what it is that
you do on election night. That's--
- Headline- And why do you want to know this?
- Collier- Because I'm . . . I'm a voter.
- Headline- But that's not why you're calling us.
- Collier- Well, actually that is why. That's it. Of course,
I'm sure you're aware of certain charges, of. . . secrecy, I guess, that
have been brought against what was NES, and I think you're the same group--
you're VNS now-- and I'm really just checking it out for myself, to see
if I can get information. Because I really wasn't aware of the importance
of your group in vote counting on election night. I just want to get information
on what it is you do. And the question that was asked to Lee C. Shapiro
last week that I think caused the problem was: Is there a citizen organization
that oversees VNS on election night to make sure that all of the votes
are being tallied correctly? But there wasn't an answer to that.
- Headline- Well there are a couple of answers to that.
First of all, uh. . .our sources. . . Well, we do three things. We do exit
polling, and we. . .uh. . .we make statistical models of each state, and
we collect the vote from those models . . from those model precincts. And
we, uh. . . we collect the entire vote from across the country, primarily
at the county level. So, you know. . . is there a citizen group? No, there's
not a citizen group. Is there a . . . a double check? Yes, the official
results don't come from us, they come from. . . from, uh, states. States
and. . . and counties.
- Collier- Right.
- Headline- Uh. . .we're. . .uh. . . we're. . in the long
run it's those results that are the official results, and . . . uh. . .uh.
. . if you look at the history of the organization, the history of what.
. . what we do, um. . . uh, (laughs). . . the official results are the
final answer. And we have. . . Well, I can't give you any statistical information
because I don't think there's ever been any need to do it, but . . . we've.
. . we've never been out of sync with the official results.
- Collier- No, you haven't, actually your vote projections
in particular are remarkably in sync with the official results, which I
think has been questioned in the past. That might be something a lot of
people might be interested in, which is --
- Headline- If- if- if you see a conspiracy there, uh.
- Collier- No, that's not what I said. I think --
- Headline- That's been the accusation, I think, or one
of the accusations . .
- Collier- No, that isn't what I said. Actually the question
is simply, how exactly do you. . . what's the formula for the vote total
projections? You're projecting the vote totals almost perfectly, before
the polls even close. You use exit polling for this? You're saying that
you use certain precincts that you get your exit polling from and they
would be, I guess, key precincts?
- Headline- Well key precincts isn't, uh. . . isn't the,
uh. . . isn't uh, the terminology that we use because it's. . . that's
confusing, although it has been used in the past. They are simply sample
precincts. They are part of the statistical sample, of the country.
- Collier- Do you use the same precincts in each election?
- Headline- No.
- Collier- No? So . . .
- Headline- We- we- we, we sample them. This is something
that the statisticians understand better than I do.
- Collier- Really? What's your position?
- Headline- I run the place.
- Collier- You're the president?
- Headline- No, I'm executive director.
- Collier- Executive director. Okay, I don't want to quote
you incorrectly. Spell your name?
- Headline- Bill Headline. H-E-A-D-L-I-N-E.
- Collier- Okay. . . Is Robert Flaherty still the president?
- Headline- No.
- Collier- Not anymore?
- Headline- He never was. He might've been at NES. I don't
know what those titles were. He is a former executive director.
- Collier- Who's the president now?
- Headline- There isn't one.
- Collier- Oh, so you're top of the line then.
- Headline- (laughs) I like to think so.
- Collier- How long have you been working with VNS?
- Headline- I've been this shop a little over two years.
- (Explains the name changed from NES to VNS in 1993)
- Collier- So you only do exit polls, you don't do entrance
- Headline- Well entrance polls, uh . . . uh. . . they've
been used occasionally when it's difficult for whatever reasons to exit
poll. But the preference is to do exit polls.
- Collier- Okay. So then in the upcoming election, would
it be possible to. . . well, would it be possible for me, for example,
to take part in the exit polling?
- Headline- (long pause) Um. . . . if. . . if there was
a . . .a . . .a sample precinct in uh. . . in your area, and it made sense
to hire you to . . . to do that , it's . . it's theoretically possible.
I- I- I must tell you that, uh . . . uh . . . it would not be something
that we would want to do, because what you try to do in exit polling, in
any polling, is to have the process as pure as you can, and uh. . . the
purity in, uh . . . in this case. . . has to do with someone who has uh.
. . uh. . . only kind of a general interest in doing it. You're . . . I
would not want to hire you because you've . . you or your organization
has been antagonists for reasons that I don't understand, uh . . . and,
uh . . . and, uh . . .
- Collier- I don't have an organization. Actually I'm not
even on staff at the Global Report, I just - -
- Headline- Well, you represent yourself as being from
the Global Report.
- Collier- I'm writing for the Global Report. Actually
I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to speak to anybody if I didn't have some
kind of an organization, either a newspaper or something else behind me--
- Headline- Right.
- Collier- Which I do. But you know, I'm not on staff with
them, and really I am- I'm a voter. I'm just a person, a citizen, who's
- Headline- Right.
- Collier- That's all. And I think, well, isn't that criteria
for working for the exit polls?
- Headline- Well, uh . . . generally speaking, it's nice
to have some polling experience, but, uh. . . but that's not absolutely
necessary. We recruit people who have an interest in doing the job, and
will rehearse according to our directions and follow the directions that
are part of the polling package. And certainly you . . uh. . . you might
- Collier- Well listen, I am not antagonistic. And I certainly
hope I haven't been in this telephone call. I'm just interested in the
voting procedure, and I'm. . . you know, I'm just a politically active
- Headline- Right.
- Collier- I'm just interested in it. So I don't see how
I wouldn't qualify. And I really would enjoy doing it. And it's not that
I'm unaware of the problems that certain people have had with your organization,
but I'm willing to look at everything unbiasedly. I just want to see how
- Headline- Right, right. . .
- Collier- So, how would I go about doing this?
- Headline- Drop me a line.
- Collier- Well, I am. I'm dropping you a line. This is
- Headline- Okay. Okay.
- Collier- So, what's the next step?
- Headline- Uh. . . uh, if. . . if you'll drop me a line,
I'll get it into the hands of the people who do the recruiting, and uh.
. . and, we'll see where it goes from there. And I'm, I'm willing to pass
that along without any. . . without any comments or restrictions.
- Collier- Okay. I'm glad I'm speaking to you, because
I really did want to speak to somebody and I know that Ms. Shapiro isn't
in today, and I did have a question. I mean, if you're concerned about
the antagonism then it's a good opportunity to clear up some of the --
- Headline- Well, she had had a conversation with somebody
from the Global Report the other day that was less than satisfactory. I
guess in every respect.
- Collier- I know.
- Headline- So she's a little cautious about, about --
- Collier- I think what it was, was that she (the GR reporter)
had asked if there was a citizen oversight group for VNS and Ms. Shapiro
said she didn't want to "get into it." Then I think that there
was an accusation that Ms. Shapiro was being evasive. And, you know, that
wasn't necessary, I'm sure that there is an answer- and there is. The answer
is; No, there isn't a citizen group. And that would've been sufficient.
- Headline- Right. Well the point there is that. . . uh.
. . is that if, if our results are. . . are. . . uh, not accurate, uh.
. . then our credibility ceases. And uh. . .
- Collier- But, you see--
- Headline- We feel like there's a. . . a substantial body
out there of official election result collectors, with whom we, uh. . .
with whom we have to be in sync.
- Collier- Well, I'm pretty sure you're aware of the book
- Headline- Uh, yes.
- Collier- I'm just assuming you are.
- Headline- I'm not intimately aware of it, I'm aware that,
uh. . . that such a book exists. That it made all sorts of allegations
about what we do and how we do it and why we do it.
- Collier- Well, I think the main problem there is that
there were two reporters who actually had come up with really massive evidence
of vote fraud, and then when they went to get it to the Media, the Media
was unwilling to investigate the charges. And so, of course, because the
Media is so powerful, they couldn't get anywhere with the story. And if
that ever is truly a problem, as it had been, considering that you ARE
the Media, then the question comes into play; Is there a citizen watchdog
group, and an independant media source that could report on vote fraud?
How could they do it, if you're the Media, and you're in the process of
counting the votes, and nobody's allowed in to watch the process?
- Headline- Well, what I would suggest to you is, in the
current Media climate, if there was any, uh. . . any substance in any allegation
about vote fraud, that there would be all sorts of Media people out there,
uh. . .uh, who would be not only willing but anxious to jump in and prove
- Collier- Well, you would think so. You would definitely
think so. But that hasn't been the case.
- Headline- Well, what I'm suggesting to you is that, given
the importance and influence of the Internet, the fact that many Internet
publications seem to. . .uh. . . exist with a different set of rules than
the ones that we're used to, uh. . . I don't think you'd find much hesitation
in attacking us if there was anything to attack.
- Collier- Well, there already is more than one Website
and many reporters doing just that. But you know, they're really only attacking
from outside the gates. They aren't allowed in. And maybe that would fix
the problem, if on election night one of these independent media groups
was able to take part or at least witness what goes on.
- Headline- But, but. . tell me what the problem is!
- Collier- The problem is simply that they can't. They
can't get in.
- Headline- No, but, tell me. . . tell me what the allegations
are. Is there any evidence that anything that we've ever done is, uh. .
has been illicit or immoral? Or has --
- Collier- There's actually very little evidence of anything
because nobody can get in.
- Headline- No, but. . . but, but you or the people who
you've been associated with are questioning what. . . what we do and how
we do it, uh . . . as if there was some wrong that's been done out there.
- Collier- Well, actually, there is evidence. Just for
example, I believe it was in Iowa, there was a- I'm not sure which election
this was- there was a citizen group watching the county vote count, a paper
ballot count- and then when the results were reported- it was a Buchanan
support group who was watching- I believe the county results were different
than the results from VNS broadcast over the news. And so, you're right,
it can be watched at the county level, and it was watched at the county
level, but, when the supporters of Buchanan demanded the final results
from the county, and this must've been in 1996, they have yet to receive
- Headline- Thats. . .their battle is with the county,
it's not with us.
- Collier- Well, it's also with you, because they don't
agree with the results that they were given from you, but they need the
official results from the county so that they can deal with it from there,
and they still haven't received it. So you see, you can't depend on the
goodwill of the county, necessarily.
- Headline- (laughs) The official results have to be available
from the county.
- Collier- You would think so, but, you know, they're not.
And in most cases people are not watching the vote at the county level
anyway. Although that might change in the future, as more people become
aware of the need to do this. They haven't realized the need to watch the
process. And you, the Media , you don't tell them they have to watch the
process. So, you know, everyone's asleep. Everyone simply assumes that
the results they see on television are the real ones, without questioning
it. And if you committed fraud, who would report on it?
- Headline- Let me make something perfectly clear to you,
which is that, uh. . . . . What we do. . . and how we do it . . . We have
absolutely no qualms, uh. . . about how we do what we do and we have no
concerns about the ethical character about what we do. And what we do is,
uh. . . attempt to be as correct and. . . and as statistically correct
and as accurate as we can be, and the idea that we would cook the numbers
somehow is. . . is so outrageous to us, and so implausible, and impossible,
- Collier- Why?
- Headline- That we're kind of shocked by the accusations.
- Collier- How is it implausible and impossible? . . .
That's a good thing to explain! That would clear all this up.
- Headline- Because we're a creature of the six leading
journalistic organizations in the country, none of whom could survive if
they did that sort of thing. It's very simple.
- Collier- How is that? How is it that they couldn't survive?
Because there are already independant reporters who have tried to cover
this story, vote fraud in conjunction with VNS, and they. . . they couldn't
get anywhere with it. There was a total Media blackout.
- Headline- If-if-if NBC News or CBS News or the Associated
Press cooked the numbers, falsely reported, and believe me, if there. .
. if there was. . . lets take for example, uh. . . let's use an example
out of television. "Dateline," and the uh. . . . and the staging
that they did some years ago in the story on gas tanks exploding. I'm sure
you remember that. Uh. . . General Motors pick-up trucks. Uh. . . that
was discovered, and reported upon, by independant press and by everybody
in the business and uh. . . .and "Dateline" took a lot of hits.
They were wrong, they were proven wrong, and that's the kind of thing that
could destroy a journalistic organization. And that's not what they're
about, that was an embarrasment to people within NBC News and to everyone
in the business. And that's not the kind of thing that anybody invites.
And to cook the books, or falsely report, would open all six of our Member
organizations to that kind of criticism. And --
- Collier- Well, obviously.
- Headline- And that's not what we're doing.
- Collier- But the thing is- now, tell me if I'm wrong,
I'm trying to understand this- If you're a pool of all these different
Media organizations, it's not that they would be falsely reporting, necessarily,
I mean they're getting their vote totals from you. Right? Everybody's getting
the same numbers from you?
- Headline- Yeah. . . They, they use them as they see fit.
And they all have their own numbers as well.
- Collier- They all have their own numbers? Now, wait.
Look, I'm sure you can explain this to me. I want to get this straight.
If, on election night, all the counties across the nation are getting their
results, then do they all call you? You have headquarters at 34th street?