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The math behind Dominion Voting System's $1.6 billion lawsuit against Fox News

Advertisements featuring Fox News personalities, including Tucker Carlson, adorn the front of the News Corporation building in a 2019 file photo. The cable channel faces a defamation suit going to trial next week based on lies it aired about Dominion Voting System's role in the 2020 election.
Drew Angerer
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Getty Images
Advertisements featuring Fox News personalities, including Tucker Carlson, adorn the front of the News Corporation building in a 2019 file photo. The cable channel faces a defamation suit going to trial next week based on lies it aired about Dominion Voting System's role in the 2020 election.

Fox's legal filings have pushed back against Dominion's damage claims, arguing "that figure has no connection to Dominion's financial value as a company." A 2018 estimate by the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania put the privately held company's annual revenues at about $100 million.

Damages often 'can't be proven with mathematical precision'

If the jury finds Fox liable in the case, the jury can award compensatory damages for actual losses suffered by Dominion — including reputational harm and loss of value to the privately held company. (The jury could also award Dominion punitive damages to punish Fox for its behavior.)

Dominion will also have to show the comments were made with "actual malice." Under that standard, Dominion's attorneys will have to convince a jury that Fox either knowingly broadcast something false and damaging to the election tech firm's reputation, or willfully disregarded facts it should have known disproving those statements.

A person walks past the Fox News headquarters at the News Corporation building in New York City last month. Dominion Voting Systems is suing Fox News and parent company Fox Corp. over election fraud claims that Fox aired in 2020 and 2021.
Timothy A. Clary / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
A person walks past the Fox News headquarters at the News Corporation building in New York City last month. Dominion Voting Systems is suing Fox News and parent company Fox Corp. over election fraud claims that Fox aired in 2020 and 2021.

"You're talking about economic damages and economic disturbance, and so emotional feelings, hurt feelings, emotional damages, those kinds of things typically are not going to enter into the calculation," said Len Niehoff, a professor at the University of Michigan's law school.

A report commissioned by Dominion and filed with the court laid out about a billion dollars worth of damages the company says it has experienced. Dominion says it has lost $16 million in profits, more than $70 million in potential business, $14 million in legal, security and other expenses and more than $900 million in value due to the conspiracy theories tied to the 2020 election.

But Niehoff says making the case for monetary damages can be challenging because of the complexity in connecting the dots between a business loss and why the loss happened.

A Dominion Voting logo appears on a voting machine as it is tested while Clark County Election Department workers set up a polling place in Las Vegas last year.
Ethan Miller / Getty Images
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Getty Images
A Dominion Voting logo appears on a voting machine as it is tested while Clark County Election Department workers set up a polling place in Las Vegas last year.

Breaking up with an election vendor isn't easy

In a sign that Shasta County might be an outlier, many other conservative jurisdictions around the country are sticking with Dominion, despite voter distrust.

In rural Fremont County, Colo., Justin Grantham recently renewed his country's contract with Dominion. Grantham is a Republican and leads the Colorado County Clerks Association. He said audits consistently show that the Dominion machines accurately count ballots, and the cost and training to switch just wouldn't be feasible.

"You're talking about learning how to use the system, learning how to program the ballots in the election, learning how to just figure out the tabulation and the software and the hardware," he said.

Grantham said training election judges and staff on new equipment would be another huge undertaking.

"You're talking massive training requirements for something that's used, oh gosh, once a year in the odd years and two to three times in the even years."

Grantham and other election professionals say the true impacts of the 2020 conspiracy theories on Dominion's business may not be known for years when current voting machine contracts come due, and if officials in conservative counties face political pressure to look elsewhere for their equipment.

Copyright 2024 CPR News

Corrected: April 16, 2023 at 11:00 PM CDT
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the majority owner of Dominion Voting Systems as State Street Partners. It is Staple Street Partners.
Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
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