A month ago, Dominion Voting Systems seemed like a dragon slayer. The conservative news behemoth Fox News had just agreed to pay Dominion $787.5 million to settle a defamation suit that was hours away from going to trial. It was the largest such settlement ever announced by a media company.
And yet, to Dominion CEO John Poulos, even that payday likely won’t be enough to save his company. The reputational damage Dominion has endured is just too severe, he tells TIME in a strikingly pessimistic interview about the company’s future.
“It’s just easier for our customers to use something that’s not Dominion,” Poulos says. “We just know that our business ultimately goes to zero.”
Since Poulos incorporated Dominion two decades ago, the company has grown into one of the largest providers of electronic voting hardware and software in America. But it wasn’t until the 2020 election that Dominion became a household name, after former President Donald Trump and his allies voiced conspiracy theories about it, including baseless allegations that the company helped rig the election by flipping votes for Trump to Joe Biden. Some outlets, like Fox News, began to spread those claims further, sparking public anger against the company. Earlier this year, Shasta County in northern California ended its contract with Dominion despite not having a replacement vendor lined up.
Poulos describes a scenario to TIME in which more customers begin to flee. He says the company’s products are sound, and that most of the government entities around the country that use them wouldn’t resort to terminating their contracts early. But it’s a different story for when those contracts come up for renewal.
“Whenever the next time a customer chooses to buy a new system—because every eight years or so, you replace your voting system for obsolescence and for certification issues—they’ll just say, ‘Man, it’s just not worth going through the hassle just to buy Dominion,’” Poulos anticipates. “‘They might be a little less expensive, they might be a little more functional, their service offering might be a little better. But it’s so much brain damage working with them because of the public outcry.’”
When asked to confirm that he is predicting Dominion will lose all its business, Poulos doesn’t hesitate. “Eventually, I suspect all of our customers will go a different direction,” he says. “It’s just a matter of time.”
Dominion still has six other defamation cases pending, including suits against right-wing media companies Newsmax and One America News. The closely-watched litigation against Fox News led to the disclosure of texts and emails indicating that some at Fox had doubts about the election fraud claims the network was peddling, as well as embarrassing remarks by Tucker Carlson and other prominent personalities mocking Trump and his claims that he had beat Biden. Just before the blockbuster case was set to go to trial, the parties reached their historic settlement. Another election technology company, Smartmatic, has its own $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News moving forward.
Immediately after the settlement was announced, Poulos says, Dominion experienced a spike in death threats. Keeping his workforce safe remains a company priority.
As for Dominion’s future, Poulos is taking it one day at a time. The company is still focused on providing trusted voting systems to clients, with Poulos emphasizing that Americans do not have to trust Dominion blindly because of its commitment to transparency and its existing capability of producing paper ballots. But that defense may come too late.
“It basically put us into a death spiral,” Poulos says of the alleged defamation. “And by accusing us of the greatest American crime in history, it turned us, as one of our customers has described, as the most demonized brand in the United States.”
Poulos says it remains to be seen whether the company can raise enough awareness to counter the false claims about it that many Americans still believe. But he’s optimistic that the Fox settlement and the ongoing legal proceedings will, at the very least, help curb misinformation.
“We really hope that this puts an end to trusted media putting ratings and profits above the pursuit of the truth,” he says.
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