Article Launched: 06/30/2006 04:15:41 AM PDT
No more blind trust in unverifiable elections
My Word by Dave Berman
My beef with elections has never been about winners and losers. The problem I've always addressed is that "We The People" accept that a winner and loser could even be determined from election conditions that ensure the true outcome cannot be known. This is not a partisan perspective, nor even a skeptic's point of view, per se, but rather that of empirical science, which has precise parameters for determining proof. I call it a basis for confidence.
During the next federal election, as with the last, about 30 percent of votes will be cast on paperless electronic machines (DREs). This is the most obvious of all the election issues to understand -- if there is no way to recount the votes, how can we know for sure who won? For those inclined to simply "trust" the machines, realize that they are programmed in secret, by corporations who shield them from scrutiny with claims of proprietary privilege. You can choose to trust, but the conditions offer no basis for confidence, no proof by any definition, that the reported results match the will of the people.
Sometimes local Humboldt media will brush off a story if the local relevance is not immediately apparent. The whole of Congress, as well as the presidency, surely have a real impact on the lives of all in our community. The legitimacy of voting in federal elections, regardless of where the ballots are cast, has local consequences here. DREs in use elsewhere do matter in Humboldt.
Like many other states, California has banned the use of paperless voting machines. What we are left with is no better when it comes to delivering conclusive results. Our secretary of state, Bruce McPherson, has approved various optical scanners made by an array of different vendors. Humboldt uses Diebold machines.
While voters do cast a paper ballot, the counting literally occurs inside a "black box." The information from the ballots, while inside the scanner, is converted into Diebold's proprietary programming language, AccuBasic. Like the programming of the DREs, the public, the media and even elections officials are prohibited from scrutinizing the code. When the will of the people takes this secret form, how can we know the reported results are accurate? This is not something we can know, though again we might simply trust.
It is worth noting that the "interpreter code" responsible for the conversion to the secret language is not compliant with state or federal regulations. McPherson certified illegal machines for use in California. Should such lawlessness surprise a population that is no longer free from government surveillance, and which no longer enjoys a presumption of innocence? The erosion of our democracy has been enabled by a population willing to take unverified, and in many cases unverifiable, information as if it were proven fact (and that goes well beyond elections).
When McPherson approved the machines with illegal programming, he also ignored the findings and recommendations of his own technical staff. Having reviewed the equipment, the secretary's own experts confirmed the results of other security experiments demonstrating that election results could be changed quickly and without detection by someone with only brief access to just one memory card. Rather than deem them unfit, McPherson approved the machines with certain conditions, among them that the memory cards remain secure, and in the possession of not fewer than two people.
Throughout California, including here in Humboldt, voting machines were sent home with poll workers one or more days prior to the "election." The machines thus became decertified as an automatic consequence of violating the secretary's security risk mitigation conditions. But unconcerned about the legal ramifications, we still cast our ballots in the black box and blindly put our trust in the results.
No one can prove either way whether these faulty machines were tampered with, but we know it can be done and the opportunity existed. There is no onus on the citizen watchdog to prove that fraud occurred. Instead, the burden is on the Elections Department to prove, not that fraud didn't occur, but simply that the results match the will of the people.
Such proof would exist if members of the community were to hand-count the official paper ballots of record. New provisions would be required to train enough people to conduct the count in a reasonable amount of time, and sufficient space would have to be procured. These are only insurmountable obstacles if you really don't want a hand count.
Just as with the inescapable conclusion that humans are advancing global warming, the no basis for confidence position is now well established. This discussion has evolved to question how the media can report what they can't prove, and what they haven't independently verified. Election results are basically a report from a governmental body going through the media unfiltered. How is that not state-run media?
I think it would greatly benefit this community to hold a forum with a panel of local media decision-makers ready to answer questions. It would also make a lot of sense for the local media to restore credibility by calling for the hand count, and then documenting it carefully.
Dave Berman is a founding member of the Voter Confidence Committee of Humboldt County. His new book, "We Do Not Consent," can be downloaded for free at: http://tinyurl.com/rlnr2. He lives in Eureka.