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Eternal Vigilance: The Fight to Save Our Election System

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Eternal Vigilance: The Fight to Save Our Election System David Earnhardt's Eternal Vigilance: The Fight to Save Our Election System focuses on the National Election Reform Conference, held in April 2005 in Nashville, which gathered several hundred concerned citizens from 30 states. Since it took place so close on the heels of the November 2004 election, it took on a sort of post-mortem feel. We survived, we're grieving, we're together. Now, what are we going to do? Something interesting is happening here. I keep thinking and writing "we" as opposed to "they". Even though I heard about the conference only after it took place, I feel like I was there. It's uncanny, this bond that connects all of us patriots who feel so strongly about the absolute need for fair elections. Before writing this piece, I wanted to pick Bob Koehler's brain about what went on in Nashville. He's out of reach now, visiting his daughter in France. I do know the conference had a profound effect on him. He went on to write shortly afterwards "The Silent Scream of Numbers: The 2004 election was stolen - will someone please tell the media? http://commonwonders.com/archives/col290.htm "It had the feel of 1775: citizen patriots taking matters into their own hands to reclaim the republic. This was the level of its urgency." Since today is the second anniversary of the 2004 election, it's fitting to write about this conference that brought together wounded souls reeling in the aftermath of the 2004 election, looking for meaning, and trying to figure out their next step. The Nashville conference participants shared feelings of devastation, isolation, and powerlessness. They converged in a House of Assembly to take comfort from like-minded people, and their gathering laid the groundwork for more activism fanning out across the country. The fact that the conference was held in a church with people sitting in pews lent it an added spiritual dimension. Civic duty is part of the sacred responsibility we owe to ourselves, our communities, and our country. Nine film crews attended the conference, and a lot of energy was generated. Several months later, there were more than 15,000 people gathered in Atlanta for a rally to extend the Voting Rights Act, with many of the Nashville conference attendees participating. The movement seemed to be gathering steam. One man was there with his grandchildren, and there were kids playing in marching bands apt symbols of who we're fighting this battle for. A clever sign read, "Voting is an act of self-defense." So it is, or at least, it should be. David Earnhardt sees the battle for voting rights within a historical context, particularly that of the Civil Rights movement. There is tremendous mindfulness of blacks' long, hard battle to get and keep the right to vote, and the film features snippets from moving speeches on the topic. Michael Grant of the NAACP states, "We can't afford to fail. It's not an option," while his colleague Charles Kimbrough encourages, "Don't get worried. Don't get weary." There is a lot to be done and it won't come easy. His words and his message have the feel of an old gospel song. Cliff Arnebeck, representing a group of Ohio voters, filed a lawsuit in Ohio Supreme Court contesting the U.S. presidential election, which is known as Moss v. Bush. He calls the stolen election the "biggest political crime" in our history "Watergate on steroids." But you certainly wouldn't know it from the apathetic and distant corporate media. Bruce O'Dell, an information technology consultant, rightly claims that our elections are a key component of our national security. We don't allow military intelligence the latitude of "plus or minus one ICBM heading towards Washington DC," so why do we allow for such imprecision in our elections? O'Dell writes systems for Fortune 500 companies in his day job, but favors dumping the machines altogether for hand-counted paper ballots because of what he knows about the flaws of EVM (electronic voting machines). Harvey Wasserman cites between 30 to 40 different ruses that kept voters from exercising their right in Ohio alone. Since so many votes were needed to swing Ohio for Bush, the Republicans mounted what Wasserman calls a "full court press," using different methods in different situations. "Every county had its own story". Earnhardt posts the long list that seems to just go on and on a highly effective visual. Approximately 3,107,490 provisional ballots were cast nationwide in 2004, an unprecedented number. Of those, more than 1,000,000 were rejected and not counted. In New Mexico, early voting yielded less than 1% undervote (where no vote was recorded in the Presidential race). Yet, on Election Day in a number of largely Native American precincts, the undervote rate was, incredibly, between 70-80%. What happened has never been determined, at least partly because of the obstacles Democratic Governor Richardson put before a recount. Syndicated journalist Bob Koehler says that when Kerry conceded so quickly, the people whose votes were compromised were left high and dry. Kerry's concession also made an inhospitable climate where legitimate issues couldn't be raised. While the media pointed to his decision as their justification for leaving the matter alone, Koehler maintains that they simply weren't doing their job. Brad "BradBlog" Friedman calls them the "lazy media" and fears that without media reform, we will not be able to accomplish election reform. Koehler echoes this, saying that the media protects its own interests, which are corporate interests. They are not looking for another president to step down, their only interest is in "making the world safe for media mergers." Harsh words borne out by an embarrassing abdication of responsibility. Friedman has said that because the press isn't doing its job, we need to step in and actually "be the media." We can accomplish this by spreading the word, talking to people, using the Web, joining together, and making new alliances. The Nashville conference was one example of this. At the core of this film lie Athan Gibbs's life and death. He exemplifies creative response to despair, dashed hopes, and the challenge we are currently facing. Gibbs was very upset that so many votes were not counted in the 2000 presidential election. He channeled his frustration into inventing TruVote, an electronic voting machine unlike any on the market now. It incorporated various security measures which are totally lacking at our polling places. He urged Bob Fitrakis, an investigative journalist as well as a PhD in political science, to look closely at his competitors. "I've been an accountant, an auditor, for more than 30 years. Electronic voting machines that don't supply a paper trail go against every principle of accounting and auditing that's being taught in American business schools," he insisted. "These machines are set up to provide paper trails. No business in America would buy a machine that didn't provide a paper trail to audit and verify its transaction. Now, they want the people to purchase machines that you can't audit? It's absurd." TruVote took off, catching the eye of Microsoft, and Fitrakis researched and wrote an article called "Diebold, electronic voting and the vast right-wing conspiracy." http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0225-05.htm Within a week of its publication, Gibbs was dead of a car accident. "He wanted every vote to matter" was the headline announcing his death. Gibbs would be very disappointed that we haven't lived up to his dream, or the American dream, for that matter. Eternal Vigilance is a step towards realizing that dream. Gibbs was a black man, mindful of the black American experience that has been plagued by slavery, Jim Crow, and political disenfranchisement. His untimely death put his TruVote system on hold, and allowed Diebold, ES&S, HartCivic, and Sequoia to take over. Knowing what I now know about electronic voting machinery, I would favor throwing it out altogether and starting fresh with something simpler, less expensive, and with fewer layers between the voter and his vote. Transparency is key. With so much at stake, voters must have confidence that their votes will be counted accurately. With electronic, "faith based" voting, there is simply no way for that to happen. The votes are counted in secret inside the bowels of the machinery. Once that is true, the system is wide open to fraud. Questions raised simply can't be answered. And that is unacceptable and antithetical to democratic principles. Today is the second anniversary of the 2004 election, although I have no intentions of celebrating. HBO chose this date to air "Hacking Democracy", its documentary on electronic voting, which was three years in the making. This morning, exactly two years after the 2004 debacle, the headline on BradBlog screamed that "New Vulnerability Discovered on Touch-Screen Systems Made by One of Country's Largest Voting Machine Companies Will Affect Elections in Dozens of States!" http://www.bradblog.com/?p=3714 This revelation was made by California voting rights activist, Tom Courbat. "It seems there's a little yellow button on the back (of) every touch-screen computer made by Sequoia Voting Systems that allows any voter, or poll worker, or precinct inspector to set the system into "Manual Mode" allowing them to cast as many votes as they want." This information was sent to Secretary of State Bruce McPherson's office a month ago, although he denies any knowledge of it. This is the same Secretary of State who has proudly boasted of the security of his state's election system. The same state official who has repeatedly recertified machines notable for numerous serious flaws and vulnerabilities. His own task force, whose work he then disregarded, warned against using the machines. And these machines will count the votes in his own hotly contested race. Now that everyone is worried about the Venezuelan connection to Sequoia, maybe McPherson will recommend dumping all of those machines and purchasing Diebold instead. After all, they have a stellar record of proving to be totally untrustworthy in every regard, and have flunked every independent study ever done. While I distrust electronic voting, however much it's been heralded as the answer to hanging chads, I do not doubt that we would be better off had the TruVote system been the electronic voting method in use now. Bob Fitrakis calls Athan Gibbs the first martyr in the 21st century battle for voting integrity. I agree. Whether we know it or not, we are all reeling from that loss. At the conclusion of the Nashville conference, Bernie Ellis speaks eloquently about the long and hard road ahead. His acknowledgment that "We are the ones we've been waiting for" helps the conference participants (and us) translate the despair after 2004 into working for change. Now is the time to draw on our inner strength, to gird our loins, and to prepare to fight to get back our democracy. I'd like to conclude with an excerpt from Bob Koehler's article "The Silent Scream": "In contrast to the deathly silence of the media is the silent scream of the numbers. The more you ponder these numbers, and all the accompanying data, the louder that scream grows. Did the people's choice get thwarted? Were thousands disenfranchised by chaos in the precincts, spurious challenges and uncounted provisional ballots? Were millions disenfranchised by electronic voting fraud on insecure, easily hacked computers? And who is authorized to act if this is so? Who is authorized to care? No one, except average Americans who want to be able to trust the voting process again, and who want their country back. No one, except us."
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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)
 

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