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Open Letter To Debra Bowen, CA Secretary of State

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Open Letter to Secretary of State Debra Bowen
The following was mailed to the Secretary of State on 2/12/07 and has not been acknowledged by her office.
Dear Secretary Bowen:

Congratulations on winning the confidence of California voters. I contributed toward your campaign for office, even as I questioned whether electronic voting machines would allow you to be elected. I am glad the results apparently reflected the will of the people, but the public has no assurance that will be the case in future elections, as long as the inner workings remain under the purview of private companies.

I live in Riverside County and am involved in the Temecula Valley Democracy for America group that has diligently tried to work with the County to ensure safeguards in electronic voting and the election process. The County has rebuffed our group at every opportunity, compelling DFA-TV to launch an independent election-monitoring project called Save R Vote. Despite a highly organized effort and the recruitment of 100 area residents to be volunteer poll watchers, county officials deny serious lapses observers have witnessed, documented and recorded on photos and video. The Board of Supervisors has vehemently supported the appointed Registrar of Voters and aggressively defended electronic voting to the point of violating the Brown Act.
It has been reported that one of your priorities is to conduct an in-depth study of California voting systems. Riverside County held the first countywide electronic election in the United States in November of 2000, and as the virtual birthplace of electronic voting; I am asking you to launch a complete investigation and audit of this county’s foray into electronic voting. Learning how Sequoia Voting Systems originally sold county officials and the public on paperless voting could prove to be very revealing. Why did the County spend $14 million to save $600,000 per year in printing costs? The investment doesn’t begin to pay off for 20 years and few computer systems last that long.
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On November 7, 2006 my wife and I were volunteer poll watchers for the Save R Vote project and witnessed voters standing in long lines as Sequoia VeriVote printers ran out of paper. Poor planning by the registrar’s office gave precinct workers no choice but to shut down the machines. This scene was repeated all across the county and numerous voters gave up and left without voting. The Registrar’s resistance to offering paper ballots as an alternative to voting electronically exacerbated the problem.

We left the polling site at approximately 8:30 pm and drove to a collection site for voting data cards and ballot boxes, arriving at 9:20 pm. I videotaped poll workers handling unsecured results cartridges, including one case where one couple had results cartridges splayed out on the folded-down tailgate of their pickup truck. These poll workers appeared to have the best of intentions and there is no reason to believe any nefarious activities were going on, but the multiple gaps in the chain of custody provide ample opportunities to either switch or reprogram results cartridges before or during delivery to the collection site. I have enclosed stills from the video.

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Poll worker grabs results cartidges out of unsecured security pouch 11.7.06

Poll worker sorts DREresults cartridges on tailgate of pickup

In six years of electronic voting, the Registrar of Voters has never voluntarily instituted basic, common sense security protocols. Citizens who have taken an interest in election integrity have been rejected and ridiculed by the County Board of Supervisors. The registrar has eventually adopted many of the suggestions offered by members of the public – but only after state law or internal consultants mandated procedural improvements.
Riverside County exemplifies everything that is wrong with electronic voting. County officials advocate electronic voting while blocking citizen participation in the public decision-making and observation process. County officials are hyper-vigilant in their defense of a problematic, expensive voting system. County leaders have intentionally avoided holding a public hearing on the November 2006 election irregularities by appointing their 5-member “blue-ribbon” panel during the Chairman’s opening comments at a December Board of Supervisors meeting. Supervisors made a point of excluding any members of Save R Vote from the panel.

In true democracies, we vote in private and count in public. Electronic voting dictates that we now count votes in private. The public is denied transparency in the handling and counting of ballots. The County installed a video uplink to circumvent direct observation by members of the public. The very mechanism of our democracy has been franchised, allowing our votes to be counted by machinery and software that is proprietary, intellectual protected property. Without transparency, election results are vulnerable to being electronically manipulated without a trace.

Riverside County is the real epicenter of electronic voting though Palm Beach, Florida often gets credit. Electronic voting was ushered in with no federal standards and it has been a fly by the seat of your pants enterprise from the beginning, with security and verification requirements being a shortsighted afterthought. Our precious democracy should never have been subjected to such experimentation.

Bags of election results cartridges transported in open bed of pickup 11.7.06
The Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail was supposed to solve the lack of verification in paperless systems, but as we witnessed in November, this remedy creates a new set of problems in supplying, securing and counting the paper record. There is no reasonable way to adequately patch the multitude of vulnerabilities inherent in the electronic voting systems that have been dispersed across the nation.
We now know that a VVPAT is not enough; voting machines must produce an actual ballot on traditional paper stock and that ballot must be the only official record of vote. All ballots within a county need to be standardized so in the event of machine failures, a ballot can be marked by hand and no voter will be disenfranchised. I urge you to ban the use of Direct Recording Electronic voting machines in California. The immutable risk of just one adulterated results cartridge changing the data on the tally server is unacceptable.
Ideally, I hope to see your office return the state to the simplicity and security of voting on paper ballots. Preferably, all ballots would be counted by hand. Scanners utilizing open source programming code that can be fully inspected by your office, local election officials and qualified members of the public, provide a workable alternative.
Paper voting systems reportedly have 5 points of vulnerability to tampering compared to more than 100 entry points on electronic systems. One person can totally change the outcome of an electronic election, whereas it takes a concerted effort of hundreds of people to effectively manipulate a paper voting system. Any human error in the counting of paper ballots is easily revealed compared to electronic voting data that can be changed through internal coding and external programming without ever being discovered.
My research and personal observations bring me to the conclusion that electronic voting – in its present form – is unworkable. It is virtually impossible to secure all the components to be assured there is tight control over the chain of custody. The mass and weight of the equipment is an unreasonable burden on poll workers and the expense to secure, maintain, transport and store tons of sensitive voting equipment is fiscally irresponsible.
It is no exaggeration to say that citizens of Riverside County have been locked out of the democratic process. Elected and appointed officials make unilateral decisions that go against the will of the people and the very principles of open government.
I also believe the county was not qualified for HAVA funds it received for the purchase of Edge II voting machines in January of 2006 to replace the paperless Edge I models. The upgrade satisfied a state mandate, which is an inappropriate use of HAVA funds, as I understand the requirements. Additionally, it appears that the county amended the original March 2000 purchase agreement with Sequoia, and since HAVA money is only authorized for expenditures from November 2000 and later, the County appears additionally disqualified for the HAVA funds it received. There are also questions of compliance with federal Voting System Standards during the county’s rush to buy a second batch of voting machines from Sequoia.
Ms. Bowen, I contributed to your campaign honestly believing that you are the best person to return the deciding fate of our democracy to the people. You have been a champion of voting integrity and the improvements you institute in California have a good chance of being adopted nationally.
But I can’t overemphasize how distressed I am by the conduct of Riverside County officials and the fact that no state or federal agency has brought the County to task for subverting our way of government. Between a privatized election system and our hostile county government, it appears citizens no longer have a place in this representative republic. I used to occasionally enjoy gambling in Las Vegas, but once I realized the house had the odds stacked against gamblers, I lost interest. It is tragic that I now find myself in a similar quandary with voting. With no voice in county government and no way of being assured my vote will be counted accurately, I can no longer pretend ours is still a government of the people. Americans like me depend on a leader like you to prove us wrong and show that citizens are still relevant in this democracy.
Our public utilities and public airwaves have been privatized and are mostly owned and sponsored by behemoth, multinational corporations. The deregulation of industry has invited financial disasters such as WorldCom, Enron and other abuses that always seem to hurt the average American more so than those at the top. Politics has been reduced to fundraising campaigns and the last thing that citizens owned outright in this country was their vote. Please help us restore ownership of this country back to the people, as the founders intended.
There are a handful of us local residents who have been pursuing election integrity with the County for years and we are eagerly available to assist your office in any investigative efforts of our county. I will provide the contact information upon request.
I look forward to your reply and trust that your office will make a difference and return the power of the vote to hands of the people.
Thank you for taking the time to consider my suggestions and concerns.

Paul Jacobs


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Paul has worked in health care for the past 30 years and writes a weekly column for a local newspaper in California. He is involved in local civics, a member of Citizens for Democracy, Temecula Valley and active in the election integrity movement. (more...)

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