My guest today is Victoria Collier. Welcome to OpEdNews, Victoria. You're the daughter and niece of James and Kenneth Collier, authors of the book Votescam: The Stealing of America , a chronicle of their 25-year investigation into how elections are rigged by computerized voting machines. Victoria is the editor of www.votescam.org. I've run across a number of your most recent op ed pieces including What To Do When They "Let" Us Win Elections and Why Americans Viciously Protect Their Hub Caps But Not Their Ballots: A Thoughtful Exploration of Modern Democracy. I guess you're not too happy with the state of our nation these days. Weren't the most recent elections nationwide a gain for the 99%?
However, many far-right incumbents stayed in office, a fact that got lost in the hoopla over the rare progressive victories.
The problem is that our computerized elections system is still fundamentally insecure -- open to centralized manipulation and outside hacking. So, small "wins" like we saw last week are, sadly and ironically, a setback to the Election Integrity movement, because we now have to fight harder to call attention to the fact that our electoral system is still out of our control.
We know the machines that count our votes -- including Optical Scanners and Touchscreens -- are controlled by a small cartel of corporations that manufacturer them and program their software. Their owners, stockholders and key staff share, not only extensive criminal histories, but also alliances with the extreme right-wing.
So my feeling is that the people who control our votes essentially just "let" us win these progressive victories. Why they let us win is the question, and we can only speculate.
They may have had to let us win because it's too difficult to rig the votes undetectably with strong turn-out and citizen awareness of the issues. Which means that voting still matters because it's hard to manipulate results when the margins are wide. Therefore we can't boycott elections -- that's not the answer. On the contrary, we need to show up in armies, in an electoral insurgency. We must also, simultaneously, organize in 2012 to ban the Trojan Horse computerized voting machines, but meanwhile we can make it damn difficult for them to get away with rigging the results.
However, realize that if the machines are pre-programmed to add a certain percentage of votes to Candidate A, it might mean that Candidate B still wins in a landslide, but by a smaller margin, which still does not reflect the true will of the voters. In practice this likely means that Independent or third party candidates -- or particular ballot initiatives -- are registering lower returns than the machines tell us. Ralph Nader won 3% of the votes in his last presidential bid -- or so we're told. He might have won the 5% needed to receive federal funding for his campaign. The Greens have been a demoralized party and yet they may be more popular than our elections results suggest.
So, am I happy with the state of the nation these days? No, but I'm more hopeful than I've ever been. I support the Occupy movement, and I hope it develops into a force that can organize to help take down the Corporatocracy. One of the top demands -- if demands are ever officially presented -- must be a publicly observable hand-counted paper ballot vote count that supports the voter's right to know who actually won, and by what margins.
You say that "the machines that count our votes " are controlled by a small cartel of corporations that manufacturer them and program their software. Their owners, stockholders and key staff share, not only extensive criminal histories, but alliances with the right-wing." That's a pretty important and provocative statement. Can you expand on it a little for our readers? Despite any number of investigations by Black Box Voting's Bev Harris, Brad "Bradblog" Friedman, Marc Crispin Miller and others, this is not widely known or understood. If it's true that our elections have, in fact, been hijacked by highly partisan individuals, why haven't alarm bells been going off all over the place - in the press and among our politicians, leaders and the general public?
Currently I'm compiling the best of the Election Integrity work together onto one webpage: http://www.votescam.org/the_evidence. This will narrow the field of research for people new to the issue, and show what an amazing body of evidence we have that our votes are regularly stolen through centralized computerized rigging.
So, with the caveat that people who care need to start exploring that body of evidence themselves, I will point to some highlights about the crooks who manufacture our vote counting machines.
Lynn Landes explains on her website that there is no government oversight of our elections, or the elections equipment industry:
There are no government standards or restrictions on who can sell and service voting machines and systems. Foreigners, convicted criminals, office holders, political candidates, and news media organizations can and do own these companies. . . Many voting machine companies appear to share managers, investors, and equipment which raises questions of conflict-of-interest and monopolistic practices.
The two biggest corporations, Diebold and ES&S, were originally owned by two Russian brothers, Todd and Bob Urosevich. They took over other manufacturers until they were the major election equipment suppliers. In 2009, Diebold was sold to ES&S. Currently, the only other company of any significance is based in Canada.
In Chapter 8 of Black Box Voting, Bev Harris delves more deeply into the right-wing, religious, military, media, and big energy connections of the ownership, key personnel, and stockholders of the manufacturers -- and the charges against them of bid-rigging, anti-trust evasion, kick-backs, money laundering, bribery, embezzling, price-fixing, stock scams, defrauding the government, tax fraud, computer fraud, and cocaine trafficking.
These criminals are the people building our election equipment. Their machines count our votes in secret, completely unobservable within their "proprietary" software. Can you imagine anything more insane?
Both Diebold and ES&S have also been caught installing uncertified software in their machines. Former Diebold bank machine auditor Stephen Spoonamore admits that Christian fundamentalists were, at one point, most of the people who programmed the Diebold and ES&S voting machines. And lest we forget, Diebold's CEO Wally O'Dell infamously promised to "deliver" the 2004 Ohio results to George W. Bush.
And it's not just the manufacturers who are crooked -- it's also the companies that certify their machines.
Harris writes, "You would expect that a company that certifies our voting machines would not have its owners running for office. You would also expect that no one who owns the certification company would be under criminal investigation. You'd be disappointed."
I'll let the readers enjoy the rest of Chapter 8 themselves. I think you all get the picture.
Not only that, Victoria, but these same companies or their subsidiaries or offshoots also program the machines, maintain them, and are the technical people called in most places on Election Day when the election workers have problems with the machines. Not one of them is vetted.
It's nice work if you can get it, right? Quite a racket. Now, getting to the second part of your question: Why don't most people know about this issue?
The corporate media has not been reporting the evidence, except in a very few instances, which are almost baffling when you understand how involved the networks have been in manipulating our elections. In this, the Votescam investigation is unique because we are the only people to delve deeply into the media's role in vote rigging.
The Democratic party is also complicit in election rigging by -- at the least -- never exposing the total lack of safety and accountability in our system, and never challenging clearly fraudulent results, most glaringly Al Gore and John Kerry, who promised to fight their stolen elections, then promptly rolled over and played dead. Of course, both parties work beautifully together to keep third parties out of power, and that's what seems to matter most, at least at the top -- keeping the two most powerful gangs in control of the political turf.
Some other reasons include:
The apathetic nature of too many modern Americans who can't be bothered to care how democracy actually works, because Survivor is on.
Politicians and NGO leadership complicity by silence. Both have a deadly fear of being labelled a "conspiracy nut" and losing their funding or constituent support. This effectively neuters them.
And finally, the Progressive media's historic refusal to report on this issue. This includes The Nation, Mother Jones, Amy Goodman, Noam Chomsky, and pretty much every other bastion of left-wing journalism. There are many possible reasons why, too complex to discuss here. But I encourage all your readers to flash-mob these media figures with demands that they do this issue justice.
I don't think the average person is aware of the deep involvement of the corporate press in vote counting and reporting. How does this work and why is it bad? Can you explain what actually happens on Election Night?
As I mentioned, my father and uncle uncovered election fraud in Miami in 1970 where the local T.V. networks reported phony results to the public, supposedly based on "projections" -- not actual returns -- that matched the final, "official" results with amazing (impossible) accuracy. They later discovered the poll worker's signatures had been forged, and the official results falsified. In order to give the public their "projections" the networks claimed the courthouse computer had broken down, and no actual results would be forthcoming. This was a lie, officially denied in a press release stating, "The courthouse computer was never down, and it was never slow."
That was localized, centralized, corporate media-managed election fraud -- and there was reason to believe it was taking place across the country, in exactly the same pattern, beginning with the networkannouncement: "the courthouse computer has broken down . . . "
Now, consider this:
News Elections Services (NES) was created in 1964 as a media consortium of the major networks, ABC, CBS, NBC, AP, plus the Washington Post, the New York Times, and later on, CNN and FOX News.
The NES media pool gathered and tallied the national vote results, feeding them to the individual networks, who reported them to the public. The perception was given that each network was competing for results, but that was not really true after 1964.
NES had the same secretive, incestuous, shady structure as the voting machine manufacturers, changing its name over the years but maintaining its small team of core personnel. When Voter News Service (VNS) was under investigation for its role in the 2000 election where they called the presidency for Al Gore based on their "projections," most Americans believed they were a relatively new company. But VNS was just the latest iteration of NES -- still the same private corporate media consortium controlling exit polling, vote gathering, "projections" of winners, and the reporting of final results.
This uber-powerful cabal is the most secretive organization involved in our democratic process. I'm the only person to ever interview their former CEO, Bill Headline, who admitted that VNS had no intention of opening their process to democratic oversight. You can read the transcript online.
The existence of NES/VNS means that the kind of media manipulation my father and uncle discovered in 1970 has been possible at a national level. Is it necessary to falsify the official results every time? Could NES possibly communicate via computer or modem with county-level centralized tabulators? Was that even necessary? Who the hell was watching the process? No one!
So, the corporate press -- the same people we know are daily lying to us, censoring stories of government corruption and covering up election fraud evidence -- have been in charge of reporting the vote results on election night. And no one is checking to see if they're accurate. No one.
Meanwhile, VNS has morphed again. It is now News Election Pool (NEP) -- and, to be honest, I haven't done any investigation into this latest incarnation, which appears to be just as shady, secretive, and mysterious as all the previous ones, without even a proper website or a brochure for that matter.
You paint a pretty grim picture, Victoria. How does exit polling fit in here? How effective is it in a last-ditch effort to monitor our elections?
Well, don't kill the messenger. We're in dire straits and we can wake up now, or after we've been hauled off to an activist detention camp with a bag over our head. It's good to have choices, right?
Citizen exit polling helps us gain some kind of democratic record, which we can compare to the computer tallies. I certainly won't discourage people from helping with this effort -- it can uncover glaring irregularities in the count, and engage people in the democratic process in their communities. But in the end, we're going to have to organize to get hand-counted paper ballots, and that's all there is to it.
Please remember this: It is not up to American voters to prove electronic vote fraud. It's up to our elections officials to provide us with transparency and accountability.
To understand how "official" corporate exit polling is rigged to the right with the ingenious use of the Likely Voter Cut-Off Model, I'd refer readers to your great [October 27, 2010] interview on Op Ed News: Election Defense Alliance's Jonathan Simon with the Timely Lowdown on Our Elections
Why thank you, Victoria! As you point out, people have been messing with our elections for a very long time. Many years ago, your father and uncle investigated Dade County voting irregularities and wrote Votescam . Were you a kid at the time? How did their investigations affect you? Did you think they were off their rockers or on to something?
The historic Votescam investigation began in Dade County, but for the next 25 years, Jim and Ken were the foremost election fraud activists in America, uncovering myriad scams using modern voting technology -- everything from lever machines to computers -- taking place all across the nation. I feel their most important work was the investigation into NES and its capacity to centrally manipulate our elections on a national level.
But what their monumental efforts really exposed -- the devastating final analysis -- is how easy it is to corrupt our entire system with just a few well-placed criminals stationed as sentinels against justice at every level of our system.
Jim and Ken filed lawsuits against ABC News, the Justice Department, and the League of Women Voters for their role in aiding and abetting election fraud. Finally they ran up against an Appeals Court judge named Antonin Scalia, who helped crush their case in a disgraceful back-room "star chamber" session. A tragic end to their work, vindicated somewhat by the publishing of the Votescam book in 1992. However, the book itself was then, quite amazingly, banned by the major corporate book sellers, who listed it as "out of print" in their databases! It also disappeared from the Library of Congress!
The truth is that Votescam is one of the greatest conspiracy stories of our time, and still very hard for most Americans to stomach. But we've got to keep telling the truth, regardless. It's more important now than ever.
Yes, I was a child at the time, and I was largely shielded from the struggles of their work until I was a bit older. Ken lost his family during those years. It's hard to keep a marriage together when you devote so much effort to unpaid, and dangerous activism. Their lives were threatened, and the editor of their newspaper was shot in his driveway.
As I get older, I appreciate their sacrifices more deeply, and the greater understanding they left us, of how we lost this country.
I can tell you that they were not off their rockers. While human and flawed, they were two of the smartest, most insightful, far-seeing men I've ever known. Black belts, chess masters, expert pool players. Strategists, in other words. And most courageous, not just in stealing government evidence, getting arrested, etc., but also for taking the heat from the larger culture which ridiculed them as "conspiracy nuts." After many years I think they got fed up, stopped caring whether they were believed, and just kept pursuing their own justice because they were in too deep to stop.
I was most affected by their work once I realized I would inherit their Votescam legacy. I did not want it! But I was clearly also inheriting a broken country, with only a thin patina of democracy left. So, many of my personal plans began to dissolve as I realized we would likely see a revolution in my lifetime.
So, you took over where they left off? There are more people in the Election Integrity movement now. Does that stave off the isolation that your father and uncle suffered?
Jim and Ken both died young. I took over after they were both gone.
My personal activism was in the environmental movement, but I understood that none of the issues that mattered to me -- like ending the wars, or fighting Monsanto, or dealing with the catastrophe of climate change -- would be addressed until we broke the hold of powerful vested interests in our government. When we do that, then I believe we will win most battles at the ballot box. Most Americans don't want to live in a war-torn, toxic world, where a small percentage of elites hold all the wealth, our social services are gutted, our jobs disappear overseas for ample slave labor, and quality of life diminishes every year. As our weather goes more haywire, the population will begin clamoring for solutions on climate change. For this, we need real representation.
As an activist, yes, I am less isolated than my father and uncle because the stolen presidency in 2000 blew the issue of election theft into the public spotlight. Unfortunately, we have two internally divisive camps in the EI movement: those who still support the use of computers to count ballots in some capacity, with a paper "back up," and those, like me, who demand hand-counted paper ballots (HCPB), cast and counted in the precinct, before the ballots leave public view.
My HCPB team has been the underdog for about 12 years, but now we're growing quickly. Originally, there was hope among the techies that we could use open-sourced software or secondary machines to check on the first level of machines. But in reality, neither provide a publicly observable system, which must be the gold standard requirement for real democracy.
When it comes down to it, democracy is not faith based. It's also not fast food. It's a slow and sometimes cumbersome system at the legislative level, and also at the electoral level. Counting ballots is not an area where we can sacrifice safety and transparency for speed.
That sums it up nicely, Victoria. What haven't we talked about yet?
One thing we haven't talked about is how this is everyone's issue. I'm often told by well-meaning people, "Thank you for taking this issue on, we're so grateful." And I want to scream, "This is not my issue, it's our issue!" (Admittedly, sometimes I do scream it.)
We've lost control of the democratic experiment through our own lack of vigilance, our own apathy. Democracy requires the participation of an educated, aware populace. Not only do we have to understand the issues of the day, we have to monitor and protect our democratic institutions and processes, or they will be corrupted and destroyed from within.
While we've been sleeping, our electoral process has been stolen from us by essentially corporatists, extremists, and proto-fascists. Until we organize together to take it back, there's little hope for our future.
Obviously we've arrived at the tipping point; the revolution has galvanized with the Occupy movement, and it will intersect with the pivotally important 2012 elections. I'm working to bring the issue of how our votes can be stolen by computer prominently into the dialog, so we can start organizing to Occupy Elections in 2012.
People can join the dialog right now at Occupy Rigged Elections on Facebook.
Thank you so much for articulating this issue which affects every single one of us, whether we know it or not. It's been a pleasure talking with you, Victoria.