Last week, a major electronic voting machine manufacturer reported that a programming error caused votes to go uncounted in at least 34 states when memory cards designed to tally votes are uploaded to a separate computer.
The discovery was made in Columbus, Ohio, during a test of touch-screen voting machines supplied by Premier Election Solutions Inc., formerly Diebold Inc., and communicated to the company's 1,750 jurisdictions via a product advisory alert. Remarkably, Premier claims, the programming glitch went undetected for years despite previous tests of its machines.
The damning report was relegated to the back pages of some mainstream news publications (The New York Times devoted one-paragraph to the issue and buried it deep inside the A section), a reminder of how the media regards issues related to election integrity at a time when the country is about to embark on the most historic presidential election in U.S. history.
The federal Election Assistance Commission said it won't be able to certify repairs made to some of the flawed voting machines because of a backlog. The commission assumed the responsibility of testing electronic voting machines in 2002 but to date the agency has not certified a single machine.
So Premier said jurisdictions that use its decade-old voting machines will have to take measures to deal with the problem in its tabulation software that affect all 19 of its machines because the problems cannot be fixed before Election Day. The company said poll workers will be responsible for checking vote-count servers to make sure all memory cards are shown as uploaded.
When Premier was known as Diebold the company denied that it was responsible for the programming errors found in its machines and blamed the snafus on a "user error" or on antivirus software developed by others.That the report on the voting machine failures surfaced in the state of Ohio is fitting and filled with irony. Who can forget the now infamous statement uttered by Walden O'Dell, Diebold's former chief executive, during a fundraiser his company sponsored for Bush in September 2003 when he promised that his company would "deliver" the votes needed to keep Bush in the White House for a second term.
Ohio was the battleground state where tens of thousands of votes intended for Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, were handed to George W. Bush. Thousands more went uncounted. Chalk that up to a well-funded Republican machine, which used every weapon in its arsenal, such as shredding voter registration rolls, to make sure Ohio, the state that would decide the outcome of the 2004 election, went to Bush.
In other words, the 2004 election was stolen and the evidence to back up this flat out assertion is overwhelming to say the least.
"The notion of stolen elections is something we assign to Third World countries, but not this beacon of freedom and democracy that we like to view ourselves as," said Bernie Ellis, a prominent election integrity activist.
Although the mainstream media and even some of the more prominent progressive news outlets such as The Nation, Salon, and Daily Kos have refused to touch the story or have dismissed it as conspiracy theory does not change the fact that it happened--again.
Few people understand, or are even aware of what happened in Ohio during the 2004 presidential election. Even fewer people realize that history repeated itself during the November 2006 midterm elections.
That's where David Earnhardt comes in.
The Emmy award-winning director has made one of the most important films of the year; an urgent and convincing documentary chock full of disturbing factual data that by the time the final credits roll 90 minutes later you may find yourself firing off an angry email to your congressman/woman demanding they enact serious election reforms.
Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections, goes well beyond the electronic voting debate to tell a much more complicated story about the threat to American Democracy. The news that surfaced in Ohio last week only serves to underscore that point.
The film tells the story of the 2004 election and focuses on whistleblowers such as computer programmer Clint Curtis, who describes how he was told to develop software that will "flip" votes from one candidate to another, and Steve Heller, who leaked secret documents about the alleged illegal activities committed by a major voting machine company and was convicted of a felony for doing so.
Brad Friedman, the intrepid blogger whose website, BradBlog.com, is the go-to place on the Internet for comprehensive coverage on issues related to election integrity, said in an interview that Uncounted is really the untold story of how "American elections have become like a game of Russian roulette every time you go to the voting booth."
"Both of the major political parties have a serious case of shortsightedness," said Friedman, who appears in the film. "This is a battle about election integrity and that's what I think Uncounted is about. But Democrats are under the impression that by talking about election integrity it's going to keep people away from the voting booth and lower voter turnout. That's bizarre."
In a wide-ranging interview, Earnhardt, who spent the better part of 2008 on nationwide tour of theaters screening his film to a public hungry for information on election fraud, said Uncounted evolved organically.
Earnhardt had been searching for an explanation on how George W. Bush won a second term in office when exit polls clearly favored Kerry. He read the book Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century by Bev Harris, who is credited with breaking the story about programming flaws in electronic voting machines and the ease of which they can be hacked and voting results changed. Harris also makes an appearance in Uncounted.
"I assumed we would see a repeat of the 2000 election and a long fight, but Kerry conceded pretty quickly," Earnhardt said. "I was sure the media would then begin to look into these irregularities that took place, particularly in Ohio with the exit polls. I remember sitting in my favorite coffee shop reading The New York Times and looking for a story but there was nothing. Just complete silence. I thought I had to look into this as a citizen because it just didn't seem right."
In April of 2005, just as Earnhardt was contemplating going on the road to search for answers a National Election Reform conference was being held in Nashville, where Earnhardt is based. There, election integrity experts, activists, and computer experts met to discuss reforms and the dreaded 2004 election, specifically, what happened in Ohio.
Earnhardt wasn't yet fully educated on the nuances of election fraud but with more than 30 hours of footage he gathered at the conference he had the makings of his first full-length film.
"I think this is a documentary that takes a 30,000 foot view of this issue of election fraud and explains why people should be concerned," Earnhardt said. "We grew up believing in this dream of what this country is supposed to be and I think people are offended that they are being disrespected, that their vote is being disrespected."
With the presidential election less than three months away, the Republican strategy has focused more on purging individual voters from voter rolls and passing legislation that forces voters to produce photo IDs or even proof of citizenship in order to cast a ballot and combat what Republicans refer to as widespread "voter fraud."
While evidence of systemic voter fraud in the United States has not surfaced, many election integrity experts believe Republicans have used the suspicion of voter fraud as a ploy to suppress minorities and poor people from voting. Historically, those groups have tended to vote for Democratic candidates.
Justin Levitt, an attorney and an expert on voting issues who teaches at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, wrote last year that "the notion of widespread voter fraud ... is itself a fraud. Evidence of actual fraud by individual voters is painfully skimpy."
The numbers are fairly small. From October 2002 to September 2005, 95 people were indicted for federal election related crimes, according to figures compiled by the New York Times last year. Seventy resulted in convictions. Only eighteen of those were for ineligible voting.
Earnhardt agreed that the aggressive strategy employed by the GOP to implement voter identification laws will make it much harder for people to vote come November and beyond. He said the issue will linger and worsen unless Congress starts to get its hands dirty and begins to investigate and take measures correct the problem.
"The reality is our vote is not protected – and it's likely that the 2008 election results will be manipulated – even worse than in 2004 and 2000."