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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/16/09

BlackBox Blog-O-Lection May 15, 2009

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The Blog-O-Lection is a public service to provide context for current voting rights issues. 


 NOW HERE'S PROGRESS: In New Jersey recently, the League of Women Voters and the ACLU began framing objections to paperless touch-screens as VOTING RIGHTS VIOLATIONS. At the end of the mainstream news article in the link below (the article details recurring voting rights problems in New Jersey), the LWV and ACLU contend that the secrecy of the counting mechanism in the paperless DRE machines used in these counties violates the legal requirement for an "open and public examination" of the count.

Germany's equivalent of our Supreme Court concluded the same thing, banning e-voting and going back to hand counts after concluding that the secrecy involved in counting votes out of sight on computers violates rights and is unconstitutional.

We are beginning to see real, meaningful progress towards solutions as we succeed communicating more accurate frames for voting machine problems. It isn't about "security." It's about our right to self-government and our right to freedom of information. If we can't see how our votes are counted; If our votes are counted in secret on computers that insiders and their vendors control, we have transferred control from The People to government insiders.

Public controls can be returned to modern-day elections in many ways, often inexpensively. Among the improvements already demonstrated using a VOTING RIGHTS/CITIZEN-BASED CONTROLS approach are the Humboldt County (Calif.) method, time slices as done in the Iowa Democratic Caucus, citizen hand counts of absentee ballot blocks as they are doing in Whatcom County (Wash.), and precinct-based hand counts as done in New Hampshire and Maine. And there are other methods, such as allowing precinct-based public comparison of input to output. Brainstorming and pilot-testing the right solutions starts with accurately identifying the problem with computerized counting, as a RIGHTS issue. Mainstream news article about New Jersey voting problems: 


 A recent state attorney general opinion suggests that these fired election administrators stand a good chance of success if they challenge their dismissals in court -- so stay tuned, I guess, for the lawsuits -- but state Election Director Mark Goins takes the position that election directors can be replaced at any time.

Party-centric election administration ignores the real constituency for elections, the public. An inside advantage is gained for partisan election officials when the system uses secret vote counting and fluid voter lists, both in place in Tennessee.

To be clear: Computerized vote-counting, whether on optical scan or on DREs, with paper ballots or without, is heavily reliant on the computerized compilation done by the central tabulator, which is under direct control of the election administrator and those he selects as IT administrators. These central tabulators have nifty features to allow manual changes in the vote counts. You control the tabulator, you own the election. What is happening in Tennessee is that political parties are choosing to put their own people in control of the computer, based on party affiliation.

By "fluid voter lists" I mean voter status lists that change from moment to moment, lacking frequent, mandatory procedures to "commit the data" (freeze it as of a point in time) and make it available so that changes from iteration to iteration can be compared. These voter lists incorporate voting status (ie, has/has not already voted in this election; has/has not voted absentee; etc). The Tennessee partisan massacre is putting a blanket of, in this case Republican, partisan election administrators in control of these fluid and unaccountable voting lists.
 Mainstream news article about partisan massacre:


 This article describes many new, exciting uses of technology to open up our government to the public. The idea is to find as many ways as possible to computer-code "The People" back into "We the People" to improve our ability to self-govern. Some public officials and freedom of information groups like the Sunlight Foundation have sponsored contests to spur citizen-based programming applications. There is vast potential for these kinds of applications in elections.

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Bev Harris is executive director of Black Box Voting, Inc. an advocacy group committed to restoring citizen oversight to elections.
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