My guest today is Marta Steele, political activist, author, colleague and also a Senior Editor at OpEdNews.
Joan Brunwasser: Welcome, Marta. A few years back, you wrote the highly-regarded Grassroots, Geeks, Pros, and Pols: The Election Integrity Movement's Rise and Nonstop Battle to Win Back the People's Vote, 2000-2008, [Columbus Free Press, 2012]. You've been in the trenches for a long time. I know that you come from an academic interest in linguistics, can you tell us what led to your passion about politics and election integrity?
Marta Steele: Thanks, Joan. As a student of classical philology and Indo European linguistics in college and grad school, I developed deep and hugely detailed research skills and the sitzfleisch to explores various categories of information--all on paper in those days.
JB: Okay. I see that being able to look long and deeply helped your research in your new field of interest. But why was the study of recent elections compelling to you?
MS: I came upon it inadvertently--well, not exactly. I was furious about the hanging chads fiasco in Florida Election 2000. What I began to protest was media indifference to it. At the first relevant protest I attended, I heard about Greg Palast's discovery of tens of thousands of voters illegally struck from registration rolls there, accused of felonies they never committed (for the magisterial, pristine article, click here). Combatting election corruption became my predominant theme. This man's findings merited attention, lots of it. His remarkable accomplishments and brilliance can be appreciated, researched, and supported at his website.
JB: Yes, Greg Palast, and Brad Friedman (BradBlog), Bev Harris, Harvey Wasserman and Bob Fitrakis, Mark Crispin Miller, Jonathan Simon, Steven Rosenfeld, etc. have done a great job exposing the dark side of elections' dark side to their readers. Can you give us an idea of what themes you explored in your book, Marta? Many of our readers are not yet familiar with it.
MS: Sure, Joan, I do write about and quote all of these giants of the movement. Back in 2010, my goal was to write a history of how the people's choice finally prevailed in 2008 after having been squelched for eight years. Of course, history didn't stop there and more atrocities waited in the wings. I highlighted those incidents I found most outrageous and profiled the heroes who fought back. There was Election 2002 in Georgia, which was fixed by the president of Diebold to eliminate some prominent liberals from the congressional map, like Rep. Max Cleland, who was ahead in the pre-election polls but got trounced on Election Day. There was another fiasco in the Florida 2002 primaries--the Sunshine State had panicked because of the hanging chads and butterfly ballot tsunamis and purchased touchscreen machinery that malfunctioned massively. This type of fiasco would repeat itself again and again once the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was passed late in 2002 and flocks of others rushed in to buy more of these awful, totally corruptible contraptions.
Other states, saner, went for optical scanners, which at least preserve a paper record of each vote cast--handwritten, that is, though getting recounts is often quite costly and otherwise like pulling teeth. Ohio 2004 was another historical fiasco whose crucial underpinnings weren't revealed until 2008--I describe the discovery of the man-in-the-middle device designed by the late GOP computer guru Mike Connell that subtracted 200,000 votes from Kerry and added them to GW Bush's total, winning him the Buckeye State by 120,000 votes.
Many other types of corruption became evident in this decider state to hand Bush II the victory, as detailed in Chapter 4 of my book. Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell was complicit with Diebold in Ohio's pseudo-Republican victory as were Bush and Rove, who were seen in a Columbus meeting with Blackwell on Election Day-- summarizes the mechanics of the vote heist that Bob Fitrakis, Harvey Wasserman, and Cliff Arnebeck fought against so effectively. Mike Connell became a star witness to Rove's connivings in 2008 but was killed in a very suspicious crash of his private plane before he could "spill all," as he had planned to in a second hearing. The first deposition, held on November 6, 2004, revealed a connection with the corrupt vendor and service provider Triad; this revelation swayed the judge to rule in favor of the Election Integrity (EI) attorneys. "Our" attorneys managed to elicit that, even though Rove's lawyers objected to every question that they asked Connell. This event I detail in Chapter 8 of my book.
JB: I don't recall that meeting but I've probably blocked the memory because it was so disturbing. Very interesting.
MS: I discuss the man-in-the-middle device in Chapter 8, one of the high points of the book. Other hair-raising anecdotes abound, including the 18,000 votes lost in another congressional election, in Florida again, Sarasota County, in 2006. The votes were never recovered; the problem was attributed to errors at the level of the digital machinery. The Republican candidate, Vern Buchanan, was ahead among the votes that were counted by a minuscule 300-some votes. Because paperless DRE (direct recording electronic) machinery had been used, the election results couldn't be recounted. But he was seated in Congress while Christine Jennings, the Democratic contender, filed a lawsuit protesting that decision. Those are some of the main events of condoned skullduggery with lasting impact.
The stampede toward DREs began late in 2002, direct recording electronic, or touch-screen machinery that doesn't leave a paper trail, in violation of HAVA (the Help America Vote Act 301(a)2]; many state constitutions also required them). The stampede was encouraged, financially and politically benefiting several corrupt entities, including the infamous lobbyist Jack Abramoff, associated with HAVA's co-sponsor, Rep. Bob Ney--both of whom ended up serving time in prison. The voting machine vendors (ES&S, Diebold, etc.), generous contributors to the GOP, also had much to gain from migration to their infinitely corruptible systems. [My book is chock-full of similar anecdotes. I try to cover all levels from the precinct up to the feds.]
It turns out to be, from a nearly 20-year perspective, a good handbook for people wanting to join the EI movement and needing background on how and why we started and what happened once we did. I'm working on a sequel, covering the years 2008-2012, "Up against a Wall of Fire: Election Corruption and the Fight Back, 2008-2012," which is coming along slowly. The direction is so obvious but I want to cover all bases and do refer to subsequent events also, an awareness of where we were going and sort of an I-told-you-so when we got there in 2016.
JB: Yikes! Writing that first book must have been both exhausting and discouraging. Did you find anything to be optimistic about at that time? And, by the way, I love the title for your new book!
MS: Joan, good question. Optimistic? I celebrate the amazing brilliance, dedication, and pro bono hard work of the GGPP (grassroots, geeks, pros, and pols) some of whom I've mentioned above. I truly believe that nothing is beyond their abilities, even unscrupulous GOP skullduggery. How many lives have been lost because the wrong people were placed illegally in high places--the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, for example? It is mind-boggling. We must continue to fight against election fraud that so violates the people's will.