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Turkey Day leftovers: No thanks for stuffing elections with machines

By Bev Harris, Jim March, Kathleen Wynne  Posted by Rob Kall (about the submitter)     Permalink
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Who cooked this turkey?

It's about the size of an elephant, and it took a long time to cook. Preparations began in the 80s when some Texas powerbrokers went on an acquisition spree, converting the elections industry from diverse locally-based mom & pop businesses into a handful of firms peppered with criminal indictments and salted with both Republican and Democrat political connections.

The roasting bag

Elections officials had to be bagged up and propagandized. A privatization advocate, the Council of State Governments, was run by Abe Frank, who became a founding director for The Election Center in 1990. The privately held Election Center undertook the task of organizing and training local elections officials under the guidance of former used computer parts salesman R. Doug Lewis.

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At the same time, vendors flexed their influence in the pay-to-play National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) -- You pay your fees, you get your face time. Secretaries of state are heavily involved in choosing voting systems for their states, and they often aspire to run for governor. Through NASS, they have cozied up to the very people who -- literally -- can make that happen.

The recipe: Ingredient list

- One six-member Federal Election Commission:
The FEC makes the rules for voting machine certification, the so-called "1990" and "2002" FEC standards (which have been removed from the FEC site, but can be found here).

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The FEC left themselves a loophole. They never codified the FEC standards into regulations, so that the force of law cannot be applied to force voting machine makers to comply. The FEC standards are "voluntary guidelines".

- Two testing labs, Huntsville Alabama brand

Test how ripe they are before using: Jam a pocket calculator halfway into a banana, see if they'll certify it as a voting machine for the right money.

Three labs were authorized, but vendors chose to use only the Huntsville brand -- Nichols/PSInet/Metamore/Ciber, a series of companies that repeatedly passed the hot potato to a tester named Shawn Southworth, and handed another portion of the testing to Wyle Labs' Jim Dearman.

These labs were supposed to do source code and functionality reviews, but here's the catch: They are paid by the vendors.

The testing labs are called "ITAs" for "Independent Testing Authorities" but there is nothing independent about them. According to Shawn Southworth, in a taped interview conducted by Black Box Voting, the labs don't like to write anything negative in the reports because the vendors don't like it, and they're paying for it.

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- One Voting Systems Panel from the National Association of State Elections Directors (NASED). This panel approves the voting machines after the ITAs recommend approval. They are supposed to check over the ITA's paperwork, after which they assign a "NASED number" signifying Federal certification.

The NASED panel sometimes issued cert numbers before reading the reports, and has routinely certified systems with "not tested" and "untested" notations on the recommendation forms.

NASED got some operational support via cash donations from the big vendors, and apparently never saw anything odd in the fact that two old ladies and a gun nut from Black Box Voting were running circles around the ITAs, exposing hard-core voting system defects like the GEMS defect and fundamentally flawed memory card architecture that the ITAs forgot to mention.

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