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A Bit of a Quandary

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Follow Me on Twitter     Message Joan Brunwasser
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Well, I knew the day would come. I just didn't expect it to come so soon. From the get-go, I had doubts about my suitability for this job of Voting Integrity Editor for OpEdNews. I voiced those concerns to my future boss, Rob Kall, but I guess he couldn't find another obsessed person willing to dedicate molto hours to the endless task of trying to bring the voting news to OpEdNews' readership. I almost said "thankless", but that would not be true. Since starting as editor, I have been amazed and uplifted by the words of encouragement coming from all corners of the country, including seasoned activists with lengthy resumes. My sole claim to fame was my "Invisible Ballots" lending library project, which I'm happy to say is still going strong.

But, that brings me back to the feeling that I've had all along that I am an imposter. Isn't an editor supposed to be an expert? That's certainly not me. It is true that I am dedicated wholeheartedly to the daunting task of trying to secure free, fair and transparent elections for myself, my children and my fellow citizens. But, I am a techno-illiterate, a nouveau activist and a middle-aged, trifocaled, postmenopausal suburban mom. Not exactly a mix to inspire the masses.

And I'm still not even exactly clear about the best way to bring about election reform. That is the simple, unvarnished truth. I know that without an informed electorate, the corporate interests will overrun the system and make our democracy a shadow of its former self, struggling along on life-support. It's already happened. State by state, communities have rushed to take advantage of too many tax dollars and not enough time (surely this is no coincidence) and are making unwise decisions they will regret sooner or later.

Let's look at a sampling of recent revelations. In December, Ion Sancho, Supervisor of Elections in Leon County, Florida, invited Finnish security expert Harri Hursti to hack into the Diebold optical scanner used by Leon County voters. The shockwaves caused by Hursti's quick success spread to California, which uses the same machines and software. Instead of being feted for his dedication to his voters, Sancho was maligned and tag-teamed by the Big 3 electronic voting machine corporations contending for contracts. They teamed up with Gov. Bush and his Secretary of State to try to oust Mr. Sancho from his position of many years. Only the loyalty of his county commissioners with their unanimous vote of confidence and some media attention (finally!) stopped Sancho from being tossed out on his ear. And California? Various groups have now sued their Secretary of State McPherson to halt the use/purchase of Diebold machines.

Emery County, Utah. Republican County Clerk Bruce Funk has been running elections there for the past 23 years. He invited Bev Harris of Black Box Voting and Harri Hursti to examine the viability of his Diebold machines' paper trail. This week, BradBlog posted the photographic essay of the results of that examination. If voters felt confident about the paper trail 'back up', they need to think again. In echoes of Leon County, Mr. Funk is also under attack because of his concern for voting integrity. He was actually locked out of the storeroom where the voting machines are kept. How symbolic!

Cook County, Illinois. This is where I live. What were dismissed as minor 'glitches' during our recent primaries have led to Chicago and Cook County withholding the balance of $30 million until the problems are addressed. It was reported that 414 memory cards went missing from their respective voting machines. Days later, many votes remained uncounted. I guess those 'glitches' weren't so minor after all. Incidentally, Illinois is Sequoia's largest customer and the company is doing everything it can to preserve those contracts and their credibility.

In California, Sec. Of State Bruce McPherson has puzzled and enraged his voters by flip flopping on Diebold certification. Yes, no, order a study, certify before the study is done, announce the certification on the Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend.

And what of the report that McPherson commissioned? Susan Pynchon, of Florida Fair Elections Coalition, was present at the Harri Hursti hack in Leon County, Florida on December 13th and has just written "The Truth about Diebold" and the California security review. Her article is alarming. It can be found at VoteTrustUSA and OpEdNews. She writes: Any legislator or elections official who recommends the purchase of the Diebold Tsx without reading the entire California report should be considered grossly negligent. It's hard to imagine that anyone who read this report would even consider buying anything other than the optical scan voting machines. The report warns, "Successful attacks can only be detected by examining the paper ballots. There would be no way to know that any of these attacks occurred; the canvass procedure would not detect any anomalies, and would just produce incorrect results. The only way to detect and correct the problem would be by recount of the original paper ballots." (The report goes on to say that it is conceivable that the software could be modified to affect subsequent elections as well as the current one. That is beyond unnerving.)

Then, there's faraway Alaska. Major discrepancies were discovered between the number of voters and the number of votes. Voters were told that the state's agreements with Diebold superceded the public's right to know or see the 2004 votes. The voters were then told that releasing the information that they were entitled to through the Freedom of Information Act would be a threat to national security. What the heck does that mean?

The problems cited above are not limited to Diebold. In fact, a whistle-blower who worked for another electronic voting machine company warned Texas election officials in 2004 of the problems with the machines. Their primary, held a few weeks ago, was a nightmare. The Republican candidate for Supreme Court Justice is contesting the results. In one Texas county, the vote count was off by 100,000 votes.

Let's skip back to California for a moment. This week, it was reported that in the last three months, the computerized voting registration database rejected new voters at a rate of 43% in Los Angeles and 26% statewide! The vendor in charge is the very same one (Diebold) that is the target of the lawsuit against the Secretary of State to keep its machines out of the state. In Florida prior to the 2000 election, tens of thousands of voters were illegally purged from the lists (don't forget that 537 vote margin of victory). By 2004, that winning stratagem 'disappeared' tens of thousands of Ohio voters, as documented in the Conyers Report "What Went Wrong in Ohio" and was used elsewhere as well. Do you need any more evidence that the wholesale surrender of our elections to privately owned companies in a "soup to nuts" approach might not be good for democracy?

There is a very real and urgent need for election reform. The question is: what form should it take? Unfortunately for many Americans with short attention spans and limited knowledge of the machinery involved, there is no simple answer. There are varied opinions on this, held by activists known for their integrity and dedication to fair elections.

Many proponents favor HR 550, introduced by Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey and having over 150 sponsors from both sides of the aisle. Often called the "gold standard" of election reform, it would seem a likely choice to support. And yet, many activists oppose it, not for its intent but for its implementation. They want it rewritten and fixed. Nancy Tobi, of Democracy for New Hampshire Fair Election Committee, has written several articles on this very topic.

Although HR 550 speaks about paper trails, it should specify "real paper ballots as opposed to allowing for error-prone computer printouts as the vote of record." (see the BradBlog story on Utah's Bruce Funk and his Diebold machines cited above.) Further, Tobi points out the danger of the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) encroaching on state and local elections. She spins out several possible scenarios with the EAC intervening to affect the outcome of elections. I think that concern is legitimate. We have seen recent examples of the federal government encroaching on states' rights and it is a troubling development. She points out that Bob Ney, the Ohio congressman largely responsible for Help America Vote Act (HAVA), was 'assisted' at writing the legislation by the electronic voting machine corporation lobbyists. That fact alone should give one pause.

There is a third contingent that holds fast for paper ballots counted by hand. While they are often scoffed at as being unrealistic and retro, the mounting evidence about the voting machines has lent credence to such an approach. There have been numerous articles about how Las Vegas gaming machines have much better security than our voting machines and they're only dealing with money. Our voting machines are the heart of our democracy. Democratic elections are where each vote counts and every vote is counted. There are arguments about how people need to know the results quickly, that hand counting would take too long. But, what happened in 2000? How long did it take to get an official result and how accurate was it? What about that 16,000 votes in Volusia County that mysteriously disappeared while the tabulating was going on, only to reappear once it was over? When you take into consideration the 500+ vote margin, the importance of that 'glitch' cannot be minimized. Other democracies throughout the world have not rushed headlong to use electronic voting and their votes get counted and in the end, someone wins and someone loses. The difference is that their electorate feels confident in the process and, thus, accepting of the results.

Which brings me to the point of this necessarily long and involved piece. Remember Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof? One scene finds him arbitrating a dispute between two of his neighbors. After the first one presents his case, Tevye is convinced he is right. Then, the second pleads his case and Tevye changes his mind. When one of the townfolk sagely points out that they can't both be right, Tevye agrees that he is also right.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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