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HBO's "Hacking Democracy" and Where the Heck are those Minutemen When You Need Them?

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Minutemen were farmers, blacksmiths, lawyers, artisans and shopkeepers who laid down their tools at a moment's notice. They fought to throw off the British yoke and when that was done, they went quietly back to their lives. We must learn from their example. We have to be willing to invest some time and effort in this uphill battle to regain our democracy; it won't come easy and it won't come at all without a massive mobilization of public support.


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Think about it: is anything more important than this? What is your number one issue: global warming, women's reproductive rights, universal health coverage, minimum wage, the war in Iraq, the erosion of our civil liberties, the rightward swing of our courts, the outsourcing of jobs, the national debt, the imperial presidency or all of the above? The sad thing is that I could list a dozen more without even coming up for breath. Without free, fair, secure and transparent elections, there is virtually no chance that any of these issues will be dealt with to your liking any time soon.

Fair elections are the foundation of democracy and without them, it is a charade. What will our legacy be? Will your children and their children wonder where you were during the fight to get our country back? What will you say? What will you do? As Bernie Ellis said "We are the ones we've been waiting for". The buck stops here, with us. It's hard not to be emotional right now. The fact that another election is upon us brings 2000 and 2004 to mind. In this one, democracy will fare no better, I'm afraid.

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Watching a spate of documentaries on this subject in a very short time can be hard on the spirit. This week alone, I watched Truth in the Booth: The Clint Curtis Story, Eternal Vigilance and HBO's "Hacking Democracy". I've been looking forward to seeing the HBO special since I heard about it a month or so ago. This was the most 'mainstream' offering of all and I wanted to see how the subject was handled. Watching it, I had a purely visceral reaction: my mouth became quite dry and I began to shake slightly. This went on the entire time the show was on and for a while afterwards.

My body was behaving in an almost primeval fashion, the old adrenaline-laden "fight or flight" survival mechanism was kicking in. While my head knows well that we're in deep doo-doo, my body was saying "we're way beyond that, sweetheart; this is really serious. Get ready to do something, and make it fast". Bev Harris claims that she used to have a life, before she got involved in investigating electronic voting. She fell into this and her doggedness has opened many eyes to what's happened to our elections.

"Hacking Democracy" is the story of how an ordinary person can accomplish extraordinary things by sheer hard work, a good head and a love of our country. It's an object lesson for all of you couch potatoes out there: this could be you. I'm not going to recount the storyline here. I strongly recommend that you watch this show if you missed it on Thursday. HBO is airing "Hacking Democracy" all month. Pick a date and invite a roomful of friends over. Make some popcorn and be prepared to talk it over afterwards. There's a lot of food for thought. (Check your schedule for exact time of other HBO play dates: Nov. 5,7,13,18 and 26. HBO2 play dates: Nov. 4,7,10 and 15.) I want to touch on one aspect of the show that particularly affected me. I remember hearing about the Black Box Voting/Harri Hursti "authorized hack" when it happened in Leon County, Florida, in December, 2005.

I had just come on as Voting Integrity Editor for OpEdNews, but my interest in voting issues was already in high gear. I recall reading various accounts of the hack and what it meant and being blown away by how awful it was. It also made me mad how little coverage it got (besides online, of course). On Thursday evening, seeing the hack as it unfolded, it was many times worse. We witness a Diebold optical scanner being randomly selected from a shelf of other, identical machines, watch the people vote (the question is: "do you think it's possible to hack a Diebold optical scanner through its memory card?") and catch their reactions to the obviously incorrect and altered results. It was like awaiting a car wreck that you know is going to happen and are powerless to prevent.
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People gasped, there was stunned silence. They were simply dumbfounded. One woman began to cry. It was Susan Pynchon a member of Florida Coalition for Fair Elections. She is no weak-kneed wimp: she has been known to dive into dumpsters to retrieve materials that were improperly thrown out by election officials. While I had read, written and spoken about this event many times in the past,I teared up too. That is the power of the visual image. It has a punch that mere words on a page lack. "Hacking Democracy" captures Mark Radke, the Diebold spokesperson, engaging in what can charitably be labeled misstatements.

The Diebold response, which has worked quite well, has been firm and constant denial or distortion of facts. We now know that the ITA (Independent Testing Authority) should more accurately be called the non-independent testing authority. It's a group of labs which test some limited aspects of electronic voting machines. They are funded by: guess who? the vendors. They report to: guess who? the vendors. Even if there are complaints filed by a municipality, the report goes to: guess who? the vendors. The vendors are not obligated to correct the problem and the complainants will never know. Time and time again, Diebold claimed to have fixed problems but it is discovered, months or years later, that nothing whatsoever was done. This lack of accountability allows a rotten system to continue unchecked and for us to be facing yet another election using insecure, inaccurate and expensive machinery which has flunked every independent test it has ever taken. See the Conyers Report,the Johns Hopkins Report,the Carter-Baker Commission,the Brennan Center Report, and the Princeton Report.

Are you shocked yet? If not, what exactly will it take to shake you up? Appropriately, on the very same day that HBO aired its documentary, we saw further proof of Diebold's duplicity. Rebecca Abrahams broke an exclusive with BradBlog. The headline screamed: "LEAKED 2003 REPORT ON MARYLAND'S DIEBOLD VOTING SYSTEMS REVEALS SERIOUS SECURITY CONCERNS WERE WITHHELD FROM ELECTION BOARD, GOVERNOR, PUBLIC! Long-Sought Document Finally Surfaces Showing America's Largest Voting Machine Company, MD State Election Director, Hid Major Flaws From State, Country! Original 200-Page Security Report - Said to be 'The Pentagon Papers of Electronic Voting' - Previously Released Only in 38-Page Highly Redacted Form...Until Now... http://www.bradblog.com/?p=3719#more-3719 Abrahams writes:
...Despite the brilliant rallying cry of their hero, Ronald Reagan, "Trust but Verify", the Republican Leadership has, in fact, created a Democracy where we are asked to do one but with no effort at all to do the other. The leaked, un-redacted SAIC Report makes it clear that these machines are not ready for our midterm elections next week and that Diebold, and, perhaps the three other manufacturers, have been fraudulently hiding serious operational and security flaws from the states and the voters. Unless there is emergency action undertaken by our states, we could have 468 mini Florida 2000s and the control and direction of our Congress debated for many months to come. Nonetheless, absent the ability to properly inspect the software on these machines, the best safeguard may, indeed, be for everyone to vote. The larger the turnout and, conceivably, the larger the margin of victory, one way or another, the less likely these far from proven machines will be able to alter the vote in defiance of whatever exit polling there is left.
I live in Cook County and there have been two big stories that have broken in the last ten days that affect us and the voting machines we use here. Several members of Illinois Ballot Integrity Project hacked into the Cook County online voting registration database and found that all sorts of private data (birthdates, addresses and the all-important social security numbers) of millions of unsuspecting Chicago land voters have been online for the last six years.

The information has been sitting there, available to any identity thieves out there as well as for anyone interested in manipulating voting data. http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/story?id=2601085 Also, very disturbing is the discovery that the Sequoia machines we use have a mysterious yellow button which allows the machine to revert to manual mode, where unlimited numbers of votes can be recorded by a single person. http://www.bradblog.com/?p=3714 I'm not making this up. This vital information broke this week. You'd think that the story would be plastered all over the newspapers, shouted about on talk radio and covered on our local networks. The silence is deafening. CNN's Lou Dobbs says: "I keep expecting the country to just sort of go into a group scream over these e-voting machines." http://www.bradblog.com/ I know exactly what he means. I've mentioned my recurring dream of screaming behind an impenetrable Plexiglas partition which renders me mute.

I can feel it coming on again. Almost lost in the flurry of voting developments: the author and chief perpetrator of HAVA, Ohio Congressman Bob Ney has resigned from Congress, weeks after becoming a convicted felon. http://www.bradblog.com/?p=3722 A crony of Jack Abramoff, Ney and the electronic voting machine vendors crafted the current election nightmare. Under Ohio law, he will be barred from voting. But, he has left his mark, and his legacy has stiffed the American people, big time. It will take years, I'm afraid, to clean up the mess he made, all in the name of protecting our vote, ostensibly, from hanging chads. There's much to be done. Let's get crackin'! 2008 is looming. We don't have a minute to lose.

 

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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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