I recently had the opportunity to catch up with election integrity hero, Steve Heller. Our last interview was back in August, 2007.
You achieved notoriety a few years back. You stole the Diebold documents in January of 2004, the search warrant was served on your house in August of 2004, you were indicted on three felony charges in February of 2006, and you pled guilty to one felony count of unauthorized access to a computer in November of that same year. [For more background and details, all of the press and many of the blog posts on Steve Heller's case can be found here.] So what's happened since then?
Well, in terms of my case, what's happened is that when I pled guilty, I had to pay $10,000 in restitution to the law firm from which I stole the Diebold documents, and I was put on felony probation for three years. After one year, we petitioned the court for a reduction of my sentence from a felony to a misdemeanor. That petition was granted, and as of now, I remain on misdemeanor probation.
In terms of my activist life, that has continued in a much more involved way than before my criminal case. Being the "Diebold Whistle-blower" gave me a lot of "street cred," you might say, with the election integrity (EI) community, and so there were a lot of media appearances and public speaking engagements. I just went out there and did my best to spread the word about the fact that our elections are unverifiable and totally without security, and what we must do to reverse this problem.
Financially, it's been difficult. The legal bills were huge, and while my legal defense fund helped a lot, we took a big hit financially. And my crime made it impossible for me to continue making the very good living I was making as a legal word processor; no one will ever hire me for that work again. But I'm in school full time retraining for a new career and hopefully in the near future I'll be able to make a good living again. But at this point, with so many Americans in serious financial straits, my wife and I consider ourselves very lucky. We've got our house, food on the table, and we are able to cover our bills. So believe me, we're not complaining.
As for my personal life, nothing has changed, thank goodness. My wife Michele and I have come through my legal problems with our marriage stronger than ever. I did something that brought a lot of trouble to our doorstep, but Michele stood by me like a rock; she knows that I did what I had to do. I owe her so much.
How is your life different now?
Before my crime, I was only an armchair EI activist. I had read Bev Harris' book, Black Box Voting, and I followed the EI news very closely. I'd brood about our elections and how shoddy, unreliable, and unverifiable they were (and still are). I strongly believed (and still believe) that Bush was not elected but was selected by a right-wing cadre of Supreme Court judges who invented law out of whole cloth in order to appoint their preferred candidate. I'd fulminate about how "We, the People" should have risen up and refused to accept having our president selected for us against the wishes of a majority of voters in Florida and all across the nation. I worried almost constantly about our democratic republic and the continuation of our liberties. But I'm embarrassed to say that until January of 2004, I didn't actually *do* much of anything about it.
But stealing and exposing those documents was doing something about it, and that's an understatement. I was plunged into the midst of a very hot fight, and suddenly I became one of the front line soldiers in the on-going struggle to restore accuracy and integrity to our elections. And I'm proud to still be directly involved in that fight.
And to me, being part of the battle for election integrity is a perfect example of "fighting the good fight." Clean elections are one of the "goodest" of the good fights. And I would now like to apologize to my deceased mother, who was an English teacher, for using the word "goodest." Sorry, Mom.
What are you doing, these days?
I'm very proud to be working with Velvet Revolution (VR), which is an organization co-founded by Brett Kimberlin and Brad Friedman, publisher of The BRAD BLOG. My job with VR is to assist Brett and Brad as a blogger and researcher for any and all EI issues. One of VR's offshoot websites is the Election Protection Strike Force, and I blog a fair amount on there. I also work with Emily Levy, another member of VR, on any number of EI projects that come up. At present, I'm assisting Emily in VR's call for an investigation of some strange discrepancies in California's 2008 election regarding Prop 8, the amendment to restrict marriage rights.
What's your main goal as an EI activist?
In the broadest sense, it's to make our elections accurate, reliable, verifiable, and secure. But the devil is in the details, as they say. There's a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done to get to that goal, and in this interview I won't get into the nitty-gritty details. But if we could accomplish the following things, we'd be taking a giant step forward:
1. A voter-marked paper ballot for every vote in every election, no exceptions;