by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman
September 11, 2007
Ohio Republicans have blocked a proposal to test electronic voting
machines prior to the 2008 presidential primary.
By a 4-3 vote, Republicans on Ohio’s State Controlling Board blocked
Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner’s proposed $1.8 million
unbid contract for voting machine testing. Brunner had already set
aside the $1.8 million for the test. Her specific request to the
Controlling Board was a waiver for competitive bidding. Her office had
hoped to complete all testing by November 30, 2007.
A former judge, Brunner is successor to the infamous J. Kenneth
Blackwell, who helped engineer the theft of Ohio's electoral votes for
George W. Bush in 2004. Brunner won election as a reform candidate,
vowing to guarantee the public access to the polls---and an accurate
vote count---in 2008.
In California,Democratic Secretaryof State Debra Bowen recently
completed an extensive testing of that state's electronic voting
machines. She decertified many of them and is on course to rework how
America's biggest state casts and counts its ballots.
Brunner has not been quite so aggressive. When it was recently
revealed that 56 of 88 Ohio counties illegally destroyed protected
materials from the 2004 election, she showed little reaction. She has
also stated publicly doubts that the irregularities that defined the
Ohio vote that year could have affected the outcome or that the illegal
destruction of more than 2000 ballots could have been intentional.
But in attempting to carry out her promise to test Ohio's electronic
voting machines, Brunner has followed through on public demands that
the ability of Ohio's electronic machines to deliver a fair and
reliable vote count be proven. Tests and studies conducted by the
federal Government Accountability Office, Princeton University, Johns
Hopkins, the Brennan Center, the Carter-Baker Election Commission, John
Conyer's House Judiciary Committee and others have all shown clearly
that electronic voting machines are unreliable and easily rigged.
The New York Times has now joined that consensus, calling for an
outright federal ban."Electronic voting has been an abysmal
failure," the Times said. "Computer experts have done study after
study showing that electronic voting machines, which are often shoddily
made, can easily be hacked. With little effort, vote totals can be
changed and elections stolen."
Apparently, the Ohio GOP is not anxious to have a state study add to
such conclusions. At a Monday hearing, State Senator Steve Stivers
(R-Columbus) attempted to table Brunner’s request before she was
allowed to speak. Only the procedural intervention of Controlling Board
President Joe Secrest afforded Brunner the courtesy of presenting her
Brunner’s plan calls for contracts with testing companies that are
preferred by the voting machine vendors like SysTest Labs and computer
security experts from various universities to inspect the machines
under the management of the Battelle Memorial Institute.
But Senator John Carey (R-Wellston) angrily reacted to Brunner's
mention of the tests conducted in California, saying they were the work
of“leftists and extremists.” Both Stivers and Carey questioned the
independence and objectiveness of the academics from Cleveland State,
Penn State, and the University of Pennsylvania listed in Brunner’s
Cleveland State University Law Professor Candace Hoke, who witnessed
the California tests of e-voting machines for hackability, told the
Controlling Board that “Within ten seconds to two minutes . . . they
found thirty different ways” to hack the machines.
Both Brunner and Hoke stressed the lack of security measures now used
at Ohio’s polling places. The issues of so-called “sleepovers” used in
some Ohio counties, like Hocking, were cited. This practice involves
often untrained poll workers to take hackablevoting machines home with
them the weekend before an Election Day.
Brunner repeatedly emphasized the need to establish a “chain of
custody” concerning both the access and memory cards used in voting
machines, the latter serving as an electronic ballot box. In recent
elections, memory cards have gone missing for hours on election nights
in both Toledo and Dayton.
State Senator Ray Miller (D-Columbus) declared that election security
is “the most important issue that’s come before the Controlling Board.”
He said, “It’s way beyond the building of buildings. It goes to the
core of our democracy.”
But the attack on Brunner’s testing contract was initiated by Ohio
Speaker of the House Republican John Husted in the morning prior to the
September 10 Controlling Board meeting. He sent a letter to Brunner
demanding she remove the requested contract proposal from the
Controlling Board agenda.“At the present time, too many outstanding
questions remain regarding the scope of this request and the intent of
the study," he wrote.