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"The Right to Count: Democracy v. Electronic Voting" - A documentary by Richard Van Slyke

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The Right to Count: Democracy v. Electronic Voting, a Documentary by Richard Van Slyke by Joan Brunwasser, Voting Integrity Editor, OpEdNews March 26, 2007 The latest to come out regarding the Sarasota "lost 18,000" is pretty shocking, even for someone as jaded as I am. Apparently, ES&S sent a letter to the chief of the state's Bureau of Voting Systems Certifications laying out the parameters by which the state should conduct the audit of ES&S's own machines. Talk about the fox in the chicken coop! Here is the link to the article: This brings us to several questions that are essential for us - as a purportedly democratic nation - to seriously consider. Who is running this show? What are elections for? Whom do they serve? The Right to Count examines the evolution of our elections and asks the pivotal question of whether our present system properly serves our citizens and our democracy. While you may not understand each and every term that they toss around, you'll certainly get the underlying message that we are in deep, deep trouble. Van Slyke's documentary is a welcome addition to the mounting evidence of major election meltdowns since electronic voting has taken over. The film is packed with information that every voter should have while formulating an opinion on election reform. Let's return to the basics. What exactly is a vote? Lynn Landes of sees it as a three-part process: marking; casting; and counting. While the first act must be completed in private to ensure the autonomy of the voter, the other two need to be executed in public in a transparent process that allows the voter to observe and which prevents votes from being erroneously lost or nefariously manipulated. She goes on to say that with the introduction of machines to the voting procedure as early as 1888, we "slowly and surely surrendered the right to vote to technology." Currently, a mere .6 percent of votes cast are actually counted by hand. Even paper ballots are read by optical scanners, machines that possess secret, proprietary, and highly corruptible software, not to mention inadequate security provisions and are owned by for-profit corporations with strong political ties to one party. Eighty percent of the votes are counted on machines manufactured by ES&S and Diebold. So, in essence, we have outsourced our elections and eliminated citizen oversight at the same time. In 2004 in four Georgia counties, Diebold reps ran the elections without the supervision of a single state or election official. Keep in mind that once Georgia went completely paperless in 2002, the composition of the state government and the governor's office all flipped to Republican for the first time in well over 100 years. Does that sound likely? When Kathy Rogers, Director of the Election Administration for the State of Georgia, testified that recounts and audits were impractical and unwieldy, she was speaking the truth. Diebold created a Rube Goldberg-type system which uses a take-up reel that holds all of the votes on one continuous roll. If this isn't the epitome of "incredibly intricate machines designed to carry out simple tasks, " I don't know a better fit. To recount 64 ballots, it took four people over four hours to read from the 318 foot roll! Am I the only one who thinks there's a better way to go about this? Even I could think of a more efficient, cheaper, and less convoluted system. Why would anyone pay good money for a system that seems to exist in order to thwart determining the public will? Would you trust your vote to voting machine companies with strong political ties to only one political party? Or to voting machine companies that zealously guard their source code as proprietary and refuse to reveal it? Or to voting machine companies owned by foreigners? Or to voting machine companies whose software and security standards are so low that they were deemed "terrible" by Stanford's David Dill? Or to a voting machine company founded and staffed by convicted felons? Or to a voting machine company whose CEO/Chairman of the Board (Diebold's Wally O'Dell) promised to deliver Ohio to Bush in 2004? Rebecca Mercuri points to the 33,000 identical keys for Diebold machines. The key is the same model as that used for office filing cabinets and minibars for the last 15 years. In point of fact, you don't even need a key. The Princeton Center documented that they were able to get in without one in less than 10 seconds. And in less than a minute, someone could infect a machine with a virus that will change the vote tallies and then self-destruct, removing any evidence of tampering. No muss, no fuss. How did we get into this fix? The answer is location, location, location. The vendors were in the right place at the right time in the aftermath of the 2000 election. Through active lobbying, they were able to virtually write the legislation that has created this untenable, anti-democratic situation. The chief navigator for HAVA was Rep. Ney of Ohio, now serving time in a federal penitentiary. The result? With almost four billion tax dollars down the drain, we have implemented a system that surely does not help America vote. But it does effectively enrich a few corporations while further outsourcing our democracy. I guess they thought that wouldn't be such a catchy title. A system that California Voter Foundation's Kim Alexander dubs "regulatory capture" is partially to blame. This occurs when the regulated and the regulators are inextricably entangled - where the election officials become wholly dependent on the vendors who "handle" the elections for them from soup to nuts. The officials thereby become overly loyal to the vendors, exhibiting a sort of "Stockholm syndrome" and surrendering any healthy skepticism. It is extremely foolhardy to entrust our elections to for-profit corporations with their own ulterior motives. The voter and the vote come out the clear losers in this equation. Electronic voting adds additional levels of complexity to a relatively simple act. Part of the problem is that very few understand it, including our elected officials, along with the vast majority of the American public. This forces us to depend inordinately upon experts who may have their own agendas. We have drifted so far from paper ballots, marked by hand in secret and counted in public. Democracy has never seemed more remote. Add to this the corporate press's total dereliction of duty in reporting on this story, and the media's own involvement in dispersing the election results, and you have two more factors in the mess we call our present-day voting system. It was dispiriting to see the vendor reps in their executive suits and power ties testifying about how wonderful electronic voting has been for the American people. Lies and misrepresentations glibly popped out of smiling mouths. Of course they're smiling. They have 3.8 billion reasons to smile - all at the taxpayers' expense. The Sequoia rep proudly spoke about how they planned to "securely and accurately record over 105 million votes" for last November's election. He forgot to mention the infamous yellow button. A few days before the election, it was discovered that the machines in California had a yellow button that could be pressed repeatedly in order to vote as many times as a person could get away with before someone noticed. The ES&S spokesman talked about how moving to DREs has been "outstanding from the voter's perspective. It's made the process easier, more accessible and in most cases, more fun." This one left me speechless. Sure, it might be considered 'fun' to vote on this machine. But in terms of guaranteeing what happens to the votes afterwards, fuggedaboutit. Explain the 'fun factor' to those 18,000 voters in Sarasota whose votes mysteriously disappeared in their hotly contested congressional race. Mark Radke, Diebold's public relations executive, spoke with a straight face about how electronic voting is a "significant advancement" over other technologies, and that the various levels of certifying and testing should make us all feel that we're in good hands. Explain that one to the Alaskan voters whose votes were kept from them for over two years while they wrangled with Diebold and the state officials over to whom the votes belonged. The voters simply wanted an explanation as to how the number of votes cast exceeded the number of registered voters by 100,000. Two years later, when the records were finally handed over, they had been accessed and altered. There is a striking disconnect between corporate responsibility and accountability and the voters' experiences. Tens of thousands of complaints were registered in 2004, and yet vendors and election officials declared the voting a success. What exactly would constitute a failure, in their opinion? Many people contend that we will never move away from computerized voting because computers are here to stay and moving to paper ballots would be a step backwards. But if you were to ask anyone who has seen his vote flip on the screen from his choice to the opposing candidate, or who has been turned away from the polls because his computerized voter registration had mysteriously disappeared, he would tell you which system is the real step backwards. If we truly believe that it is crucial for each vote to be cast and counted safely and accurately, it is hard to believe that electronic voting will get us there. The opposite seems to be true, however adamantly the diehards dismiss the ever-increasing evidence of study after independent study, and hack after hack. The Black Box Voting/Harri Hursti hack discussed in the movie was featured in the HBO documentary Hacking Democracy and clearly demonstrated the perils of electronic voting. Armed with his own laptop and an inexpensive crop scan (memory card reader), Hursti succeeded in hacking into and altering the simulated election caught on film. As Dan Wallach of Rice University explains, a memory card with no integrity check allowed false information to infect the machine, producing a "false result". The manipulation of the memory card code itself meant that "all those standard protections failed to recognize that the software had miscounted all the ballots." All of the visible signs pointed to a "false result". Florida is uniquely at risk because of a law on the books that forbids machine counted ballots from being recounted by hand. As Leon County Superintendent of Elections Ion Sancho says, that law is predicated on the assumption that the votes were counted accurately in the first place. The BBV/Hurst hack proves that there is absolutely no reason to make that assumption; moreover, the law means that anyone pulling off that kind of vote fraud would never be caught since no meaningful recount can be made. Talk about a Catch-22. How does this system serve the voter or truly reflect the voter's choice? The notorious case of the 18,000 undervotes in the November 2006 Congressional race makes Sarasota, Florida the poster child for what can go wrong with electronic voting. It is also a quirk of timing that The Right To Count won the audience award of the Gallop Gallery Independent Film Competition of the 2006 Sarasota Film Festival shortly after that infamous local election. The juxtaposition couldn't be more clear, fortuitous or impossible to ignore. I urge you to take on this issue of voting integrity, study it, and make it your own. I've stated many times that no matter what your political persuasion or demographics, what happens during elections affects us all, each and every single day. Watch some of the excellent documentaries (Dorothy Fadiman's Stealing America: Vote by Vote and David Earnhardt's Eternal Vigilance for starters) that demand much less energy or time than reading a book. Or, read a book (try any of the following: Greg Palast's The Best Democracy Money can Buy; Did George W Bush Steal America's 2004 Election? by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman; What Went Wrong in Ohio: The Conyers Report on the 2004 Presidential Election; Mark Crispin Miller's Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election and Why They'll Steal the Next One Too (Unless We Stop Them); Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? Exit Polls, Election Fraud and the Official Count by Steven F. Freeman and Joel Bleifuss or Hacked! High Tech Election Theft in America 11 Experts Expose the Truth, edited by Abbe Waldman DeLozier and Vickie Karp). Decisions will be made quite soon about the direction our elections will take, and with them, the country. Make your voice heard before it's too late.
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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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