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The Currency of Democracy

By Paul Jacobs  Posted by Joan Brunwasser (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 2 pages)   No comments
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Votes are the currency of democracy, but casting a ballot is far more precious than any monetary transaction. All political power is inherent in the people and that is the core value of the vote. The reason millions of dollars are invested in political campaigns is to capture our votes. We fail to recognize the worth of this treasure we hold and are allowing democracy to be electronically swindled away.

Running a clean election is based on a simple precept: Vote in private; count in public. The secret ballot protects the voter from outside intimidation to afford the freest expression of democracy. Counting votes in public ensures total transparency for security and accuracy in the tallying. Paper ballot systems are vulnerable to tampering at 5 points of entry, but they are inherently reliable and secure because of the simplicity and transparency of the process.

Josef Stalin said, "Those who cast the votes decide nothing; those who count the votes decide everything." New York Republican Congressman Peter King paraphrased Stalin when caught on video weeks before the November 2004 election saying, "It's over. The election's over, we won. It's all over but the counting and we'll take care of the counting."

The U.S. Supreme Court awarded the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000 after a recount of the votes was litigated and brought to a stop in Florida. Butterfly ballots and hanging chads were blamed for election irregularities that contributed to the disenfranchisement of many thousands of voters. Florida's election dysfunction ushered the whole nation into the age of electronic voting.

The Florida election fiasco was the 9/11 of paper ballot systems. Suddenly, paper ballot systems were deemed unreliable and archaic; a new industry was born. With the human hand too fallible to put pen or punch to paper, we ironically looked to technology to show us a simpler way.

In an age of ATM's and home banking, Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines seemed like the natural progression. Touch screen technology allows a voter to insert a card into a machine and have a ballot appear on screen to be marked by finger or stylus. Before the electronic ballot is cast, the screen verifies the votes for the voter to approve; the machine beeps and pops out the voter card to be returned to the precinct worker.

Electronic ballots and cast votes are held on readable-writable memory cartridges that upload the ballots into the DRE and then capture and store the votes. After the election is closed, the cartridges are inserted into readers to transfer the data to the vote tally server. Ideally, those cartridges are secured through a chain of custody and physically delivered to a central tabulation center. Unfortunately, some election officials have been transferring voting data through unsecured wired networks for years. It was originally argued that the internal memory was all the public needed for reassurance, but after too many elections with unusual results, a paper audit trail was mandated to be in place by June of 2006.

The leap to hand over our elections to private companies was an irresponsible, knee-jerk travesty. Voting machines appeared virtually overnight and quickly changed democracy in America. They were readymade and purchased off the shelf without the preconceived specifications, policies and procedures that are usually inherent in government endeavors. Safeguards were an afterthought. Three primary companies have jockeyed for the bounty of billions of dollars counties have been budgeted through federal grants to buy electronic voting systems under provisions of the Help America Vote Act. These companies had the foresight to invest millions of dollars to design and build equipment for a marketplace long before there was any demand. That is a business model very few could successfully follow.

By 2004, electronic voting machines were deployed across the nation and questionable election results ensued in Ohio, New Mexico and Florida following the November presidential contest. The greatest discrepancies occurred in districts utilizing electronic machines, while counties using paper ballots tracked accurately according to exit polls. Election irregularities first appeared in Florida and 4 short years later, voting anomalies were happening in multiple states. The proliferation of electronic voting in America has caused election problems to spread across the country like a virus on the Internet.

Electronic voting systems are said to have more than 100 points of entry vulnerable to hacking and other mischief. Every connection in the process provides an opportunity to slip in a little bit of programming that executes a task before vanishing without a trace. One tampered election data cartridge out of the thousands can change everything.

The reason this can happen is because private companies claim proprietary control over the inner workings of the machines that register and tally our votes. Election officials, the public and independent parties are not allowed to test or inspect the software without authorization and limitations as set forth by the manufacturers.

Although manufacturers claim proprietary control, the election systems also use commercial versions of Microsoft software known to be vulnerable to hacking and other undetectable mischief. Election officials gladly embrace the technology that makes their jobs easier; because not only do the nice vendors handle most of the responsibilities, they often provide jobs or consultation opportunities once officials leave public office.

We might as well start chiseling the tombstone for democracy: R.I.P 1776 - 2006. The American experiment in democracy was lost in an electronic voting coups d'e'tat.

Three companies count more than 80 percent of the votes in the United States. Even the optical scanners that read paper ballots utilize proprietary software that has proven to be vulnerable to hacking. No less than 5 of the highly placed programmers and builders of electronic voting equipment were convicted felons.

The legal Finding of Fact from the Superior Court of Washington for King County for one highly placed felon specified, --the crimes and their cover up involved a high degree of sophistication and planning in the use and alteration of records in the computerized accounting system that defendant maintained for the victim, and the defendant used his position of trust and fiduciary responsibility as a computer systems and accounting consultant for the victim to facilitate the commission of the offenses" (Underlined for emphasis)

Principals in these 3 companies unilaterally contribute to, and otherwise support, the Republican Party. When election irregularities have been detected, they universally favor Republican candidates. The R.I.P above could stand for the traditional "rest in peace," or perhaps more accurately: Republicans in power. This is not a partisan comment; it is simply a representation of widely available information.

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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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