Can we prevent another stolen election?

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They’re squirreling our right to vote

Forget worrying about an “October Surprise”—it’s the “November Surprise” that could squirrel this election! All across the country, there’s a deepening suspicion that the Nov. 2nd balloting will not be on the up-and-up, that electronic voting machines, voter intimidation tactics, and other means will be used to pervert the results and subvert democracy à la the 2000 presidential power grab. There is so little public trust that the coming vote will be an honest one that 13 members of Congress wrote to Kofi Annan in July requesting that UN observers be dispatched to monitor the integrity of our democratic process. Then, when Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Florida) reminded outraged GOP leaders that they had already participated in one stolen election, having abetted the Bush “coup d’état” in 2000. Whoa, Nellie, the foam hit the fan! Republicans, purple-faced with anger, shouted the woman down, demanded that she be tossed off the floor, and—on a party-line vote—ordered that her “coup d’état” comment be stricken from the record. Apparently, they think that by pretending no one has uttered such a truth, the truth itself will simply go away. Hey goobers—the truth is that many millions of red-white-and-blue Americans—including an increasing number of independents, true conservatives, and concerned Republicansdoubt very much that our government is able to “police itself” when it comes to holding fair elections.

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The machine ate my vote

This year, nearly a third of the votes for president will be cast on electronic touch-screen voting machines. The problem with these computerized systems is that they are easily hacked into, open to fraud, prone to glitches and failures, and—most damning—produce no paper record of your vote (Lowdown, October, 2003). With no paper trail, there’s no way to do a verifiable recount in case there’s a charge that the machine miscounted or was fraudulently manipulated. “Trust us,” say compliant promoters of touch-screen balloting systems, which I call “faith-based voting.” The evidence is overwhelming that we should have no faith at all in these paperless machines. In recent elections in California, Florida, Georgia, New Mexico, North Carolina, Texas, and elsewhere, electronic voting systems have broken down during balloting, malfunctioned as they tallied votes, miscounted tens of thousands of ballots, disenfranchised voters by deleting their ballots, transferred votes from one candidate to another, and possibly altered election outcomes. In California’s March primary, for example, machines provided by Diebold Inc. broke down by the hundreds, so thousands of voters were turned away. A subsequent investigation found that Diebold had installed illegal software in its machines and then lied about it to state election officials. The California Secretary of State termed the corporation’s performance “despicable,” banned Diebold from four counties, and called for fraud charges against it. The alarm about paperless e-voting has been most loudly rung by our nation’s computer scientists who have analyzed the systems right down to their source codes and find them to be so untrustworthy as to be an imminent danger to democracy. In one survey of 100 computer-security experts, 83 percent said e-voting is less or much less secure against vote tampering than paper-based systems. And as we reported in our July, 2004, issue, a New York Times investigation found that slot machines are far more regulated, and subject to government investigation of both the hardware and software, than are electronic voting machines.

A corrupting coziness

The corporate and governmental officials saddling us with these paperless touch-screen systems say that the rising public concern is nonsense—” pie-in-the-sky paranoia,” as one state official scoffed. They assert that the machines are perfectly secure because they are tested and certified by professional technology labs. Yes, but these certifying labs are not public entities working for you and me—they are for-profit corporations that are hired (and, of course, can be fired) by the very companies that make the machines! And these “certifiers” refuse to discuss their testing methods, much less reveal publicly the flaws that they find in their clients’ computerized voting systems. They’ve turned voting into a closed and cozy corporate fiefdom. “Oh, fiddle-faddle!” exclaims an outfit called the Election Center, which is made up of state and local election officials. That might be cute, except that the center is substantially funded by the three largest makers of e-voting machines—Diebold, Electronic Systems & Software, and Sequoia Voting Systems. The relationship is so tight that the center’s national conference for election officials, held last month, featured a welcoming reception sponsored by Diebold and a dinner cruise on the Potomac sponsored by Sequoia. The conflicts don’t stop at the center. For example, the National Association of Secretaries of State (whose members usually are the top overseers of elections in their states) gets 43 percent of its budget from voting-machine companies and other vendors. The current president of the association says of the machine purveyors: “Personally, I’ve known a lot of these people for a long time, and we’ve become a family.” They’re such a close family that they’ve erased the line that should separate public from private. It’s the old revolving-door scam, where election officials who decide which company’s machines to buy or lease suddenly spin out of public office and join one of the companies, usually for a very fat paycheck. Examples: • Georgia’s ex-Secretary of State, Lewis Massey, was hired as a lobbyist for Diebold in 2002 to help it win the $54 million state contract to provide 19,000 touch-screen machines (which produced questionable results and charges that Diebold illegally changed its software three times after the machines were certified, unbeknownst to Georgia officials). • Former Florida Secretary of State Sandra Mortham not only joined ES&S as a lobbyist to help it win $70 million worth of county contracts for its machines in 2002, but she also lobbied for the Florida Association of Counties, which— for a fee—gave an exclusive endorsement to ES&S equipment. In that year’s September primary, ES&S machines had severe problems in Miami and elsewhere, making a mess of the election. • In 2003, California Secretary of State Bill Jones pushed his state’s $200 million bond initiative to help counties buy e-voting systems then joined Sequoia to help it win the county contracts. He’s now the GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Barbara Boxer— a race that’ll see millions of votes being cast on the machines Jones helped put in place.

Old-fashioned suppression

Wrapped-in-the-flag editorials will soon be admonishing everyone to vote —”It’s your patriotic duty,” they’ll solemnly intone. Yet many partisans of the Republican persuasion feel otherwise about certain voters, and they’re doing all they can to intimidate, harass, and otherwise keep these voters from the polls. As bluntly put by John Pappageorge, a white GOP state representative from the crucial swing state of Michigan: “If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we’re going to have a tough time in this election.” Need I mention that Detroit is 83 percent black and overwhelmingly Democratic? Pappageorge later told New York Times columnist Bob Herbert that, golly, he certainly meant nothing racist by his comment, just politics. Leave it to First Brother Jeb of Florida to lead the way in racial politics. The governor’s Republican operatives were very aggressive in holding down the African-American vote in 2000 to produce George W.’s 537 vote “win” in the Sunshine State—and here they go again. In August, columnist Herbert, who closely monitors voter-suppression efforts, reported a conversation with a peer of Florida’s GOP establishment, who candidly told him: “A Democrat can’t win a statewide election in Florida without a high turnout…of African-Americans. It’s no secret that the name of the game for Republicans is to restrain that turnout as much as possible.” They’re out to turn Florida into the next…Florida. Start with an ugly act of intimidation in Orlando by the state police, which reports to the Jebster. Why Orlando? In the last few years, this former GOP stronghold has been voting Democratic (including for Gore in 2000), thanks in large part to a strong African- American turnout organized by the Orlando League of Voters. This summer, some 50 of the league’s grassroots leaders suddenly began getting the knocks on their doors from plainclothes—but pointedly armed—state police. These community leaders, mostly elderly black women, were understandably shaken to be confronted in their homes by armed troopers interrogating them about their electoral actions and motives. To this day, police authorities refuse to say exactly what crimes these folks are suspected of committing, vaguely referring instead to unspecified allegations that some voter fraud might have been committed in March’s mayoral election. Odd. This charge had been raised by the Republican losers right after that election, but had been investigated and rejected by this same police agency. Indeed, in a May 13 letter, Jeb Bush’s state-police honcho wrote that “there was no basis to support the allegations of election fraud,” and he declared “this matter closed.” Police now assert that the chief’s letter was “poorly worded,” and the intimidating in-home interrogations have continued, and now Attorney General John Ashcroft has jackbooted into the fray, sending federal agents to investigate voter registration drives, including questioning new registrants at their homes, starting in the swing states of New Mexico, Ohio and West Virginia. Other ugly election day tricks to look for include turning away voters who show up without photo IDs, rather than providing them with an affidavit option as required by law, and telling college students they can’t vote in their college locales, which they have a clear legal right to do. Last year in Texas, at Prairie View A&M, an African-American school near Houston, the Republican district attorney threatened to arrest any students who tried to register to vote there, only to back down in the face of a threatened lawsuit. Now he’s resigned, citing family reasons (my guess is his kids called him a bozo). This month the 3-2 Republican majority of county commissioners voted against providing a campus polling place, instead requiring students to trek into town’—a move called “pure racist” by a state legislator.

The rebellion

People get a little testy when you mess with their right to vote. Even those who rarely vote don’t want anyone squirreling their right to do so— and to have it properly counted. That’s why there’s a growing uproar throughout the country over the games that the Powers That Be are playing. Nevada has been in the forefront of this spreading rebellion against virtual voting on touch-screen systems. This summer, it became the first state to require that every electronic machine provide a paper record of each person’s vote. The industry and its sycophantish group of election officials have long claimed that paper-trail machines wouldn’t work, were too complicated for poll workers, would slow down elections, yadda-yadda-yadda. But Nevada, which demandedand gotpaper-backed machines from Sequoia, held its primary elections on them this month…and lo and behold, they worked beautifully! Other states are joining the rebellion: California has demanded strict supervision and major security changes on all touch-screen machines used in the state (and will require paper trails after this year’s election), and any California voter who wants one will be able to get an oldfashioned paper ballot from poll workers on Nov. 2. Maine will require a paper trail on electronic machines when it introduces them after this year. And even Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State, who earlier had certified the use of Diebold machines, now has blocked their use, citing unresolved security risks. The Ohio legislature has passed a law requiring voter-verifiable paper trails for any electronic voting in the future. Meanwhile, back in Florida, distrust of paperless voting is so rampant that even Jeb’s own Republican Party—much to his embarrassment— advised its members to “make sure your vote counts” by casting absentee votes on paper ballots, thereby bypassing the untrustworthy machines. Then, pouring gasoline on the fire of public distrust, Jeb rammed through a rule outlawing manual recounts of votes cast on electronic machines! (And this despite a state law mandating manual recounts in close elections.) Voting rights groups sued, and a state judge, declaring in August that the no-recount ploy was “contrary to the plain language” of the law, tossed Jeb’s rule into the legal trashbin. But ol’ Jeb just keeps on coming. As in 2000, he and his Secretary of State tried in July to purge the state’s voter lists of thousands of eligible voters. Their scheme was to use yet another list of convicted felons (Florida is one of seven states that permanently ban felons from voting, even after they’ve served their time). Just as in 2000, however, Jeb’s felon list was filled with errors. People who weren’t felons were included, and the list conveniently excluded Florida Hispanics, who tend to vote Republican: most of the people on on the list were African-American. When this obvious bias was uncovered, Jeb was forced to scrap his latest tawdry effort to suppress Democratic votes.

What to do?

These are not normal times. There is a dangerous crisis of confidence in our democratic process. Everywhere I go, the first and most urgent question I get asked is: “Will our votes count?” It’s hard to believe that it’s come to this: that America’s political system has become so corrupted by money and crude partisan power plays that ordinary people now fear the act of voting itself will be stolen from them. What to do? Everything you can. Raise a ruckus with your Congress critter for emergency passage of H.R. 2239, the national legislation to require paper trails (see “Do Something” on page 2), and demand that your county and state officials require them too. If you don’t want to trust the machines, vote absentee, which is done on paper. Write op-eds and letters to the editor, call talk shows, speak to church and civic groups, become a trained volunteer poll watcher (call 1-866-OUR-VOTE), recruit others, and do whatever else your creative mind can devise. But the best defense against voter suppression and electronic fraud is to flood the polls. There are only so many votes they can prevent or steal—a massive turnout will overwhelm their perfidy. Make it an issue where you live that the bastards are trying to hold down the vote: One sure way to get Americans to act is to let ’em know that the elites don’t want them to. Finally, be prepared to take to the streets. If the Bushites try to pull a Florida again, we can’t pretend that it’s a matter for lawyers, as Al Gore did in 2000—it’ll be another raw power grab, and We The People will have to step forward. Bring pitchforks and torches.

I’m making moves!

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