Friday, March 25, 2005

Jimmy Carter to Chair Election Reform Commission

March 24, 2005

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former President Jimmy Carter will lead a bipartisan commission to examine problems with the U.S. election system, American University's Center for Democracy and Election Management said on Thursday.

Carter, a Democrat whose Carter Center has monitored more than 50 elections around the world, will co-chair the private commission with Republican James Baker, who served as Secretary of State under President George H. W. Bush.

Former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, a Democrat who lost his seat in the 2004 election, will also participate.

"I am concerned about the state of our electoral system and believe we need to improve it," Carter said in a statement. He said the group will assess "issues of inclusion" in federal voting and propose recommendations to improve the process.

"We will try to define an electoral system for the 21st century that will make Americans proud again," he said.

Though disputes over recounts and voter eligibility marred the 2000 U.S. presidential election, international monitors in place in November 2004 reported the polls were mostly fair.

Still, concerns emerged about exceedingly long lines that kept voters from the polls in several states including Ohio, whose 20 electoral college votes ultimately decided the election in President Bush's favor.

The Center for Democracy and Election Management, which will organize the work of Carter's commission, said the group would hold two public hearings -- the first on April 18 at American University in Washington and the second at Houston's Rice University in June.

The Commission on Federal Election Reform aims to produce a report to Congress on its findings by September.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

As Blackwell Says, Ohio’s in 2004 was a National Model

The Free Press
by Steve Rosenfeld, Bob Fitrakis, and Harvey Wasserman
March 24, 2005

Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell finally testified – something he had refused to do in the Moss v. Bush Ohio election challenge before the State Supreme Court and refused to do in Washington, D.C. His testimony proved so contentious that at one point Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones, D-OH, told him to “haul butt” if he was unwilling to answer questions about irregularities in the 2004 election.

Blackwell vigorously defended his role in last fall’s presidential election at a congressional hearing on Monday, March 21, at the Ohio Statehouse, claiming critics have smeared his state as if it were a “third world country” rather than the national model of election administration that Blackwell said it was. In December, Republican state senators blocked a similar Democrat-sponsored forum from using the Statehouse, forcing testimony to be taken at the Democrat-controlled Columbus City Council chambers. Meanwhile, hundreds of disenfranchised voters testified under oath in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo and Warren concerning their voting day hardships.

“We had a good election in the state of Ohio. Not a perfect election – elections are human endeavors,” Blackwell, a Republican gubernatorial candidate and co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign, told the House Committee on Administration in Columbus. In opening remarks, he also noted Ohio coped with a million new voters and tremendous efforts by both political parties to exploit legal tactics to their advantage.

“While much has been written by the conspiracy theorists, I would like to point out that there has only been one complaint filed by the HAVA process,” Blackwell said, referring to the Help America Vote Act, which was enacted by Congress after Florida’s 2000 election debacle. “I am interested in clean, fair and transparent elections.”

Blackwell’s opening remarks set the stage for a dramatic, revealing hearing where observers either accepted his assertions that explained away and minimized the vast problems documented on November 2, 2004 – or his remarks, in tandem with earlier testimony from other Ohio election officials, made the strongest possible case that the entire voting process must be federalized, or else elections will run under separate and unequal laws drafted according to varying local and state whims.

“We had the most successful election on a punch card system ever,” he said. “It’s silly on its face to say there was systematic attempt to disenfranchise blacks in Franklin County… We have to work very hard to make sure our system is fraud proof… and that’s what I found so offensive that charges were made against the system by folks who didn’t have the decency to check the facts… We were targeted for such chaos and confusion.”

Blackwell’s wholesale denial of the legal record documenting the scores of Election Day problems that disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters – from the House Judiciary Committee Democrats’ report, to the 900 pages of sworn affidavits and other analysis filed at the Ohio Supreme Court in response to his attempt to sanction the lawyer who filed a lawful challenge of the 2004 presidential results, to the statements made in Washington on January 6, 2005 during the Electoral College challenge – did not go unanswered by Democrats on the House Administration Committee.

“Mr. Secretary of State, you have a lot of improvement to do,” said Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, D-CA, the ranking Democrat on the panel.

Blackwell testified after a string of county election directors and election board chairs said his office did not provide adequate funds for poll worker training and public education. In addition, they said their offices were deluged with administrative orders by Blackwell before the election and continuing through Election Day, complicating the process and leading to poll worker confusion, especially in some of Ohio’s biggest cities – the traditional Democratic strongholds. Those complications slowed or sullied the voting process, several county board of election directors said.

The county directors and chairs also said voter registration information from Blackwell’s office – the basis for allocating voting machines in some cases – also was typically 6 months old. And Cayuhoga County’s Michael Vu said his effort to tell 6,000-plus poll workers how to better-handle provisional ballots were met with written threats from Blackwell.

“Mr. Blackwell, there have been many allegations put out there – you don’t want to hear that,” Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald said. “But they are out there… you did have long lines, therefore there was a certain amount of disenfranchisement.”

Blackwell – who turned his back to Millender-McDonald when she spoke and was told by the congresswoman to face him and speak up – had answers for all the problems cited. The shortage of voting machines was in part the federal government’s fault, he said, as HAVA required new machines – but only provided limited funding to buy those new machines. Thus he said he was unable to replace old machines or buy new ones, adding – and this is notable in itself – that even the newest electronic voting machines had unacceptable security flaws.

While Vu noted that there were 10,000 voting machines available in the Cleveland area, Franklin County Election Board Chair William Anthony acknowledged that his county and the city of Columbus was woefully short. Anthony has repeatedly stated that Franklin County operated with only 2866 machines available, about half the number necessary.

As for why his office had not provided or spent poll worker raining and voter education funds given to the state through HAVA, Blackwell said he did spend some of that money, but was holding back until the state bought a new generation of voting machines.

Blackwell was asked why he enforced a rule only giving voters 5 minutes in a voting booth if there was a line of people waiting to vote. He said that was Ohio law and provided the state statute. He was asked why he instituted a rule that mailed-in voter registrations had to be on a certain weight paper or they’d be rejected. He said there were stricter state standards before the 2004 election season and he “relaxed” them.

Blackwell was also asked by Millender-McDonald about following the provisional ballot rules in HAVA. Not making these ballots available to voters who are not on the poll’s list of registered voters is illegal under HAVA, and Blackwell said he did this.

“In Ohio in this election, everyone got a provisional ballot who requested one,” he said. “There was a good faith effort to do that.”

“Giving provisional ballots is one thing, but counting them is another,” Millender-McDonald replied.

Blackwell replied that ballots would not be counted unless voters too them to the county courthouses or board of election office. He said voters were told that at the polls.
“But that disenfranchised them anyway,” Millender-McDonald replied.

Blackwell’s response was Ohio had one of the highest rates of counting provisional ballots in the country; with 78 percent of the provisional ballots cast being accepted.

The thrust of Millender-McDonald’s questioning suggested that Blackwell’s policies, en masse, created barriers to voting – rather than opening the process to all citizens.

“A lot of assertions are made on Internet blogs or by wild conspiracy theorists,” he replied. “If I could interpret their brains or their minds, I’d be a rich man.”


Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones, the judge-turned-congresswoman from Ohio’s largest city, Cleveland, led the House challenge to the 2004 Electoral College certification. While she is not a member of the House Administration Committee, the committee members let her participate as a panel member as a House courtesy.

When it was her turn to ask questions, Blackwell said it was “good to see you,” to which Rep. Tubbs-Jones replied, “It was so good to see you that you chose not to shake my hand in the anteroom.”

Jones followed up the questioning on the provisional ballots by asking Blackwell why his ‘public education’ campaign – radio ads and recording phone messages to voters’ homes - did not tell people that if they were given a provisional ballot they had to be turned in at the board of elections to be counted.

“In this ad you said ‘Vote your precinct,’ but you didn’t say ‘Vote in your board of elections,” Tubbs-Jones said. “You did an ad statewide and you spent $2.5 million.”

“We went into one million households by phone, in your district and Cleveland. We told them how to vote,” Blackwell replied. “As much as you want to create a third-world situation in your state, we called… We told them how to make their vote count.”

“Let’s count the words, you could have said…” Tubbs-Jones replied.

“I refuse to sit here and be harangued by you,” Blackwell said.

“Not every voter has a master’s degree. Not every voter has a bachelor’s degree. We want to make sure that information is on a level where everyone understands,” Millender-McDonald said.

“I used the language that a bipartisan (advertising) firm recommended,” Blackwell said.
“Bipartisan doesn’t mean a thing when they speak over the heads of the average voter,” Millender-McDonald replied.

This and other exchanges between Blackwell and the congresswomen typically ended with Blackwell saying he was following the “best practices” in the election field and defending state election workers as models for other states to follow.

“We will defend the professionalism and integrity of the 50,000 election workers in this state,” he defiantly concluded.

Another View: County Election Directors

While Blackwell sought to deflect criticism and dismiss those who said the 2004 election in his state was marred by problems, some of the very people who serve at his pleasure – county board of election directors who he appoints and fires – testified in the panel just before him that the Secretary of State’s policies, practices and orders confused and complicated the voting process.

County election officials were asked why there was confusion over provisional ballots. The first problem explored was why many registered voters received these ballots. One explanation was voters were not adequately directed at polling places, especially where multiple precincts were located. Thus, voters got in any line, or the shortest line, and did not realize that they needed to be in the correct line, said Cayuhoga County Board of Elections Director Michael Vu. Often, voters did not realize this until after waiting for hours. And then there was confusion over filling out the ballots, casting and counting. “Poll workers also were confused by the provisional ballot process,” Vu said.

Several county officials pointed out that they did not have access to the federal funds allocated under HAVA to better train poll workers. Blackwell later said he was holding onto the money for future training purposes, particularly for new voting machines.

“It could have been a bigger mess,” said Bill Anthony, Franklin County Director of Elections, referring to the use of provisional ballots. Anthony said there should be “no-excuse absentee voting” and “Election Day should be a holiday,” but he then added Ohio’s legislature did not want these two options as law.

Long Lines, Too Few Machines

House Administration Committee Chairman, Republican Robert Ney, R-OH, asked Anthony about the cause of the long lines on Election Day. In many inner-city precincts, people waited as long as seven hours to vote, at times standing outside in a cold rain.

“We did not have enough machines,” Anthony said, saying the county had an increase in voter registration but allocated the voting machines based on the 2000 election. “We tried to have at least two machines for each precinct.”

Later, Michael Vu said Cayuhoga County, which includes Cleveland, has one machine for every 115 registered voters. In Franklin County, where Columbus is located, the ratio was as high as one machine for every 500 voters.

When Anthony was asked if Franklin County could have borrowed machines from other cities, he said that was not possible because his county used different brands and machine types. Moreover, the machines in Franklin County were not on “an approved list” from the Blackwell’s office, meaning Anthony could not buy more of them – even if he wanted to. “We’re in between a rock and hard spot,” he said, adding, “We don’t believe the optical scan machines will work in large county like ours.” (Of course, many cities and counties across America use optical-scan voting machines).

When asked about Knox County, where Kenyon College was located at students had to wait until 4 a.m. to finish voting – because there was only one working machine - Keith Cunningham, President of the Ohio Association of Election Officials and Director of the Allen County Board of Elections, said that problem was blown out of proportion because that “was only one precinct.” Rep. Millender-McDonald quickly replied, “Come on. No one should be denied the right to vote.”
Public Participation

When asked what preparations were made in preparation for Ohio’s battleground state role, Cunningham said such heightened scrutiny – by the public, press and partisans – was a tremendous problem. “We never had attorneys in our office. We never had activists in our office. They were very disruptive,” he said. “People were trying to create chaos and confusion to exploit.”

Mike Sciortino, Director, Mahoning County Board of Elections, said he and other county election directors had daily telephone conference calls with Blackwell, but in his case – a county where numerous electronic voting machines malfunctioned by recording a vote for Kerry as a vote for Bush – Sciortino said poll workers could not be trained “more than 30 days out.” His county did not have funds to train poll workers, he said, adding that to do so earlier in the year was ineffective because “they don’t retain that information.”

As a result, Blackwell issued “a blizzard of directives” at the last minute on a long list of Election Day procedures to follow, Vu said. However, none of Blackwell’s directives said how voters were to be notified about up-to-date registration information, he said.

Notably, the county election directors said the registration information they received from Blackwell’s office was six months old. “You’re saying the Secretary of State was late and you guys were not,” Rep. Millender-McDonald said. “Yes,” Anthony replied. “That’s awful,” Millender-McDonald said. In later testimony, Blackwell said this gap was an unavoidable consequence of modernizing Ohio’s statewide voter registration database, adding that Ohio was now in the national forefront of computerizing these records.

Blackwell’s Heavy Hand

Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones, D-OH, said rather than blame poll workers, explain what happened with the federal voter education money allocated under HAVA. The county directors said they didn’t receive that money from Blackwell. “It might have answered some of the issues that were floating around for this election,” she said.

Tubbs-Jones also asked if the county directors took park in creating a statewide election plan, another HAVA requirement. All replied no. In one instance, Cayuhoga County’s Vu said he told his 6,000 poll workers and 500 alternates to give out provisional ballots to anyone voter in question – which conflicted with Blackwell’s directive that provisional ballots only were to go to people who were in the proper precinct – a problem when a polling place had multiple lines and multiple precincts. Vu said he then received a threatening letter from Blackwell on the matter.
“It was an implied threat,” he said, to which, Rep. Millender-McDonald, replied, “Sir, threats are not implied. They are made.”

In sum, the House Administration Committee field hearing is likely to be one of the few chances the public will have the opportunity to hear Blackwell questioned and challenged in a legal forum. When the committee last asked him to appear– while he was in Washington, D.C. – Blackwell did not show up. Similarly, Blackwell refused to be deposed during the 2004 election challenge lawsuit process.

Blackwell did not answer many of the questions that would have been asked had he appeared before the election challenge legal team, attorney Cliff Arnebeck said. For example, Blackwell did not answer questions about specific vote counts in counties – where the number of votes tabulated was bigger than the number of registered voters. Those figures, which were certified and used to calculate Bush’s victory margin, were pointed out in the election challenge suit. Since then, Blackwell’s office has ‘corrected’ the official vote count, another election challenge legal team member said.

But the biggest point made at the March 21 hearing was this: if you accept Blackwell’s assertion that his administration of the 2004 vote was a model for the nation to follow, then this example of ‘best practices’ shows why elections have to be run based on one federal standard. Otherwise, you get what Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-IL, says are “13,000 separate and unequal” voting jurisdictions across the country.

Election officials like Blackwell and his county election directors all want to retain the power to run elections - creating rules, imposing barriers or removing them - as they see fit. That power, coupled with what Blackwell said were “security issues” with the latest electronic voting machines, even those with paper trails, shows why elections in the country have a long way to go before they can be fully free and fair.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Blackwell says no problem

Ohio official says election went smoothly
Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The state's election chief told lawmakers at a sometimes-testy congressional hearing Monday that Ohio's presidential election went as smoothly as possible, given the resources available and some last-minute interpretations by state and federal courts.

Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell testified before members of the U.S. House Administration Committee during a special hearing at the Ohio Statehouse. Members of the committee peppered Blackwell with questions about provisional ballots, long voting lines and other issues in the election that gave President Bush the 20 electoral votes he needed to capture re-election.

His appearance came more than a month after he failed to appear before the committee at a hearing in Washington.

U.S. Rep. Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican and the committee's chairman, took Blackwell's absence as a snub, especially since Blackwell was in Washington the same day to lead a meeting of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute.

Blackwell, also a Republican, said he couldn't appear at Ney's hearing because of the previously scheduled institute meeting. Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood, another Republican, also did not appear, citing a previous commitment in her state.

The exchanges Monday became heated at times, especially between Blackwell and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a Cleveland Democrat who is not a committee member but sat in with the panel.

Tubbs Jones questioned Blackwell about a telephone message delivered to thousands of voters just before the election to make sure they voted in the correct precinct, especially if they had not changed their registration and needed a provisional ballot. Tubbs Jones wondered why he didn't say in the message that voters had the option to use provisional ballots at their local boards of elections.

Blackwell said, "It worked," several times, his voice rising as Tubbs Jones continued the question. Ohio ranked fourth nationwide in the number of provisional ballots that were validated. Ten days before the election, a judge upheld Blackwell's directive that voters must cast provisional ballots in the correct precinct.

Blackwell also said directives he issued on provisional ballots and voter registration cards that led to complaints about their timeliness were forced by court rulings made just weeks or days before the election.

Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald of California, the committee's ranking Democrat, asked Blackwell several questions about alleged irregularities, including voters getting calls telling them the election was the day after Nov. 2 and voting machine misallocation by elections officials.

Blackwell responded that he know of no such calls from elections officials and that to rig the machine allotment to favor Bush, poll workers of both parties would have had to work together, Blackwell said.

"It would have taken the collusion of 176 Democratic leaders. It's silly on its face to think there was some kind of bipartisan conspiracy," Blackwell said.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Election reform proposals ignite clash over states rights

Associated Press
18 March 2005

WASHINGTON - As Congress considers possible election reforms in light of another close presidential race, a fight is shaping up between lawmakers who want national standards and state officials, who maintain that running elections is a state right.

This underlying ideological conflict - federal power vs. states rights - is a tension that has been a part of American politics since the beginning of the union. But how it plays out on this issue is critical to what future election changes end up being put in place.

"Our system certainly is not perfect ... but we are concerned by what we see is a movement to federalize elections," Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh said at a recent congressional hearing. "The states, clearly, must be allowed to do what we do best."

House Administration Chairman Bob Ney, R-Ohio, whose committee oversees election issues, agreed that making election reforms strikes a "horrific balance" between states and the federal government, but he has said the reported problems that followed both the 2000 and 2004 elections demand Congress' attention.

Congress was able to sidestep this conflict when it passed its landmark Help America Vote Act in 2002 by guaranteeing states large amounts of money if they installed certain reforms, such as provisional balloting, d voting machines and statewide registration databases.

Now, as state officials struggle to implement these reforms with less money than the law promised they are bristling over a slew of recent legislative proposals that would force additional standards on them, such as national polling place hours of operation, voter eligibility criteria, and restrictions on election chiefs serving in political campaigns.

In response to legislation on these reforms - from Reps. John Conyers of Michigan and Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio, and Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and John Kerry of Massachusetts, both possible presidential contenders in 2008 - the National Association of Secretaries of State sent a harshly worded resolution to members of Congress.

In it, they urged lawmakers to dissolve state election officials' oversight organization, the federal Election Assistance Commission, which was created by the Help America Vote Act to set election standards that states must implement in order to receive funding.

"Soon, you will be asked to consider legislation that would dictate national standards for administering elections. The passage of any such law would undercut the states' ability to effectively administer elections and interfere with the progress they have made in implementing election reforms," the elections officials wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

Rebecca Vigil-Giron, New Mexico's secretary of state and president of NASS, said the group wasn't downplaying the need for election improvements. They were reacting to the pending legislation in an attempt to head off any consideration of national election standards.

But Ney and other lawmakers on his committee, which has jurisdiction over election issues, called the resolution premature and disappointing. They urged state officials to cooperate with the election commission.

Stanley Renshon, a political psychologist at the City University of New York, said the problem is that since states allowed Congress to make some election reforms in its 2002 law, with the promise of funding, they essentially opened the door to additional reforms.

"What the states would prefer is a lot of funding without a lot of oversight. But once you open the door and let the federal government in, it is what it is," he said. "The federal government thinks that once it hands out money, it likes to see what happens to it."

John Green, director of the University of Akron's Ray C. Bliss Institute for Applied Politics, said offering federal funding is one way the federal government gets past the states rights conflict. On other issues, such as with the Clean Air Act, the federal government sets standards that it then allows states to implement.

If neither of these methods works, however, the only other outcome to this conflict is an all-out fight over jurisdiction, Green said.

"What we're seeing now is the states and the federal government wanting to avoid that third alternative. They're hard bargaining now, so they won't have that nasty confrontation," Green said, adding that the score is pretty even in terms of who wins that battle.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Election Day Analysis in PA

The PA Voters Coalition Releases Election Day 2004 Analysis

The Pennsylvania Voters Coalition (PVC) has released its 2004 Election Day Analysis (PDF). The report is based on thousands of reports from voters throughout the state to telephone help-lines. Despite national and state efforts under the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) much more needs to be done to protect Pennsylvanians’ right to vote. The report evaluates how the election system performed in several critical areas, identifies problems and makes recommendations for corrective actions.

• First-time voters had to wait until they were at their polling places to learn that they were not on the registration rolls, since there was no easy way to verify whether the registration was complete. This problem is compounded by Pennsylvania’s failure to get the Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors (SURE) system into operation. This system would allow voters to verify that their registration was complete and accurate, and to get this information on-line, not in-line!

• Fraudulent activities occurred in which voter registration forms were withheld, and letters were received by citizens telling them that their polling places had been moved or that Democrats would vote on one day and Republicans on the next.

• Instances in which applicants failed to check boxes affirming their age and citizenship and/or the party preference box kept voter registration forms from being processed. Other voters claimed they had been inappropriately purged from voter rolls

• Asian American voters faced difficulties in registering to vote due to language barriers and a lack of translated voter registration forms.

• Pennsylvania’s absentee ballot process is confusing and burdensome to voters. Worse yet, the confusion and disputes over who would be on the ballot delayed many counties from mailing out absentee ballots. Many voters did not receive their absentee ballots in time to vote on Election Day.

• People who became incapacitated or hospitalized over the weekend prior to Election Day were unable to vote.

• Some election officials seemed unfamiliar with new provisional ballot and voter ID requirements and had not even read the information packet. There were reports of voters being asked to present an ID although they had voted in the same place for years; and poll workers not offering provisional ballots when appropriate. Some polling places ran out of provisional ballots while others had none.

• Most counties did not complete counting provisional ballots within the required three days. Some voters were unable to find out for weeks if their votes had been counted.

• Long lines at polling places were a problem, and many citizens became discouraged and left without voting. Some polls were understaffed.

• There were many reports of voting equipment being out of order and some polling places had no functioning voting machine when the polls opened.

• Too many polling places are inaccessible for people with physical disabilities. Some locations specified as accessible were not. Pennsylvania is out of compliance with a 20 year old federal law requiring polling place accessibility.

• Some precincts had no phones while others that did could not get through to the election bureaus.

Summary: In accordance with HAVA most counties in Pennsylvania will be upgrading or replacing their voting equipment this year. Many issues with the current system can be traced to inadequate staffing and training of poll workers, lack of voter information and education, and poor administration at the state and county level. Immediate corrective action is needed or these problems will only be compounded with new voting systems. Other problems can only be solved by legislative or regulatory changes.

Equal access of every citizen to the right to vote is fundamental to our democratic system. A flawed election system is discriminatory, creates lack of confidence in our electoral and governing systems, and discourages voter participation. The Pennsylvania Voters Coalition is committed to working with the Governor, the State Legislature, the Pennsylvania Department of State, and local election officials to ensure that Pennsylvania elections are a model worthy of the state that is the cradle of American democracy.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Save Our Democracy

by John Irwin
March 16, 2005

For the last several decades, the corporate establishment, because of their control of the media, gained more and more control of the country. However, after the 2000 election, which won voter fraud in Florida and by the bizarre action of the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, a great mobilization took place that was aimed at winning the next election. The accomplishments of this mobilization were phenomenal. A coalition of traditional democrats, old lefties, and new activists matched the tremendous 150 million dollar war chest accumulated by the Republicans. Theirs came from corporations and rich donors, ours mostly from small donations from more ordinary people. Then, we register millions of new voters—mothers, minorities, and young people—and they voted.

We stuck to the right issues—the mistake of going to war, the lose of good jobs, the huge tax give away to the wealthy and its consequences to our economy, the destruction of our environment, our failed medical delivery system, the erosion of our civil liberties, our loss of respect and support in the world, and the government’s lying to us on the reasons for going to war.

They spewed their hollow rhetoric on “family values” (though they had never delivered any real support to families). They harangued on patriotism and support for our troops, though what supporting meant to them was sending mostly reservists to battle a war that should not have been fought. They militated against abortion and gay rights. Finally, they stooped to attacking the war record and the anti-war activities of Kerry, though the top leaders of the republican party were draft dodgers themselves.

When Election Day started, it looked like our efforts had paid off. All the early results indicated that Kerry was winning by 4 or 5 percentage points. When the final vote counts started coming in, it got closer and closer and it finally boiled down to Florida and Ohio. Late in the night, these two states ended up in the Bush column and it appeared we had lost.

Immediately, some perspicacious people concluded that something was wrong. Ira Glasser, the former director of the ACLU and mathematician by education, circulated a memo indicating that when you looked at the huge increase of young voters, who were much more likely to be Kerry supporters and the closeness of the last election, the numbers did not add up. Then a comparison of 3 states (Wisconsin, Maine, and Illinois) that had paper ballots with 6 (North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) that had electronic voting was circulated. This comparison revealed that in the states with paper ballots the exit polls and the actual vote were within 1.5 percentage points of each other and in the states with electronic voting they were off from 4 to 6 percent, all in the direction favoring Bush. In addition, people working in Ohio and Florida were discovering many voting “irregularities”: machines that started with thousands of Bush votes already recorded, people in heavy democratic districts left off the voting lists, lack of voting machines in heaving democratic districts, etc. More people started getting suspicious.

However, what was surprising was that people who should have been suspicious and desirous of initiating a systematic examination of the vote remained silent or capitulated. Even the persons who conducted the exit polls immediately capitulated and offered the flimsy explanation for the large errors in their predictions that Bush supporters were less likely than Kerry supporters to respond to the pollsters. They gave no reason why this was so.

The majority response on the part of our democratic leaders and the journalists who purport to be on our side was to wring their hands and whine about our not understanding the mood of the people who, as good Christians, are upset that we have moved too far away from the central moral values of the United States. The talk was that to regain power, we were going to have to move back to the center and be more like Republicans. As one group from Texas put it:

The Democrats' mistake was in thinking that a disastrous war, national bankruptcy, erosion of liberties, corporate takeover of government, environmental destruction, squandering our economic and moral leadership in the world, and systematic Administration lying would be of concern to the electorate.

The Republicans correctly saw that the chief concern of the electorate was to keep gay couples from having an abortion.

Well, they are wrong. We won the election. The massive efforts to get out the vote worked. We won by 3 or 4 percent. Our mistake was that we let them supply the voting machines and they did what we should have known that they would do, they cheated.

Solid proof that this is what occurred is now in.

--John Irwin is a Professor Emeritus at San Francisco State University where he taught sociology for 27 years. His speciality was criminology and he wrote 6 books on prisons and jails. This became his speciality because he had served a five year sentence for robbery in California State Prison at Soledad during the 1950s. In the late 1960s, he became involved in prison reform and prisoners rights and organized the California Prisoners' Union. He has worked with a variety of organizations on prisoners' rights since then.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Paper Trails Aren't Good Enough, Count The Ballots

Democrats! Paper "Trails" Aren't Good Enough. Count The Damn Ballots!
By Lynn Landes

After the 2004 election I thought I would barf if I heard one more Democratic pundit or politician lament the lost election and blame it on the party's ''message''. As grassroots activists across the country reported thousands of election irregularities and voting machine "glitches" that overwhelmingly benefited Bush, the Democratic leadership seemed unusually willing to look the other way. John Kerry quickly conceded, former President Carter attended Bush's ignoble inauguration, and Bill Clinton now pals around with Bush the First.

Rank and file Democrats are tearing their hair out.

Now, in a gesture calculated to win back their base, but gain little else (in terms of voting security), both House and Senate Democrats have offered a flurry of bills (with many state legislatures following in hot pursuit) that require ballot printers for touchscreen voting machines.

Incredibly, none of these bills call for the ballots to be counted.except in the extremely remote event of a recount.

It takes your breath away. The Dems know that two Republican-controlled companies (ES&S and Diebold) count 80% of all votes in America. Why do they still trust these companies and their lousy machines, particularly after the last two presidential elections? In fact, since the 1960's when computerized voting technology was first introduced, machine malfunctions almost always benefit Republicans. Perhaps that's why Republican stranglehold over the political landscape has grown so tight. Otherwise, things don't add up. One example, if Bush's war on the world is so popular why don't lots of young Republicans sign up for the military? Haven't the Dems noticed that?

The proposed legislation, popularly known as "voter-verified paper audit trail", sounded alright when I first heard about it a few years ago. But, on closer inspection it became clear that it wasn't a good idea at all. Fundamentally, it allows "voter verification" and "audits" to replace our constitutional right to mark, cast, and count ballots. Under this legislation, machines and election officials continue to control the process, while meaningful citizen participation and oversight is effectively destroyed.

Besides all that, don't Dems understand that malfunctioning machines make ballot printers irrelevant? What are they thinking?

In the real world, recounts are very rare. In general, they only get triggered if an election is "close." Many people think that if a candidate wins by a significant margin (as Bush appeared to do), then vote fraud or system failure is unlikely. I call it, "The myth of the margin of victory". There are four things to consider regarding recounts and margins of victory:

First, anyone contemplating vote fraud will certainly want to win by a significant margin in order to avoid triggering an automatic recount.

Second, two corporations are counting 80% of the votes. Millions of votes can be easily manipulated by a handful of company technicians. There will be little chance of detection. So, even a landslide election is not evidence that massive vote fraud or system failure did not occur. Third, a significant margin of victory packs a powerful psychological punch against the opposing candidate. They will be unlikely to contest the election under these circumstances. Some observers contend that is exactly what happened to John Kerry in this past election. On the other hand, something was fishy when candidate Kerry said that he was going to make sure that "every vote will be counted" in the 2004 presidential election. Who was he kidding? He had to know that 99% of all votes are processed by machines, not people. Kerry sent thousands of attorneys and volunteers to the polls on Election Day 2004 in a futile attempt to monitor an unobservable vote count.

Fourth, although polling data can be used to raise red flags where election fraud may have occurred, polls can also be used to shape public opinion, create false expectations, and even support rigged election results. The relationship between the corporate news media and polling organizations is completely nontransparent. There is no reason to believe a thing these polls have to say. And there's plenty of reason to suspect the news media. This country's largest voting machine company, ES&S, is owned by one of their members, The Omaha World Herald.

But, none of this should be news to the Democrats. So, why aren't they demanding the obvious solution? Get rid of the machines. Or, at least don't wait for a recount. Count the damn ballots the first time. Again, what are they thinking? Either the Democrats are unbelievably naive or they've been bought off.

The Democratic National Committee's (DNC) leadership on the issue of voting systems has been mind-bending. On Oct. 3, 2004 the DNC voted to endorse the policy of requiring paper ballots for touchscreen voting machines by the 2004 election. Then, on Nov. 22 the DNC approved the use of the most insecure voting system on the face of the planet for the 2004 Michigan Democratic primary - Internet voting. That was the second time. In the 2000 Arizona Democratic primary the Internet was also used. Strangely, the Democrats tried to stonewall this journalist from finding out the name of the company that conducted the online Michigan primary. What did they have to hide? See:

There's more. John Fund, author of the book, Stealing Elections, writes, "Joe Andrew, chairman of the Democratic National Committee until 2001, is a senior adviser to a biotech firm that owned several Internet companies. He says the conspiracy theories aren't healthy and last month he told the Maryland Association of Election Officials that "When it comes to electronic voting, most liberals are just plain old-fashioned nuts." While conservatives were skilled at coordinating their messages, he added, "that does not mean there is a vast right-wing conspiracy trying to steal votes in America, as the loudest voices on the left are saying today....Mr. Andrew said the people obsessed about DRE manipulation are either computer experts with impressive technical knowledge but little practical experience with elections or left-leaning computer users who are conspiratorial by nature. He noted with regret that they have been joined in their hysteria by prominent Democrats who "are rallying behind the anti-DRE bandwagon in a big election year because they think that this movement is good for Democrats."

Mr. Andrew appears to be batting for the other side.

Will things change under Howard Dean's leadership? Maybe not. Back on Oct. 02, 2003, the Associated Press reported, "Eight of the presidential candidates have written national Democratic officials to support a challenge of Michigan Democrats' plan to allow Internet voting in its caucuses Feb. 7. Only Howard Dean, former Vermont governor, and Wesley Clark, the retired general who just joined the race, did not sign on to back the protest."

Perhaps, the Democrats need a crash course in Voting 101. There is an enormous difference between people marking, casting, and counting ballots and machines performing these same functions. People can be observed and machines can't. If poll watchers can't observe the process, then they'll have no real opportunity to discover if vote fraud or miscounts occur. It's that simple. But, it's a simple truth that seems to elude congressional Democrats.

In contrast, the Republicans have figured it out. A HBO documentary that aired on October 11, 2004 shows Congressman Pete King (R-NY) bragging about the upcoming election, "It's already over. The election's over. We won. It's all over but the counting and we'll take care of the counting."

They sure did.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Lessons from Cuyahoga and Harris Counties

Whose Elections? Our Elections?

While the power of new voting technology was attracting a nationwide convergence of suspicion in the vote count reported for Ohio's Cuyahoga County, the very same software system was being put to troubling new uses in Harris County, Texas where hardly a word was uttered in reply.

Yet the power of software to politically manage votes and voters is not simply the power to produce vote totals, it also lies in the power of information technology to "discipline and punish" voting populations with increasing speed and efficiency.

In the case of Harris County, a small legislative district with unique political geography became a testing ground for the power of software to criminalize and discredit voters in the aftermath of a surprising vote count. Although a rare legislative contest failed to reverse a 33-vote defeat of a powerful Republican incumbent, the process of the contest did reduce the margin of victory for the Democrat. And the tactic of using new software to identify and pursue individual voters was added to the Republican playbook as yawning observers nodded.

Thanks to the recent addition of VOTEC Election Management And Compliance System or VEMACS (the same software package used in Cuyahoga County and ten other states) the Voter Registrar of Harris County was able to deliver with unprecedented speed and precision a list of 167 suspected illegal voters shortly after Republican attorneys charged that Democratic voters had illegally stolen the election.

The production and distribution of the Registrarís fat report was widely viewed as a normal and helpful thing to do in sorting out the facts of the election contest. However, according to documents supplied to the Texas Civil Rights Review, the Registrarís usual investigation of voter activity in major elections takes several months to complete, and does not target specific election contests. In the case of Houstonís HD 149, it is still not clear that anything motivated the special report apart from Republican allegations that the election had been stolen by illegal Democratic voters. Media-fed allegations of voter misconduct created an environment in which a historically unique report appeared as a normal and timely contribution.

In the end, hyped-up Republican charges against Democratic voters were not supported by the evidence. But the report produced by the Registrarís election software did enable an unprecedented invasion of voter privacy. Within a month following the release of the Registrar's report, about 150 voters had been served with subpoenas that demanded them to reveal their votes in the election contest. And about 110 voters eventually saw their votes deducted from the race. Was the interrogation of Houston voters in January the largest voter sweep in history? We hope so. Because the Harris County precedent warns us that where powerful software is available, there will be more voter sweeps to come.

And despite the outcome, the contest for House District 149 was conducted under circumstances favorable to an election reversal. As one official explained, the district is bounded on the Southwest side by a diagonal line that represents the longest county-line boundary given to any legislative district in the state. With election laws that draw hard lines against voters who cross county lines, the likelihood of out-of-county fouls was favorable from the start.

The Texas Civil Rights Review conducted a Mapquest review of addresses reported by 19 voters who were flagged by the Registrar in one borderline precinct. Seven of the voters continued to live within a mile of their old precinct. And for one of those voters, the Mapquest star that marks the voter's home touched the county line. On a TerraServer satellite image also, the red dot marking the voter's address virtually hugged the imaginary county line that cut diagonally through the neighborhood. Although the voter was subpoenaed and ordered to reveal his vote in the race, the Master of Discovery for the legislative contest Rep. Will Hartnett (R-Dallas) was unable to determine a clear answer as to how he voted.

A phone call to that voter remains unreturned. As I left a message with his spouse, she explained it was a busy night at home, and I could hear the sounds of happy children in the background. As with the homes of two other voters that I have contacted by telephone, I came away with the impression that voters do not want to extend their experiences of the election contest any further. Like any trauma of life, they prefer to move on. And the circumstances make it difficult for me to feel any pushier about getting their quotes. For this reason, I worry about the long term effects that these contests may have on voters who seem dispirited enough already.

There has been virtually no journalistic interest in reporting the experiences of approximately 150 voters who were served and deposed in the Republican-led contest (unless you count the Norwegian citizen who on his voter application listed his previous residence as Oslo, checked "not a citizen" and was given a voter card anyway for his George Bush Park precinct. His case was reported as a kind of absurd comedy, and his Republican vote was subtracted.)

But what about the two young women who were citizens but who neglected to find and check the citizenship box on applications that were laid out quite differently than the one filled out by our Norwegian resident above. The citizenship box on applications given the two women was separated from the field for all other information and placed into a section that appeared above and to the right. Although the two voters eventually submitted the proper checkmarks and voted on election day, their online registrations were re-dated during the month of January. Following merciless post-election review of their registration histories by Republican attorneys, the two women were disqualified for the crime of completing their registrations too late, and their Democratic votes were subtracted as illegal.

As voter activists from the Ohio campaign are calling for open-source codes and paper trails to help check the power of vote counting software, there should also be a response to the newfound power of post-election review. With the increasing ability of technology to monitor where voters actually reside, the antidote for post-election harassment would appear to lie in pre-election flexibility. Let voters register later, electronically, and with instant printouts that confirm completed applications. If a checkbox is crucial to registration, voters could be prompted to complete their forms in real time.

Furthermore, why not allow voters to access their proper ballots from any polling place? Why in this world of broadband interactivity should voters be told to drive around, when ballots can be delivered to them by keystroke? Rather than drift yawning into a future of technology built by and for the few, democrats can demand from Voter Registrars the kind of lightning quick responsiveness that enables, encourages, and motivates voters. In a world of digital power, Voter Registrars should feel pressure to make tools that work for voters, not against them, before during and after election day.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Teresa Heinz Kerry - Hacking the "Mother Machine"?

"Two brothers own 80 percent of the [voting] machines used in the United States," Teresa Heinz Kerry told a group of Seattle guests at a March 7, 2005 lunch for Representative Adam Smith, according to reporter Joel Connelly in an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Connelly noted Heinz Kerry added that it is "very easy to hack into the mother machines."

Read full article.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Democrats walk on bill requiring photo ID to vote


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Twenty-one of 22 Democrats walked out of the Senate chamber for about 30 minutes Friday evening following a vote that lowered the number of pieces of identification acceptable for voting. Senate Bill 84 would require photo identification from the Department of Motor Vehicle Safety to vote.

Democrats said they had serious voting rights concerns about the bill and worried that elderly and the poor wouldn’t be able to get photo IDs.

Tim Golden (D-Valdosta), head of the Democratic Caucus, said, “White Democrats joined black ones to show their solidarity.”

He spoke of “the irony of getting rid of Jim Crow laws tomorrow while putting another on the books today.”

Republican sponsors of the bill said it was an effort to cut down on voter fraud. But Democratic critics compared it to the poll taxes, literacy tests and other laws aimed at suppressing black votes during segregation.

Most of the Democrats returned when the time came to vote on Sonny Perdue’s faith-based initiative, which would allow religious institutions that provide social services to compete for state funding. Critics say the resolution’s language could lead to school vouchers. The resolution calls for a constitutional amendment which would require a two-thirds majority. Some Democrats would have to support the resolution for it to pass.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Stolen Election

The sun revolves around the Earth and George W. Bush won the election in Ohio

March 8, 2005
Bob Fitrakis

The Bush family and friends stole both the 2000 and 2004 Presidential elections. The covert operations long associated with George Herbert Walker Bush, former President and CIA director, are now overtly practiced in key battleground states.

The mainstream media is much like medieval theologians, who refused to accept the obvious, that the Earth revolved around the sun. Instead, they plotted bizarre planet rotations to prove the Earth was the center of the universe.

In order to believe that Bush won in Ohio, you have to ignore deadly accurate exit polls and all observable data to avoid the Bush family theft. By refusing to consider this CIA-connected family’s history, one must accept the following ridiculous political conclusions: that Bush supporters were shy in Ohio and Florida and reluctant to answer exit poll questions, but not shy in Arizona, Arkansas and Louisiana; that pollster Zogby’s Election Day calls for Kerry in Ohio and Florida were wrong, as well as the Harris poll; that Mitofsky’s exit polling is flawed in the U.S. but an accurate predictor in the Ukraine for fraud; that Kerry easily carried the metropolitan areas of Cleveland and Columbus but lost due to an unobserved Bush surge in rural Appalachia; that Bush won despite an incumbent approval rating under 50%; that Bush got 80% or so of the undecided vote although all professional pollsters agree that undecideds generally vote for the challenger; and private partisan companies that secretly count the vote without paper trails are fair and honestly doing their job.

Equally important as the implausible scenarios one must accept, is the real life Bush family history one must ignore. One must turn away from three generations of Bush ties to the security intelligence complex and the CIA. When George H.W. Bush took over the CIA in the mid-1970s, critics across the political spectrum warned that Bush would politicize the agency for his own political aspirations. Roland Evans and Robert Novak, writing in the Washington Post, reported that some in the CIA were objecting “against any presidential scenario that looks to the CIA as a possible stepping-stone to the Vice Presidential nomination.”

Kevin Phillips, in American Dynasty, details how covert CIA operatives fired by Jimmy Carter’s CIA director Stansfield Turner, “joined the 1980 Bush campaign.” The Washington Post noted, “Simply put, no presidential campaign in recent memory – perhaps ever, has attracted so much support from the intelligence as the campaign of former CIA director George Bush.” Bush and his ex-CIA buddies secured the Vice Presidency in 1980, the Presidency in 1988 and have now rigged the 2000 and 2004 elections for Bush the Lesser.

To believe in W’s victory in 2004, you also have to forget the following historical facts: that in 1942, Prescott Bush, the current President’s grandfather, was called Hitler’s Angel by the New York Tribune; that in 1946, the OSS/CIA overthrew the Metakas government in Greece; that the U.S. gave at least $60 million to bring to power the former Nazi intelligence network of General Reinhard Gehlen in the first decade following World War II to control the intelligence apparatus in West Germany; that in 1953, the U.S. overthrew the popular Mossadegh in Iran and installed the brutal Shah; that in 1954, the CIA overthrew the democratically-elected Arbenz government in Guatemala; that in 1957, the CIA financed the election of pro-American candidates to the Lebanese Parliament; that in 1964, the CIA gave $20 million in assistance for Eduardo Frei to defeat Salvador Allende in Chile; that in 1967, the CIA overthrew the democratically-elected government of George Papandreou and installed a military dictatorship; that in 1973, the CIA overthrew the second oldest democracy in the western hemisphere in Chile; that in 1975, the CIA destabilized and forced the dissolution of the Labor government under Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in Australia; that in 1976, the CIA attempted to overthrow Michael Manley’s government in Jamaica.

The veterans of these covert operations established the first Bush Presidency. They also brought us Iran-Contra.

Under the Reagan-Bush administraton, mainframe computers were used to rig the election for Noriega supporters to be elected to the Panama Parliament and pre-programmed computer tapes were brought in to the government’s central tabulating center in a last ditch effort to prop up Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos in a “demonstration election.”

Even in the last election in the Ukraine, the Associated Press reports “the Bush administration has spent more than $65 million the past two years to aid political organizations in Ukraine….” And the Bush family’s candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, who won on a re-vote because the Mitofsky exit polls detected fraud, is married to Kateryna Chumachanko, a former Reagan White House official and daughter of right-wing Ukrainian exiles. Chumachanko was accused of being a CIA operative by her husband’s political opponents, according to the Washington Post.

Do we simply ignore all the signs of election theft in the U.S. and accept the bizarre axiom that the universal laws of statistics that reveal fraud in the Ukraine somehow stop at the United States border?

Friday, March 11, 2005

Interview with Conyers

Full transcript: Raw Story interviews Rep. John Conyers on Gannon, voting, democracy

In an interview with RAW STORY Wednesday, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) detailed concerns on a broad array of issues, including discredited White House reporter Jeff Gannon, remarks by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and voting reform.In summary, Rep. Conyers expressed concern at what he perceives to be a systematic erosion of due process throughout government. He asserted this departure from the “protection that the government provides people” should be a “wake up call” to those who cherish democracy in the United States.Transcript follows.

Raw Story’s John Byrne: I wanted to say first Congressman, it’s an honor to speak with you. First of all, I wanted to touch on the Gannon scandal which seems to be consuming the media a little more than was expected. I’m wondering what you think will become of the Gannon scandal and what the Gannon’s exposure shows the American people.

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI): John, we’re aiming at one piece of information. Who in the White House knew that Jeff Gannon was an assumed name, was not a legitimate journalist and was merely a shill for the Administration for more than two years, almost three years. We, with [Rep.]Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and two or three other dozen members of Congress, we’ve been making some very good headway. Like you, I’m surprised and pleased that many others in the media are looking by in the amazement as we deal with a person who actually has flouted the very basic fundamental of our society in terms of gaining access into the White House with the President of the United States and which many, many reporters cannot do. So it’s a key question because it raises suspicions as to how the White House manages the news.

Raw Story: As I understand it you haven’t heard back from the White House, you haven’t gotten any documentation. Is that correct?

Conyers: We got a little bit under our Freedom of Information request but it was inadequate and it was much short; we’ve asked for more information. But we’ve got another technique. We have a Resolution of Inquiry that is guaranteed to members under the House rules in which we can hold a hearing, demand a vote in our committee, which would be Judiciary, and then go to the floor and get a vote in which we would request that this information that we need, we’ve got 20 something questions in, to tell us, who is this Gannon person, how did he get credentialed, does he have confidential information, for example, the secret, the CIA woman, agent, Valerie Plame, remember that he’s claimed that he got information that is classified about how they decided to go after her.

Raw Story: What have you gotten from the Freedom of Information request? Has there been more than the letter than the Secret Service?

Conyers: No, that’s essentially it. We’re demanding more, and others are joining in with because now its become clear that agencies of the government are going to stonewall to prevent us from knowing what Jeff Gannon’s relationship to the White House really is.

Raw Story: So you think they’re hiding something?

Conyers: [Laughs] That’s putting it mildly, my friend.

Raw Story: And if they’re hiding something, what do you think that might be?

Conyers: Well, the truth about their relationship. In other words, it’s very hard to get press credentials to go into the White House. As a matter of fact, you have to reapply every time you go there. And he’s been doing this for years. So somebody must know who he really is and we want to know who that somebody is. We want to trace these bread crumbs of facts to what office, what person or persons in the White House have been letting him get through the very strict investigation that they give press people before the let them come into the White House to talk with the President of the United States.

Raw Story: Senator Graham (R-SC) made remarks Saturday at a Lincoln Day dinner in Tennessee that “We don’t do Lincoln Day Dinners in South Carolina. It’s nothing personal, but it takes awhile to get over things.” His spokesperson told Mary Ann Akers at Roll Call yesterday that they should be understood in their “proper context.” I’m wondering whether you think there are a proper context for such remarks?

Conyers: Well, I can only take the senator at face value for what he said. It’s no secret of course, is it John, that in our history the Lincoln Republicans were in short supply even when Lincoln was alive before his assassination. There were people that really were fed up with him particularly in the South and actually throughout his party. Now as a result in history in ‘48 when Senator Hubert Humphrey and others started pushing for desegregation laws in the South, what happened was that the Southerners began to desert the Democratic Party. They did a switch; they left the Democrats and became Republicans.

Raw Story: Do you think then it has more to do with Lincoln? You don’t interpret it as something suggesting that, you know, that the South wasn’t getting over the Civil War as regards slavery, you think that’s a leap to make?Conyers: No, I don’t think it’s a leap at all. That’s what I assume he was referring to. But you’ll probably be able to get a quick interview with him to clear this thing up. And I’m sure you’ll be able to make it clear to everybody just what Senator Graham was saying when he said what is if we take it [at] face value it seems very clear that it’s referring to the legacy of slavery and second class citizenship that had been the cause of the Civil War itself.Raw Story: You mentioned in our last call that you were pushing Chairman [F. James] Sensenbrenner (R-WI) about voting reform. What’s become of that?

Conyers: It’s on the table. He and I are going before the committee that handles our Judiciary budget so I’m waiting until I find out how much our resources will be before I really begin to press him. It is commonly viewed that the leadership may ask him not to hold hearings on election reform since much of the, uh, legislation that we’ve created comes out of the debacle in the Ohio elections of November 2004. If so, it would be a great disservice. Elections, voting is the bedrock of a democratic society where the people are supposed to choose their representatives. No state had as many irregularities, violation of due process, disparities in locations of machines, misinformation coming from no less than the Secretary of the State of Ohio itself Mr. Ken Blackwell. Plus we have machines that do not have paper trails so that we can make sure these computer-driven devices are not for some reason erroneous. And we’ve found out that there’s plenty of room for error. There’s lots of computer companies that are now almost supplanting election workers on the polls on election days because they know how to handle machines and most election workers don’t. So we’ve got a privacy question as well. With these new machines coming from corporations like Triad and Diebold who are very busy trying to make sure that we don’t impose requirements that would guarantee us an ability to trace every ballot. We’re trying to make the elections better, not just keep them the same.

Raw Story: Also in regards to voting, there was an Ohio paper that reported that the FBI was investigating in Claremont County in the stickers allegations that we reported on [Recount witnesses alleged seeing white stickers over some of the ovals on the presidential election ballots]. Our witnesses had told us that they hadn’t been questioned by the FBI. I’m wondering if, given that, and also given the experience that you guys have had in pushing hard to get agencies to investigate, have you been satisfied with the FBI and other agencies’ responses in terms of investigating your findings in Ohio?

Conyers: I would need to call in my chief of staff, attorney Perry Applebaum, who’s been tracking that, but you know, we’re dealing with a political viewpoint now that is witnessing the steady erosion of the protection that the government provides people in voting, against emergencies, problems in life, or unemployment, or running out of money, or having to go into bankruptcy, or suing in court, where you may be injured far beyond some measly cap of $250,000. So, it seems like on every front they’re trying to frustrate, obfuscate and make it as difficult as possible for citizens to assert their rights. And it seems to me that this should be a wake up call to a lot of people who begin to realize that we’re moving backwards in terms of democracy. We’re moving backwards in terms of economic security, we’re having many of our rights taken away that we thought we had in the courts. There’s some wholesale movements that are quietly going on. I see this 60-day rush of President Bush’s [trip] around the country about the privatization of Social Security as a cover for all of these terrible things that are happening to our legislative process and our courts.

Raw Story: It’s interesting that you mention that because I’m sure your aware of Congresswoman Slaughter’s staff’s report on the alleged Republican abuse of power in the House…

Conyers: It’s right on. The democratic process of allowing amendments, and allow us to have time to review the legislation, or sometimes they don’t even go through committee, they just bring it straight to the floor. Period.Raw Story: Have there been, then, times when you haven’t even been able to read legislation before it’s gone to the floor?Conyers: Well, yes. We have that with great regularity, especially if a complicated report is put out the night before it goes to the floor, there may be only a couple copies available to all the members except for going to the web page on the computer to really know what we’ve got. And, uh, this is all part of that systematic deprivation of due process that’s going on, in my view.

Raw Story: Are there means for the minority then, in your opinion, to ensure they have a voice?

Conyers: You know, because of the Senate rules and their ability to filibuster, they’re our last hope in a Congress where the majority has no problem of trampling the rights of the minority party representatives whenever we feel like it. So, we want to make sure Sen. [Harry] Reid (D-NV)and Sen. [Dick] Durbin (D-IL) are right in there with stiff upper lips with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) so that we’re doing everything we can to assert our rights because we’ve got to fight back – that’s the only way we’re going to get that changed. I never thought I would be defending the filibuster with such passion as I am now, when I first came to Congress I remember I wanted to do away with the filibuster because that was the fate of many of the civil rights bill at that time.

Raw Story: Yeah, that was the –

Conyers: An irony, isn’t it. I was also against a lot of seniority building up in members too so that we young guys could get in Congress. It’s funny how your views get modified by the realities of the situation.

Raw Story: The filibuster in interests me in particular. There was a piece in the New Yorker this week. They raised a question that you seem to indicate as well is that over American history, it seems, that if the filibuster hadn’t been in place, anti-lynching laws would have gone through, and a number of other critical civil rights legislation wouldn’t have been able to be stopped. Some people would argue then it would be better just to do away with the filibuster altogether and if Democrats want to stop procedure by other means…

Conyers: There aren’t any other means, that’s the problem. The only way the minority can protect itself against the majority in the Senate is through the filibuster. Now of course we don’t even have the filibuster here in the House, and things sail through because they make sure they get enough votes, they leave the votes open for hours, and hours, late into the night until they get a Republican to shame-facedly go into the well and change his vote the way that the Republican leadership wants it. It’s not a pretty picture.

Raw Story: Would you say then the House then demonstrates the importance of the filibuster?

Conyers: Oh it does, because that’s the only protection the minority has. I don’t defend the use of a filibuster to prevent good legislation or important legislation from going through, but when we get down to a point where we have nominees whose credentials are being written and discussed and analyzed all over the country, and they say we don’t care, we’re not going to reconsider their confirmation, a couple of senators can stop business in the U.S. Senate until that is reconsidered as a matter of right.

Raw Story: I know you’ve got to run, I just wanted to shoot you one last question. There’s a recent bill about allowing faith-based groups federal funding, and given that some of those groups are discriminating on the basis of faith and some of those groups are discriminating against, say, gay Americans. I’m wondering what you thought of that bill and the Scott amendment that would have removed the faith-based initiatives to override discrimination provisions.

Conyers: But we lost it. I was with Bobby Scott of Virginia who’s carried on a long and lonely opposition over the years in this. It’s amazing how these kinds of questions that were never even on the agenda up until recently. The right of a religious group to discriminate is to me hostile to the rules of nondiscrimination in the federal system. It’s as plain and simple as that. I think that we need to examine where all these conservative philosophies now being hastily translated into legislation are going. My position is that they’re setting us back many, many years. And I’ve enjoyed this discussion with you John, very much.

Raw Story: I have as well.

Conyers: I just hope the people that listen to you find it as useful and enjoyable as I do in participating in it.

Raw Story: Thanks so much for your time.

Conyers: Have a good day, and a good week.

Raw Story: All right. You too.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Emerging Scandal on MD Voting Machine Performance

All MD Diebold Machines on Lockdown Under Investigation for Widespread Statewide Election Day 2004 Failures MD Election Group Calls for Independent Investigation and De-Certification of Machines

Montgomery County, Maryland. According to county election officials and other sources, all Maryland voting machines have been on "lockdown" since November 2, 2004 due to statewide machine failures including 12% of machines in Montgomery County, some of which appear to have lost votes in significant numbers. The State Board of Elections convinced the media that Election Day went smoothly, when in fact there were serious statewide, systemic problems with the Diebold electronic voting machines -- so serious that the SBE and Diebold still have not figured out how to prevent the loss of votes in the future.

"Election Day was anything but smooth. Votes were lost, computer cards storing votes were unreadable, thousands of error messages were reported, machines froze in mid-voting and machines refused to boot up. The problems with the machines were so widespread and serious that efforts to hide the problems have failed," said Linda Schade, director of "It is not sufficient for Diebold and the SBE to investigate themselves. They have misled the public about this problem and an independent investigation is needed. Further, these problems indicate that the Diebold machines should be decertified as required by Maryland law and as provided for in the Diebold contract. This is an opportunity to correct the mistaken purchase of paperless electronic voting machines. Diebold should refund Maryland tax dollars and we should start anew with a system that voters trust because it can be independently audited and recounts can be meaningful."

VOTES LOST According to the IT Report to the Montgomery County Election Board, dated December 13, 2004 there were two broad levels of problems. Seven percent of units (189) failed. This included failure to boot up, screen freezes and a variety of other problems. Screen freezes, which occurred on 106 voting units were "the most serious of errors" because many "froze when the voter pressed the Cast Ballot button." As a result "election judges are unable to provide substantial confirmation that the vote was in fact counted." In addition there were "122 suspect units (5%) were identified because the unit had few votes captured compared to other voting units in the polling place. A unit was considered suspect if it had 25-50 votes captured when all other units in the polling place had over 150 votes," the report stated. The IT report includes other details of Diebold machine failures including smart card and encoder problems as well as thousands of yet unexplained error messages, now called 'ballot exception errors."

UNREADABLE PC MEMORY CARDS Multiple sources also have revealed that the computer memory cards where vote totals are stored inside each voting machine were unreadable in multiple counties.

DIEBOLD UNABLE TO RESOLVE TECHNICAL FAILURE FOUR MONTHS AFTER ELECTION After IT examinations within Maryland failed to decipher the root of these problems, the State Board and Diebold sent voting machines to several out-of-state locations in Texas and Ohio for further testing, according to a Diebold memo dated February 16, 2005. As of the March 3, Montgomery County Election Board meeting, the PC memory card problems as well as those listed above cannot be explained by Diebold, according the IT report.

MACHINE FAILURES STATEWIDE Montgomery County Elections official Sam Statland has acknowledged that local boards around the state are gravely concerned about the Diebold system's performance and are pressuring the State Board of Elections for answers. In testimony before the State House Ways and Means on February 24, 2005, Mr. Statland cited the facts above and asserted that "Since the 2000 election cycle, the State of Maryland has become and still is a 'test site' for electronic voting." In the January State Board of Elections meeting, Linda Lamone discussed the "performance problems" and confirmed that "once [Montgomery County was] finished they will start the same process in the other counties, beginning with Baltimore County."

TRUEVOTEMD CALLS FOR INDEPENDENT REVIEW AND DECERTIFICATION OF MACHINES AS REQUIRED BY LAW, an election integrity organization, is now calling for an independent investigation and for de-certification of the machines as required by Maryland election law (MD Code, Election Law § 9-102(c)(1)).* is a founding organization for VoteTrustUSA a national network of state election integrity groups and has been raising the alarm that the electronic Diebold voting system has serious vulnerabilities to computer malfunction and fraud for nearly two years. This information is confirmed by TrueVoteMD's Election Day report "When the Right to Vote Goes Wrong: Md Voters Tell The Story of Election Day 2004"

"If the gubernatorial race in 2006 is as close as 2002 it would only take four errors per precinct to change the outcome of the election. Maryland cannot risk the election disaster that is impending. Maryland was lucky the presidential election in Maryland was not close; otherwise we would be embroiled in scandal to this day. It is time to put in place a system that is reliable and that voters can trust," concluded Schade. "Three independent reports have raised serious concerns with the security of Diebold machines, now we have seen the worst come to pass. These machines are unreliable and insecure. How many more warnings to Maryland officials need in order to take action to protect the vote?"

*MD Code, Election Law § 9-102(c)(1) (emphasis added). The SBE “shall decertify a previously certified voting system if” that system “[does not] protect the security of the voting process,” and “[does not] count and record all votes accurately.” Id. § 9-103(a)(2) (emphasis added).

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Selma 40 Years Later

by Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.

The Free Press
March 6, 2005

This weekend in Selma, Alabama, marchers will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in that city. The violence unleashed by Southern sheriffs and racial vigilantes on that day galvanized President Johnson to push through the Voting Rights Act, giving blacks the right to vote in the South for the first time since the brief reconstruction period after the Civil War.

Now 40 years later, that right to vote is once more at risk. When President Bush met with the 43 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. - I report with some pride - asked him if he would support extension and strengthening of the Voting Rights Act when it comes up for renewal in 2007.

President Bush responded that he did not support voting rights for the District of Columbia. Rep. Jackson said that was not what he asked; he asked about extending the Voting Rights Act. Bush replied that he was not aware of the act and would look at it when it got to his desk. The president's passivity would enable House Majority leader Rep. Tom "the Hammer" DeLay to torpedo the act, just as he has real voting-rights reform.

The president has been eloquent in promoting democracy across the world. He said he would tell Russian president Vladimir Putin that democracies should be founded on "the rule of law, and respect for human and rights and dignity." The president has argued that democracy is so important in Iraq that it alone is worth Americans' dying and killing for. The interim Iraqi constitution protects the rights of women and minorities to vote. But in America, the president and his party are undermining the right to vote - and the right to have one's vote counted. The glaring contrast between the president's rhetoric abroad and his record at home raises deep questions here and there about his true intentions.

When Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, he predicted that there would be a fundamental upheaval in the South, and that Democrats might well lose that region for a generation. He got that right. Those who fought against equal rights for African-Americans shifted parties, but they did not shift their views. Republicans became the party of white sanctuary, using racial fears and cultural insecurities to attract votes. And a solid South built on Jesse Helms' tactics remains the foundation of Republican majorities in Congress today.

Now in this divided nation, the undermining of voting rights - and the unwillingness of the majority party to defend them - is spreading. We saw it in Florida in 2000, where a partisan secretary of state, head of the Bush campaign in Florida, intentionally purged qualified black voters from the voting lists. Then intimidation tactics were rolled out in black districts and, in the final instance, a five-person, right-wing majority in the Supreme Court prohibited a full count of the vote, while ruling that the Constitution does not give Americans the right to vote in national elections.

We saw it once more in 2004, in Ohio. Once more the secretary of state in charge of the election was a rabid partisan and co-chair of the Bush election campaign. Once more, African-American voters were disqualified improperly. Machines without paper records, manufactured by companies headed by pro-Bush partisans, were adopted for use. When black registration went up, the number of machines in black districts went down, creating lines that lasted for hours. The tactics of Southern crackers were adopted for the key swing state in the North.

In the midst of these outrages, the White House is absent without leave. Legislation has been introduced at the national level to require machines that provide a paper record, and to insure that election officials are nonpartisan, rather than partisan operatives like J. Kenneth Blackwell of Ohio. The president is silent on the legislation. The Republican leadership in the Congress has already indicated that legislation will not go forward.

A constitutional amendment to guarantee the right to vote, to insure that residents of the District of Columbia have the same right to vote as residents of Baghdad, and to set up federal rules for fair elections has been proposed. The president is silent. The Republican leadership in the Congress has already indicated its opposition.

And now the Voting Rights Act - which President Bush knows well as a former governor of Texas - must be renewed and strengthened. The president claims ignorance. The Republican leadership in the Congress, dependent on its strength in the South, will determine its fate.

Dr. Martin Luther King knew that progress towards equal rights depended on gaining the right to vote. But today, Republicans are shameless in their disregard for that right and Democrats are too passive in defense of it. It will require a renewed movement of concerned citizens to revive the right to vote in this country.

In Selma, Ala., 40 years later, we will mark the anniversary of the march that forced Congress to act. Now once more fierce resistance to voting rights is growing and it will take fierce popular pressure to defend the right to vote in this country, even as our troops die to provide that right in Iraq.

Legal filing highlights Blackwell's hypocrisy in Ohio recount case

by Blair Bobier

The Free Press
March 7, 2005

Legal filing highlights Blackwell's hypocrisy in Ohio recount caseby Blair BobierMarch 7, 2005A spokesman for the Green Party's 2004 presidential campaign, which initiated the Ohio recount, today blasted the suggestion by Ohio's Republican Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell that he would need to take depositions from John Kerry and John Edwards as part of the Ohio recount litigation.

"Mr. Blackwell's contention that he needs to depose Senators Kerry and Edwards is a laughable and blatantly political move. Mr. Blackwell has refused to be deposed himself about the Ohio election, has refused to appear before Congress and has refused to answer questions from members of the House Judiciary Committee who have been investigating allegations of election fraud. To suggest that Kerry and Edwards should be deposed to address a legal technicality while Mr. Blackwell continues to avoid any public scrutiny of his own misconduct in the Ohio election is the height of hypocrisy," said Blair Bobier, Media Director for the 2004 Cobb-LaMarche campaign.

The report by the House Judiciary Committee's Democratic staff on the Ohio election and recount states that "there were massive and unprecedented voter irregularities and anomalies in Ohio. In many cases these irregularities were caused by intentional misconduct and illegal behavior, much of it involving Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, the co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio."

Blackwell's intention to depose Kerry and Edwards was made known by Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro in the latest round of legal filings concerning the Ohio recount. In February, Federal Judge Edmund Sargus in Columbus asked the parties in the Ohio recount case to submit filings to his court addressing whether the litigation should be transferred and consolidated with a Toledo case brought last November seeking to expedite the start of the recount. Blackwell's filing was in response to that request.

Attorneys for Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb and Libertarian Party presidential candidate Michael Badnarik, who jointly requested the Ohio recount, have already filed their response to the Judge's question. Kerry and Edwards, through their Ohio attorney, filed a one sentence statement with the Judge supporting the Cobb and Badnarik position. Kerry's lawyer also filed a short, two page summary charting inconsistencies observed by Democratic Party witnesses to the recount.

The matter is pending in the Eastern Division of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, before Judge Sargus.

Conferences, lectures and teach-ins about the Ohio election and electoral reform have been taking place all over the country, most recently in Santa Monica, California on Sunday.

Additional information about the recount and the entire 102 page report by the House Judiciary Committee's Democratic staff can be found at The website for the national Green Party is

Monday, March 07, 2005

Dems to Review Ohio Election

Democratic National Committee Announces Ohio Election Review Team

Washington, D.C. – The Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced the members of its Ohio Election Task Force. This group of seasoned professionals in the electoral and technology fields are taking an in-depth look into the issues of voter registration problems, long lines at the polls, the issuance and counting of provisional ballots and voting equipment irregularities that voters faced during the 2004 presidential election in Ohio. The team has been hard at work since January, conducting surveys and reviewing election data from all across the state. The task force will submit its report to the DNC with suggestions for moving forward.

"I am confident that Voting Rights Institute (VRI) Chair Donna Brazile and her team of experts will properly investigate what went wrong in the Ohio election process," said DNC Chairman Governor Howard Dean. "This investigation will ensure that every vote will be counted and everyone who is eligible to vote will be able to secure that right."

"This team is hard at work, analyzing voting irregularities," said VRI Chair Brazile. "We are putting the efforts and resources into this project because it is vital that we find out what went wrong, how we can fix it, and restore the faith of the American people in our voting system."


Sunday, March 06, 2005

Voting glitches haunt statistician

By Rob Zaleski
March 6, 2005

Brian Joiner wishes he could "just get over it."

He wishes he could ignore the thousands of reported voting irregularities that occurred in the Nov. 2 election, accept the fact that George W. is going to be around another four years and just hope that we haven't created even more enemies or fallen even deeper into debt by the time 2008 rolls around.

"I'm sure the Republicans would like me to forget all that stuff, just like they wanted everyone to forget all the strange things that happened in the 2000 election," the retired 67-year-old UW-Madison statistics professor said this week.

Well, sorry guys, but he can't.

There were, Joiner says, too many things that occurred on Nov. 2 that "still don't smell right." He can't just pretend everything is rosy, he says, when he reads that Steven Freeman, a respected University of Pennsylvania professor, says the odds of the exit polls in the critical states of Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania all being so far off were about 662,000 to 1.

And since no one in the mainstream media has yet to provide a plausible explanation for such discrepancies - "investigative reporting essentially is just dead in this country," he groans - Joiner and many of his colleagues are going to continue to speak out and demand that government leaders provide some answers.

So that, at the very least, we don't find ourselves in the same situation in 2008.

But if the irregularities are as suspicious and troubling as he claims, why aren't John Kerry and other top Democrats making similar demands?

"Boy, I wish I knew," says Joiner, who was a volunteer observer for the Ohio recount in early December. Because you can sure as heck bet that Republicans would be screaming and demanding an investigation if Kerry had won under similar circumstances, he says.

"I think the Democrats read the tea leaves and think that people don't want to make a big fuss over this stuff. They'd just rather be quitters and move on."

Joiner knows full well some people will roll their eyes while reading this and dismiss him as yet another shoot-from-the-hip conspiracy nut.

Not quite.

In fact, he's among a group of prominent statisticians and academicians who contributed to a recent study that refutes a report by exit pollsters Edison and Mitofsky that exit poll errors on Nov. 2 were responsible for the unprecedented 5.5 percent discrepancy between the exit polls and the official results.

The study, done on behalf of US Count Votes, a volunteer scientific research project, not only disagrees with the Edison/Mitofsky findings but concludes that "the possibility that the overall vote was substantially corrupted must be taken seriously" and urges a thorough investigation.

Does Joiner personally believe the election was stolen?

"I don't know, that's a very tough question," he says. "But it's not clear to me that it wasn't, so it's a question of where the burden of proof is."

At the same time, Joiner says, he does believe the country's making a big mistake by relying so heavily on electronic voting machines.

"It's just too easy to hack those machines," he says. "And if they are hacked, how would we ever know?"

Joiner, incidentally, isn't the least bit surprised that the study - which was released Jan. 28 - has been virtually ignored by the media. Neither is Bruce O'Dell, vice president of US Count Votes.

"I think the mainstream media - like most Americans brought up to be proud of our Democratic traditions - simply assume that elections are honestly counted in the United States," O'Dell says. "They discount anecdotal reports of election irregularities and refuse to believe that systematic corruption could occur - even though serious, systematic vulnerabilities both in voting equipment and in counting procedures have been well-documented."

He notes that when reports of widespread voting problems occurred in Ukraine last year, both local and international observers quickly concluded the election had been stolen.

"But when precisely the same scenario occurred here, not only were mainstream journalists not alarmed, they quickly labeled those who questioned the results as conspiracy theorists."

O'Dell says US Count Votes wants to develop "a single database of nation-wide precinct-level election results, along with matching U.S. Census demographic information and the type of voting equipment in use."

Its ultimate goal "is to be able to gather and analyze data as it comes in on election night, and to spot vote counting problems in time for candidates to request an investigation or recount - before they concede."

And it hopes to have such a system in place by 2006.

Kjell Doksum, another UW-Madison statistician, says that if US Count Votes accomplishes just one thing, it's that there's a "paper trail" for every vote cast in 2008.

"This is easy to achieve," he suggested in an e-mail.

"Start a rumor that the Democrats have the world's best hackers and are going to fix the machines the next time."

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Hypocrisy in Washington State

When the Republicans believe they have been disenfranchised, its a federal case. But, of course, the Ohio and Florida elections were totally fair. Double standard, as usual...

Wash. GOP Releases List in Voter Challenge

OLYMPIA, Wash. Mar 4, 2005 — Republicans have released 1,135 names of alleged felons who they say illegally cast ballots in the governor's race that Democrat Christine Gregoire won by 129 votes.

The list turned over to Democratic Party lawyers on Thursday contained the names and addresses of the alleged felons, along with 45 people who Republicans say died before the Nov. 2 election but who were listed as having voted.

"It's one more significant piece of evidence that this past election was not only deeply flawed but that we don't know who won," said Mary Lane, a spokeswoman for Republican opponent Dino Rossi, who is challenging the results in court. "Christine Gregoire is not the legitimately elected governor."

Democrats, who have intervened in the suit on the side of the state and argue the election should stand, said they doubt the accuracy of the list.

Republicans said they obtained a felon list from the State Patrol and compared it to a voter list from the secretary of state's office.

Rossi led after the first two vote tallies only to lose in a hand count of 2.9 million ballots cast. He and his supporters filed suit in Chelan County seeking to void the results, alleging widespread problems.

Democrat attorney David McDonald said he was "reasonably confident that list is not going to hold up to scrutiny.

"We will, among other things, check the factual basis for each of the claims," he said. "We're not going to take them at their word. We're going to double-check their work."

Discovery continues in the case and a trial date has not yet been set.