Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Help stop irregularities in voting

By Carol McBrian

On March 31, a group of university statisticians led by Josh Mitteldorf of Temple University issued a troubling report.

They noted that while President Bush officially won by 2.5 percent of the popular vote, the exit polls showed John Kerry winning by 3 percent. According to the statisticians, the chances of a discrepancy this large are close to 1 in a million.

Exit polls have proved to be exceptionally accurate in the U.S., in Ukraine, in Latin America and elsewhere. The 2004 discrepancy, like that of the invalid Ukraine election, was five times the usual discrepancy, a significant difference. The statisticians' report concludes that this discrepancy "is an unanswered question of vital national importance that needs thorough investigation."

Alarming as this information may be, it came as no surprise to those of us familiar with the work of Bev Harris, the Web-surfing grandmother whose book, "Black Box Voting," gives example after example of abuses by the voting machine industry, all meticulously documented:

In 2002, voting machines said Jerry Mayo lost his race for commissioner of Clay County, Kan. However, a manual recount found he had won with 76 percent of the vote.

In 2000, an optical scanning machine in an Iowa county was fed 300 ballots, but reported 4 million votes. "We don't have 4 million voters in the state of Iowa," one auditor commented.

In 1996, Chuck Hagel, an executive with the AIS voting machine company, left his job two weeks before entering the Nebraska Senate race - which was counted by AIS. Hagel never disclosed this connection, which was finally discovered shortly before Hagel's re-election in 2002.

When Hagel's opponent asked for a vote audit and offered to pay for it, he was told that there was "no provision in the law" for such an audit.

These examples don't cover the worst possibility - corruption in a paperless electronic machine where there is no way to check the original ballots.

In response to these and other abuses, voting reform groups have sprung up around the nation, including the Eugene group Truth in Voting. We are trying to get election reform legislation passed before the 2006 elections.

Our members have studied and discussed the various voting reform bills. We also considered the recommend- ations of the Verified Voting Web site, which is dedicated to obtaining voter-verified paper ballots for all state and national elections involving electronic voting machines.

Our favorite bill was the Count Every Vote Act, introduced by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. This far-reaching bill has provisions for preventing conflict of interest from voting machine companies; creating consistent, transparent standards for states wishing to purge voter rolls; providing special machines for disabled voters; and requiring voter-verified paper ballots.

The scope of this bill would make it costly and difficult to implement by 2006 - so we decided to put our support behind the bills recommended by Verified Voting.

In the House, we are supporting the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act. It contains many of the provisions of the Count Every Vote Act, but does not address purging voter rolls, and it has less ambitious provisions for disabled voters. Still, it is a good bill, with 134 co-sponsors, including our own Rep. Peter DeFazio.

In the Senate, we support the Voter Integrity and Verification Act, which would require a voter-verified paper ballot and mandate that it be the ballot of record in the case of any audits or recounts. That is all it would do. However, this bill has the best chance of coming to the Senate floor, where senators could propose amendments to address other election issues.

Free elections are a cornerstone of our democracy. But when our votes are not accurately counted, our elections lose their meaning. These bills would increase the accuracy and integrity of our elections.

Encourage Sens. Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith to co-sponsor the Voter Integrity and Verification Act. Thank DeFazio for co-sponsoring Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act. Log onto our Web site (www .truthinvoting.org) to learn more.

Truth in Voting was formed in response to the many reports of irregularities in last November's election. Our mission is "to reform our voting system, nationwide ... by ensuring ... the right of all citizens to equal, unimpeded access to voting (and) that all votes are cast on paper ballots, and counted in a public, transparent, accurate and verifiable way."

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