Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Hand counted paper ballots in 2008

by Sheila Parks
April 14, 2006

The right to vote, as well as the principle of “one person, one vote,” are cornerstones of our democracy. The anti-slavery, women’s suffrage, and civil rights movements as well as the expansion of voting to young people are all part of the history of electoral reform in this country. Equally fundamental is the assurance that each voter knows that her or his vote counts and is counted as intended. At this time in our history, many have lost confidence in our voting system.

The presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, and at least six contests in the mid-term elections of 2002, raised many questions about fraud and electronic voting machines. The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) established by HAVA, and the Carter-Baker National Commission on Federal Election Reform were all created after the 2000 election to improve the electoral process. All of these efforts, however, have been detrimental to the prevention and detection of election fraud and error due to their advocacy of the use of electronic voting machines. One election reform advocate, Bev Harris of Black Box Voting, provides a particularly vivid glimpse into the scope of the problems associated with electronic voting machines. She notes that, at a special Texas meeting of the Carter-Baker Commission, “I asked a member of the Panel why they [the Commission] had not asked a single question about how hacks can be done. He said it is not necessary to understand how the system can be compromised in order to protect it.”

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in its nonpartisan September 2005 report on elections states in its conclusions: “Numerous recent studies and reports have highlighted problems with the security and reliability of electronic voting systems…the concerns they raise have the potential to affect election outcomes.”

Currently there is no government agency that regulates the voting machine industry in the United States. Roughly 80% of votes in the 2004 presidential election were cast and counted on machines manufactured by two private companies, Diebold and ES&S (Election Systems & Software, Inc.), both controlled by registered Republicans. There are two principal types of machines now in use: (1) touch-screens (DRE – Direct Response Electronic), on which no audit or recount is possible because they have no paper trail and (2) optical scans, which use paper ballots for the vote but are counted by central tabulators (particularly susceptible to fraud).

Although several bills currently pending in the U.S. House and Senate, introduced by both Republicans and Democrats, propose changes to electronic voting machines, as do HAVA, the EAC and the Carter-Baker Commission, none consider hand marked, hand counted paper ballots (HCPB) as a possible solution. Most of the proposed legislation advocates for what is variously called a voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT), a voter verified paper trail (VVPT) or a voter verified paper ballot (VVPB). A discussion of the nuances between and among these systems is beyond the scope of this article, but all share a potential weakness – namely, there is no way to prevent hacking of electronic voting machines later in the process, whether a voter receives a record of how she or he voted and/or whether there is a paper trail in the machine. Mandated random audits of the vote raise the question of whether the audit will really be random and bring back flashes of Florida in 2000 and a long drawn out struggle. Will the Supreme Court again put a non-elected person in office as president of the United States?

Although much has been published on the Internet, the mainstream media have mostly chosen to ignore or dismiss the questions of fraud and error raised in relation to electronic voting machines. Notable exceptions are discussions by Keith Olbermann on MSNBC’s “Countdown” and Mark Crispin Miller’s article “None Dare Call It Stolen” in Harper’s Magazine, in which he strongly suggests that the presidential election of 2004 was rigged, much of it by electronic voting machines.

HCPB are an alternative to the current widespread and increasing use of electronic voting machines. An HCPB system of voting has the following major advantages over electronic voting machines: (1) Counting of ballots is publicly done, observed and filmed by everyday citizens who are registered voters in the precinct where the counting takes place. (2) Security safeguards are much more easily built in to protect against tampering. (3) The cost is far less.

There have been two recent efforts to promote an HCPB system in the United States, and a third will take place later in 2006. In 2004, voting rights activists Sharona Merel, Kaen Renick, Ellen Theisen, and Kathleen Wynne proposed federal legislation for federal offices. In 2005, four voting rights activists (this writer and three members of CASE Ohio – John Burik, Phil Fry, and Dorri Steinhoff) began work on a protocol for HCPB. Some of this writing has been modified and is included in this paper in the specifics for HCPB. In November 2006, voting rights activist Joanne Karasak plans to promote a state constitutional amendment for HCPB in Ohio. There are 18 states where such constitutional amendments are possible.

The key elements of an HCPB system are as follows: (1) Electronic voting machines are not involved in this process in any way whatsoever. (2) Nothing used in an HCPB system is purchased from companies or vendors who have ties to partisan political groups or parties. (3) Each voter hand marks a sturdy paper ballot with a black felt pen provided at the precinct. (4) The counting process happens at each precinct immediately after the polls close. (5) Each ballot is hand counted by registered voters from that precinct in full view of other registered voters from that precinct. (6) The counting process is filmed. (7) A chain of custody of the ballots and ballot boxes is specified. (8) Ballot boxes are observed and filmed as they are opened and closed and move from place to place.

Three categories of registered voters are included in this process: the official counters, the official observers of the counters, and the public watchers of the counters and observers. The hand marked, paper ballots are hand counted in full view of the public in each precinct by a specified number of registered voters in that precinct – e.g., four, six or eight voters. Half of the counters will consist of one person from each party on the ballot, chosen by the party itself; the other half of the counters will consist of registered voters, chosen by lottery. The hand counting is observed by the same number of registered voters (e.g., four, six or eight), and chosen in the same way as the counters. Counting is filmed by a video projection unit; a process will be set up to determine how the videotaping unit will be selected. The videotaping will be broadcast over closed-circuit TV and streamed over the Internet while the counting is happening. All watchers may also videotape and/or take photographs.

Each polling place must be arranged so that registered voters from that precinct (in addition to the above mentioned official observers) can easily watch the vote counting. These watchers are not to be confused with the observers of the counters. Watchers will include two registered voters from each party on the ballot, chosen by the party, and eight registered voters chosen by lottery. The polling place must be large enough to accommodate these numbers.

Even with all these safeguards in place, the chance for fraud still exists. Therefore, immediately after the first count, there will be a 100% hand counted audit of the vote, carried out in the same way as the first hand count, but in the audit, the observers will be the counters and the counters will be the observers.

Ballot boxes must be clearly marked and visible in plain view. Ballot boxes will be sealed and locked whenever they contain ballots and are not being actively used. Ballot boxes are secured from the beginning of voting until the end of counting by a chain of custody procedure. Ballot boxes never leave the precinct until after the vote is counted, audited and certified. Each time ballot boxes move from the physical control of or visual contact from one person to another, a duplicate record signed by all counters and observers must be made relinquishing and gaining control. There will be a documentation process wherein each ballot box will have a record of its handling from the beginning of the day to the end of counting. On the web site of computer science expert Professor Douglas W. Jones, there is a very clear and detailed protocol for “Ballot and Ballot Box Transportation” and “Ballot Storage.”

The call to action now is: HCPB for all federal races in the 2008 elections. This would mean hand counting just 1-3 races (the president and vice president; your U.S. senator if s/he is up for re-election; your U.S. Representative). Yes, we would need two ballots, one for these races and one for all other contests and questions on the ballots. Canada already uses an HCPB system for its federal races. Various states and municipalities already have protocols for HCPB, and one has been presented in this paper. These could easily be adapted from one jurisdiction to another. Elections are governed by state rather than federal statutes (HAVA notwithstanding). According to electionline.org, a website that provides an ongoing analysis of election reform, “Each state strikes a unique balance in allocating responsibility for elections between state and local governments. A survey of all 50 states reveals a wide spectrum of power-sharing arrangements.” There is a “Snapshot of the States” on pp. 11-14 of the Election Reform Briefing. When you begin this work, call your local Secretary of State and get the exact rules for your state.

It is time to make electronic voting machines a NIMBY (not in my back yard and not in anyone else’s back yard either) issue. To begin a movement for HCPB, ordinary citizens, registered voters, must begin organizing door-to-door with their neighbors to petition their local election officers and demand HCPB in their city or town. Although organizing could also proceed on a state level, going municipality by municipality is a good way to start, depending on your state’s laws.

Sheila Parks, Ed.D. (sheila.parks@verizon.net) is a longtime activist/organizer. She has been working against electronic voting machines for four years. Please contact her to get involved with other election reform activists working for HCPB across the country
Copyright 2006 Tikkun Magazine http://www.tikkun.org/magazine/specials/article.2006-04-10.1693298872

Monday, April 10, 2006

Shocking Diebold conflict of interest revelations from Secretary of State further taint Ohio's electoral credibility

by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman
April 6, 2006

Ohio is reeling with a mixture of outrage and hilarity as Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell has revealed that he has owned stock in the Diebold voting machine company, to which Blackwell tried to award unbid contracts worth millions while allowing its operators to steal Ohio elections. A top Republican election official also says a Diebold operative told him he made a $50,000 donation to Blackwell's "political interests."

A veritable army of attorneys on all sides of Ohio's political spectrum will soon report whether Blackwell has violated the law. But in any event, the revelations could have a huge impact on the state whose dubiously counted electoral votes gave George W. Bush a second term. Diebold's GEMS election software was used in about half of Ohio counties in the 2004 election. Because of Blackwell's effort, 41 counties used Diebold machines in Ohio's highly dubious 2005 election, and now 47 counties will use Diebold touchscreen voting machines in the May 2006 primary, and in the fall election that will decide who will be the state's new governor.

Blackwell is the frontrunner for Ohio's Republican nomination for governor. The first African-American to hold statewide office, the former mayor of Cincinnati made millions in deals involving extreme right-wing "religious" radio stations.

As part of his campaign filings he has been required to divulge the contents of his various stock portfolios. Blackwell says that in the process he was "surprised" to learn he owned Diebold shares. According to central Ohio's biggest daily, the conservative Republican "Columbus Dispatch," Blackwell claims his multi-million-dollar portfolio has been handled "by a financial manager without his advice or review."

Blackwell says he gave verbal instructions to a previous fund manager about which stocks not to buy, but failed to do so when he brought in a replacement. He claims the new manager bought 178 Diebold shares in January, 2005, for $53.67/share. He says 95 shares were sold sometime last year, and that the remainder were sold this week after Blackwell conducted an annual review of his portfolio. He says both sales resulted in losses.

Prior to the 2004 election, Blackwell tried to award a $100 million unbid contract to Diebold for electronic voting machines. A storm of public outrage and a series of lawsuits forced him to cancel the deal. But a substantial percentage of Ohio's 2004 votes were counted by Diebold software and Diebold Opti-scan machines which frequently malfunctioned in the Democratic stronghold of Toledo. Many believe they played a key role in allowing Blackwell to steal Ohio's 20 electoral votes---and thus the presidential election---for Bush. Walden O'Dell, then the Diebold CEO, had pledged to "deliver" Ohio's electoral votes to Bush.

Blackwell has since continued to bring in Diebold machines under other multi-million-dollar contracts. In 2005, while he owned Diebold stock, Blackwell converted nearly half Ohio's counties to Diebold equipment.

Those machines have been plagued by a wide range of problems, casting further doubt on the integrity of the Ohio vote count. A number of county boards of elections are trying to reject Diebold equipment. Two statewide referendum issues on electoral reform were defeated in 2005 in a vote tally that was a virtual statistical impossibility. The deciding votes were cast and counted on Diebold equipment.

In recent months, Blackwell has ordered all 88 county boards of elections to send into his office the memory cards that will be used in the primary election, in which Blackwell expects to win the gubernatorial race. There is no effective statewide monitoring system to protect those cards from being rigged.

Matt Damschroder, the Republican chair of the Franklin County (Columbus) Board of Elections has also reported that a key Diebold operative told Damschroder he made a $50,000 contribution to Blackwell's "political interests" while Blackwell was evaluating Diebold's bids for state purchasing contracts. Blackwell denies the contribution was made to him.

Damschroder is former chair of the Franklin County GOP. He says former Diebold contractor Pasquale "Patsy" Gallina boasted of making the contribution to Blackwell. Damschroder himself has publicly admitted to personally accepting a $10,000 check from Pasquale, made out to the Franklin County GOP. That contribution was made while Damschroder was involved in evaluating Diebold bids for county contracts.

Damschroder was censured but not removed from office. On Election Day 2004, Franklin County voting officials told the Free Press that Blackwell and Damschroder were meeting with George W. Bush in Columbus. AP accounts place both Bush and Karl Rove unexpectedly in Columbus on Election Day. Damschroder has denied that he met personally with Bush, but refuses to clarify whether or not he was at GOP meetings with Bush in attendance on Election Day.

An eyewitness ally of Blackwell told a small gathering of Bush supporters, with a Free Press reporter present, that Blackwell was in a frenzy on Election Day, writing percentages and vote totals on maps of rural Republican counties, attempting to figure out how many votes, real or manufactured, Bush would need to overcome the exit poll results in Cleveland and Columbus.

Meanwhile Blackwell has run one of the most vicious primary campaigns ever seen in Ohio politics. A series of expensive television ads have assaulted Blackwell's GOP opponent, Attorney-General Jim Petro, vehemently charging him with extreme corruption and dishonesty. GOP operatives fear Blackwell's attacks could shatter the party.

Now Blackwell's Diebold revelations have both Petro and the state's extremely feeble Democrats jumping for joy. Petro, who has a large portfolio of his own, says he will pursue the question of whether Blackwell has broken the law. "Considering Ken Blackwell's history with Diebold, I think this warrants further investigation to remove any hint of impropriety," says Petro campaign manager Bob Paduchik.

Democratic candidate Ted Strickland has reported no stock portfolio at all. "If [Blackwell] doesn't know what's going on with his own checkbook, why in the world would voters want him to be in charge of the checkbook as governor?" asks Democratic spokesperson Brian Rothenberg.

The common statewide wisdom is that "Ken Blackwell will never lose an election in which he is in charge of the vote count."

But Ohio Democrats never seriously questioned Blackwell's rigged 2004 vote count that put Bush back in the White House. They've mounted no serious campaign challenging Blackwell's handling of the tally in 2005. They've presented no plan for guaranteeing the integrity of upcoming 2006 November election, which will again be run by Blackwell, even though he may be the GOP nominee.

Attorney-General Petro has become Blackwell's sworn enemy. A rugged campaigner with extensive statewide connections, it's not likely Petro would quietly accept an election being stolen from him. That might explain Blackwell's vehement attacks on his fellow Republican.

But having accused his cohort of widespread corruption, and with a long history of scornful contempt for all those who challenge him, Blackwell's own Diebold revelations have opened a Pandora's Box. What comes flying out could affect state and national politics for years to come.

--Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA'S 2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008, and are co-editors, with Steve Rosenfeld, of WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO?, upcoming from The New Press.