7 04 2012

First the good news:   In Tennessee in 2012, Green Party candidates will be noted as such on the ballot, not lumped anonymously with the “Independents.”   I’ve been doing my best to shout this from the rooftops, but my cohort Howard Switzer has been singing it–we kicked the state of Tennessee’s butt in our court case, as I discussed last month.  Since then, the State has appealed, and also asked for Judge Haynes’ court orders to be set aside pending the appeal, a motion that was denied.

Consequently, we are looking for candidates all over the state.  Maybe you’d like to run for office?  If you agree with the Green Party’s “ten key values“–grassroots democracy, social justice and equal opportunity, ecological wisdom, non-violence, decentralization, community-based economics and economic justice, feminism and gender equity, respect for diversity, personal and global responsibility, and future focus and sustainability (and what’s not to love about any of that?),  if that sounds like more your cup of political tea than an “all of the above,” i.e., “drill, baby, drill, and dig, baby dig” energy policy, ignoring the growing danger signs from our environment, the quiet suppression of civil liberties and persecution of whistleblowers and dissenters, and the unquestioned continued maintenance of a war machine and a corporatocracy that have been deemed not merely “too big to fail” but “too big to challenge,” and just enough lip service to women’s rights and the general progressive agenda to keep people drinking Democrat (TM) Kool-aid, then you have a place in the Green Party.

The further good news is that, in a third of all Tennessee House and Senate races, there is likely to be only one other candidate, so you might not even have to worry about that old bogeyman, “Greens taking votes from Democrats, resulting in the election of Republicans.” Actually, the results are frequently so lopsided  that such an accusation would be pretty baseless most cases, anyway.  Which brings me to the bad news.

When I start by quoting Josef Stalin, you know it’s gonna be bad news, and it really, really was Josef Stalin, the ruthless ruler of Russia, who said (in Russian, of course)

You know, comrades,… I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this — who will count the votes, and how.

And that is definitely the question here in Tennessee.  As I have occasionally mentioned, I have been reading “Vendors Prohibited,” a 60 page report from 2007 in which lawyer Andrea Novick made a fairly conclusive case that none of the companies that produce touch-screen voting machines, known as DREs, are ethical enough to legally do business with the state of New York.  Unfortunately, the facts of the matter were not sufficient to persuade the New York legislature, which went ahead and mandated DRE use in the state anyway.  Here in Tennessee, the situation is similar.  There was a wonderful upwelling of bipartisan spirit in 2008 as the legislature passed “The Tennessee Voter Confidence Act,” including just one little concession to the Republicans:  that the TVCA not take effect until after the 2010 election, “because of the time and expense involved,” a line that the state’s voting integrity activists handily refuted, but that was swallowed hook, line, and sinker by the state’s Democrats–who found that, to their great surprise, the 2008 election turned Tennessee from a genteelly blue-dog blue state into a frothing-at-the-mouth red state, where some of the most important business of the state’s first Republican legislature since Reconstruction, besides making sure that anybody could carry a gun wherever they wanted as long as they had a non-college issued photo ID and didn’t say “gay,” was to–gosh!–repeal the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, as a “costcutting measure.”  Never mind that the switch to a verifiable voting system would have been entirely paid for with available Federal funds.  Never mind that counties grossly overestimated the cost of the switch–famously claiming (see Bernie Ellis’s comments at this link) it would cost $70,000 to store a filing cabinet full of ballots for a few years, or that hand-counting votes would cost $5 per ballot.  Never mind that computers are notoriously short-lived machines, and between their frailty and the ongoing upgrading of computer technology, the machines will likely need to be replaced often and at great expense, as opposed to hand-counted paper ballots, which cost pennies and employ a technology–printing–that doesn’t even depend on electricity, let alone our complex industrial network, to function.  As a result of this switcheroo,  all but two counties in Tennessee use touch-screen voting machines which do not produce a verifiable, recountable paper trail, and the two counties that use optical scan machines employ Diebold products which have been found to be as corruptible as their more digital counterparts.   Let’s look at the record.

The Diebold Accuvote is a machine that reads paper ballots and tabulates the results, a simple job that could easily be done by human beings.  Here’s what Ms. Novick had to say about the Diebold Accuvote:

In December 2005, Ion Sancho, elections supervisor in Leon County, Florida, concerned about the security of the Diebold optical scanners, arranged for Harri Hursti, a computer programmer from Finland, to independently examine a Diebold Accuvote Optical Scanner. Hursti hacked the machine in the simplest way (considered a level one hack capable of being executed by an eighth grader) and exposed just how vulnerable the Diebold Scanner was – it was possible to subvert the memory card without detection.

Diebold’s response to this?  Again, Ms. Novick:

Subsequently, when Ian Sancho was required to acquire machines for the disabled community, Diebold refused to sell to Supervisor Sancho’s county unless he promised not to have outsiders reveal the Diebold machine’s flaws through any more independent testing. Sequoia backed out of discussions with Mr. Sancho and ES&S didn’t respond.
Diebold, as it has done consistently in refusing to accept responsibility for its system’s serious security failures, attempted to minimize the damaging exposure as merely a “theoretical security vulnerability”. In Diebold’s letter trying to spin the damage it was alleged without support “the probability for exploiting this vulnerability to install unauthorized software that could affect an election is considered low”. A spokesperson for Diebold went on to lay blame anywhere but with Diebold: “For there to be a problem here, you’re basically assuming a premise where you have some evil and nefarious election officials who would sneak in and introduce a piece of software…I don’t believe these evil elections people exist.”

To contradict Diebold’s rose-colored view of election officials, we have only to look to Florida in 2000, where Katherine Harris was allowed to oversee the state’s electoral process in spite of her clear conflict of interest as Cheney’s campaign chair for the state, or Ohio in 2004, where Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell was, in the words of investigative reporter Jon Rappaport,

A man who campaigned resolutely for Bush and THEN oversaw the state election which handed Bush a second term. A man who is a player in the Republican party, who knows the score, who can give favors and then ask for favors back, as he pushes his own career upward.

“Is this a conflict of interest that could have led Blackwell to improperly set the conditions for a Bush triumph? Is the Pope Catholic?”

And, of course, we also have to consider the lineage of the Diebold Company itself:  according to Ms. Novick, the company’s top employees have a rap sheet that includes everything from securities fraud to money laundering to cocaine trafficking.  Former CEO Wally O’Dell, who famously promised to deliver Ohio to Cheney in the 2004 election, has since left the company, under suspicion of insider trading.  This story was, for some reason, not widely reported in the media.  Just the kind of company you’d want to have counting your votes, right?   Well, the good news is, Diebold Optiscan machines are only used in two counties in Tennessee–Hamilton County (the city of Chattanooga) where the Republicans have the Democrats whupped so badly the Dems don’t even bother running candidates  (Hey, Chattanooga Greens, are you listening?), and Memphis, where Republicans have mysteriously scored upset victories.

Here in Davidson County, as well as in fourteen other Tennessee Counties, we use the ES&S Ivotronic touchscreen voting machine.  Again, the company’s lineage makes it highly suspect–it was originally founded by Christian Reconstructionists, whose avowed purpose is to take over the U.S. government and make this a “Christian” nation.  Subsequently,  the company was sold to two companies, the Omaha Herald newspaper and the McCarthy Group.   The Herald’s owners have an 11-state, two-country rap sheet, largely involving bid-rigging and fraud. The  good news is, The McCarthy Group either manages its bad PR very well or else hasn’t done anything any more out of line than any other private equity firm–except for one eyebrow-raising possibility–Chuck Hegel went from being CEO of the firm to running for U.S. Senate, and the people of Nebraska voted in that election on ES&S voting machines.  Hegel became the first Republican Senator from Nebraska in 25 years, although Nebraska’s so-called Democratic Senator Ben Nelson is considered a DINO (Democrat In Name Only) even among Milquetoast Democrats.  Speaking of Democrats, Hegel won even in black and Native American precincts that had never gone Republican.  Six years later, he beat Democrat challenger Harvey Mitulka by an astonishing 86-14 margin, again prevailing in traditional Democrat strongholds. Coincidence?  Or cheating?  No way to tell.  Nebraska’s legislature, which is officially non-partisan, had passed a bill forbidding state election employees from examining or recounting ballots.  Ain’t democracy wonderful?

And ES&S voting machines have continued to be involved in bizarre election results, the most notable recent one being South Carolina’s selection of unemployed sex offender Alvin Greene as the Democrat Party’s U.S. Senate nominee.  And what has ES&S’s response to the complaints that have reasonably been raised?

In its reply to California officials who had complained to the company about faults in the voting machines ES&S provided, the company said

ES&S will hold not only the examiners responsible, but the SOS as well, for any prohibited disclosure or use of ES&S’ trade secrets and related confidential proprietary information….if any need for changes is found, Los Angeles County will have to pay for those changes.

What wonderful customer service, eh?  And of course, it’s a snap to hack these machines, make them do what you want, and leave no trace of your trespass.

I’ve been talking for a while.  Let’s take a music break, and then get back to the other two voting machines used in the state–the Hart Intercivic and the Microvote.

music:  Steve Earle, “Conspiracy Theory

OK, has 12 pages of screwups involving Hart eSlate voting machines, and their list only covers the years from 2004 to 2006, but it’s got some real gems.  Let’s start with this one, which may help explain why Democrat election officials here in Tennessee were moved to adopt these Trojan horses to begin with:

(election commissioner) Tracy Baker asked Arapahoe County to give a Texas company a no-bid $3.5 million voting-machine contract…. Arapahoe County commissioners twice said no to the Hart voting system, first in the summer of 2002, then again last November, after deciding to put the contract out to bid.
… Between April 2001 and August 2002, Hart spent $3,759.95 on Baker and his staff, company records indicate. That included a $495 golf outing and $30 worth of cigars for Baker’s birthday.

It could have been more. The company turned Baker down when he asked Hart to pay for staff hotel rooms on a trip to Texas in 2002.  “You call any county clerk in this state,” Baker said. “You call any county commissioner. Vendors take you to dinner.”  Lisa Doran, a public information specialist in the Secretary of State’s Office, said Baker has a point.  Donetta Davidson, Colorado’s secretary of state, accepted dinner from vendors when she was the Arapahoe County clerk, Doran said.

which leads to situations like this one:

Travis County. Texas. A “default” selection is a selection automatically pre-set by the software. It remains selected unless the user specifically chooses to change it. To provide a default selection on a DRE voting machine is to give a voter a ballot with a candidate already marked.  Yet, election officials in Austin set up the eSlate DREs with Bush/Cheney as the default choice for president/vice-president. Voters who voted a straight party Democratic ticket watched their presidential votes changed to Bush on the review screen. Officials said voters caused this by pressing the “Enter” button on the second screen of the eSlate machine.

Gail Fisher, manager of the county’s Elections Division, theorizes that after selecting their straight party vote, some voters are going to the next page on the electronic ballot and pressing “enter,” perhaps thinking they are pressing “cast ballot” or “next page.” Since the Bush/Cheney ticket is the first thing on the page, it is highlighted when the page comes up – and thus, pressing “enter” at that moment causes the Kerry/Edwards vote to be changed to Bush/Cheney.

So it’s the voters’ fault, right?  And of course, Hart’s machines are eminently hackable.  Oh, by the way, the notorious right-wing radio chain, Clear Channel, is a major investor in Hart.

The Microvote Infinity is used in the balance of Tennessee’s counties, and the first thing you need to know about it is that it is not designed to make a paper record of the votes it records.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada. That inspires a lot of confidence in the product, doesn’t it?  Or at least indicates that the Microvote’s manufacturers have a lot of confidence in their product.  Well, here’s some excerpts from a couple of  remarkably candid interviews with the actual manufacturer and the company President.  First, the manufacturer’s rep, Bill Carson, told an  interviewer

Unfortunately the ITA (independent testing authority) has a limited scope in what they can test and check on the system. It is based on time and economics. For an independent test authority to absolutely, thoroughly test under all possible conditions that the device will operate properly they would have to spend, in my estimation, 10 times the amount of time and money as it took to develop it in the first place…. And the technology changes so rapidly, by the time they get done testing it, it’s obsolete.

(Picks up electrical cord.) UL says that this will not shock you and it will not catch fire. They don’t tell you that it actually works. That’s beyond the scope of UL testing. Absolutely nothing will you see in the FEC requirements that this (puts hand on DRE voting machine) has to work. It has to have these functions. But it doesn’t have to work.

And Microvote President James M. Ries went even further, saying

The states basically look at the federal qualification testing as being kind of the ultimate testing ground. As a vendor working with these independent testing authorities, they do a good job of following the test plans afforded to them by the vendors. They don’t really go outside of those test
plans…. Well, because of identity or lack of identity with records, there’s really no way that I could prove to a voter, post tally, that their vote exactly counted the way that they voted it.

I guess it’s just a leap of faith and understanding that what we’re doing is what we’re presenting to the county. So there is a bit of uncertainty there. There has to be faith in their local election boards. It’s one of those areas of a leap of faith. That you really do have to have a faith in your local jurisdiction, that they are conducting equitable elections in the best faith of the voters. The larger the jurisdiction, the more scrutiny should exist.

Faith-based voting, folks!  Gotta love it! In spite of this apparent candor, however, in 2008 the state of Indiana fined Microvote $360,000 for 198 violations of Indiana election law.  Deputy Secretary of State Matt Tusing told reporters, …” MicroVote’s apathetic attitude towards proper certification is disconcerting, especially considering that their profits come from taxpayer dollars.” Matt Tusing is a Republican, so it must have been really bad.

So these are the companies the state of Tennessee has entrusted with recording and counting our votes.  Bit of a rogues’ gallery, isn’t it?  Why is our government trusting these companies to count votes accurately and impartially when there is so much evidence against them?  This is not “conspiracy theory,” folks, even though one Democratic candidate in the state with whom I attempted to raise the question dismissed it as such.  This is potential  high crimes and misdemeanors.  Where are the Department of Justice and the Voting Rights Act when you need them?

For a precedent, we can look to Germany, where the country’s Supreme Court declared computerized, privatized voting unConstitutional, citing “fundamental decisions of constitutional law in favour of democracy [which] … prescribes that all essential steps of an election are subject to the possibility of public scrutiny.”   Meanwhile, our Supreme Court is busy sticking up for corporations’ rights to buy elections and make profits, and the right of the police to strip search anybody they damn well please.  Here’s hoping some of the Supremes (the court, not the singers!) get strip-searched!

So, the good news is, the courts have recognized the Green Party of Tennessee’s right to have our name on the ballot.  The bad news is, the elections we are participating in may be easily and untraceably rigged.  If Greens consistently win just enough votes to deny victories to Democrats, it will be a sure sign something is wrong.  Even if nothing so obvious occurs, the fix may be in anyway, aided and abetted by Republican-led efforts to limit the franchise to the wealthier, whiter portion of the electorate.  I had intended to address the rest of the range of Republican efforts to limit the electorate and manipulate the results of elections, but I’m going to have to leave that part of the discussion for next month, because I feel strongly moved to speak to the Treyvon Martin case, the more recent police murder of Kenneth Chamberlain, and the centuries-long chain of racially motivated killings, of which these two are just a couple of the most recent examples.  On that cheerful note, let’s take a music break.

Richard and Mimi Farina–“The Bold Marauder


12 09 2010

To hear them tell it, West Tennessee Republicans pulled off an electoral miracle in Memphis in August.  In a combined primary and general election, even though voters in the Democratic primary outnumbered voters in the Republican primary, Republicans swept every county-wide general election race, taking control of the state’s largest, predominantly black, heretofore predominantly Democratic city.  Was this a foreshadowing of the power of the predicted Republican comeback in 2010?

But gosh, then all kinds of pesky questions started to crop up.  Many voters had been turned away from the polls because computer records showed they had already voted, even though they hadn’t.  In spite of that, the official tally counted over 6,000 more votes than the recorded number of voters.   Numbered rolls of printed tape from the machines, the “print record” of computerized votes cast on them, disappeared and were not counted.  Poll watchers could tell they were missing because the votes are numbered sequentially, and numbers were missing from the sequence.  Furthermore, polling places had not opened on time, and had closed temporarily during the day due to “malfunctions” of the computerized voting equipment.  Ah, Diebold!  Gotta love ’em!

Somewhere, Boss Crump is smiling.  He was a Democrat, but he appreciated good work.

The next act of this drama involved investigators finding some of the missing ballot rolls in trash bags, in the election commission’s  trash.  There were also disclosures that some of the vote-recording computers involved had not been sealed prior to the election and had been quietly sent home for the personal use of election commission employees after the election, that there had been a “ghost race,” a kind of cybernetic “fifth column” in the voting machines that would have made it much easier for a hacker to switch votes around–and there were many reports of gross vote-switching, when people pressed the touch screen for one candidate, only to have the opponent’s name light up.  And, to top it off, the Election Commission refused to allow independent auditors to check their computers on the grounds that the Diebold software in the computers was proprietary.  Like I said, ya gotta love them Diebold folks!

And how did the Shelby County Election Commission respond to this?  Well, they ‘fessed up that they had  “mistakenly” loaded the computerized voting equipment with a program from the previous election, which was why folks were turned away on the grounds that they had already voted.  Sorry ’bout that…no big deal, right?  Uh-huh.  The commission, dominated by Republicans, went ahead and certified the election, with the two Democrat members making nice and going along.  This is a foretaste of the November election, all right–rigged by Republicans, with the complicity of clueless Democrats–which may point to another reason why Shelby County’s elections turned out so strangely.  If the party’s candidates (think Mike “me-too” McWherter) don’t speak to the real needs of real people, they might not get a lot of voters enthused.

As I’ve written elsewhere, you don’t have to switch a lot of votes in a blatant way to throw an election.  A combination of restricting access to the polls and jiggering the voting machines ever so slightly is an excellent recipe for staying under law enforcement’s radar.  It worked for the Republicans in Florida in 2000 and in Ohio in 2004.   2008?  Let the country go to hell and blame it on the ni-I mean, socialist Obama.  But, I digress….

Back in Memphis,the losing candidates have filed a lawsuit–but, in a state increasingly dominated by Republicans, there’s a good chance that will get nowhere.  Hey, last winter we Greens filed for a summary judgment to get Tennessee to list our party’s name on the ballot, in accordance with recent court decisions, and we’re still waiting for an answer.  “Justice delayed is justice denied,” as Rev. Martin Luther King used to say, and we are not getting justice in this lawsuit.  Of course, if they thought the election might be close, the Republicans would probably move heaven and earth to get us on the ballot and, in their minds, divert votes from the Democrats.

Democracy or dirty tricks?  Judging by their conduct elsewhere, computerized hi-jinks aren’t the only kind being employed by the Grand Old Party to insure their victory in November.  In Arizona, Republicans are taking advantage of a loophole in the state’s election laws to “nominate” Green Party candidates without the approval of the state’s Green Party.  In South Carolina, with the possible help of crossover Republican voting and/or those notorious computerized voting machines, an unemployed US army reject (nothing necessarily wrong with that, actually) somehow came up with the $10K filing fee and won the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat held by Republican Jim DeMint.  Some people want to how he paid that ten thousand dollar filing fee.  I want to know why, in a supposed “democracy,” it costs ten grand up front just to get your name on the ballot.

For that matter, why in this supposed “democracy” are Howard Switzer and John Miglietta, the Green Party of Tennessee’s candidates this year, appearing on the ballot as “independents,” in spite of court decisions that make it obvious that the Green Party has every legal right to be listed by name?

The Green Party does have its name on the ballot in South Carolina, and the good news is that many Democrats are realizing that the Green Party’s nominee, Tom Clements, is a far more viable candidate than Greene, who is currently under indictment for felony sexual harassment.  OK, McWherter isn’t that much of a putz.

But, as Republicans strive for control by any means necessary, the whole ossified system is coming apart.  Reality will prevail, and those of us who know how to live in reality will be the survivors, while those who believe they can bluff and bluster their way through life, who believe that their fast food, credit cards, SUVs, and air-conditioned McMansions are “not negotiable,” will find themselves SOL, to put it in a radio-friendly way.  We will prevail.

music:  Bob Dylan, “Memphis Blues Again”


13 01 2008

This just in from New Hampshire: Dennis Kucinich and Albert Howard, a minor Republican candidate, have asked for a recount of the machine-tabulated ballots due to statistical irregularities in the way the vote broke down. Here’s the deal:

Just as in Ohio in 2004, where exit polls indicated a Kerry victory but the votes came in to give the state to Bush, Obama led in the exit polls but lost in the vote–but only in precincts that were machine counted. These were primarily more urban precincts where Obama should have done well. He won in most of the precincts that were hand-counted, which were more rural, conservative areas where Ms. Clinton would be expected to do better.

The machines that did this automatic counting were made by Diebold, the same company that provided the voting machines that Ohio’s new, Democratic secretary of state, Jennifer Brunner, says were rigged to throw votes to Bush.

If this really was a fix, the question is, whodunnit and why? Some people say that the powers behind the throne want Hillary, not Barak, to be our next President because she’s more with their program than he is. After all, it was her husband Bill who failed to pursue criminal investigations of the Reagan and Papa Bush administrations that set up the Cheney-Bush Junta. If the Iran-Contra and other inquiries had been pursued, many key players in our current ruling elite would now be in prison instead of power, and Hillary seems to be signalling that, as President, she would do the same. And hey, if Bill, on his way out the door, would pardon Marc Rich but not Leonard Pelletier, you know their hearts are not in the right place.

Others say that the Republicans think HIllary would be easier to beat than Obama, and that’s why Diebold, a major Republican campaign contributor, would throw the election to Ms. Clinton.

Why didn’t Obama complain? Maybe he didn’t want to look like a sore loser, since the media are trying to play Ms. Clinton as being picked on by the guys in the race. Hey, they’re not picking on her because she’s a woman. They’re picking on her ’cause she’s wrong!

If you’re more paranoid, maybe Obama is in on the fix. A Clinton-Obama ticket would lend her some much-needed charisma and set him up to run when she retires. And maybe everything was fine, but it starts the election season with questions about the integrity of the process, and that’s something we need to be vigilant about right through to the end. More on this as it develops.

music: Jackson Browne, “Lives in the Balance”


13 08 2006

I confess: I flaked out. I voted electronically—and on a Diebold machine. I asked for a paper ballot, tentatively, “Can I still get a paper ballot?”, and they said they couldn’t give me one, and I decided not to make a fuss. I had just enough time to vote quickly before my dentist appointment if I didn’t make a fuss. I really wanted to get to my dentist appointment…..yeah, right! Well, I did…consider the alternative…ouch! Whoa, I’m digressing already….

I did ask if there was a paper trail, to which the election officials cheerfully replied, “no!” Well, this was not an election that anybody was likely to jack—the only close statewide race was the Republican Senate campaign, where two foaming-at-the mouth fascists, Bryant and Hilleary, were unable to stop the Lamar-Alexander-clone smoothtalking fascist, Bob Corker, from winning. It wasn’t even close, since the two foaming fascists were unable to curb their egos and figure out who should step aside to go one-on-one with Corker. Together they outpolled him by a slight margin. Maybe this is an opening to get Republicans to back instant runoff voting? Anyway, nobody was complaining about the validity of that election, and I’m sure they would have kvetched if they thought it would do them any good. I hear there was a local race out in East Tennessee where it appears that in some precincts every single voter turned out, and, guess what! most of them voted for the incumbent! With no paper trail to back the voting machine’s assertions, it is going to be difficult to figure that one out, although the 100% turnout in a local/primary election has been labelled “statistically unlikely.”

In one local state house race, longtime Tennessee House member Edith Taylor Langster was unseated by metro councilwoman Brenda Gilmore. That was in the district next door to mine, and the election was not even close, so it was probably honest, eh? Brenda campaigned on a platform of more economic development in her district, which makes me uneasy for the green spaces left in my quarter of Nashville.

The good news/bad news was that the “Memphis meltdown” didn’t occur; many anti-electronic voting machine campaigners were hoping that the twelve-page ballot would combine with Harold Ford’s popularity in Memphis to create long lines and lots of complaints, but no such luck.

The twelve page ballot was kind of a joke. There were very few choices to make, truth be told. Most races were uncontested, and many asked for a yes or no vote on appointing some guy I didn’t know anything about to a job whose description was unclear to me. I like to think I’m better informed than the average citizen, but nowhere in my normal perusal of the news had I encountered most of the names I was being asked to judge. I mean, I hadn’t even seen their campaign literature. Actually, I probably voted against my own best interests in many of those cases, because I voted to approve a whole flock of judges and I am reasonably certain that every one of those judges would not think twice about enforcing laws against victimless crimes that could in theory be applied against me. But, I digress. Again.

One of the Terrible Things About Russia that was drilled into my head as a child was that there, they had choiceless elections, because dissent was brutally suppressed. Wow—we’ve managed to do the same thing here just by creating widespread apathy—although police drug raids involving officers with concussion grenades, body armour, and automatic weapons might count in some quarters as brutal suppression of dissent—but not in any court in Tennessee, you can just about bet. And there I was, blithely voting for judges who would put me away and think “good riddance.” I embarrass myself at times.

Well, the cavalry is sounding their trumpets in the distance. What a racist metaphor! How ’bout, there’s help on the way? Paradise waits, yeah….

Bobby Kennedy, Jr. has filed the lawsuits he promised, but for legal reasons it’s all being kept very hush-hush, officially. Unofficially, Bradblog claims that Kennedy has filed fraud lawsuits against Diebold—not about the results of any election, nothing partisan, no, simply claiming that the machines did not perform as advertised. And what was it they did? Well, it seems you could program them so that when someone pushed a button that was supposed to vote the straight Democratic ticket, the machine would record a vote for every Democratic candidate but the President. You could also program them so that any vote for a third party presidential candidate would be recorded as a vote for Bush.

OK, you Democrats, you were right. A vote for Nader was a vote for Bush. At least on some voting machines. But on other machines—maybe some of the same ones–a vote for Gore or Kerry was a vote for Bush, too.

Bobby is reputed to have insiders at Diebold who are willing to testify on these issues, and I’m sure that’s some of why this case is so shrouded. I would be very, very nervous if I were one of those Diebold insiders. They could have Karen Silkwood-type accidents.

So, Bobby isn’t swinging for the fences, as I trumpeted last month—or rather, he doesn’t appear to be. It’s just a little ol’ bunt down the third base line….just pulling one string that’s going to start the whole fabric of the American political landscape unraveling.

Meanwhile, down in Mexico, with no electronic voting whatsoever, they’ve had a stolen election and millions of people are out in the streets—demonstrating peacefully, so far, thank goodness. Many American writers are praising the Mexicans’ spirit, saying things like, “not only are they showing us how to work, they’re showing us how to be concerned citizens of a democracy.” Everybody wonders why you can’t get a million and a half concerned Democrats converging on Washington.

I’ll tell you why—it’s because we Americans are too chained to our treadmills to peel off and put our asses on the line, and because the Mexicans are already out on the street anyway. Know what I mean?

Too many of us (and I mean us, me included) are too sucked into our paycheck-to-payment lives, running as hard as we can to stay in our middle-class place, to go sit down en masse in Washington and demand that those in charge quit padding their own nests and do something to pull the planet out of its nosedive. Let’s face it–we’re all afraid of the financial mess we’d come home to if we dropped what we are doing and embarked on an indefinite political demonstration, even if in some way we succeeded in our political goals.

Mexicans, especially Lopez Obrador’s supporters, have already lost that middle-class place, if they ever had it to begin with. NAFTA has destroyed the low end of the Mexican economy, leaving millions of people with a choice between street peddling, heading for el Norte, or raising hell. “When ya ain’t got nothin’, ya got nothin’ to lose,” if I may quote Bob Dylan, far from his original context. So—camp out in downtown Mexico City for a few weeks—or months? no problemo—might as well be homeless there as anywhere, eh?

So, maybe we’ve still got it too good to raise a fuss in this country….I do, anyway. Maybe some day, I—and we—will rise to the challenge.

(music: Robyn Hitchcock, “Filthy Bird”)


Every eight years, we are invited to vote Yes or No on appointed Supreme Court Justices and Appellate Court Judges. (Not sure what parts of those titles were unclear to you.) The reason you didn’t see any campaigning from them is that these positions do not campaign for office. The judicial retention system (called “The Tennessee System”) is not typical around the country. Most appointed judges never have to face voters in any way. Our high court judges have the chance of being voted out, though it has rarely happened.
Posted by Joe Lance on 08/14/2006 02:50:16 AM

thanks for the clarification–there were also a bunch of democratic party committee posts and things like that…how does one keep track of these judges? thanks again m
Posted by brothermartin on 08/15/2006 01:18:41 AM


14 05 2006

I became a Democrat for a day and voted in the recent primary election, and I’m happy to say that Amanda McClendon succeeded in her bid to become a judge, at least in part because I voted for her, although she would have won without me. Her victory was described by the Nashville City Paper as “a landslide,” a term they did not use for any other race on the ballot—but then, most races were uncontested. You can’t have a landslide without an opponent.

I created a bit of a stir in my polling place. I asked for a paper ballot. “I don’t think anybody’s messing with the results of this election,” I told the surprised clerk. “It’s the principle of the thing.” I was the only person of the hundred or so who had voted in my precinct to make such a request, and it took them a couple of phone calls and a bit of paper shuffling to get it together, but I was provided with a number two pencil and a paper ballot and got to indicate my choices in good, old fashioned, unmistakable pencil lead. Actually, they tried to set me up with a ball-point pen but I pointed out that the instructions on the ballot called for a number two pencil. They weren’t gonna throw my ballot out on technicalities, no sir.

Let me tell you a couple of stories about why I insisted on a paper ballot.

The first comes from right here in Tennessee, where many counties in the state have contracted with the Electronic Systems and Software Company (hereafter referred to as ESS) to buy electronic voting machines. ESS gave the counties a deadline of April 14 (Good Friday) for placing orders. Then, on the morning of April 12, ESS faxed Wayne Pruett, the Tennessee co-ordinator for the so-called “Helping America Vote Act,” and informed him that any county that wanted to buy ESS voting machines would have to agree to accept “used” equipment. Got that? 48 hour notice about a major change in a multi-million dollar contract involving multiple county election boards? Right before Easter?

That should be enough to make a state co-ordinator stand up and roar, right?

Wrong. In an interview with Debra Narrigan of Gathering To Save Our Democracy, a Tennessee group dedicated to honest elections, Pruett admitted that, although this bait and switch “hit us broadside” and was “totally unacceptable to the state,” he would not prevent counties from contracting with ESS, although it is technically within his power to do so. Furthermore, he neglected to inform the Davidson County electoral commission before their meeting that day, because he didn’t want to appear to be doing anything that might influence their decision. He did tell them about the change after their meeting. How thoughtful! How helpful!

Story two takes place in far-away Utah, that notorious hotbed of left-wing authority questioners, where a 23-year veteran County Clerk, Matt Funk, became suspicious about the quality of the Diebold voting machines mandated by the state of Utah and decided to have an independent assessment done. Not only did the independent assessment show numerous problems with the machines, the Diebold Company had a cow about having outsiders play around with their proprietary software—oh yes, and the little matter of BlackBoxVoting. org being involved. Funk resigned in protest and the county went ahead and accepted the Diebold machines anyway. The county paid technicians over $1200 a day to work the bugs out.

Of course, that’s just the latest Diebold story. There’s a lot of them out there, none of them good. But it doesn’t take a $1200-a-day technician to set me up with a piece of paper and a number two pencil, and you can’t hack into a paper ballot and change it. I’d like to see more creative, compassionate, and essential uses of my tax dollars than having them spent on five-figure voting machines and four-figure technicians. I don’t think we need to be in such a hurry to count the votes that we have to have a computer do it for us. Hey, there’s few enough jobs left in this country, we might as well hire each other to count votes, right?

Although the Helping America Vote Republican Act does not mandate that machines provide a paper record of the vote, maybe even because it doesn’t, I think it’s time to take matters in our own hands and start a movement. They have to give you a paper ballot if you ask for one. Friends, next time you vote, do it the old-fashioned , time-tested way–on paper.

music: Leonard Cohen, “Democracy”

%d bloggers like this: