THE 2012 ELECTION: FIRST, THE GOOD NEWS

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, VotersUnite.org 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








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