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|Time for change (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore||Wed Dec-14-05 02:28 AM
|Denial of the 2004 Election Theft – An Astonishing Example|
Many of us DUers are very upset about what we see as widespread denial of theft of the 2004 Presidential election, even by most Democrats. We are upset about this because we believe that this denial represents a great barrier to meaningful election reform, and therefore a great threat to our democracy. And consequently, we feel that it is important to understand the reasons behind this denial.
I believe that there are two main explanations for it: One reason is simply widespread lack of awareness of the facts surrounding the 2004 election, largely due to a virtual news media blackout on the subject. The other explanation is more psychological – that many people just do not want to believe that such a thing could happen in our country – which we have all learned since we were old enough to speak is the ultimate shining example of democracy in the world.
In this post I present an astonishing example of that phenomenon. I consider this example to be astonishing because the author I will discuss – Andrew Gumbel, who wrote “Steal this Vote” – spends well over 50 pages making an excellent case for why we should be very concerned about the results of the 2004 election, and then he turns right around and refers to those of us who believe the election to have been stolen as “conspiracy theorists”. The reasons he gives for this point of view are so unreasoned and illogical, and they present such a stark contrast to the preceding portions of his book that it appears as if the different portions of the book were written by different persons.
Anyhow, that’s how it appears to me. I hope that most of you agree with me on that score after reading this post.
Gumbel’s scathing indictments of DRE voting machines
DRE voting machines are those which directly record the voter’s vote electronically, without the need for any paper evidence of the vote. Gumbel talks at great length about why such machines in the U.S. today are unfit to count our votes.
Here is a general statement by Gumbel as to why these machines should not be used in our elections:
… there were two fundamental problems with the touch-screen DREs. First, as computer scientists had been warning for years without anyone paying much attention, they were inherently unsafe because of their vulnerability to software bugs, malicious code, or hack attacks. Even in the best designed system, removing votes from the physical world and storing them exclusively in electronic form was a risky proposition, because there was no way of being sure that the data put into the machines during an election would be the same as the data later spat back out. Hence the strong recommendation of academic experts… to create a system of paper receipts enabling voters to confirm their individual choices and providing election administrators with the wherewithal to conduct meaningful recounts.…
The second problem with the new-generation DREs was that they were poorly programmed by their manufacturers and inadequately tested by government-contracted laboratories charged with their certification. This was a well-dept dirty secret… Because of the proprietary nature of the software, state and county officials had to take assurances about security almost entirely on trust. And take those assurances they did…
He then goes on to discuss how the Florida Task Force recommended that optical-scan machines are a much preferred alternative:
Jeb Bush appointed the twenty-one member Select Task Force on Election Procedures, Standard, and Technology… just forty-eight hours after the Supreme Court decision handing the presidency to his brother. They in turn reported back ten weeks later with thirty-five recommendations. By far the most important of these… stated that only one state-certified system met acceptable standards… That was the optical-scan system – with the added proviso that votes should be tabulated precinct by precinct, not centrally at county headquarters.
He then goes on to discuss how, due to Republican control of the state and a cozy relationship between ES&S and state officials, the Task Force recommendations were largely ignored, and touch screen machines were sold to twelve Florida counties. And then, Gumbel discusses how similar events transpired in Maryland and Georgia.
Then, on National Bureau of Standards identification of DRE problems:
In his prescient survey of voting systems written in 1988, Roy Saltman of the National Bureau of Standards identified four problem areas in verifying the outcome of computerized elections: the absence of a paper audit trail, poor program design, trade secrecy provisions that stop public officials from examining those programs, and inadequate administrative oversight. The new DRE systems introduced in the wake of the 2000 election suffered from every one of these pitfalls…. The risk, he wrote, was that these oversights would be tantamount to an “abdication of control over elections to vendors.”
But what about the potential to actually steal elections?
The above discussion, though noting numerous problems with DREs, doesn’t necessarily imply their potential to be used to steal elections. Here are some discussions applicable to that issue:
Gumbel talks about how Bev Harris came upon files of code for Diebold machines on the internet. Harris copied these files and made them available to computer scientists, so that they could examine the files and ascertain their potential. Here is what Avi Rubin and his associates at Johns Hopkins University found:
What they found left them so incredulous… describe the Diebold code as amateurish, stunningly inadequate, and downright scary…. Every single Deibold machine was crackable… A malevolent developer could easily make changes to the code that would create vulnerabilities to be later exploited on Election Day. Specifically, it was possible through a variety of techniques to alter the outcome of an election without leaving a trace.
The above findings were opinions put forth by computer scientists. To better make the connection to reality, Gumbel goes on to describe how the use of these machines likely affected the 2002 mid-term elections in Georgia, which were totally conducted by DREs:
On June 10 <2002>… six tabulation machines and a touch-screen voting terminal were stolen…. The theft was also an extremely serious security breach, because a technically adept hacker who gained access to the tabulation machines and the associated GEMS election management software could effortlessly – and undetectably – alter the outcome of an election not only in Georgia but anywhere in the United States where Diebold machines were used.
The November 2002 elections in Georgia were screwy in more ways than one. The state had its share of machine malfunctions … Most troublesome, however, were the results of the races for governor and U.S. Senate, which suggested wild double-digit swings in favor of the Republican candidates from the final pre-election opinion polls. Sonny Perdue became the first Republican governor to be elected since Reconstruction, thanks to a sixteen point swing away from the Democratic incumbent, Roy Barnes. And Saxby Chambliss, the colorless Republican Senate candidate, pulled off an upset victory against the popular Vietnam War veteran Max Cleland, representing a nine- to twelve-point swing… But it wasn’t just the opinion polls that were at variance with the result. The voting pattern was also drastically different from Georgia’s open primary … in 74 counties in the Democrat-heavy south of the state, Chambliss improved on his own standing by a whopping 22 points. Were these statistical anomalies, or was something fishier going on? In the absence of a paper backup, or of any hint of transparency from state officials, the question was for the most part unanswerable.
Some observations on possible intentions of voting machine companies
I was particularly struck by a couple of observations noted by Gumbel which, in my opinion, may shed considerable light on the intentions of voting machine companies:
Gumbel notes that many of Diebold’s internal e-mails were leaked. Some made a big point of the need to have access to vote counting codes from outside during an election. Gumbel comments on this:
Quite why the Diebold system needed to be accessed from the outside – a blatant security breach – is not explained…
(but later, a partial explanation is offered):
Easy access had “got people out of a bind” in the past.
Then Gumbel goes on to talk about the almost universal resistance of at least some DRE manufacturers to include auditable paper trails in an election:
Of all the arguments deployed by the touch-screen apologists, the resistance to a paper trail was by some distance the most perplexing, and also the one most in need of unpicking… it was unclear whether the internal audit logs could be trusted any more than the official tallies, or even if election officials could be relied upon to produce them when asked. In the wake of the 2002 midterm elections in Georgia, activists spent more than a year firing off letters to request the “zero tapes”… but never received a thing in return…
In other words, DRE vendors often insist on being able to access their machines from the outside during an election, and on the absence of paper trails – two recipes for elections theft.
The put down of "conspiracy theorists"
Up until this point, I found Gumbel’s discussion of the whole issue to be thorough, well thought out, and very illuminating – the most illuminating discussion on this topic that I have ever read. It seemed to me that he had made an excellent case for being very concerned about theft of the 2004 election. But then, when he comes to actually discussing the implications of all this to the 2004 election results Gumbel seems to throw all of his scientific and disciplined thinking out the window, in an attempt to deflect concern about what happened in the 2004 election.
After noting that all three of the major voting machine vendors for 2004 (Diebold, ES&S, Sequoia) had ties to the Republican Party, and after noting the promise of Diebold’s CEO, Wally O’Dell, to deliver the votes of Ohio to George Bush, Gumbel goes on:
Indeed, it became fashionable to see Diebold as the spearhead of some dark conspiracy in which corporate America and the Republican Party had joined forces to undermine democracy and achieve a total lock on the levers of power. Like all conspiracy theories, this one had some elements of validity…. But the scenario was almost certainly overblown, for a couple of reasons. First, the root problem was not the political allegiance of the voting machine companies; it was the reliability of their products.
This has to be one of the most ridiculous statements I’ve ever heard. After making the case in great detail in the preceding pages that DREs can be used to steal elections and probably have been used to steal elections (though he doesn’t use those words), he goes on to say that the root problem is not the political allegiance of the voting machine companies, but the reliability of their product. Well, here we have both an unreliable product, a product capable of being used to steal elections (as Gumbel pointed out, the 2002 Georgia elections for Governor and Senator involved 16 and 9 to 12 point swings from pre-election polls, both favoring the Republican candidates), AND obvious political allegiance to the Republican Party.
Gumbel then states the second reason why he says that we “conspiracy theorists” have overblown the situation:
Second, the idea that the big three manufacturers were somehow corporate titans on a par with the Big Three automakers in Detroit was laughable.
Well, that statement is laughable. Who is claiming that the voting machine companies are as wealthy or powerful as the Big Three automakers? And what does that have to do with whether their machines can be used to steal elections?
Specific references to the 2004 Presidential election
Here’s what Gumbel has to say specifically about the 2004 election:
The 2004 election, as we now know, did not result in the meltdown many people predicted, largely because Bush’s margin of victory was just comfortable enough to prevent litigation or more than background rumbles about the reliability and veracity of the result….
Victory was comfortable enough to prevent litigation? Is he kidding? The contesting of this election is still very much alive in the courts
The problem with a lot of the “Kerry won” arguments was that their proponents were allowing wishful thinking to cloud their analysis…
Campaigners might have wanted to believe that the speaker of the Florida House had consulted a software expert on how to rig DRE machines…
Huh? Gumbel must be referring here to Clint Curtis’ sworn testimony before Congress to the effect that Tom Feeney, later to be Speaker of the Florida House, had requested him to write a program that would switch votes from one candidate to another and be undetectable (Curtis also testified that Feeney stated that this program would be needed to control the Democratic vote in south Florida). So, is Gumbel saying that if we believe Curtis’ testimony we are guilty of “wishful thinking”? And is he aware that the man charged with investigating Curtis’ allegations, Raymond Lemme, told Curtis that he had “tracked the corruption all the way to the top” just two weeks before he conveniently committed “suicide”?
Then Gumbel continues with another put down to “conspiracy theorists”, specifically with references to the Ohio election.
…some of the statistical data inconveniently challenged the conspiracy theorists. First, Bush’s margin of well over one hundred thousand votes proved well-nigh unassailable, even after a recount that was requested… That kind of number can’t easily be created out of thin air by electronic tabulation machines, especially in a state relying almost exclusively on re-countable paper ballots.
Well, that would be a terrific rebuttal to us “conspiracy theorists” IF one of our main arguments was that over 100,000 votes could “easily be created out of thin air by electronic tabulation machines”. I don’t think that many of us have claimed that it would be easy. To the contrary, we believe that Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio’s Secretary of State, had to work very hard to steal Ohio for Bush. And as far as Ohio being a state relying almost exclusively on re-countable paper ballots, the paper ballots were never re-counted and the tabulating of county-wide votes was performed by central computers. Furthermore, registration of new voters, and PURGING of voters was done electronically.
And Gumbel continues:
Second, Kerry did too well in certain key areas to support any argument that his votes were suppressed…
Gumbel’s point here being that Kerry did better than Gore in many areas, so we shouldn’t complain. Well, of course he did better than Gore. In 2000 Ohio wasn’t considered a competitive state, whereas in 2004 it was considered very competitive. So of course Kerry would have to do considerably better than Gore in many areas of the state in order to carry Ohio. And both pre-election polls (showing a tossup) and exit polls (Kerry by 4.2%) showed that Kerry did do considerably better than Gore, who lost Ohio to Bush by 4%.
Gumbel begins his book with an interesting and informative history of election fraud in the United States. His lengthy and thorough discussion later in the book of how DRE voting machines are now threatening our democracy is excellent, and provides a prima facie case for, at the very least, the need for U.S. citizens to demand a meaningful investigation into the 2004 Presidential election. I make this statement based on three crucial points made by Gumbel:
1) His thorough discussion on how our DRE machines are vulnerable to fraud, accompanied by evidence (for example, Georgia 2002, which manifested large swings from pre-election polls for the Governor and Senate races) that they have been used to commit fraud (though he doesn’t use that word).
2) Evidence of intention to commit fraud by the DRE vendors, in that they aggressively insist on maintaining features that facilitate fraud, including the absence of a paper trail, access to the system from outside, and refusal to allow public (or even election officials) access to the source code.
3) Ties of the major three DRE vendors to the Republican Party, as well as the aggressive efforts of Ohio’s Secretary of State, Kenneth Blackwell, to suppress Democratic voter registration prior to the 2004 election, such as excluding registration forms that didn’t meet very specific and arbitrary specifications, and refusing to provide provisional ballots to voters who attempted to vote in the wrong precinct, in conjunction with numerous instances of Democratic voters being contacted and told to vote in the wrong precinct.
To those who would object to my assertion that the above points constitute prima facie evidence of the need for a thorough investigation of the Ohio election, on the basis that only a small number of Ohio counties used DREs to count the votes within individual precincts, I have this to say: Both the central tabulation of votes and the registration of voters in many counties were accomplished by electronic machines, and for practical purposes we can assume that the fraud facilitating features that Gumbel enumerated in item # 2 above were present: The source code was considered “proprietary” and therefore inaccessible to the public; although a paper trail was theoretically available for most of the state, there was only a 3% recount performed in 87 of Ohio’s 88 counties, and numerous infractions of Ohio’s election rules had to be committed in order to ensure that no more than 3% of the state was recounted and that the 3% recount matched the official results, as described starting on page 36 of this report; and, we have no reason to believe that the Secretary of State did not have access to the source files.
In view of all this, I find Gumbel’s dismissal as “conspiracy theorists” of those of us who believe that the Ohio election was probably stolen, to be very odd to say the least. Whereas the rest of the book is very well documented and presented in a disciplined and scholarly manner, his presentation of the 2004 election provides a stark contrast by comparison, in its sloppiness and illogical conclusions. He acknowledges most of the major “irregularities” that characterized the Ohio election, including the fake terrorist alert that Warren County officials used as an excuse to “count the votes” in private, the totally inadequate allocation of voting machines to Franklin County Democratic precincts, Blackwell’s suppression of Democratic voter registration (though he apparently is not aware that 165,000 voters were purged, apparently selectively and illegally, from Cuyahoga County alone), and the voter reports of electronic switching of votes from one candidate to another (but without noting that virtually all of these episodes favored Bush). But he doesn’t appear to be concerned as to how these episodes may have affected the election results. Most importantly, he claims that there was a recount in Ohio, without noting any of the serious problems with that recount.
I believe that failure to convince people that the 2004 Presidential election was very likely stolen will continue to facilitate a climate of apathy on this issue in our country that will make meaningful election reform a lotless likely. As Mark Crispin Miller says in his new book, “Fooled Again – How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They’ll Steal the Next One Too (Unless We Stop Them):
“To recognize that Bush & Co. stole their “re-election”, or at least to open one’s mind to the possibility, and to demand a new and unconstrained investigation into what went down in 2004, is a cognitive and moral action vital to the health of this republic.”
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