Election Reform Must Be a Priority – My Response to DNC Request for Money
A DNC staffer recently called me to request a donation. I used this opportunity to discuss election reform with him. Here is a description of the interesting conversation that I had with him, that I just posted on GD:
Towards the end of our discussion I told him that I would do some more serious thinking about his question, consolidate my ideas after getting feedback from the DU, and then write back to him with my consolidated ideas. Here is a draft of my response to him.
Dear Mr. XXX:
I very much appreciate your taking the time to discuss with me my concerns about the current status of our election system.
As I noted in our telephone conversation I (and at least tens of thousands of others) feel that it is unlikely that the Democratic Party will ever elect another President or take control of either house of Congress until and unless this problem is addressed adequately. One concern you expressed to me about making a big deal over this is that you don’t want Democrats to be seen as “sore losers”. I understand your concern about this, and I agree that if Democrats do make a big deal out of this our national news media will try to make us out to be “sore losers”. But when a crime is committed over and over again it does not seem to me that remaining silent about it is likely to be helpful. It is true that appeasement can be a useful means for avoiding criticism. But it is not a useful way of solving a serious problem when one is up against ruthless opponents.
You also noted that the Democratic Party cannot fight this issue alone. You need not worry about that. There are several other organizations that have been fighting this issue since November 2nd, 2004, and which will continue to fight, along with the Democratic Party if it should join this effort. These organizations include Voters Unite!, Vote Trust U.S.A., U.S. Count Votes, and The Velvet Revolution, among others. But the participation of these organizations has not generated the necessary news media coverage to bring this issue to the attention of enough American citizens to generate the kind of political climate that is necessary to fix our broken system. The leadership of the Democratic Party will be required to do that.
You also told me that you felt that involvement of the Democratic Party in this issue would be considered a “conflict of interest”. I do not understand that line of reasoning. The purpose of a political party in our country is to enact laws that will benefit the American people. What laws could be more fundamental to the maintenance of democracy in our country than those that determine how our elections are run and our votes counted? Without fair elections there can be no democracy. How can this issue NOT be of great and legitimate concern to the Democratic Party?
Our election system has always been a foundation of our democracy. I am well aware that it has never been perfect, that elections have been stolen in the past, and yet in spite of that we have managed to preserve our democracy in reasonably good shape. But with the increasing computerization of our election system there has materialized the potential for election fraud on a scale never before seen in our country.
You asked me what I thought the Democratic Party can do to address this issue. I will discuss that along with the evidence that massive election fraud has already been perpetrated upon us. The reason for discussing these issues together is that in order to prevent election fraud from recurring we must first have a good understanding of how it was perpetrated. In discussing these issues I will put most of the emphasis on Ohio, since Ohio, being the key swing state in the Presidential election of 2004, was not only the state that gave the Presidency to George W. Bush, but also the state where the election has been most intensely studied. But emphasizing Ohio does not mean that similar fraud did not occur in many other states as well. There were four major areas of election fraud in the 2004 Presidential election:
Voter registration fraud
The first opportunity for election fraud is the illegal purging of qualified voters from the voter roles. I refer you to this article for extensive evidence that voter registration fraud was committed in Ohio in 2004 on a massive scale. I will not provide a full summary of the article in the text of my letter to you, since that is already provided in the above link. Suffice it to say here that the evidence points to: 1) The purging of about 165,000 voters in Cuyahoga County alone; 2) The fact that the great majority of these voters were legally qualified to vote; 3) The fact that it is highly likely that the vast majority of the illegally purged voters were Democrats; and, 4) Therefore it is imminently plausible, if not likely, that this method of fraud alone accounted for the totality of the Bush victory margin of 118,000 votes in Ohio.
How can we prevent this from recurring? In order to prevent this we must first understand how this voter purging was able to be accomplished without coming to public attention prior to the election. Diebold (whose CEO, Wally O’Dell, promised to deliver Ohio to George W. Bush) was responsible for maintaining the voter registration roles for Cuyahoga and many other Ohio counties in 2004. This task was accomplished electronically. We must ascertain what kind of oversight was involved in this process in 2004, and then we must ensure that in the future there is sufficient oversight to prevent massive illegal voter purging.
Voter suppression was also perpetrated on a massive scale against the citizens of Ohio in 2004 – targeted exclusively to likely Democratic voters. Two sources of evidence for this are John Conyers’ Report of the Democratic Staff of the House Judiciary Committee and the transcripts of a hearing that I helped to transcribe. The types of voter suppression that were committed included failing to provide provisional ballots according to law (page 334 of Conyers Report), targeting minority voters for legal challenges (p337), failing to provide absentee ballots upon request, and then refusing to let those voters vote on Election Day (p 340), and a myriad of dirty tricks involving misinformation on such essential topics as where or when voters are supposed to vote.
One especially effective means of voter suppression was the withholding of sufficient numbers of electronic voting machines from heavily Democratic precincts that tens of thousands of voters didn’t get to vote. This was done to such an extent in Columbus that a thorough analysis of this situation showed that it probably cost the Kerry/Edwards ticket about 17,000 net votes in that city alone.
How does one prevent this kind of thing from recurring? The numerous incidents of voter suppression in Ohio in 2004 are well documented, so it’s not a matter of the information not being available. Similar crimes occurred in Florida in 2000 and constituted one of many illicit reasons why George W. Bush was awarded the Presidency that year. I suspect that this sort of thing continues to occur because it goes unpunished. We know the basic facts of what happened, but it isn’t taken seriously enough that investigations are conducted that are needed to hold the perpetrators accountable and deal with them accordingly. This kind of thing should not be acceptable in a democracy.
Vote switching by DRE machines
The potential for election fraud with DRE machines Today we find ourselves in a situation where votes are counted by computer software that is written in secret and made inaccessible to the public, with the rationale that the machines and software that count our votes are “proprietary”. Is that acceptable in a democracy? Is that not something that the Democratic Party should fight against with everything they have?
To make matters worse, the corporations that make the machines that count our votes donate large amounts of money to the Republican Party. Some of the men who run these companies are convicted felons, and therefore not even eligible to vote in many states. Yet they run our elections.
Evidence for election fraud with DRE machines What is the evidence that these machines have actually already been used for nefarious purposes, other than the fact that it is very difficult to imagine why they wouldn’t have been? For one thing, Clint Curtis, a computer programmer working in Florida prior to the 2004 election, in testimony before the Democratic staff of the House Judiciary Committee, said that he was requested in 2000 by Tom Feeney to “develop a prototype of a voting program that could alter the vote tabulation in an election and be undetectable”. Tom Feeney, currently a U.S. Congressman from Florida, was Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives when Al Gore was fighting to have the Florida vote recounted. And it was Feeney who threatened to use his power as Speaker to submit an alternate slate of Florida electors if a recount of the Florida vote showed Al Gore to have won Florida’s electoral votes. So it is doubtful that Feeney was not telling the truth when we told Clint Curtis’ supervisor that the computer program he was asking Curtis to develop was needed to control the south Florida vote. Curtis developed the program. For a more in-depth look at this whole episode, including the death of Raymond Lemme, the investigator who was looking into Curtis’ allegations, and who appeared to have made great headway in his investigation shortly before he unfortunately committed suicide, you might want to take a look at this article.
Was Curtis’ or a similar program actually used in the 2004 election? A study of reports from the national Election Incidence Reporting System (EIRS) suggests that indeed it was. This study defined an electronic “vote switching” incident as one where a voter tried to vote for one candidate but the machine registered the vote for the other candidate, sometimes even after repeated attempts. The study came up with two major findings: First, of the 94 vote switching reports, the ratio of incidents that favored Bush outnumbered those that favored Kerry by a ratio of 12 to 1. And secondly, the incidents that favored Bush were 9 times as common in the heavily contested “swing states” than in non-swing states. Furthermore, 48% of these type of reports in the whole country came from the Democratic stronghold counties of south Florida (Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade), precisely the counties that Feeney referred to in explaining why Curtis’ computer program was needed.
To make the point that the EIRS reports represent only a small fraction of actual Election Day problems, I refer you to an investigation by the Washington Post. This study identified about 25 electronic voting machines in Youngstown, Mahoning County, Ohio, that were said to have been malfunctioning in the above noted fashion for long periods of time on Election Day. Yet only eight incidents of this nature from Mahoning County (all in favor of Bush) were reported to EIRS that day.
To be honest about this, it does not appear that this type of fraud played a major role in Kerry’s 2004 loss of Ohio (though it may well have played a major role in his loss of Florida), given that only a handful of Ohio Counties used electronic voting machines to count their votes on Election Day 2004. But the potential for vote theft using these machines is probably most clearly shown by the Georgia 2002 elections, where the whole state used touch screen DREs made by Diebold. According to Andrew Gumbel, in his new book, “Steal This Vote”:
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.
How can election fraud with DRE machines be prevented? The best way of preventing this kind of election fraud is not to use DRE machines. Hand counted paper ballots and optical scan machines have both been shown to be much less susceptible to breakdown, as well as much less susceptible to fraud.
But if DRE machines are to be used, every effort must be made to guard against fraud. Three general principles stand out as being crucially important:
1) First, the idea that “proprietary” voting machines which count our votes using secret (i.e., not accessible to the public) software have any place in a democracy must be vigorously fought. The American people would not stand for this for a minute if they knew what was going on;
2) Secondly, any DRE machine that counts our votes must be accompanied by a reliable paper trail that will facilitate a recount if needed;
3) and thirdly, laws must be instituted that will ensure that recounts will be available whenever controversy exists over the results of an election, and that those recounts will be conducted in a fair and transparent manner, with the requesting party given the choice of which precincts to select for the initial recount. Recounts were used in the Ohio 2004 election. However, election officials chose what precincts were to be recounted in many precincts (contrary to Ohio election policy), and voting machine company technicians were called in in numerous instances to tamper with the tabulating machines during the recount, thus raising the suspicion that they were fixing the results so that the vote counts would match, and thereby avoiding the requirement for a full hand recount of all but one Ohio county. In one case, election officials were even given a cheat sheet to ensure that the counts matched. And furthermore, even when the vote counts did not match, the required hand recount was not performed, except in one case (See discussion starting on page 36 of this report).
Finally, see Section XII of this report, sponsored by the DNC, on how to prevent election fraud with the use of DRE machines. The DNC sponsored this report – now they should get behind it to ensure that its recommendations are widely disseminated and implemented.
Election fraud via central tabulators
The potential for election fraud via central tabulator The potential for massive election fraud via the county central tabulators is perhaps substantially greater than that via individual voting machines, given that the central tabulators electronically tabulate vote totals representing hundreds of individual voting machines.
The evidence for election fraud via central tabulator in 2004 The evidence that this kind of fraud was perpetrated in Cleveland in 2004 is probably stronger than for any other area of Ohio, and it seems likely to me that the Kerry/Edwards ticket was cheated out of tens of thousands of votes via this method in Cleveland alone. Here is an articlethat discusses the evidence for this. To briefly summarize this article: The Democrats and their allies targeted Cleveland for their ground game like no other area of the country, and the success of this effort was evident in extremely long voting lines all over the city on Election Day. Yet, the final results showed woefully low voter turnout in Cleveland (which voted for Kerry by a ratio of greater than five to one.) How did this happen?
Critics of the conclusion that central tabulator fraud is strongly suggested by these strange findings may say that the explanation for the low voter turnout in Cleveland despite the long voting lines was that the long voting lines were caused more by insufficient numbers of voting machines than a large number of voters, and that this caused many thousands of voters to leave the voting lines, as happened in Franklin County. There may be a tiny bit of truth to this idea. But counties that used punch card machines to count their votes (as did Cuyahoga County) did not demonstrate any correlation between voter turnout and the number of machines per thousand voters. And in any event, even after many thousands of voters in Cleveland left the voting lines, the lines were still extremely long.
How to prevent election fraud via central tabulator There are three major ways to prevent election fraud via central tabulator machines. The first two correspond to item numbers 1 and 3 in the above discussion of preventing election fraud due to DRE machines: Recognition that secret proprietary computer codes for counting our votes have no place in a democracy, and ensuring a full, fair and transparent recount of the vote in the event of a controversial outcome.
The other way to prevent election fraud due to central tabulator machines is to ensure that a pre-tabulator count is obtained and saved from every precinct at the time of poll closing. By doing that, any discrepancies between the pre-tabulator and post-tabulator counts will become immediately apparent as soon as the official results are announced. Consequently it will be immediately apparent where the recount effort needs to be focused. I am still trying to obtain the 2004 pre-tabulator counts for Cleveland, and as yet I have not been able to obtain that count for a single precinct.
In summary, I very much want to support the Democratic Party, but I want to support them in a way that is likely to facilitate a winning effort, and I don’t want to throw my money down the drain. At this point I believe that Democrats trying to win elections without making election reform a major priority is a big waste of time and effort. So, if you can give me some indication that election reform is being taken seriously by the DNC, I would be more than happy to support them.
P.S. – I didn’t mention the Edison-Mitofsky exit polls in the above discussion since, as far as I can tell, they don’t provide clues as to HOW the election was stolen. However, it is worth noting, I believe, that those exit polls showed John Kerry with a 3.0% victory over George W. Bush in the national popular vote and a 4.2% victory over Bush in Ohio. Also, the discrepancies between the exit polls and the official vote count exceeded the statistical margin of error in 17 states (all favoring Kerry in the exit polls, compared to the official vote count), including the crucial swing states of Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and New Hampshire. It should also be noted that, of the four methods of election fraud that I discussed above, only the last two (vote switching by DRE machines and election fraud via central tabulators) would have been manifested as exit poll discrepancies.
This is the best I can do for now. Please give me any ideas that you can think of on how to improve my response. After I have received input on this from the DU, I will take that input into consideration as I re-draft the letter and then send my response to the DNC staffer who promised to relay my concerns to the DNC.
GAO report raises concerns about electronic voting security and reliability October 21st, 2005
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) today released a 101-page report on election security and reliability concerns.
In response to the release of that report, members of the House Committee on Government Reform issued a statement that highlighted the following problems:
Voting System Vulnerabilities Identified by GAO:
•Cast ballots, ballot definition files, memory cards, and audit logs could be modified. •Supervisor functions were protected with weak or easily guessed passwords, and memory cards that allowed individuals access to voting machines were inadequately protected. •Systems had easily picked locks and power switches that were exposed and unprotected. •Voting machine vendors had weak security practices, including the failure to conduct background checks on programmers and system developers, and the failure to establish clear chain of custody procedures for handling software.
Voting System Failures Have Already Occurred During Elections
In addition to identifying potential vulnerabilities, GAO identified a number of cases of operational failures in real elections. These examples included:
•In California, a county presented voters with an incorrect electronic ballot, meaning they could not vote in certain races. •In Pennsylvania, a county made a ballot error on an electronic voting system that resulted in the county’s undervote percentage reaching 80% in some precincts. •In North Carolina, electronic voting machines continued to accept votes after their memories were full, causing over 4,000 votes to be lost. •In Florida, a county reported that touch screens took up to an hour to activate and had to be activated sequentially, resulting in long delays.
Problems With Implementation of Voluntary Standards, Testing, and Federal Efforts to Improve Voting System Security
GAO reported that voluntary standards for electronic voting adopted in 2002 by the Federal Election Commission contain vague and incomplete security provisions, inadequate provisions for commercial products and networks, and inadequate documentation requirements. GAO also found that tests currently performed by independent testing authorities and state and local election officials do not adequately assess electronic voting system security and reliability.
5. not only election reform, but proving election fraud . . .
unless we can convincingly prove that elections have been stolen, there won't be any incentive for major election reform . . . hell, most people believe that HAVA/electronic voting IS election reform! . . .
the biggest obstacle we face is Democratic officials, elected and otherwise, who refuse to raise the issue . . . they either a) do not believe that major election fraud has occurred, b) know that election fraud is rampant and don't care, or c) know about election fraud but don't wish to upset their corporate sponsors . . . and some just believe it's simply too volatile an issue to discuss, one that will "undermine our democracy" if it were brought out into the open . . .
before we can convince the public that reform is needed, we have to prove to them that there's a problem -- and a major one at that . . . and to convince them that there's a major problem, we first have to convince our own representatives, and force them to talk about it in public . . .
6. Wonderful letter, reasoned and exactly on point. K&R
I've also had some discussions with Dem proponents though none have actually voiced the "whiners" excuse as a reason the Dems don't make this issue a number one priority.
I also refuse to give money to any orgs purporting to support the Dems and yet won't make election reform a central issue. How can I trust them with my money when they don't care about my vote? To give money to the Dems without their pursuing a course that will lead to fair vote counting is indeed money down a rat hole.
Right now, if nothing further changes, the 06 elections will be just like the 02 elections. It doesn't mattrer what the pre-election polls say or the exit polls or any polls. These people who are stealing elections and will continue to do so are not concerned about how obvious the fraud is (witness the OH referendums in 05). Nothing matters really except the voting machines it seems to me. Other issues are helpful in getting people on board, but the only crucial issue is the voting machines.
13. Thank you Stevepol - So what excuse DO the people you've talked to give
for not making election reform a number 1 priority?
I'm a little more optimistic about this than you are. Though I feel that election reform is a crucial issue for us, I don't feel that it is the ONLY issue. I do believe that there is some limit on how many votes they can steal, but I don't know what that limit is. Anyhow, I think that if we have overwhelming voter support in 2006 (which is a real possibility) and if we make some headway with election reform we will do quite well at the polls in 06. Then we will have control of Congress, which will allow us to make some real progress.
16. Actually the two or three I've talked to didn't know about it!
I had to explain the basics, how the voting machines are almost certainly stealing votes, the exit polls numbers, the whole shebang. They were interested, the ones I talked to, and said they'd do some research of their own.
This was a several months ago. Maybe Dems are better informed now, but it was amazing to me that somebody calling about donations, apparently somebody in the know about politics, would be that much in the dark about the issue itself.
I hope you're right about the vote in 06. I agree that the vote will be overwhelmingly Democratic, but I'm not sure I agree that the machines can't tilt the result. Look what they did in OH with the referendum, flipping the result 40% points from the very reliable Columbus paper pre-election polls! If people can't see the fraud after that, I don't see how they'll see it in a much broader election.
The results in the 04 nat'l election were almost as bad as the OH referendum I think, statistically at least, given the large numbers involved.
7. "Election Reform" sounds too mild, what about "Voter Fraud Correction"
or something along those lines. I also thought "voter reform" referred to campaign financing issues. I mean Absolutely -- voter fraud - Crucial --- but how will we ever get other results than today as long as Senate campaigns require HUGE money -- and most of the Senators end up being wealthy guys?
I agree that Election Reform seems too mild. This used to be called by other names, such as "2004 election results and election reform", or someing like that (I can't keep track of all the name changes).
As far as how we will ever win, I see three big advantages that the Republicans have:
1. The corporate media is behind them.
2. Money (as you say)
3. They own the voting machines
But we also have one MAJOR advantage, that could end up trumping them all. We are MUCH better for the country than they are, and most Americans know it.
We need to keep on plugging away at election reform, and hopefully by the time of the 2006 elections they will not be able to steal enough votes to counter an avalanche of public opinion against them.
Look, it's NOT the voters who are committing fraud, it's the voting systems manufacturers who are defrauding the American voter. Please make this distinction clear. The voters are **being defrauded!** Rant done...
15. Great letter! You certainly stated the case well with the facts and
references to back it up.
One suggestion: I grabbed your text and pulled it into MSWord and found your letter to be seven pages long. This is a lot for anyone to absorb; thinking about my senior management back at the bank, if we had this much information to transmit to them, their attention spans being short, we'd put a summary together in one to two pages, max, and then append the rest of the report to provide detail.
Your major points don't get immediate attention when your reader may not get past the first two pages.
20. i do that every time they (or MoveOn, or ACT, or any of the other orgs hit
me up for money, as long as their is a feedback form. Unfortunately, there often isn't more than just a link to send money. I know lots of people doing this. wonder how long it will take for them to get the point.
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