Brad Friedman

Something Very Strange Is Going on in a Georgia Election Lawsuit

This article first appeared on The Brad Blog

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Did GOP Insiders Steal the Kentucky Governor's Race for Tea Partier Matt Bevin?

We see, again, the nightmare scenario I've warned about for so many years: a U.S. election where all of the pre-election polls suggest Candidate X is set to win, but Candidate Y ends up winning by a huge margin instead and nobody even bothers to verify that the computer tabulated results accurately reflect the intent of the voters.

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The Secret to Bill O’Reilly’s Professional Survival

This post originally appeared on The BRAD BLOG.

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Tea Partying, Anti-Obamacare Ex-Sheriff Now Begging for Help to Pay Medical Bills

This story is reposted with permission from The BradBlog.

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Conservative Icon Federal Judge Sees the Light - Writes Amazing Dissent on Voter ID Laws

If you read just one top-to-bottom dismantling of every supposed premise in support of disenfranchising Photo ID voting restrictions laws in your lifetime, let it be this one [PDF]!

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Appalling: War on Science Now Includes War on Science Museums

As we noted when citing the excellent recent episode of Fox' COSMOS, which explained the causes and dangers of global warming in a way that turned a long-time, self-described "climate denier" colleague of ours into a "believer," the documented facts of science don't require "belief." Scientific facts are still true, whether one chooses to believe them or not.

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Federal Judge Strikes Down Wisconsin's Polling Place Photo ID Law in Landmark Ruling

Very big news out of a federal court in Wisconsin today, where the state's polling place Photo ID law (Act 23) has now been struck down as both a violation of the federal Constitutional as well as under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

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Edward Snowden Unloads on the Dangers of the 'Privatized' National Security State

This article originally appeared on The Brad Blog, and is reprinted here with their permission.

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The Right-Wing's Despicable New Voter Suppression Scheme

The man who wrote Arizona's "Papers Please" law before running for Kansas Secretary of State in 2010 on the premise of stamping out "voter fraud" there ... before winning and subsequently not being able to find much, if any of it, at all, is nonetheless still at work attempting to keep legitimate voters from being able to cast their vote under the premise that thousands of non-citizens are somehow, secretly, illegally voting in the state of Kansas.

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Watch: 14-Year Old Activist Destroys TV Host on Monsanto, GMO Labeling

This 14-year old Canadian girl, Rachel Parent, is tremendous. Watch her clean the clock of the TV host who bad-mouthed opponents of Monsanto and their GMOs and those who support the "Right to Know" campaign to require genetically modified foods to be labelled as such.

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'Hubris': Rachel Maddow Presents Must-Watch Documentary on the Selling of the Iraq War

On Monday night, NBC News aired its new documentary, Hubris: Selling the Iraq War, based on the book of a similar name by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. The film offered a number of new and disturbing insights since the original 2007 book was published.

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GOP Voter Registration Scandal Widens, Prosecutors File Criminal Charges

A man originally reported to have been working for the Republican Party of Virginia was arrested by the Rockingham County, Va., Sheriff’s Office on Thursday and charged with attempting to destroy voter registration forms by tossing them into a dumpster behind a shopping center in Harrisonburg, Va.

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Operative Linked To Voter Registration Fraud Still Working For GOP?

Questions continue to grow about Nathan Sproul and his various companies’ multi-million dollar work for the Republican National Committee, despite claims that they’ve broken ties with him on the heels of a nationwide GOP Voter Registration Fraud Scandal. A virtual clone of his discredited Strategic Allied Consulting firm appears to still be operating on behalf of Republicans in at least 10 states.

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Romney Linked to Voter Registration Firm Accused of Fraud; GOP Cuts Ties With 'Shady' Operation

[See BREAKING UPDATE at bottom of story. NBC News now reports the RNC has also cut ties with Strategic Allied Consulting.]

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Our Media Need a Fair and Balanced Doctrine

Just minutes after noon, on January 20, 2009, "hope" arrived for Constitutionalists and supporters of its First Amendment. A slight, little-noticed, but exceedingly noteworthy paragraph appeared on the new Administration's White House website "Technology" page.

"Encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media," the paragraph began, "promote the development of new media outlets for expression of diverse viewpoints, and clarify the public interest obligations of broadcasters who occupy the nation's spectrum."

After more than a decade of private corporatization of virtually every inch of bandwidth across the public airwaves, a new day seemed to be dawning with a new Administration's indication that they might reverse years of cynical, self-serving mismanagement of the people's airwaves by a few, very large, very far-right leaning corporations who had been granted priceless government largesse in the form of broadcast licenses without the responsibility of serving the public interest in exchange.

"Hope" would be short lived. By summer, the paragraph had been quietly excised from the White House website without a trace, apology or even an explanation.

The rightwing-dominated media's War Against Restoration of the Fairness Doctrine had been won before those who might have joined the battle were even aware there had been a first skirmish.

For months following Obama's election, the rightwing media had used the public airwaves to combat what they had contended was a devious "Liberal plan" to stifle "conservative" opinion on them. The Democrats, we were told, had planned to remove voices such as Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, Savage and the nearly endless cadre of rightwing Republicanists from the airwaves. Never mind there was never any such plan, no matter how much progressives might have liked to bring back diversity of opinion -- fairness and balance, if you will -- to the public's airwaves.

A fair and balanced discussion of unfair and unbalanced rightwing corporate domination of the media is difficult to wage across a rightwing corporate-dominated media. So, it seems, the new stewards of the public's own airwaves -- the Executive Branch -- decided it was largely easier to quit than to fight. Once again, the only industry specifically recognized by explicit guarantees in the U.S. Constitution would go unprotected again. The corporate masters of that industry would have free reign, while the values meant to be protected by our founders would continue to disappear, nearly as quickly as a paragraph on Obama's White House website.

Freedom of the press would continue instead as freedom for America's wealthiest corporations to dominate it to their own self-serving advantage, for the foreseeable future.

After forty years, Ronald Reagan's dissolution of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 had succeeded in embedding neither fair nor balanced voices like Limbaugh on the airwaves, without meeting the responsibility of offering any voices of opposition.

That damage to a free press was compounded exponentially with Bill Clinton's disastrous Telecommunications Act of 1996. Sold with the promise of bringing more competition to the airwaves, the act resulted [PDF] in anything but, with just five or six media conglomerates ultimately taking ownership of virtually all broadcast licenses across the nation.

The result would be a Limbaugh Nation. Opposing and/or diverse voices all but disappeared. The few progressive voices allowed on air would be ghettoized, by the same corporate conglomerates, onto low wattage stations, or simply done away with all together.

The promised competition in the marketplace never occurred. Where it does today, in the few markets where a progressive voice is allowed a level playing field against a right-winger, the progressive often wins the day. progressive Stephanie Miller, for example, is heard in about 40 markets, where she regularly beats right-winger Laura Ingraham in the same time slot in the morning. Yet Ingraham is carried by nearly 350 affiliate stations. Many of those stations are owned by just a few companies, yet for some reason, they'd rather have the corporatist-friendly Ingraham on as many stations as possible, despite Miller's better ratings. So much for fair competition.

In several of the largest markets, the same corporate outfit runs both a "conservative" and a "progressive" talk station. In many cases, the same Program Director manages both stations. Guess which one gets the big promotional dollars, the management's attention, and the higher wattage frequency reaching millions more listeners?

Despite what you may have heard -- on those corporate-owned right-wing stations -- supporters of diversity on them do not wish to remove voices like Limbaugh from the public airwaves. They do, however, wish to see balance and oversight of the public's property, which corporations license, for free, from the government, on the grounds that they use them in the "public interest." That "public interest", however, has never been defined, and the FCC, the arbiter of that interest, has never bothered to enforce it.

So, Limbaugh is welcome to stay right where he is, for three hours a day, on hundreds of affiliate stations. But perhaps those same hundreds of stations ought to be required to give the next three hours on each of those days to a progressive voice like Thom Hartmann. That would allow both competition, which conservatives claim to believe in, and for the "public interest" to be served.

In 1856 Abraham Lincoln told fellow Republicans: "Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change public opinion, can change the government."

He was right. And after decades of allowing little more than one viewpoint to reach the public across our airwaves, opinion has become so skewed to the right that changing either government or public opinion has become nearly impossible. How else to explain angry "tea party" mobs suddenly infuriated by "big government" and "violations of the Constitution" by Obama and the Democrats, after eight years of virtual silence from those same mobs, despite a Republican-dominated government which ballooned government spending to record levels, while blatantly violating section after section of the U.S. Constitution?

The angry mobs were not instructed by the 24/7 rightwing media that the corporate-friendly Republicans had committed every supposed crime the mobs now incorrectly believe Obama and the Democrats are committing.

Constitutionalists and progressives alike must demand that we restore freedom to the public airwaves. We must make room for as many voices as possible, by rescinding the governmental welfare given to a handful of single-minded corporations. Without freedom of the airwaves, there is no freedom of the press.

It won't be easy, given who now owns virtually all of the microphones. But we've got to start somewhere. What say we start by calling it the "The Fair and Balance Doctrine"? That might win over a few previously disinformed converts.

Some PA Counties May Ignore Paper Ballot Court Order

In the suburban county of Montgomery, just outside of Philadelphia, election officials have, inexcusably, been caught off guard by a new, court-mandated directive by PA's Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro Cortes.

The direct requires that counties have enough emergency paper ballots (EPBs) on hand at polling places to ensure that voters can vote if half, or more, of a precinct's voting machines break down. County officials admit today that they were completely unprepared for the directive, and even for the likelihood of serious machine failure, despite known problems with the touch-screen voting systems they use, or the extraordinary voter turnout long-predicted for next Tuesday.

The new directive [PDF] was issued yesterday, following a court order in a that suit was filed last week against the Democratic Secretary, by the NAACP and a local election protection coalition. It followed on Cortes' directive a month a go that EPBs only needed to be given out to voters in the event of failure of 100% of a precinct's machines.

Cortes' original directive, and even the one issued yesterday, has been seen at odds with a PA statutory provision that allowed counties to offer paper ballots in the event that just one machine had failed. PA uses Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, usually touch-screen) voting systems across most of the state, and is a key battleground for John McCain's attempt to win the White House this year

Montgomery County's voter services Director, Joseph R. Passarella said on Friday that his county is not prepared to meet the directive, despite known problems and historic failures of electronic voting machines on Election Day in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, or even the widely-predicted unprecedented turnout that's expected.

He also said, according to the Philadelphia Intelligencer , that an "estimated…80 percent of the state's other counties do not have emergency ballots, having used provisional ballots for both purposes in the past."

Incredibly, Passarella also admitted today that he had previously planned to give just 100 provisional ballots, and 100 emergency ballots to each precinct.

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Voting Rights Groups Sue PA for Paper Ballots

Finally! A lawsuit has finally been filed today in federal District Court in Pennsylvania, against the Democratic Secretary of the Commonwealth, Pedro A. Cortes and the Commissioner of the state's Election Commission, Chet Harhut, over Cortes' recent decree that paper ballots only need be given out to voters in the event that every voting machine in a precinct breaks down.

That stunning decry was in opposition to PA's state law which allows election officials the discretion to give emergency paper ballots to voters if even a single machine breaks down in a precinct.

That neither Obama nor the DNC have said a word about this in the month or so since Cortes issued his decry has been maddening, and should be an outrage to voters of all parties in the Keystone State, sure to be another battleground state this November. The lawsuit was finally filed today by the state's NAACP in concert with the 866-MYVOTE1 Election Reform Network.

While the complaint should call for paper ballots to be made available to any voter who wishes one, or, at a minimum, to be given out if just one machine breaks down in a precinct, or even if the wait time in line is longer than 30 minutes, unfortunately, the suit calls very conservatively for emergency paper ballots to be given out if 50% or more of the voting machines in a precinct break down. But at least it's something, we guess, particularly in lieu of Obama and/or the DNC taking any action at all here, given they have the most to lose by the ridiculous action from state Democrats.

Pennsylvania uses unverifiable Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, usually touch-screen) machines across most of the state, and saw machine failure after failure, as we documented in detail during their April primary this year. The failures resulted in untold numbers of disenfranchised voters, as noted in news reports, and logged by calls to the 866-MYVOTE1 hotline…

"Voters should not be forced to wait hours in line in order to exercise their fundamental right to vote," said John Bonifaz, legal director for and co-counsel for the plaintiffs in a statement issued today. "While the use of electronic voting machines continues to pose a separate threat to the integrity of the vote-counting process, federal court intervention is necessary to ensure that voters will not be disenfranchised by long lines on Election Day in Pennsylvania, when these machines become inoperable."

California Republican Arrested for Voter Fraud

Yesterday the Los Angeles Times reported on the Republican voter registration outfit who had allegedly been illegally changing thousands of registrations from Democratic to Republican.

Last night the head of that GOP backed group, Mark Anthony Jacoby of Young Political Majors (YPM), was arrested by the California State Election Fraud Taskforce and the Oxnard Police.

According to California Secretary of State Debra Bowen's press release, Jacoby himself had committed voter registration fraud and perjury by lying on his own voter registration form. (That's similar to what Ann Coulter did, though she not only committed felony voter registration fraud, she also committed actual voter fraud, as well, even though such fraud is exceedingly rare.)

It was my pleasure to break this story today on Fox "News" of all places! Thanks to VotersUnite! editor John Gideon for getting it posted as I was on the roll towards the studio. I'll have the video up of my appearance on Fox, and the "Fox News Alert" I was able to do, later tonight.

Please note, this isn't the first time there have been serious problems with GOP-gathered voter registrations in CA, as outlined recently at Alternet. Looks like the GOP's voter registration record for errors far outpaced ACORN! Whaddaya know?

New Study Details Massive Voter Roll Purges Underway in At Least 19 States

Tonight's CBS Evening News finally covered what may well be the November Surprise that we've been trying to warn about for months here at The BRAD BLOG: Massive voter roll purges being done in secret, with little or no oversight, and often under federal Justice Department cover, in states and counties around the country.

And the Democrats, who likely have the most to lose via such secret purges, are doing little or nothing about it.

The CBS story, posted below (appx 2 mins) starts with an elderly New Jersey voter who was suddenly removed from the voting rolls after thirty years, for apparently no reason whatsoever, before launching into findings from a new non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice study on "Voter Purges".

We've yet to read this Brennan report, but the brief coverage from tonight's Evening News notes 10,000 voters purged in Mississippi, 21,000 in Louisiana and "to top it off, another new study discovered 19 states are ignoring federal law (the National Voter Registration Act), banning systematic purges within 90 days of a federal election."

Among those 19, are a number of battleground states. The report lists: Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Delware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Masachusetts, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington, as places where massive purges have recently taken place.

UC Scientists Release Voting Machine Hacking Video

The Computer Security Group at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) has released a short, chilling video demonstrating how a single person can hack an election on a touch-screen voting system -- even one with a so-called "Voter Verifiable Paper Trail" (VVPAT) added to it -- in such a way that it is highly unlikely that the manipulation would ever be detected by either the public or election officials.

The video, which shows "just examples of the different ways in which the system can be compromised" is the latest in a similar string of such demonstrations that have been released over the last two years, all showing how easily electronic voting systems can be tampered with, often undetectably.

In the UCSB video posted below, the hack of Sequoia voting system being prepared for use in an entire county, is done in approximately 3 seconds, by a single person with simple insider access and a $10 USB thumb drive. Every machine used in the county, in such a case, would be effected. Moreover, the viral hack would not be discovered by pre-election "Logic and Accuracy" testing -- in cases were election officials actually bother to perform such tests prior to elections -- nor would it likely be discovered even in the event of a complete, 100% post-election audit of the touch-screen "paper-trail" records.

The hack demonstration, prepared by the UCSB scientists as part of California's 2007 "Top-to-Bottom Review" of all of the state's e-voting systems, also reveals how so-called "security seals" placed on such machines after they've been programmed for an election, can be easily defeated without detection ...

How and Why It Was Done

The landmark California study, which employed dozens of the world's top computer scientists and security experts, was commissioned by Sec. of State Debra Bowen. The first-of-its-kind, independent state analysis, included hack tests -- so-called, "Red Team" attacks -- to analyze the security of the e-voting systems. All of the systems studied were easily defeated by the testers.

The UCSB group was in charge of the analysis of voting machines made by Sequoia Voting Systems.

The methods used in the hack of a Sequoia Edge direct recording electronic (DRE, touch-screen) system -- a system which includes the Sequoia Verivote paper-trail printer, as seen in the video -- were original described in the Red Team security analysis [PDF] of the Sequoia systems as published by the Secretary of State.

The video demonstrating the voting system manipulation was prepared at the same time, but had not been released publicly until now. The scientists involved in the tests declined to speak on the record as to their reasons for releasing it at this time.

"We found a number of major flaws that can be exploited to compromise the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of the voting process," explains the UCSB website where the video was released. "In particular, we developed a virus-like software that can spread across the voting system, modifying the firmware of the voting machines."

The page goes on to explain that "The modified firmware is able to steal votes even in the presence of a Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT)." In addition to the hack of the paper-trail touch-screen system, the UCSB scientists also demonstrate, in the video, how the Sequoia Edge touch-screen voting system may be accessed and manipulated even after so-called "security seals" have been applied to the machine following pre-election programming. The members of the team in the demonstration are seen access the system, while the plastic "security seals" are remain undisturbed in the process.

"Security seals" of this type, as used in California and elsewhere -- seen being easily defeated in the video -- have been cited by election officials and voting machine companies alike as key to the secure use of electronic voting machines such as the one seen being hacked in the video above.

E-Voting "Fatally Flawed"

"The video shows how one can use a simple USB key to infect the laptop used to prepare the cards that initialize the various voting devices. As a result, the cards are loaded with a malicious software component," UCSB explains.

"When a card is inserted in a voting terminal, the malicious software exploits a vulnerability in the terminal loading procedure and installs a modified firmware, effectively 'brainwashing' the terminal. Later, when the terminal is used by the voters to cast their votes, the firmware uses a number of different techniques to modify the contents of the ballots being cast."The UCSB Security Group page notes that electronic voting systems are exceedingly vulnerable to malicious manipulation of the type demonstrated in their video.

"While most critical systems are continuously scrutinized and evaluated for safety and correctness, electronic voting systems are not subject to the same level of scrutiny," they write.

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Step by Step Guide to Hacking Electronic Voting Machines

The Computer Security Group at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) has released a short, chilling video demonstrating how a single person can hack an election on a touch-screen voting system --- even one with a so-called "Voter Verifiable Paper Trail" (VVPAT) added to it --- in such a way that it is highly unlikely that the manipulation would ever be detected by either the public or election officials.

The video which shows "just examples of the different ways in which the system can be compromised" is the latest in a similar string of such demonstrations that have been released over the last two years, all showing how easily electronic voting systems can be tampered with, often undetectably.

In the UCSB video posted below, the hack of Sequoia voting system being prepared for use in an entire county, is done in approximately 3 seconds, by a single person with simple insider access and a $10 USB thumb drive. Every machine used in the county, in such a case, would be effected. Moreover, the viral hack would not be discovered by pre-election "Logic and Accuracy" testing --- in cases were election officials actually bother to perform such tests prior to elections --- nor would it likely be discovered even in the event of a complete, 100% post-election audit of the touch-screen "paper-trail" records.

The hack demonstration, prepared by the UCSB scientists as part of California's 2007 "Top-to-Bottom Review" of all of the state's e-voting systems, also reveals how so-called "security seals" placed on such machines after they've been programmed for an election, can be easily defeated without detection...

How and Why It Was Done...

Voting Machine CEO Reportedly Lies About Foreign Ownership of Firm

The CEO and President of one of America's largest voting machine companies, Sequoia Voting Systems, gave both deceptive, and carefully selective answers in his reply to a letter sent earlier this year from two high-ranking officials in Chicago, according to documents recently obtained during an ongoing investigation by the Brad Blog.

Sequoia's chief executive, Jack Blaine, repeated knowingly false answers, at least three different times, in his January 18 response to Chicago Alderman Edward M. Burke and the Chair of Chicago's Board of Election Commissioners Langdon D. Neal. The pair had written to the company on January 11, expressing concerns about the truth behind Sequoia's claims that they had completely divested from their purportedly "former" parent company, Smartmatic, the Venezuelan-run firm with direct ties to Hugo Chavez and his government.

Last year, as media reports revealed the true extent of Smartmatic's shadowy foreign ownership -- and with it, the direct control of some 20% of U.S. elections -- the firm came under close scrutiny by federal investigators from Treasury Department, the FBI and the IRS. In November of last year, Sequoia announced that it had "completely" divested from Smartmatic in a management team-led buyout, thus ending an official review by Treasury's Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).

But in January, the officials from the Windy City -- where Sequoia holds one of the company's most lucrative contracts -- had continuing concerns about whether the sale was legitimate, or simply a dodge to avoid scrutiny by federal investigators. They were right to be concerned.

In their letter, Burke and Neale requested written responses from Sequoia after what was described as "evasive" and "troublesome" sworn testimony from Blaine the previous year, following "malfunctions of Sequoia voting machines during primary elections held on March 21, 2006."

In his testimony before a Chicago City Council joint committee in April of 2006, Blaine had claimed he didn't know the specific details of the financial arrangement that existed between Sequoia Voting Systems, Inc. and the Smartmatic Corporation, despite being president of both companies at the time. He did, however, manage to admit to the joint committee that at least 15 Venezuelan nationals were flown in to assist in the tabulation of votes in the troubled March '06 election and that the Venezuelans had access to Sequoia's source code. Blaine also conceded that it was "possible" that Chavez' government could hold an interest in the company, but that he wasn't certain because the ownership of Smartmatic was concealed in an off-shore trust.

In their series of follow-up questions to Blaine in January 2008, Alderman Burke noted that "the entire Smartmatic episode has served as a reminder of how important it is to know and trust who is counting the votes in our elections."

"It is therefore important," he continued, "to confirm that the sale of Sequoia by Smartmatic is not a sham transaction designed to fool regulators and to further confirm that Smartmatic and the government of Venezuela have no ability to influence or control the new owners of Sequoia."

Blaine's written responses to the officials, sent to Neale the following week, were dishonest, misleading, and even cleverly evasive on at least one crucially important point. His answers also contradict details recently exposed in a series of investigative exclusives by the Brad Blog, revealing several startling facts about the true ownership and control of Sequoia.

Moreover, after we broke the news in April, concerning the attempted hostile takeover of Sequoia by competitor Hart InterCivic, Blaine appeared to joke with employees during a confidential company-wide "town hall" teleconference about "the line" he used with yet another Chicago official, Cook County Clerk, David Orr. "He accepted it completely," Blaine told employees, as he underscored the importance of keeping details of the attempted takeover confidential, and how he was being less than forthcoming about it with the company's customers ...

Lying About Smartmatic's Control of Sequoia

In November of last year, as a federal investigation by the Treasury Department's CFIUS was closing in on the true provenance of Smartmatic's shadowy ownership, and after a failed attempt to find an outside buyer for the company, Blaine and several other Sequoia and/or Smartmatic executives formed SVS Holdings Inc., and proceeded to purchase Sequoia from the parent company.

However, a recent series of exclusive Brad Blog investigative reports has revealed that the sale, which succeeded in moving CFIUS to end their official review of the matter, was not what it seemed to be.

Recent court documents unearthed and published by the Brad Blog, detailing the terms of the attempted hostile takeover of Sequoia by competitor Hart InterCivic, make clear that Smartmatic still retains the intellectual property (IP) rights over Sequoia's popular, if oft-failed e-voting systems, as well as licensing control of the software used in their voting machines and tabulators.

The April 2008 opinion [PDF] by Delaware's Court of Chancery Vice Chancellor Stephen P. Lamb also disclosed an element of the confidential agreement struck between CFIUS and Smartmatic last year, which had apparently disallowed even "indirect" control over Sequoia Voting Systems, Inc. by the Venezuelan firm.

However, as we reported in late April, statements made by Blaine himself, during a confidential company-wide teleconference convened to explain the attempted hostile takeover in the wake of our report, confirmed that Sequoia has no claim to the IP rights of voting systems bearing the name Sequoia, including those electronic systems recently purchased by Cook County and the Chicago Board of Elections. Rather, it is Smartmatic that retains control of those rights, as the software itself is used by Sequoia under a continuing licensing agreement with the off-shore company which continues to supply the hardware and software used in Venezuelan elections under Chavez. Blaine's January '08 letter [PDF], in response to Alderman Burke and Chairman Neal's letter [PDF] earlier that month, claims -- at least three times -- that his management-led buy-out team had "completely eliminated" Smartmatic's "ownership, control and operational rights of any kind in Sequoia."

"Any rumors or speculation to the contrary are wrong and unfounded," Blaine wrote to the Chicago officials.

Blaine's thrice-repeated line was the same one, word for word, used by Sequoia in their official announcement of "new corporate ownership" in November of 2007 as they appeared to be breaking away from Smartmatic. In describing the general details of the financial arrangement, the press release used what would become Blaine's Chicago boiler plate explanation, that the deal "completely eliminates Smartmatic's ownership, control and operational rights of any kind in Sequoia."

But our reporting to date -- and Blaine's curious failure to respond at all to one key question from Burke, while offering answers, accurate or otherwise, to all the others -- demonstrates that Blaine blatantly misled the Chicago officials in response to their well-merited concerns.

"It Doesn't Matter Whether We Have the IP or Not"

During the April 11th, 2008 conference call which Blaine convened to explain the attempted Hart takeover to his employees, after we broke the story, he was confronted with a question from an employee about one of the details in our report. The employee asked about the ownership of the Intellectual Property (IP) rights of the voting systems sold in the United States by Sequoia.

"It doesn't matter whether you have the IP rights, or you don't have the IP rights," Blaine explained on the call that he'd repeatedly stressed should remain confidential. His comments were in direct contradiction to both what he'd told the Chicago officials in January and what his company had been representing to election officials and in courtrooms across the country.

"We have the source code, and we have the right to modify it any way we want to modify it," he explained to the employee, concerning the company's ongoing licensing agreement with Smartmatic. "So it doesn't matter really whether we have the IP or not."

He then went on to claim that he didn't care all that much about those IP rights during his negotiations the previous year with Smartmatic.

"I didn't particularly want the IP ... As we've discussed in the past, I believe we've really come across the perfect time to change our portfolio going forward. And it's not gonna be dependent on the Smartmatic technology, or the IP or anything else. It's gonna be dependent on what we collectively believe the market, and what the future standards, will require."

While intending to "maintain" existing voting systems they'd sold, now in use across the United States, he was more interested in selling the company's new line of voting machines, "code named: System Nine", as he elucidated to his underlings.

The admission was quite a departure from his repeated written claims to Chicago's Alderman and Chair of their Election Commission, that "Smartmatic has no ownership, control and operational rights of any kind in Sequoia."

Additionally, the Delaware court documents also revealed that Smartmatic had succeeded in including an interesting non-compete provision in their negotiations to sell Sequoia to Hart. The proposed agreement would bar Hart from competing with Smartmatic for elections business in a number of foreign countries.

"Hart promises not to compete with Smartmatic in Latin America, the Philippines, and Belgium," Vice Chancellor Lamb wrote in describing the proposed Hart/Smartmatic agreement. "In return, Smartmatic promises to grant Hart a license to use its intellectual property found in Sequoia's machines."

The written opinion from Lamb further underscores the control Smartmatic retains over Sequoia, and which they will likely continue to retain whether or not Hart is successful in their takeover attempt.

The management team who had purchased Sequoia, Blaine's SVS Holdings Inc., has the right in their original contract to match the deal from Hart. Sources at both companies confirm that Sequoia/SVS is attempting to do exactly that, and may even be successful (we hope to have more, in the near future, on the attempts by Sequoia/SVS to save themselves, and the extraordinary financial measures and risks they are currently undertaking to try and do so.)

So whether SVS Holdings or Hart InterCivic wrestles some of the company away from Smartmatic, which currently holds a $2 million loan note from SVS' original "purchase" of the company, the Venezuelan Chavez-tied firm will still have control over software licensing rights and intellectual property rights for the voting systems used in some 20% of U.S. elections.

Smartmatic also has the continuing right to determine where Sequoia may or may not do business outside of the U.S.

All, in direct contradiction to claims that last years "new corporate ownership" had "completely eliminate[d] Smartmatic's ownership, control and operational rights of any kind in Sequoia."

For their part, Hart InterCivic, a direct competitor of Sequoia's, who Blaine told his employees on the conference call currently maintains control of some 8% of the election industry in the U.S., has troubles of their own. They are facing a company whistleblower's federal fraud lawsuit unsealed last March.

No matter what, it seems, those who've gone into business with Sequoia will be saddled with Smartmatic whether they know it, or like it, or not. And worse, they may possibly even be forced to do business with a company facing a federal false claims lawsuit to boot.

As if Blaine's thrice-stated written deception to the two Chicago officials wasn't blatant enough, he appears to have attempted to fool the officials regarding these same points in one other curious point in his written reply. The January 11, 2008 letter from Alderman Burke and Chairman Neal had requested Blaine answer and/or produce supporting documents in response to a series of bulleted questions.

Most of those questions were re-typed in Blaine's response, and numbered, (eg. "Ald. Burke Question #1") preceding each answer offered in response by Blaine.

But one question/request -- which would have been #5 -- was completely skipped by Blaine in his responses. Given his sequential numbering of the previously un-numbered questions, the "oversight" was easy to miss, since question #6 became numbered as question #5 and so on. Only close comparison with the original reveals that Blaine disappeared one of the questions entirely.

The question/request which Blaine failed to even address in his response:

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An Opposing View on the Progressive Voting Machines Debate

This article by Brad Friedman addresses some of the arguments on voting machines and election reform put forth in a recent AlterNet article by Steven Rosenfeld, "Are Voting Machine Purists Standing in the Way of Reform?".

The Saturday before last I was interviewed on Air America's Ring of Fire with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Mike Papantonio concerning my call for the Election Reform Bill (HR811) by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) to be amended to include a full ban on Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, usually touch-screen) voting systems.

The interview was pre-taped, and an edited-for-time version was aired. The complete, unedited version of that 15 minute interview, along with a text-transcript is now posted here.

This past Saturday, Ralph Neas, the president of People for the American Way (PFAW), one of the groups supporting the Holt Bill as is, and fighting against a ban on DRE voting systems, was interviewed on Ring of Fire. I had been critical of PFAW's unwaivering support of the bill during my interview the week before (as I have been in many articles here and elsewhere), so Bobby Kennedy asked Neas, a number of times, to answer directly to some of my criticisms.

The audio of that interview as well as a text-transcript, is also now posted here.

Now before I get to a huge number of concerns about the Neas interview and what I see as the dangerous PFAW position, and not to stack the deck (but I will anyway), Papantonio concluded his interview with me as follows, which I then promised to quote on the blog, so here it is ...

PAPANTONIO: Brad, would you do me a favor?

BRAD: Yeah...

PAPANTONIO: I have followed your career, and I followed you on these issues, from day one almost. I am involved in litigation as you know. If I'm betting on anybody to be right, it's you. Now what I want you to do is let your people know that. Somehow --- your blog is incredible, I think it's the most incredible blog out there on this issue --- let 'em know that people that are actually involved in the litigation, that we think you're right. We think you're right.

There is no is meaningless to create a "paper trail" if the "paper trail" can't be recovered inside the machine, inside the mechanism and we can't see something that's left a mark, if it has not left a mark in that machine, forget it. It's GOP thuggery politics as usual.

Brad, I want to thank you for joining us as usual...Ya know, every time I talk to you, you have the information. My bet is on you on this one. Thanks a lot.

BRAD: Thank you, brother. I'll quote ya on the blog.

PAPANTONIO: Alright, appreciate it.
With that promise kept, on to the extraordinarily troubling Neas interview.

First, let me be clear: While I appreciate Neas and PFAW's advocacy for Election Reform in America, the bottom line is that they are drop dead wrong on the issue of whether we should allow dangerous, disenfranchising DREs for use in our electoral system.

So are the other large public-advocacy groups who are marching behind PFAW on this, including Common Cause, MoveOn, VoteTrustUSA and others.

That PFAW is actually advocating in favor of DRE use in our electoral system --- as you'll see in Neas' interview --- is simply astounding and beyond my capacity, thus far, to understand. But I have tried.

I have worked long and hard, quietly in the background, with people from all of the above named groups in hopes of finding common ground. I don't like public rifts between "the good guys", which I consider all of those folks to be, especially since such a fight only tends to serve the true bad guys in this fight (voting machines companies, elections officials who won't admit they screwed up by buying into the voting machine company lies, etc.). But I have been unsuccessful. All of those groups named above are still sticking with Holt, it seems, come hell, highwater, scientific evidence, reasoned argument, common sense and even against what most of them actually know to be the right thing.

I've had a number of lengthy telephone and email conversations with both Neas and their lead election policy attorney, David Becker, as well as others at PFAW on this matter, in order to try and find out why they continue to support a technology which mountains of scientific evidence has shown to be an unmitigatable menace to democracy. In all such conversations with them, productive and cordial as they were, they have time and again failed to offer any actual science or empirical study to back up their position. They've offered little more than anecdotal evidence, at best, to support their continued assertions that "DREs better serve the blind, disabled and language minority communities."

Further, in Neas' RoF interview last Saturday, he actually indicated that he might like to see Los Angeles (where I live!) convert from our current paper-based ballot system to an all-DRE system!

To say the least, I'm greatly troubled by that.

I'm further troubled by the fact that Neas also, whether purposely or not (I know that Holt's office has been putting out a great deal of misinformation about their bill, and yes, I can prove it) misrepresented a number of the provisions of the Holt bill on national radio. Big time.

Though I admit to being wholly stymied by PFAW's continued, unsupportable position --- even while other groups who once supported DREs have since had the courage and common-sense to change their tune after seeing the dangers and failures of DREs first hand, as thousands, if not millions, were disenfranchised by these god-forsaken machines during the 2006 election cycle --- I will not suggest any nefarious intentions behind PFAW's support of the Holt bill as written. Namely, because I have no evidence to support any such nefarious intentions behind their support, and I only report what I can actually prove.

I presume that PFAW honestly believes in what they are advocating, despite the complete lack of demonstrable evidence to back up their position, and despite my best efforts to supply them with a mountain of actual evidence to show that they are simply wrong.

Unfortunately, PFAW has the big guns on Capitol Hill, the access, the mailing-list numbers, the regular access to the mainstream media and a multi-million dollar budget to make it all happen. I've got me, a blog where I'm forced to beg for small donations when I can (like that), a bunch of tireless fellow rag-tag citizen patriots around the country on my side and fighting like hell-fire for Election Integrity any way that they can and, in this case, we happen to have the facts and the truth on our side.

Let's hope that will eventually win the day.

But first, before I get really tough on PFAW here --- as this is damned dangerous stuff which I see them as recklessly advocating for --- the niceties...


"Bobby Kennedy Jr., Brad Friedman and Ralph Neas all agree on this part: comprehensive election reform is the top legislative priority facing the country right now," Neas said near the top of last weekend's interview. I both agree with him, and appreciate his sentiments there.

Later, Bobby then went on to ask Neas directly about a number of the points about which I've been critical of both the Holt Bill and PFAW's support thereof.

(DISCLOSURE: I will again point out that I had a hand in helping Holt's office write the legislation, as they kindly allowed me the opportunity to review drafts, give feedback, suggest language changes and the additions of key new provisions. Many of those suggestions and provisions were included in the final bill, though not all of them --- including my persistent urging that they add language which would ban DRE systems from use.)

"Bobby, very importantly, I'm a fan of Brad Friedman," Neas responded after he was asked directly about my concerns. "I think he's a patriotic American. I think he really is committed to providing accessible, secure voting systems and we've talked to him for hours, Bobby, and they're always good conversations."

Again, I thank Neas for the comments, and assure you that I too appreciate his hard work in favor of Election Reform. I have extremely supportive, over the last several months, of PFAW's work on the FL-13 Jennings/Buchanan election contest, for example. I will, of course, continue to support their work there and wherever else it merits such support.

During the Neas interview, Bobby characterized me as "one of the Paul Reveres" of the Election Integrity movement, which I certainly appreciate as well.

And with that now out of the way...

NEAS' FIRST INACCURACY: "The Holt bill provides for paper ballots"

With all of those niceties, out of the way then...Neas goes on to say, when asked by Bobby to describe some of my concerns about the Holt bill as drafted, that I "would argue that paper trails are different than paper ballots and [that] this bill doesn't truly require paper ballots."

The "Holt bill provides for paper ballots," Neas asserted earlier in the interview, adding later that those paper ballots, "whether optical-scan or DRE, they're treated the same way under the Holt bill"

No. They're not. Though the Holt bill, in this latest iteration, describes all paper records as "paper ballots", it does not require that all of those "paper ballots" actually be paper ballots.

True paper ballots are actually tabulated --- either by optical-scan or hand. But they are tabulated.

DRE paper trail records, however --- which the Holt bill misleadingly refers to as "paper ballots" --- will never actually be tabulated by anybody or any thing on Election Night as the bill is currently written. And only a tiny minority (usually 3%) will ever be tabulated by anybody or any thing --- and that will only be days after the Election is already over --- in an audit process.

As well, there was a provision slipped into the Holt bill in the final draft that would allow 0% of DRE paper trails to ever be counted by anybody or any thing in cases where a race was close enough to trigger an automatic state-mandated recount. In other words, precisely when such an audit might be needed the most (and I'd argue it's always needed if ballots are to be counted by notoriously inaccurate optical-scan machines) no manual audit of any paper record, ballot or trail, need ever be done, according to Holt.

Neas again, in indented text:

"Either under the opti-scan or DRE, they both produce paper ballots..."

Simply untrue. Unless you mean that a "ballot" in an American election is something which will most likely never actually be tabulated by anybody or any thing.

"...They are both fed into the software..."

Absolutely untrue. While a paper ballot might be scanned by an optical-scan machine, or otherwise counted by hand, a paper trail produced by a DRE is not "fed into the software". It is never counted at all. Instead, the results of the election are taken from an internal, invisible machine count of an electronic representation of the voters selections which are never verified by the human voter.

PLEASE NOTE: It is simply impossible for any human being to verify an electronic ballot as tabulated inside a DRE system.

"...under the Holt bill, the voter has an opportunity to verify it, number one..."

Wrong again. As mentioned, an electronic ballot on a DRE can never be verified by the voter or any other human being (not even Superman). The only thing they can verify on a DRE is a paper trail. One that is not used for tabulation of election results and which, as studies such as those done by MIT and others, have revealed that most voters do not even bother to verify.

"...and number two, if there's an audit, then the audit has to look at the paper ballot..."

Note his "if". He's correct, if there's an audit, the audit will look at a tiny portion of the paper trails or the paper ballots, whichever one exists. However, they will never look at more than 10% of those trails or records and in most cases 97% of them will go completely unaudited. Worse, in some cases, as mentioned above, 100% of them will go unaudited and perhaps even uncounted in the first place by anybody or any thing.


Bobby then says (not wholly accurately, but he may not know better) that "Brad wants to ban touch-screens."

Neas, who certainly should know better, then agrees, and discusses the "scores of disabilities organizations and language minority groups" who PFAW works with, in order to suggest that such groups favor DREs either because of their accessibility for disabled voters, or the ability to provide ballots in different languages.

Setting aside that, as it turns out, paper ballots are also now printable in every language, the sleight-of-hand that Neas accomplished in agreeing that I wish to "ban touch-screens" is no small semantic point.

By suggesting that "touch-screens" are the same as DREs in this context, and are either needed or preferred by disabled and language minority voting advocates as he named above, he has avoided the very linchpin of this debate. And it's no small linchpin.

TO CLARIFY (and please read this carefully!): A DRE, by its definition, directly records the voters selections internally, inside the computer, onto computer memory, without allowing the voter to verify it. A DRE often uses a touch-screen interface. However, some touch-screen systems like the AutoMARK --- which are perfectly acceptable for disabilities voters who wish to use them --- are merely ballot marking devices or electronic ballot printer/markers with a touch-screen interface. They do not tabulate the vote or create an unverifiable record of the vote as DREs do. They simply assist a disabled voter and print out a ballot with their selections to be verified by the voter, and then counted by another means, such as op-scan or hand count.

If Neas and PFAW and the groups he says they work with truly want accessible, verifiable voting interfaces for such voters, a system which has a touch-screen interface, but does not dangerously tabulate unverified and unverifiable votes, is perfectly fine for optional use by such voters.

Neas then goes on to repeat the old "disabilities and language minorities" canard, about which I've written and spoken many times --- including to Neas himself in a lengthy phone call with him and several other PFAW folks a little over a week or so ago.

He says:

"The people who have been on the ground, for decades, working with these machines, prefer the DREs if they represent the disabilities organizations or the language minority organizations."

Wrong. Those groups who "prefer the DREs" are either misinformed about them, and unaware that there are alternative ballot marking devices available (such as I've described above) which provide the same accessible interface, but do not pose the same unacceptable risks as DREs, or --- like the National Federation for the Blind (NFB) and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) --- they have received money from the voting machine companies themselves and are therefore, wholly compromised in this debate and should not be a part of it. (NFB has received $1 million from Diebold, and Jim Dickson, who frequently testifies to Congress and has extraordinary access on behalf of AAPD has taken at least $16,000 from voting machine companies, according to the NY Times...Both groups have been fiercely advocating for them ever since, and Dickson has gone as far as to insist, for years, that all voters must use DRE systems without even "paper trails" on them!)

Many of the folks who haven't taken money from the voting machine companies, like blind technology expert Noel Runyan who, I'm now told will thankfully now be testifying before a Congressional hearing this Friday, have called for "an immediate ban" on the use of DRE systems. He has led the way with advocates from the community, in an attempt to counter the NFB and AAPD garbage, and has said that the current DRE systems are simply unacceptable for use by the blind and disabilities communities.

Runyan wrote a full report, "Improving Access to Voting", released by and last month decrying the inaccessibility and unverifiability of DRE systems for blind and disabled voters. More recently, as we reported last week, he released a statement calling for "an immediate ban" on DRE systems. That statement has so far been signed by nearly 40 blind and disabled voting rights leaders.

"Electronic ballot systems such as the direct record electronic (DRE) in use," the statement from Runyan and the others reads, "have quickly proven to be neither fully accessible to all voters nor secure and accurate methods of recording, tallying, and reporting votes. While the goal of private voting has been achieved by some voters, this has often been without meaningful assurance that our votes have been counted as cast."

It goes on to say that DRE systems "are inappropriate for use, because these systems make it impossible for voters to verify that their votes will be counted as cast."

(I interviewed Runyan last Saturday while sitting in as Guest Host of on Air America/Nova M Pheonix. That interview is right here [MP3, appx. 30 mins])

Lida Rodriguez-Taseff of the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition (MDERC) who has been one of the nation's most outspoken advocates for language minority voters, recently joined in signing Runyan's statement.

As well, Dolores Huerta, one of the nation's leading Hispanic civil rights advocates, founder of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, has similarly joined the call for a ban on DRE voting systems.

As if all of that isn't enough, a recent study revealed that once New Mexico banned DREs after their disasterous experience with them in 2004, and moved to all paper-based balloting in 2006, the rate of undervoting in minority precincts plummeted --- a full 85% in Native American communities and 69% in Hispanic precincts!

And yet, PFAW still claims support for language minority voters as one of their key reasons for not only supporting the Holt bill as is, but advocating in favor of DRE system use for such minorities!

What am I missing here?! When I asked them directly about that point during our phone call a week or two ago, I was told that the study I referred to "didn't make it clear whether or not there was actually comprehension by those voters...that we don't actually know if those voters knew what they were voting for or not."



Next, Neas goes on, in the interview, to make one of the most troubling points I've heard. (A point which was also, disturbingly, made to me by one of the other PFAW folks during a previous phone call.)

Neas speaks about Los Angeles --- the town where I've lived for ten years or so. He does not live here, but I do. He talks about all of the different language minority voters that live here --- we have some 8 million voters in this county alone, more than many full states --- and he goes on to seemingly advocate for our current paper-based InkaVote system to be replaced with ALL DRE SYSTEMS!

Excuse me?!

By the way, whether Neas knows this or not, California already requires that any voter who wishes to vote on a paper ballot must be allowed to do so. Thus, despite the fact that we already must have, by state law, enough paper ballots in all of the needed languages for voters at our polling places, PFAW would like --- if Neas is to be taken at his word --- to have paper ballots present, but not used, and instead leave the majority of votes to be cast on dangerous, inaccurate, ridiculously expensive, unverifiable, easily hackable DRE systems.

As mentioned, I appreciate Neas and PFAW's efforts to rally Congress and the country in favor of election reform, but they are simply and wholly and completely dead wrong in their support --- and even advocacy --- for DRE systems in our democracy. And, as his comments suggest, I'd say dangerously so.

With all due respect, Mr. Neas and PFAW: Please keep your hands off of my electoral system in Los Angeles!!!


A few more items.

Neas goes on to admit that both professors Avi Rubin and David Dill --- two of the country's most respected computer scientists and voting machine experts --- support a ban of DREs, but are going along with support of the Holt bill because, as they've been told (by Holt's office, I've yet to find any other office who concurs), that if the bill was amended to include a DRE ban it couldn't be passed by Congress.

What Rubin said recently, in characterizing his 3/7/07 testimony at a Congressional hearing on the matter, is that: "After four years of studying the issue, I now believe that a DRE with a VVPAT (voter-verified paper audit trails) is not a reasonable voting system."

Prior to that, he wrote in his blog: "Personally, I would support a ban on all DREs, with paper trails or without."

Dill has privately made the same point, along with just about every other computer scientist I've spoken to. And yet, it seems a number of them are supporting Holt anyway under the same false presumption that a DRE ban would kill the bill.

If they believe that, as Neas seems to, with all due respect to such folks: They've been had. They are scientists and voting systems experts, not politicians. It would be nice if they all simply helped to inform those in Congress who must vote on this matter by speaking loudly and clearly about what it is they know, from their scientific perspective, to be necessary for Election Integrity: That DREs cannot be used safely in a democracy. If they all said that, outloud, as many of them have said quietly, Congress would be insane to institutionalize such systems for years to come in the face of such expert testimony.

It would be nice if, beyond that, the scientists would leave the politics of the matter to those who are experts in politics, like the politicians. Especially since some of the political offices in play here have been, um, less than honest in the course of their assiduous advocacy for this legislation.

Last point of note for now; Neas says "our fiercest opponent is time," hoping that the bill can be passed by both the House and the Senate "by the Summer at latest, so that the state and county governments can actually implement the reforms" in time for the 2008 Presidential Election.

Worried about time? Me too. Ban DREs today, and almost every other voting system already available is by and large good to go, and will meet the requirements of the Holt bill (presuming their manufacturers will disclose the source code they use, as mandated, etc.)

Real, paper-based, paper ballot producing optical-scan voting systems can be used tomorrow. The president of the nation's largest maker of them, ES&S, has already said they would have no trouble adapting the software for multi-language use.

On the other hand, there is no DRE currently on the market which meets either the word or the spirit of the Holt bill (even if other casual, if forewarned-about loopholes remaining in Holt would allow a bad-guy Secretary of State, like Ohio's J. Kenneth Blackwell, to declare the current DRE systems, with terrible reel-to-reel paper trails, as acceptable for use under Holt...another unfortunate by-product of sloppy legislation.)

Beyond that, any new DRE technology will have to go through a full round of new testing and certification processes which will be very hard to do legitimately prior to the 2008 election cycle (not that legitimate testing has ever been the hallmark of our nation's "certification" process).

If PFAW and the others were truly worried about a bill that can be implemented in time for 2008, they'd join those of us calling for the Holt bill to be amended to include a full and immediate ban on DRE voting systems. You can call on such a ban by Congress by clicking here. Please spread the word. For democracy's sake. We don't have anywhere near the resources that PFAW and friends do. All we have, as I mentioned at the top of this long piece, is the truth and the facts. So it'll be up to you to take action and reclaim your democracy.

The audio and text transcripts from both Brad Friedman's and Ralph Neas respective interviews on Ring of Fire with RFK Jr. and Mike Papantonio are now posted here...

False Choices in the Debate on Voting Technology

American democracy cannot afford another questionable presidential election. Anybody disagree? The good news is that over the course of the last few years -- through the exhaustive and tireless work of an extraordinarily dedicated, rag-tag band of citizen patriots I call "The Election Integrity Movement" -- both the public and most of our politicians have finally come to understand that we have a serious problem with our electoral system.

The bad news is that, while they've finally discovered there's a problem -- unreliable, inaccurate, hackable voting machines, which count our public elections with secret software created by private companies -- the politicians, specifically the Democrats, and many of their public advocacy groups, have gotten the solution wrong. The answer is not "paper trails," that will never be counted, attached to touch-screen voting systems. The answer is paper ballots that are actually tabulated, either by optical-scan or hand-count. Seems simple enough, I know. But apparently not.

At The BRAD BLOG, we've been discussing the pros and cons of Rep. Rush Holt's (D-NJ) new Election Reform bill HR 811 since it dropped about two weeks ago in the House. It has a lot of co-sponsors and traction, and there is much good in it. Some of its features include requirements for publicly-disclosed software, greatly increased restrictions on the use of the Internet and other networking, a ban on insane voting machine "sleepovers" at pollworkers' houses prior to elections, mandatory random audits of results, and a requirement for a "durable and archival paper ballot for every vote cast. Trouble is, Holt's bill never requires that the "durable and archival paper ballot" actually be tabulated. And that was no mistake.

I was allowed to give input to Holt's office with each draft of the new legislation -- an update, and a great improvement, to his Election Reform bill from the last session (HR 550) which, thanks to former-Rep. Bob Ney and the Republicans, never even made it to mark-up in committee. With each successive draft of the new bill, I suggested language that would require those "paper ballots" actually be tabulated, and each time, that language was not added.

Why? Because if such a requirement existed, Direct Recording Electronic (DRE/touch-screen) devices would effectively be banned forever from American elections in the bargain.

Sounds good to me. Given the number of legally-registered voters (thousands, if not millions) who were unable to even cast a vote due to DRE break-downs during the 2006 election cycle -- something that doesn't happen with a paper-based optical-scan or hand-counted system, which allows a voter to vote no matter what -- and the number of votes that were either flipped, recorded incorrectly or not at all by such touch-screen systems, it would seem to be a no-brainer that it's time to ban them all together.

Even the new Republican Governor of Florida now wants to replace his state's DRE machines with optical-scan systems. And, every computer scientist and computer expert I've ever spoken with agrees that op-scans are far safer for use in elections than DRE's.

Yet, Holt won't call for a ban on DREs in his legislation, and a number of the largest Democratic-based public-advocacy and civil rights groups don't want to ban them either. They are willing to support the dangerous Holt bill as is. So what the hell is going on here?

Here's what's going on: Supporters of the legislation are using three false dichotomies opportunistically and/or disingenuously and/or naively to help see it passed by Congress.

Democrats who support the bill, along with their closely-allied public advocacy groups -- such as Common Cause, PFAW, MoveOn, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, VoteTrustUSA, and the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition -- are currently unable or unwilling to show the necessary courage to insist upon the banning of disenfranchising, failed DRE/touch-screen voting system technology from all American elections.

And this is happening despite the fact that most of those groups actually agree --- and will admit privately, if not always publicly --- that DRE technology has no place in our electoral system.

Collectively, the following three arguments are being used to shore up support for a bill which offers much good, yet ultimately may prove to be as dangerous as the disastrous Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which set aside $3.8 billion federal tax dollars to "upgrade" America's electoral system with these god-forsaken machines.

We need an Election Reform bill. But we don't need another bad one. If Holt moves forward as written (and here are several well-constructed suggestions for much-needed amendments to it as well as an action or two you can take to get lawmakers attention) the bill risks becoming known as HAVA 2 by 2008. And this time, the Democrats won't have the Republicans or HAVA's main author, Bob Ney (he's in prison), to blame for the fiasco ...

FALSE DICHOTOMY #1: It's Either Holt or Hand-Counted Paper Ballots ...

The first of the three false dichotomies being forwarded by some of the bill's supporters is to suggest that there are only two choices: Pass the Holt bill 'as is,' or continue an unwinnable campaign for all hand-counted paper ballots (HCPB).

The now oft-repeated intimation is the very definition of a strawman, a canard, and a truly disingenuous false dichotomy.

While Hand-Counted Paper Ballots might be swell and offer maximum transparency and citizen oversight --- as well as not being nearly as difficult or unwieldy to accomplish as many under-informed folks may believe --- the majority of Holt detractors, including myself, are not fighting for hand-counted paper ballots at this time.

Banning DREs does not mean ballots must be counted by hand. Most supporters of the Holt Bill know that --- or should, if they don't --- yet seem to be using the false argument when convenient to distract from the real shortcomings and concerns of the Holt legislation.

Optical-scan systems, while also presenting their own security and accuracy concerns, could easily and safely be used with publicly-disclosed source code and a mandatory random hand-audit protocol of a sufficient number of ballots to achieve 99 percent scientific certainty that the reported results of any optically-scanned election are correct.

Suggesting that those who understand the need for a complete ban on failed DRE technology are actually demanding HCPB is a cheap and unsubstantiated political tactic, unworthy of this necessary debate. It serves only to confuse at a time when all well-meaning Election Integrity advocates (and I include Holt in that group) ought to be having a legitimate discussion/debate about these most important matters.

FALSE DICHOTOMY #2: Take Holt or Get Nothing (or Something Even Worse) ...

The next false dichotomy being used either disingenuously or naively by Holt supporters is the notion that "if we don't accept this legislation 'as is' we'll get either nothing or something far worse." Nonsense.

If all of the Democrats and their public-advocacy group supporters stood up today and demanded a ban on all DRE technology in elections, it would be a done deal. The only thing keeping such a provision from being included in a Federal Election Reform bill is the will to do so, as fostered by the trademark fear that Democrats seem to display when it comes to leading the same American People who put them into office in hopes of such leadership.

If Democrats learned to speak up for themselves and set the agenda instead of following the one set by the Republicans and the right-leaning corporate media, they'd easily be able to make their case to the American people and help them understand that a DRE/touch-screen voting machine that fails equates to hundreds or even thousands of lost votes in each precinct where such a failure occurs.

At its heart, the argument instead comes down to the wishes of the Voting Machine Companies and the nation's Elections Officials, many of whom have sold their souls and our democracy to those same companies. Neither of those groups wish to ban DREs. The former because they stand to make far more money from the sale of DREs (dozens of systems per precinct, instead of a single op-scan machine per polling place,) and the latter because replacing their recently-purchased systems would be too expensive, or force them to admit they were in error in the first place, or otherwise make their jobs more difficult on a number of levels. For example, they'd actually have to tabulate the ballots of voters and make sure the tabulation was correct.

FALSE DICHOTOMY #3: We Must Allow for DREs or 'Language Minority' Voters Will Be Disenfranchised ...

This last one is, perhaps, the most disturbing and currently the toughest to overcome, for reasons you'll discover shortly.

Despite the Holt bill's dangerous institutionalization of DRE voting systems, it seems that several advocacy groups, for whatever reason, have conveniently been hypnotized into believing that the continued use of DREs is actually a civil rights issue.

The tortured, backwards logic at work here is remarkable, considering that, even in a worst-case scenario, the Holt bill could easily be amended to allow for a single DRE system in each polling place as an optional voting device for disabled voters who wish to use it. (NOTE: Even that is unnecessary, since there are many alternate options for disabled voters that don't require the use of such failed, inaccurate technology.)

The latest public-advocacy canard then is the notion that "language minority" voters --- those whose first language is not English --- are somehow better served by faulty DRE technology than by paper ballots, printed in their own language, and counted either by optical-scan or by hand. The wholly misguided, unsubstantiated, and, in fact, counter-intuitive pretense is that banning DREs would somehow disenfranchise minorities.

The argument is utter hogwash. I welcome any actual evidence that shows I'm wrong, and will happily retract this editorial in the bargain if anyone can do so.

Even if one accepts the dubious argument that somehow a computerized touch-screen interface is better than a printed paper ballot for language minority voters, there are better alternatives to DREs, such as ballot marking devices like the AutoMARK system. Such devices include the same touch-screen computer interface as a DRE, but simply print out the voter's ballot to be counted by either optical-scan or hand.

I am aware of no legitimate reasons to use DRE technology in American democracy.

Congratulations to at least one Democrat, Maxine Waters, who has figured this out and has announced her intention to withdraw her co-sponsorship of the Holt bill in hopes that it will be amended.

THE DEMONSTRABLE, SUBSTANTIATED TRUTH: DREs Are a Menace to both Democracy and Civil Rights,_and It's Time to be Honest about That ...

DREs disenfranchise Left and Right, Black and White, and everything in between and to either side. Those of us paying very close attention learned that much, week after week, during the 2006 Election Cycle. The result is that many supporters of the previous Holt Legislation (HR 550), as written during the last Congress, have now withheld their support from the 'new and improved' bill since it does not close the door on the failed DRE technology once and for all.

The risks to America are too serious to do otherwise. Even if Holt's overly-optimistic supporters turn out to be correct and everything in his bill works precisely as designed, the fact is that confidence in our election system is as important to its ongoing viability as anything else.

As long as Americans are unable to ensure for themselves -- with their own eyeballs if necessary -- that any given election result is accurate and correctly reflects the will of the voters, the value of democracy in this country will continue to erode. The simple task of any election, at its heart, is a not-at-all-complicated process of adding one plus one plus one. Only full transparency in all stages of that simple task will begin to bring American democracy back from the precipice over which it now dangerously hangs.

There are many fights ahead in the battle for Electoral Integrity, but none, for the moment, is more important than a full ban on DREs in order to begin the process of restoring both transparency and confidence in American elections.

The sooner we can dispense with the unhelpful false dichotomies and phony and/or opportunistic and/or unsubstantiated arguments, the sooner we can reach the goal that I believe most Democrats, and Democratic-leaning public interest groups, are truly aiming for: Electoral Integrity in America.

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