Okay, this might have been funny at one time:
Critical election process and validity issues today are anything but humorous, and yet it seems to be getting worse. The bottom line is simple: If we want America to be the Grandest Banana Republic on earth, we’re on the way. But without a valid democratic election process in place, we can not be considered a Democratic Republic.
Absentee voting – 7 million and growing
No one disagrees that eligible American voters living abroad should be able to vote in our elections without undue complication, yet year after year, and war after war, they are the most disenfranchised group of voters since before the civil rights movement in the 1960s. While soldiers in the field, especially wounded and disabled soldiers, present obvious challenges, timely inclusion of their votes seems like a mission impossible. Any voting process that is problematic for an estimated seven million Americans needs an overhaul – but convenience should not trump election integrity. At this time, all forms of electronic voting equipment and cyber ballot returns are less than secure.
Trial and error attempts to make voting more convenient have been expensive in more ways than one.
A little background: Convenience results in compromise.
A 2001 congressional order for a “specific provision” by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2002, moved the ballot transit issue away from the mail and into cyberspace. “The project shall be carried out with participation of sufficient numbers of absent uniformed services voters so that the results are statistically relevant.”
“We find the report quite troubling.”
Security consultants at Johns Hopkins University went public with this news release. The same security experts who authored the 2004 report had to issue another statement three years later in response to a 2007 DOD report expressing their continued concerns over the lack of security for proposed Internet voting. And yet, the Development Guidelines for the program still clearly state (pdf):
“• Spring, 2013 – Lessons Learned Analysis: After the 2012 election, FVAP … will provide information to EAC and its advisory boards on the results of the pilot, including the success and shortcomings of the pilot and lessons learned.”
Public right to authenticate and public right to self-govern are basic and essential principles of a democratic election – and not possible with Internet voting.
Cyber attacks are part of our own routine military espionage, and blow-back from that continues to demonstrate that the Department of Defense cannot even insure the Pentagon’s classified information. If that’s the best we can do to protect military secrets at the Pentagon, so be it – but should we be throwing our elections into this cyber and electronic hacking madness that no one can control? No.
Another bad trend is the diminishing right to a secret ballot. Whether secrecy is waived as a convenience for timely receipt of overseas ballots, or whether voter identification is covertly linked to voted ballots, it corrupts the democratic process and needs to be stopped.
When our government and the vendors it hires are concealing their ability to know and store our voting records, it should be headline news in every paper and news broadcast. That doesn’t happen with our media, but fortunately we have well-respected election and voting reform activists, like Bev Harris, executive director of Black Box Voting, Inc., an advocacy group committed to restoring citizen oversight to elections. She keeps us apprised of important developments like her recent post which begins, “Public officials now admit they can see how you voted and link it to your name. This issue affects Colorado, almost all of Washington State, as well as some locations in California, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia and likely other states as well.” 2/12 – CITIZENS SUE TO FORCE GOVERNMENT TO STOP LINKING VOTES TO VOTER –
PBS NEWSHOUR has also reported on some of the dangers we’re facing in this video- Internet Voting: Will Democracy or Hackers Win?
Electronic voting equipment is not a viable option for secure elections, a well-known fact for many years, though we continue to replace safer methods across the country with this vulnerable, hackable, corporately controlled equipment. Incredibly, we even allow the data “coding” that instructs the equipment, to be kept secret by the corporate owners as protected intellectual property.
GAO compliance analysis reviews (pdf) like the following from Ohio’s 2004 election are always disturbing, but the point is, the problems can’t be corrected to prevent future malfunctions. Where electronic equipment and hackers are concerned, it’s not a question of ‘if’ – the question is ‘when’ and the answer is ‘now’.
U.S. Government Accountability Office, Report to Congressional Committees, June 2006 ELECTIONS
The Nation’s Evolving Election System as Reflected in the November 2004 General Election:
“… in Ohio that allowed one DRE machine’s ballots to be added to the
canvas totals multiple times without being detected. In another instance,
our report notes that a malfunction in a DRE system in Ohio caused the
system to record approximately 3,900 votes too many for one presidential
candidate in the 2004 general election.”
“Election officials in a large Ohio jurisdiction … told us that readiness
testing had been conducted by local officials. However, election
officials stated that certification and acceptance testing were not performed …. They also said that neither parallel testing nor audit testing of voting systems was performed.”
Election officials are a known vulnerability in every aspect of election integrity. Every facet of their jobs needs to be closely scrutinized; publicly witnessed, recorded and reported; videotaped whenever possible; and all records of their activity must remain accessible to the public and not allowed to be destroyed.
Those in a position to game our system are boldly imposing criminal activity on the election process as evidenced by the indictments, prosecutions and guilty pleas that are becoming more and more common.
There are numerous examples of these convictions, most recently including West Virginia, Indiana, and in Pennsylvania – Feese gets 4 to 12 years, where “A Dauphin County jury convicted Feese [Republican] of all 40 counts in a case that involved the misuse of millions of taxpayer dollars by hiring out-of-state consultants and diverting legislative employees to develop customized computer software to help elect more Republicans to the Legislature. (…) Twelve Democrats, including longtime House leader state Rep. Bill DeWeese, have been convicted or pleaded guilty in the investigation.”
Is it collusion when officials of both parties are indited and found guilty in an election fraud scheme? I don’t know, but another thing that comes to mind when “software” is mentioned with election fraud is Themis, the vast, nationwide database and voter file set up by the Koch brothers a while back. I’m not sure what that implies, but it gives me an icky feeling.
And the evidence just keeps on coming ….
This article in Salon exposing Diebold equipment vulnerability did not cause the outrage it should have. The reporting of this critical information was short-lived if the media reported on it at all. If our voting equipment is so easily hacked, and the media treats that like a flash in the pan story, moving quickly to report on some sensational, inane non-issue, what does that tell us … and what else matters if bogus voting equipment and the media work in tandem to silence the people’s voice?
For the sake of convenience, or possibly something more sinister, we have reinvented the nice round wheel that rolled through our election process with some confidence – and we’ve turned it into a no-go item. Secret paper ballots and well supervised hand counting with unlimited public transparency is the only way to go at this time – and maybe forever.
Here’s a good rundown of what we should be expecting from our states regarding election law, and why. Pertinent, too, in gauging progress, this article from OEN in 2009, also by Bev Harris, recognizes the state of Maine’s election processes as the best in our nation. Black Box Voting names Maine best in nation for voting rights
Time tested state and local chaos and corruption
Another major, overall and undisputed problem for voters is the myriad of state and local laws for voting and ballot deadlines that complicate our entire election process. These challenges are already overwhelming, but they’re being used and exacerbated by the effective, step by step, state by state interference by The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) whose templates for legislation aim to disenfranchise voters and suppress the people’s voice in an effort to promote corporate interests. This proposed legislation written by corporations is being passed; they are manipulating state politics and the 2012 presidential race in a big way.
Worse still is that states hire private companies to run their elections and tally the results.
We have a lions share of election problems already, and these issues will become more intense as the 2012 general election nears. Now is the time to stop it. Privatizing the responsibility to companies with political and monetary agendas invites corruption. In this Truthout article, Project Censored named the outsourcing of Ohio’s 2004 election votes “as one of the most censored stories in the world.” It is obviously too late seven years after the fact to investigate a possibly botched election, or recover from the damage that may have been done to our country as the result of one, which is why our corporatized media censors the information.
Seemingly, ALEC “urges legislators to fight the [federal takeover] of state election procedures, objecting in particular to universal standards for voting procedures.” However, as John Nichols explains further, “ALEC is not [really] opposed to uniformity in election procedures as such. It just wants the rules to be set by CEOs, campaign donors and conservative legislators. Restricting voting and direct democracy while ensuring that corporations can spend freely on campaigning makes advancing the conservative agenda a whole lot easier. “Once they set the rules for elections and campaigns, ALEC will pretty much call the shots.”
Secure voting is more a matter of national security than anything our military will ever do. Whether our election process is handled by the states, or even if they evolve into a consolidated Federal effort, convenience to voters will never be as important as a valid outcome controlled by the people.
We need a trustworthy, top-notch special committee investigating our failing election processes, and we need it now. The temptation to tamper with election results will always be irresistible to those who are so inclined, and competent hackers can be purchased around the world as easily as our lawmakers have been purchased by corporate America. Monied stakeholders with interest in the outcome of our elections are widespread in this global economy and they will spare no expense to gain advantage.
Fighting for legitimacy in our right to a meaningful vote, like many other critical safety issues, means that we have to change with the times. Regulatory changes to protect the people’s rights are necessary – whether that means more regulations, different regulations or a complete overhaul of the election process.
Recent history would suggest that we long consider the consequences of court decided elections, and to explore and debate our options including those congress has granted the federal government to override state privilege and consolidate the process. It’s highly debatable, and would be a big pill for states to swallow, but a big pill may be exactly what we need, IF it could be done in a way that secures and validates our secret ballot “one person, one vote” democratic process.
Such power has continually been reiterated by the Supreme Court. In 1932, the Court again reviewed the Election Clause‘s grant of power to Congress to regulate the time, place, and manner of federal elections and stated:
It cannot be doubted that these comprehensive words embrace
authority to provide a complete code for congressional elections,
not only as to times and places, but in relation to notices,
registration, supervision of voting, protection of voters,
prevention of fraud and corrupt practices, counting of votes,
duties of inspectors and canvassers, and making and publication of
election returns; in short, to enact the numerous requirements as
to procedure and safeguards which experience shows are necessary in
order to enforce the fundamental right involved. And these
requirements would be nugatory if they did not have appropriate
sanctions in the definition of offenses and punishments. All this
is comprised in the subject of “times, places and manner of holding
Here’s the latest on the Maine caucus fiasco. They seem to have moved past the “dog ate my homework” excuse saying that the emails reporting their vote tallies had gone to spam – a priceless example of who and what we’re dealing with in the quest for process integrity.
The clock is ticking and the 2012 election is speeding toward us. Maybe it’s the Doppler effect giving the illusion that we have lots more time to think about all this. We don’t.