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Pay no attention to that man behind the voting booth curtain.

much is at stake in this year's presidential election; millions of voters across the country are itching to exercise the muscle of the majority to oust an administration they feel isn't being held accountable for its actions. But as Americans discovered in the 2000 presidential election, the majority doesn't always win. And with nearly 100 million votes being tabulated by computerized voting machines in 2004, there will be less accountability for election results than perhaps ever before.

According to voting watchdog Bev Harris' website, www.blackhoxvoting.org, not only are the voting systems largely privatized but the corporations that peddle them "have a habit of hiring their own regulators? The system of certification for these machines is highly flawed and it "allows machines to miscount and lose votes." Some of the systems made by private companies use proprietary software that isn't open for public examination. David Dill, a Stanford computer science professor whose website, www.verifiedvoting.org, is dedicated to voting machine security, noted that "a single programmer could make a change in voting machine software that would be installed in every machine in the country. And there is no reliable way to detect that this has been done."

The voting machines, their dubious peddlers, and their even more dubious public supporters have already begun wreaking havoc on local and state elections. In Indiana, machines made by Election Systems and Software (ES&S) of Omaha, Nebraska, that were used in the May 4, 2004, primary contained software that wasn't certified by the state, and election board members say the company misled them. This all took place before the primary when ES&S technicians informed the county clerk that they would be performing maintenance on the machines. But what they really did was replace certified software with an unapproved version. In the previous municipal election in November the company had used unapproved "firmware" components without notifying the election board. Maryland had a similar problem with machines purchased from Diebold Election Systems of McKinney, Texas: the machines that the company sold to the state and which were used in the March 2004 primary weren't federally qualified and were thus illegal.

In its attempts to avoid the problems with the 2000 election, more than half of Florida's electorate will be using touch screen voting machines in November. But these machines, along with the election officials themselves, may have made the situation worse than before. In July, when a citizen's group in Miami-Dade county requested an audit of the 2002 gubernatorial primary they found that almost all of the electronic records from the touch-screen voting machines had been lost in computer crashes. No electronic backups, no paper trail, and no way to verify that the election results were valid. Although the archived data was finally found on July 30, 2004, on a CD stashed away in a conference room near the election supervisor's office, the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union found that 1,544 votes, or 8.4 percent, were unaccounted for. About half of the missing votes were cast by African Americans.

A new state law in Florida excludes these touch-screen voting machines from manual recounts because touch-screen ballots supposedly eliminate the possibility of error in voter intent. However, the Sun Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale found in an analysis of the March presidential primary that voters in counties using touch-screen machines were six times as likely to record "no vote" as were voters using optical-scan ballots.

Both Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood and Governor Jeb Bush have asserted that the request for an audit of the primary was "an effort to undermine voter confidence" Hood's office and state election officials maintain that the errors in the program wouldn't have affected the vote counts but only the backup data to be used for an audit. Voting rights groups filed a lawsuit that challenged the ban on recounting and Representative Robert Wexler (Democrat, Florida) sued to have a printed record of every vote counted on touch screen machines. It is unlikely, however, that these suits will affect any change before the November 2004 election and, even if they do, some of Florida's electorate may still be disenfranchised.

The disenfranchisement issue came to light when a July 1, 2004, court order demanded that the state release a list of 48,000 suspected felons slated to be purged from the voting rolls. Florida this year had hired Accenture--the privately owned company formerly known as Andersen Consulting, incorporated in Bermuda, which happens to be the largest contributor in its industry to the Republican campaign and which has recently won a multi-billion dollar homeland security contract--to arrange the list. This purge list was found to have conveniently excluded the names of Hispanics who, in Florida, tend to vote Republican while it included the names of thousands of African Americans, who tend to vote Democratic. The list also included 2,100 citizens who had already had their voting rights restored. The state failed in its attempts to keep the list secret and the list has since been scrapped due to overwhelming negative press.

California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley decertified Diebold machines in four California counties this year, issued a report condemning their performance in the 2004 primaries in that state, and requested that the attorney general's office launch a criminal investigation of the company. The report stated that Diebold lied to state regulators about the qualifications of the machines and had illegally installed uncertified software and equipment in seventeen California counties, much like the problems in Indiana and Maryland.

Of interest in this regard, Diebold's CEO, Walden O'Dell, is a top fundraiser for Bush and has attended gatherings of wealthy Bush benefactors at the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas. O'Dell wrote in an August 2003 fundraising letter that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year?

Also in California, a local race in Riverside County went sour due to suspected tampering of machines by privately paid employees. The staff of one candidate witnessed Riverside County Registrar Mischelle Townsend, for no apparent reason in the middle of the race, halt the vote count for approximately one hour. Meanwhile two employees of Sequoia Voting Systems (the manufacturer of the touchscreen machines tallying the ballots) were seen typing on a computer terminal that had access to the ballot-counting software.

Before the count was stopped, the candidate Linda Soubirous appeared likely to be eligible for a run-off with the incumbent county supervisor, Bob Buster. When the counting resumed, however, Soubirous fell behind in the race and missed the run-off qualification by less than one-tenth of one percentage point. When Soubirous requested a recount, Townsend stonewalled almost every request for data from the voting machines.

This shows that privately paid employees can tinker with voting machines during an election and that an election official can get away with not allowing the public to see proof of the results. Voting machine manufacturers can keep their software secret and use regulators on their own payroll to verify the authenticity of their product. Touchscreen machines may eliminate error in voter intent but more ballots from these machines record "no vote" than did optical scan machines. Some partisan campaign donors are paid to list who can't vote while others sell the voting machines. Criticism of a company's wares is spun as an attempt to "undermine voter confidence," so it takes a court order to uncover the truth.

What's a voter to do? Just because audit data is corrupted and votes aren't recorded doesn't mean that the computer didn't count your vote! Just trust it. And pay no attention to that repairman behind the curtain.

Rachel Gillett is the editorial assistant for the Humanist.
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Title Annotation:Civil Liberties Watch; www.blackhoxvoting.org
Author:Gillett, Rachel
Publication:The Humanist
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2004
Words:1286
Previous Article:For a War Powers Relinquishment Act.
Next Article:November 2, 2004.
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