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Saving our elections: America's once proud and trustworthy elections are being undermined, but concerned citizens can take steps to restore the integrity of our electoral process.

The electoral problems that have been simmering in America for a long time and that surfaced in the 2000 Gore/Bush race haven't gone away. Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich has recently urged scrapping that state's recently-purchased electronic voting machines and replacing them with paper ballots for this upcoming election because of technical and human "problems" with the machines in the primaries. America's once proud and trustworthy elections are being undermined. Ballots are increasingly being counted behind closed doors or inside electrical circuitry without verification by public scrutiny.

Types of Fraud

Electoral fraud is typically grouped into one of two categories, retail fraud or wholesale fraud. Retail fraud is where each fraudulent vote requires a separate act of fraud. Wholesale fraud occurs when a large number of fraudulent votes are generated by only one act of fraud.

The best-known and undoubtedly the most frequently used type of retail fraud is "repeat voting." Repeaters are people who vote numerous times in an election under assumed names, names taken from people who have died, moved away, never existed, or just names chosen from a phone book. Obviously, repeat voting is built on a foundation of fraudulent voter registrations or sloppy administration of the voter registration lists. Destroy fraudulent voter registrations and repeat voting will collapse like a house of cards.

Another type of repeat voting is accomplished through "early voting." Early voting, supposedly an answer to the problems of long lines on election day, is now helping repeaters to vote early and vote often.

Absentee ballot fraud, which is often done by people who have contact with the elderly, can be done through "assisting" the elderly or the visually impaired to mark a ballot--and then marking the ballot differently than directed. Or correctly marked ballots might be switched with fraudulent ballots while transporting them to a mail center. Of course, there's always the old technique of requesting an absentee ballot under an assumed name, which is essentially just repeat voting using the mail.

Without an investigation we can only guess how many votes can be cast illegally, but the Washington Times reported on October 26, 2002 that Larry Gray, a former sanitation director for Helena, Arkansas, pleaded guilty when charged with submitting more than 25 absentee ballots. The article went on to say that authorities believed he had applied for 200 absentee ballots and submitted 98 ballots in the Democratic primary. U.S. Attorney H.E. Cummins said of the case: "This is just one guy. We believe there were other people engaged in that primary and other elections that basically involved the same type of scheme."

Another retail vote fraud technique, this one used by vote counters, is "the short pencil"--where a vote counter conceals pencil lead under a fingernail to make additional marks on a ballot in order to invalidate one or more votes by causing "over-votes." The term over-vote refers to a ballot that has more votes than the number allowed for a contest. Therefore, none of the votes for that contest will count.

Wholesale fraud, which was almost nonexistent in our Republic prior to the 1890s, erupted when mechanical lever voting machines were first put in use. It was then possible for someone with inside access to commit one act of fraud--such as adjusting the counts on the voting machines' counter wheels--and change a relatively large number of votes.

Wholesale election fraud became easier when America was blessed with the invention of the punch card voting system. Punch card voting systems enabled wholesale election fraud via numerous security breaches:

* By tampering with the punch card "book." With most punch card systems, the voter is dependent on a book, under which the punch card is inserted to remove the correct chad. If that book page is tampered with by either a voter or an election worker, the voters can be misdirected to punch the wrong chads.

* By tampering with the computers that count the ballots.

* By counting punch cards at a centralized counting center that is not open to the public--an obvious invitation for something one on the inside to swap boxes of incoming ballot for pre-punched ballots with desired outcomes.

The first direct-recording electronic voting machines (DREs), which are essentially computer-recorded balloting systems, also provide the means to cheat. The system can be rigged by anyone with inside access--whether that be the programmers who write the programs inside, the manufacturers or subcontractors who make the equipment, the caretakers of the equipment between elections, the technicians who install updates to the equipment, or in some cases the election administrators who have the master passwords. And here, too, vote totals are usually transmitted to a central location for consolidating and reporting which is another chance for someone to fraudulently alter the numbers if totals aren't audited.

In a recent experiment conducted at Princeton University, white-hat hackers, people who obtain permission beforehand to hack into computer systems for the honorable purpose of finding security flaws in order that they can be fixed, were able to alter the outcome in a sample election using methods available to voters. In this controlled election with five voters, four of them voted for George Washington and only one for Benedict Arnold. But the machine totals showed a victory for Benedict Arnold by a vote of three to two. Put simply, it is impossible for a voter to ensure his vote was cast and counted correctly with paperless DREs.

The granddaddy of all wholesale fraud systems will come if, like many politicians desire, the United States implements Internet voting. Internet voting was almost forced on our military people for their absentee ballots under the FVAP (Federal Voting Assistance Plan). The project was put on hold following a scathing security analysis of it by a number of highly renowned computer experts.

How Serious Is This Problem?

A problem with estimating how serious the threat of voter fraud is today is that any investigation of retail vote fraud must start with voter registration lists, but verifications of such lists, and even the investigations themselves, are frequently blocked by politicians or by courts. Stealing Elections, a book by Wall Street Journal editorial board member John Fund, lists a number of aborted attempts at investigating vote fraud.

One failed attempt happened in 1997 when the U.S. House of Representatives demanded that the Justice Department prosecute Hermandad Mexicana Nacional for allegedly registering hundreds of illegal voters in a close congressional race, but "federal immigration officials refused to cooperate with the probe citing 'privacy' concerns." Another was the 1997 U.S. Senate investigation of a U.S. Senate race in Louisiana that "found more than 1,500 cases in which two voters used the same social security number. But further investigations collapsed after Democratic senators walked off the probe, calling it unfair, and then-Attorney General Janet Reno removed FBI agents from the case because it wasn't 'bipartisan.'" And "The ACLU once sued the U.S. Attorney in San Francisco because he matched voting records against lists of legal immigrants who were not yet citizens." In yet another instance of attempted fraud fighting where mail was sent to addresses listed by voters to verify residency, and personal contact with voters was attempted when mail was returned as undeliverable, the effort was blocked because it allegedly constituted harassment or intimidation of minorities.

How credible are the allegations that are made in regard to voter registration clean-ups? One example can be found in Stealing Elections by John Fund. Miami City Commissioner Hernandez tried to discredit the charges of absentee ballot fraud in the 1997 mayoral race by using the "racism" card. The Miami Herald reported that a woman who was wearing a bug for a law enforcement agency taped him saying "he could sway public opinion by accusing the paper of racism and trying to suppress Hispanic political power."

How Has the Problem Been "Fixed"?

Our politicians in Washington, far from being a solution to our electoral problems, have been among the worst of the causes. One disastrous piece of legislation in this respect was the National Voter Registration Act. Better known by its nickname, the Motor Voter Act, this unconstitutional law required, among other things, that states "provide individuals with the opportunity to register to vote at the same time that they apply for a driver's license" and that states allow citizens to "register to vote by mail using mail-in-forms." The requirement to allow mail-in registration forms virtually shut down most states' voting identification requirements.

Worse yet was the so-called Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). This law, which purportedly was intended to create "minimum standards for states to follow in several key areas of election administration," is currently forcing the states, counties, and municipalities to purchase ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant electronic voting equipment, which as we now know can be susceptible to wholesale voting fraud.

In addition to the required electronic voting machines, HAVA also mandates that states maintain a statewide voter registration database that "shall serve as the single system for storing and managing the official list of registered voters throughout the State." This requirement not only forces centralization of the voting process--a bad thing--but in essence establishes a framework for a national ID card. Some say this statewide voter database is necessary to keep voter registration lists honest, but the opposite is true.

One indication that HAVA's centralization of power will be dangerously abused can be found in a USA Today front-page story of August 17. Political action committees are focusing their election efforts on Secretary of State contests in numerous states. Of course, under HAVA, the registration lists would fall under control of the Secretary of State in each state. The PACs wouldn't be spending their money on these races without very good reason --such as the thought of being able to change the outcomes of future elections.

Of course, because the past "fixes" haven't worked, politicians in Washington are currently submitting numerous bills to help us. Unfortunately, all the bills covering voting currently in Congress will only make things worse. For example, H.R. 4844, sponsored by the supposedly conservative Congressman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), would require a government-issued picture ID in order to register or vote. This bill is essentially a national ID card in disguise. Also, it assumes that the IDs will be tamper-proof while the continuously improving technology behind making phony ID cards has already made it feasible to equip repeat voters with false photo IDs. Notably, too, this legislation does nothing to break the blockages stopping the cleanup of voter registration lists.

Congressman Rush Holt (D-N.J.) has submitted H.R. 550, a bill that would require electronic voting equipment to have a paper trail, something 27 states already require and 23 others are likely to require soon. H.R. 550 would require 2 percent of the precincts to be recounted. At first, that sounds good: recounts, or audits, are important and states need to pass laws authorizing them, but H.R. 550 would centralize the power to decide which precincts get audited in the hands of a federal agency, the Election Assistance Commission. In addition to being unconstitutional, that's too much power to be put into the hands of a few people in Washington, and an open invitation for abuse.

Also, this bill would mandate that if the paper records disagree with the computer counts, the paper records would be correct. Paper ballots can be and have been tampered with in the past. If there's a discrepancy between them, there's something wrong and an investigation should be initiated to determine what happened. A better bill than H.R. 550 would be a resolution informing the states that the U.S. Congress is aware of these types of voting discrepancies and that failure by the states to implement paper trails, some form of auditing, and voter registration clean-up could result in Congress' using its constitutional authority to refuse to seat a member in a questionable election.

The grand prize for worst bill goes to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). Her bill, S. 450, calls for a study of the possibility of Internet voting as well as Internet voter registration. S. 450 would also mandate "election day" voter registration. Perhaps someone should tell her that election day registration is no different from "same day" registration--a concept that has earned the bad reputation it has. Senator Clinton also wants a "Study on Encouraging Government Employees to Become Poll Workers." This part of her proposal would be added by making election days federal holidays. If her bill passes, we could find ourselves voting via the Internet in an election controlled and monitored by government employees who have a vested interest in the outcome. Fortunately, even our current Congress has had enough sense not to pass this legislation.

What Should the States Do?

The states need to resume their constitutional right and obligation to write effective election laws. Voter registration lists need to be open to verification by the public, and voters should be required to sign-in on election day using consecutive sign-in sheets rather than signing next to their names on voter registration lists. (Consecutive sign-in sheets are numbered, and the voters sign their signatures one after the other. If additional votes are added, such as with LBJ in 1948, the additional voters will be last on the sheets. On the new computerized sign-in forms we use in Texas, I sign next to my name. If someone the ballot box, the additional signatures are next to the names, and there's no way to see in what order they were signed.)

States and localities must be allowed to use paper ballots, and any paperless computerized voting equipment needs to be upgraded to include a voter-verified paper ballot. Complementing the paper ballots, audits need to be done to ensure honesty--audits initiated in response to local concerns. Current audit advocates want the choices of precincts to be audited to be made in Washington, D.C., or in state capitols using random selection or mathematical variances to determine the precincts to be audited. These choices should be made by the candidates with the losing candidates getting the lion's share of the choices. Also, instead of just counting the voter-verified ballots and comparing them to the computer totals, the precinct audits should include a mailing to the voters to verify that they exist.

States considering simple laws for requiring paper trails in electronic voting can just copy New Hampshire's law from 1994. That state merely modified two paragraphs in the state's election laws to require voting machines to be of the kind that "reads the voter's choice on a paper ballot." If New Hampshire can afford to implement this law, it's likely that all states can. New Hampshire still doesn't have a state sales tax or a state income tax.

States could also follow the recommendations of a jury that investigated Chicago's 1908 primary elections, recommendations that, unfortunately, have never been passed in any state. They recommended that election judges and clerks should be selected for elections service in a manner similar to jury duty, with no candidates, office holders, nor political patronage job holders allowed to serve. Their recommendations would have allowed for some government employees in the process to add procedural and technical expertise, but not to participate in collecting or counting ballots. They also recommended identification of voters via signature or thumbprint.

In the long run, state legislatures must reverse a number of long-term trends.

Kurt Hyde is a computer professional and a student of elections.
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Author:Hyde, Kurt
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 30, 2006
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