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California Activists Call the Cops on Diebold

California Activists Call the Cops on Diebold:
The Campaign to Unite California Election Reformers


Movement for legal action against officials who allowed unauthorized software changes to voting machines starts in Northern California. Strong local support.
Special Report by for "Scoop"
Michael Collins

December, 2005

Humboldt Co., CA. A major challenge to election equipment maker Diebold Corporation began in California last week. Dave Berman is a nationally known internet activist who blogs under the name GuvWurld. He is calling on all Californians to ensure election integrity by holding public officials accountable for what he argues are gaping security holes and illegal alterations of Diebold voting machines. One part of the plan asks local activists to demand investigations of unauthorized changes to voting machines by the beleaguered election systems company. The plan has strong local support in a major Diebold territory, Humboldt County. Humboldt County includes Eureka, Arcata and Humboldt State University and is at the very top of the California coastline.

Concerns about Diebold practices in California

Berman cites multiple concerns about Diebold business practices but focuses on the combination of unauthorized installations of Diebold software patches in as many as 17 California counties and the acquiescence of local election officials to that practice, clearly barred by California code. Berman asked the following pointed questions:

Who allowed Humboldt's voting machines to have uncertified software installed in them? Was someone in the Humboldt county elections department complicit in this crime or merely negligent? Is this person still employed by the elections department, and if so, why?

Prior to the March 2004 California presidential primary, Diebold was scrambling to make its machines meet the needs of some large county customers. In this process, Diebold wrote several letters to then California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley. The letters claimed that Diebold was about to get approval for new voting machine software from the Federal government. Diebold used this to request provisional certification allowing their equipment to be used in the primary.

The "Staff Report on the investigation of Diebold Election Systems, Inc" outlines deception and unauthorized changes in software. The deception was noted when the report stated "…the vendor had abandoned, if not undermined attempts to seek federal qualification at almost precisely the same time it assured the VSPP (Voting Systems and Procedures Panel through it's letters) that approval was imminent." Worse, the report found that Dieobld "installed uncertified software on election machines in 17 (California) counties." The exact nature of the software installation cannot be verified. Diebold routinely seeks "confidentiality agreements" with customers, barring them from inspecting machines or "seeing inside" through access to computer "source" code, the basis for machine operation.

U.S Government Accountability report on elections at risk.

GuvWurld's Berman took this information and applied the recent findings of the U.S. Government Accountability Office's Report on electronic voting. The report made clear a number of vital concerns about the reliability of voting technology. The report also provided ammunition for the many election integrity activists who have been making these same points for years. Among the findings, GAO noted that some electronic voting machines can "flip votes" from one candidate to an opponent without any means of auditing to detect fraud. The report found security on voting machines to be particularly lax. When it does exist, vendor personnel too frequently use simple ID names and passwords. GAO also found that some vendors had such poor security, access to one machine allowed access to large networks of machines in operation during elections.

Berman began asking loudly and publishing some very sharp questions when he found out that his home county, Humboldt, was one of the Diebold sites where unauthorized software installations were made.

Berman's campaign aims at having Californians all over the state asking these very same questions to their local officials and district attorneys for a start.

GAO's report provides strong incentive for an investigation. On page 38, it states: "Nevertheless, there is evidence that some of these concerns - including weak controls and inadequate testing - have caused problems with recent elections, resulting in the loss and miscount of votes."

Berman's underlying argument

The revelations from the California Secretary of State and the GAO reinforce Berman's commitment to act. Over the past three years, Berman developed a consistent set of basic principles that motivate his activism, which he vies as a public service. The culmination of his thinking is found in the Voter Confidence Resolution, adopted by the Arcata, CA City Council in July of this year.

The resolution states simply:

"When elections are conducted under conditions that prevent conclusive outcomes, the Consent of the Governed is not being sought. Absent this self-evident source of legitimacy, such Consent is not to be assumed or taken for granted."

"The conditions that prevent conclusive outcomes" are exemplified in the current effort to unite California election reformers. Since Florida 2000 a national movement has emerged to challenge the conduct of elections. The movement focuses on weak software and methods associated with voting machines and vote tabulators, partisan manipulation of election practices by Secretaries of State who also actively campaign for those running in elections they supervise, and the right wing bias of election machine companies.

The effort is particularly strong in California where 25 state activist groups belong to the "California Election Protection Network" (CEPN). California is also home to the nationally recognized VerifiedVoting.Org, a group that has national lobbying efforts to require paper receipts and other security measures to make the election process auditable and accountable to all Americans.

A new attitude among election reformers

The new election integrity movement began with a scathing critique of the election process and election technology. Efforts focused on pointing out likely cases of election fraud (e.g., Ohio and New Mexico in 2004), offering sophisticated statistical demonstrations of stolen elections (particularly 2004), and developing a variety of cautionary scenarios based on partisan election equipment manufacturers.

The GuvWurld campaign against Diebold and quiescent election officials represents a new aggressive, proactive stance. Dan Ashby of the Voting Rights Task Force (VRTF) told us, "Our most recent meeting concluded with recognition that instead of always reacting defensively to further inroads on electoral integrity, we need to come up with some full time proactive strategies."

This realign or resign campaign directed at election officials in the Diebold counties seems to me a very good place to start." Activist groups like the CPEN and VRTF are now determining if and how they will participate with the GuvWurld campaign. Ashby is hoping that activist pressure will convince Secretary of State McPherson to refuse to recertify Diebold's DRE touch screens in California. He argues that, "To reward this worst-of-class, repeat offender by granting an extended franchise in the nation's largest voting market - after all the Diebold dirt that has floated to the surface these past few years - is just unthinkable."

Berman is working with the CEPN groups in California, national forums on election integrity, and has plans to expand the campaign to other political groups in the state.

"Election conditions must change in order to ensure conclusive outcomes and create a basis for confidence in the results reported," he said. "Officials resigned to the status quo should resign their positions and make way for those determined to improve these conditions."

"The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which all others are protected. To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery."
- Thomas Paine

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