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Stateside: Prelude To The 2008 Election, Part 3


Stateside: Prelude to the 2008 Election, Part 3

Stateside With Rosalea Barker

To DRE or not to DRE, that's just one of the questions 

Aside from the websites devoted to reporting recent developments on the subject of the validity of election results, and news reports such as this one on AlterNet, dated 27 December, about the status of the new Holt bill, saying that introduction has been delayed until early 2008 while Rep. Holt corrals support for it, it is not often you see any discussion in the mainstream media of the issues. 

On December 21, on a roundtable current affairs TV show, This Week in Northern California, the reporter set up a discussion on voter fears in a lengthy pre-recorded piece, only to have the panelists spend about a minute on it before moving on to other matters related to voting. The podcast of that broadcast can be accessed from here: http://thisweek.kqed.org/segments/1373/index.html 

Before moving on to the most prominent activists involved in vote-counting issues, it should be pointed out that there are many processes earlier in the U.S. election process that have experienced the effects of fraud and corruption, right from the very first elections. 

SEE ALSO:

Stateside: Prelude to the 2008 Election, Part 1
Stateside: Prelude to the 2008 Election, Part 2

::What is an election?::

Leaving aside the many types of elections there are in the United States--presidential primary, state primary, general election, run-offs, and special elections to fill seats vacated by resignations or deaths--an election consists of five processes, each of which can be manipulated. 

First comes the process of candidates getting their name on the ballot. Different political parties and states have different requirements for this, some involving collecting signatures on a petition, some involving paying money, some a mixture of both. They all have different deadlines. A comprehensive guide to this process at the state level can be found at Ballot Access News: http://www.ballot-access.org/  For the 2008 election, there's no reason that someone couldn't come in as late as February and get him- or herself on the ballot in enough states for the presidential election in November to win. That person, however, would likely be very wealthy. Ballot access has been an effective tool in excluding people from running and thereby limiting the choices voters have. 

Secondly, you have to create a register of people who are eligible to vote. Evidence given to both the House Judiciary Committee and the Subcommittee on Elections of the House Administration Committee during 2007 shows how contentious this issue is. By and large, the contention breaks down to Republicans accusing conceivably pro-Democrat organizations such as the housing group ACORN of registering people to vote who either don't exist or are ineligible, while Democrats allege that Republican jurisdictions have gone out of their way to exclude people from voting by wrongly purging them from the rolls. For a Republican perspective on fraud issues surrounding the 2004 election, this website belonging to someone who is now the Tennessee GOP's Communications Director is instructive:

http://billhobbs.com/hobbsonline/cat_voter_fraud.html 

Thirdly, the voter makes their choice. The first hurdle for the voter is to show they have the right to vote. In the case of absentee ballots, that means voters having a signature on record that can be matched with the signature they use when they mark their ballot and send it in to be counted. If you vote in person, you need to be on the list for that precinct, and in some states show a government-issued photo ID when turning up to vote, something objected to by many as an unnecessary financial burden, particularly on poor rural voters, a poll tax in disguise.  

Fourth and fifth, the voter's intention needs to be recorded in some way and accurately counted and reported. It is in these areas that the debate over the use of DREs is most contentious, and the move to mandate a random audit of elections, as required by H.R.811, is an attempt to introduce some review of the facts of an election in order to raise voter confidence that votes are recorded, counted, and reported without any doubts about the validity of the processes leading up to the announcement of the results. 

::Hand-counted paper ballots::

Many countries rely on hand-counted paper ballots to conduct their elections, and although U.S. ballots are typically complicated--with contests for many local and national representatives, propositions, and choices of language--there is plenty to be said for a process that is as transparent as having people there watching the marks made by the voters counted by hand. 

One activist who very clearly states the case for hand-counted paper ballots is Nancy Tobi. Her opposition to H.R. 811 is founded, among other things, on the belief that the bill doesn't so much ban DREs as give money--and therefore encouragement--for the use of machine-counting instead of hand-counting, which is currently an option in her home state of New Hampshire.  

In response to Part 2, Tobi sent me the following link to articles she has written that represent an overview of her concerns: http://www.opednews.com/author/author2302.html, and links to three very short videos of Rep. Holt discussing the bill:

Holt's Own Words: EAC: White House Designs on Your Elections

Microsoft 811 - The Holt Bill - Federalized Elections

Holt Bill: Paper or Vapor 

::Verified voting and audits::

One of the key organizations in the campaign for verifiable elections is VerifiedVoting.org which works not just at the federal level with legislators such as Holt, but at the state level to get a voter verified paper record (VVPR) of each ballot, and encourage states to adopt laws or regulations regarding mandatory manual audits of those VVPRs.  

According to the map on Verified Voting's website, 38 states currently use voter verified paper record in some form or another, of which 16 also require manual audits. There are 12 states that have neither a VVPR requirement, nor an audit requirement. The total of their Electoral College votes in presidential races is 142 out of the 538 total Electoral College votes. (To win, a presidential candidate has to get at least 270 votes, i.e. 50 percent plus 1.) See http://www.fec.gov/pages/elecvote.htm for a table of how many electoral votes each state has. 

::Toilet-roll versus sheet of paper::

Even if you accept the notion of machine-counted ballots that also provide a voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT), the controversy doesn't end there. Christopher Wilson, a former election technology manager in both Ohio and Florida, is an opponent of hand-counting, and proponent of using digital pen technology on an actual paper ballot. He has an insider-view account of Diebold's use of the toilet-roll VVPAT here: http://www.votingindustry.com/About_Us/Blogs/Aug3106.htm 

Among activists, there is strong opposition to the use of toilet-roll printouts--like a cash register tape--as the means by which a voter verifies their vote. The technology for providing a printout of what is on a screen, a screen dump--such as the final screen on touchscreen machines, where the voter sees a summary of their votes--has been around for a long, long time. Even the earliest computer keyboards had a key labeled PRT SCRN, and as early as the 1980s Hewlett Packard was marketing the Integrated PC, which was "luggable" if not exactly portable, and featured a built-in ThinkJet printer that replicated what was on the screen. 

On the other hand, the Electronic Technology Council's July 17 letter to the House Administration Committee expressed concern about a possible requirement for voting machines to provide an individual, durable, paper record for each voter to verify, stating: 

If our interpretation of "individual" is correct, there is simply no DRE voting system on the market today that would be compliant with H.R. 811 by the 2008 General Election, as it is currently written, as this requires the use of a "cut" or "cut and drop" device.

[ETC's emphasis] 

::Resources for keeping up with the play::

There are several websites tracking developments in the world of election integrity. Two of the most popular are: Brad Friedman's Bradblog at http://www.bradblog.com/ and  John Gideon's Daily Voting News on the Voters Unite website: http://www.votersunite.org/news.asp .  

For the truly masochistic, there are numerous forums on the Internet where all the above issues, and more, are thrashed out. The Democratic Underground has one called Election Reform listed on this website: http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/, where  at least one half of the popular notion that Republicans will always win any battle because they march in lock-step whereas Democrats are all over the map quickly gains credence. 

But that's what makes them Democrats. 

rosalea.barker_AT_gmail.com

SEE ALSO:

Stateside: Prelude to the 2008 Election, Part 1
Stateside: Prelude to the 2008 Election, Part 2

ENDS

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