ACTIVIST COALITION CALL FOR PAPER
Leaves optical scans in place / Diebold, ESS, &
Sequoia to survive
By Michael Collins
"Scoop" Independent News
An impressive coalition of election fraud-election integrity groups signed an open letter to the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives calling for paper ballots as the only standard for voting in the United States.
Paper trails and paper records are not sufficient to safeguard elections and restore confidence among the electorate. Unless there is a paper ballot for every vote cast, three fundamental principles of democratic elections are violated: 1. Observable tallies. 2. Equal Access. 3. Accurate Results. Open Letter 12.14.06
The letter states clearly:
…we now hold that a paper ballot,
whether counted by optical-scan system or hand, is the
minimum requirement for any Election Reform legislation
in which voters may have confidence. (Emphasis mine,
Open Letter 12.14.06
The signatories include VoterAction.org; VotersUnite.org; VelvetRevolution.us; the National Voting Rights Institute; Demos; TrueMajorityAction; and the Dolores Huerta Foundation. The additional signers consist of organizations from across the country including California and Florida plus the Election Defense Alliance, perhaps the major election fraud research organizations in the country right now.
Notably absent is the national VerifiedVoting.org and VoteTrustUSA.org. Nevertheless, the group represents 34 of the most active members of the newest element of the voting rights movement, which is primarily concerned with voting technologies and resulting problems. Some of these organizations supported voter verifiable paper ballots in the past but now tell us that solution is not sufficient.
Foxes Still in the Henhouse: Diebold, ESS, &Sequoia Will Survive
This open letter is encouraging on a number of levels but it leaves the door open for election fraud by allowing optical scan voting machines to stay in place. Referring to "a paper ballot, whether counted by optical-scan system or hand…" does not address the numerous problems associated with optical scan systems. In a case of collective amnesia, the organizations have erased any problems associated with optical scan voting machines or the vendors that sell and service them.
Preserving optical scan machines has the practical impact of guaranteeing the survival of the Republican-friendly voting machine vendors, all of whom sell optical scan readers. Are these last in class technology companies with heavy Republican ties (in the case of Diebold or ESS) going to suddenly reform their ways and become model corporate citizens eschewing any political activity? Will they confess their sins of the past and repent, and promise to count votes fairly? Perhaps, they will apologize for eight years of the Bush administration, while they're at it. The obvious answer leads to the obvious shortfall of this open letter. It continues computerized voting and preserves the business viability of questionable vendors able to engage in future questionable activity.
R.I.P Voter Verified Paper Ballots (VVPB) - a time consuming failure.
This letter represents a major shift in positions and is a clear abandonment of verified voter paper ballots for touch screens. These ephemeral receipts were to solve the problems created by touch screen voting devices. Simple logic and experience took the signatories from this illusion to reality - paper receipts can tell a voter she/he cast a ballot for Kerry and then produce a vote in the machine for Bush. Imagine that - those pesky computers. They must have a mind of their own.
Here is how these verified ballots worked in 2006?
Please note the dark green states. These all have both required voter verified paper ballots (VVPB) plus required manual audits (map from VerifiedVoting.org). In controversial elections in any of those states, the solution sold as the gold standard worked, right? Apparently not if you live in New Mexico's 1st Congressional District or any other congressional or other district in those states where you wanted a fair and objective recount. If you live in any of the gold standard states, all you have to do is ask and you can examine those VVPBs right? Wrong! You have no rights unless your state has open inspection of election ballots and records. The light green states have required VVPB but lack required audits. If you were in the Ohio Congressional Districts which had those small margin, last minute Republican wins, you had a shot at recounting the VVPBs there right? Or at least reviewing them? Wrong!
VVPBs are not a real solution unless there is appropriate law attached (and much more). That's the point now and it's been the point all along, as argued articulately by election law attorney Paul Lehto and New Hampshire activist Nancy Tobi. The means of voting and verifying are irrelevant as long as there is no legislation attached that allows public examination of ballots, public review of that voting counting process, reasonable standards for invoking an official recount, and the use of the VVPBs as the ballot of record. There is little if anything to show for all the effort devoted to verified voter paper ballots over the past years. They had a negligible impact on election 2006.
Implications for Federal legislation, e.g., Holt's H.R. 550
As recently as this year, election integrity organizations form across the country met in Washington, DC for Lobby Days sponsored by VoteTrustUSA.org. The main purpose of this event was to support House Resolution 550 sponsored by US Representative Rush Holt, D, NJ. That legislation alters the 2002 Help America Vote Act by, among other things, defining audit requirements for voting machines in the case of tight elections.
Will the organizations continue to support Holts H.R. 550? The bill presupposes the existence of the very voting systems the organizations oppose, touch screens. Fixing touch screen voting devices (DRE's) is not an option. They may not use this author's terminology for Holt, Lipstick on a Pig, but they should certainly show an aversion to any more wasted time on this type of solution.
The Conclusion at this Point
The open letter is an achievement on one level. It represents coalition building in a movement that has been fragmented. On a broader level, the letter fails in two important ways. While it seeks nothing less than ensuring the protection of our democratic system, it fails to mention the worst elements of our voting system - voter suppression and voter disenfranchisement aimed at minorities; a glaring omission. From the standpoint of internal consistency, the letter argues for a position that perpetuates many of the problems these organizations have identified with computerized voting in general. Optical scan tabulators count as computerized voting, yet these devices are somehow now viewed as a reliable technology. Optical scan vendors with their deplorable record remain as well. What's the point?
The Big Picture - Time to recognize that We're Part of a Broader Movement
When the coalition members are through taking politically unsophisticated half measures like the one described, they would do well to recognize that they are part of a larger movement - the voting rights movement.
That movement began while we were still a British colony and gained strength with the civil war and the wave of European immigrants used to meet the needs of the industrial age. Many of those in power consistently opposed expanding the right to vote, the franchise, to immigrants (as they do today with Latinos). Initial voting requirements included property ownership and the male gender. From that point on, there has been a tension between those who controlled wealth and the political dialogue and those who sought to enter into the socio-political mainstream of the United States.
Immigrants were frequent objects of discrimination. They were intimidated by beatings and the threat of arrest. They were misinformed and mislead. They were disenfranchised simply on the basis of their status as this or that new nationality entering this country.
The task for black Americans has been even more arduous. They were only allowed serious participation in politics and voting after the civil war. That successful experiment (black voting rates at their highest level) ended when Tilden gave Hayes the Presidency in 1877 in return for an end to Reconstruction and federal troop presence in the former states of the Confederacy. That lead to a resurgence of the remnants of the slave holding class and ended Southern black voting and political participation for almost a century. Black Americans have been subject to an incredible variety of voter suppression and disenfranchisement strategies originated by racists during the post Reconstruction period. Many of these strategies continue today in a kinder gentler form.
The election integrity - election fraud research groups bring critical elements to the voting rights movement: extensive knowledge of voting systems and their intricacies; research capabilities far beyond the funding levels these groups achieve; tenacity; and a relentless pursuit of the truth. It is time that these organizations recognize that they are part of the voting rights movement, a broad civil rights movement that has existed for over two centuries in the United States and that has principles and goals well beyond effective and neutral technology and systems.
A lack of historical context and a claimed political neutrality (being nonpartisan) prevent recognizing the obvious: there are groups who use the faulty machines and many other techniques to commit election fraud. These groups exist to both keep the franchise limited and limit the impact of those enfranchised thorough those flawed voting systems subject to manipulation. If there were an equal distribution of election malfunctions, then there would be an argument for political neutrality. There is not and no one can make that claim. Every major election from 2000 on has seen major controversies - the controversy involved both keeping people from voting and countless voting anomalies which almost always seem to benefit the Republican Party.
It's time that the technologically focused faction of the voting rights movement broaden itself through an active awareness that it is part of the larger voting rights movement. It's time to recognize that keeping people away from the polls is as big an election problem as manipulating their votes when they get there. And it's time to recognize that the primary victims of election problems are minority citizens, those whom the power structure would deny a right to participate in our system.
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