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The Road To Boondoggle Paved With Good Intentions

(Warning: You might really hate this story.) This story represents months of original research by Black Box Voting. We went into this looking for the defense industry contractors we'd heard had lobbied for the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). That legislation has been blamed for the touch-screens (DREs) that showed up all over America. Well, that's not what we found. The real story on who was behind HAVA may come as a surprise to you. It was to us..


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Question: What happens if you lobby a lawmaker for $4 billion in expenditures for touch-screen voting machines and go back to that same lawmaker two years later asking to dump DREs?

Answer: You lose credibility. It might be hard to lobby for other things. It's politically embarrassing. And your members, or funders, might have a few questions to ask about the prudence of your lobbying expenditures.


The road to voting computers was paved with good intentions. No one knew that some of the programmers for voting computers would turn out to be convicted embezzlers.

No one realized that the main sponsor of the HAVA bill -- Rep. Bob Ney -- would end up going to jail on corruption charges.

Few realized that the federal testing labs, Ciber and Wyle, weren't doing their jobs and their overseers -- NASED and now the EAC -- failed to check their work. Wyle failures (Bowen Hearing): Ciber failures:

HAVA bought a lemon.


Progressive public interest groups. Labor unions. Civil rights groups.

While many election reform activists are under the impression that touch-screen (DRE) voting machines were some sort of Republican plot to take over America, the truth is that lobbying for the DRE-seeking "Help America Vote Act" came primarily from the foundation of the Democratic Party itself.

Activists throughout America have expressed surprise at the Democratic Party's unwillingness to pull DREs off the shelf. One reason is simply this: To do so would damage the credibility of those who lobbied for HAVA. And those who lobbied for HAVA just happen to be the biggest funders and activist workhorses for the Democratic Party itself.


1. Public interest groups - mostly progressive
2. Big labor
3. Minority rights groups
4. Disability rights groups
5. Industry

Of these, the first four tend to favor Democrats but the fifth group -- industry, the group charged with writing the computer code that counts America's votes -- is made of vendors that are more often close to the Republican Party.

Democrats lobbied HAVA in but to a large extent, Republican-affiliated vendors executed the mechanics of the plan. Some would call this comical; others, tragic.


1. People for the American Way
2. Common Cause
3. American Civil Liberties Union
4. League of Women Voters
5. American Jewish Committee
6. Hadassah
7. American Association for Retired Persons
8. Public Citizen
9. American Network of Community Options and Resources
10. Constitution Project (Georgetown University)
11. Open Society Policy Center (Soros)


1. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
2. Laborers International Union of North America
3. International Brotherhood of Teamsters
4. United Auto Workers
5. American Federation of Teachers
7. UNITE (Industrial & Textile employees)

Of the seven HAVA-lobbying groups above, five are among the Top-20 largest donors of all time to any political party. All five donate almost exclusively to the Democratic Party and its candidates. None of the top 20 Republican donors lobbied for HAVA.

According to, the labor unions that lobbied for HAVA have given nearly $150 million to support Democrats since 1989, and six were in the Top-20 Democratic PAC funders for 2006-06.


1. NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.
2. National Council of La Raza
3. Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund (MALDEF)


1. American Foundation for the Blind
2. The ARC of the United States
3. National Disability Rights Network
4. Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
5. United Cerebral Palsy Association

Black Box Voting has been unable to locate the lobbying disclosure forms for the American Association of Persons with Disabilities (AAPD) featuring the vocal Jim Dickson, nor did we find any disclosure forms for the National Federation for the Blind (NFB), the group that took $1 million from Diebold. Misfiled? Misnamed? Overlooked? Omitted?

Link for NFB $1 million from Diebold:


1. Riverside County, Calif.
2. San Diego County, Calif.
3. Ventura County, Calif.
4. Miami-Dade County, FL


1. Accenture
2. VoteHere
3. Election Systems & Software
4. AccuPoll
5. Danaher
6. Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs
7. US Business & Industry Council
8. Assocation of Technology Act Projects

Not found on lobbying forms pushing HAVA: The SAIC, the ITAA, and Diebold.

Diebold Election Systems Inc does not show up on the 2001-02 HAVA lobbying forms, but did lobby for elections issues in 2004 and 2005.

Also notably missing are the firms referenced by R. Doug Lewis of "The Election Center" in an August 2003 meeting. In this tape recorded meeting, he said that HAVA was put into place by an election systems task force which included Lockheed, Northrop-Grumman, EDS, and Accenture.

Of these, only Accenture shows up the lobbying forms, and there is no entity called Election anything, except for Election System & Software and another company,, which lobbied for Internet voting. (See Chapter 8 of Black Box Voting for more on the Saudi-owned, which was later taken over by Accenture - - See Chapter 16 for more information on the tape recorded meeting: )

What about Choicepoint? Choicepoint says it didn't lobby for HAVA. Choicepoint says it hasn't had any involvement in elections.

The lobbying forms don't show lobbying for voting machines, but a lobbying firm called Fleishman-Hillard Government Relations filed a registration form in 2002 indicating they planned to lobby for "Election Reform" on behalf of Choicepoint. Muddying things up, no 2002 lobbying form appeared showing that they did. In 2001, however, a lobbying form clearly puts Choicepoint in the middle of HAVA lobbying, showing that Choicepoint was involving itself in lobbying for the voter registration component of HAVA.

Choicepoint has repeatedly stated that they have "no involvement whatsoever" in elections, and in rebuttal to a controversial article that appeared for a short while on OpEd News, Choicepoint came on to deny that they lobbied for HAVA. More on Choicepoint here:

Choicepoint, a controversial database broker, clearly cannot state that it has "no involvement in elections."

Choicepoint stakeholder Donna Curling, wife of Choicepoint chief Doug Curling, has continued to fund election reform lobbying by providing funding for some of the activists working on the Holt Bill.


Those who lobbied for HAVA were convinced that the DRE machines would solve problems, helping more people vote.

1. Many of the HAVA reformers believed that with DREs, people with less education would be more likely to fill out the whole ballot. In fact, they reasoned, the DRE machines would be easier to use for educationally disadvantaged populations, minorities, non-English-speaking voters, and the disabled.

Few studies back these conclusions up, and those that do have generally not been replicated, or were not peer reviewed, and sometimes show methodology that is as flawed as the lemons HAVA bought. The occasional studies that have been done -- even those prepared by DRE advocates -- sometimes end up with troubling caveats. A Georgia study purported to show that "most people like voting on the DREs" (but rarely mentions the small print: The same study showed that the African-Americans surveyed distrusted the touch-screens).

2. The citizens' right to oversee local elections -- and especially the citizens' right to even get access to information -- has been all but eliminated through the implementation of HAVA. The original civil rights concept was virtuous.

Federal Government is the entity that enacted civil rights, HAVA reformers reasoned, so therefore let's ask the federal government to fix our elections process.

Be careful what you ask for. It just might get "fixed."


If federal government is going to correct anything, it should start with enacting tougher standards to give citizens Freedom of Access to Elections Information -- mandating that the system actually PRODUCE the information needed for citizens to make sure the right candidate was place in office, in a TIMELY manner, that is COST EFFECTIVE and USABLE, prohibiting removal of the information through proprietary claims.

And above all, local CITIZEN oversight must be protected. In almost every case, discoveries of problems with elections and the computers that count them have been discovered by ordinary citizens, not by government oversight, auditors, consultants, certifiers, or experts.

And if we are going to rid ourselves of the DREs, we need to get past the -- er -- little "problem" of the threat to credibility if former HAVA lobbyists take the courageous step of changing course.

They couldn't have known. Perhaps a set of tough investigative hearings can provide the evidence to brace those backbones for the change in direction. Look to Calif. Secretary of State Debra Bowen's well-prepped, no-nonsense hearings on the certification process for examples, and start by issuing subpoenas to Diebold's master programmer, Talbot Iredale, and Ciber's Shawn Southworth (who refused to show up for Bowen's hearing).

This thing can be done. It doesn't need a bandaid, it needs a disinfectant.


Photocopies of the lobbying forms are in the process of being uploaded to the Black Box Voting Document Archive. You will find lobbying forms for all of the groups listed above as they are uploaded here:

# # # # #

Government is the servant of the people, and not the master of them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. We insist on remaining informed so that we may retain control over the instruments of government we have created.

* * * * *

Black Box Voting is a nonpartisan, nonprofit elections watchdog group supported by citizen donations. The work of Black Box Voting has been featured on CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News Network, MSNBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time Magazine, and was featured in the recent HBO documentary "Hacking Democracy."

To support Black Box Voting, click to or send to:
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