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Blackboxvoting.Org: Who Cooked This Turkey?

From We, the People to our public servants: This isn't what we ordered. Send it back.


Thanksgiving Editorial By Bev Harris, Jim March & Kathleen Wynne

It's about the size of an elephant, and it took a long time to cook. Preparations began in the 80s when some Texas powerbrokers went on an acquisition spree, converting the elections industry from diverse locally-based mom & pop businesses into a handful of firms peppered with criminal indictments and salted with political connections.


Elections officials had to be bagged up and propagandized. A privatization advocate, the Council of State Governments, was run by Abe Frank, who became a founding director for The Election Center in 1990.

The Election Center, which has been run by former used computer parts salesman R. Doug Lewis since 1994, undertook the task of organizing and training local elections officials.

At the same time, vendors flexed their influence in the pay-to-play National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) -- You pay your fees, you get your face time. Secretaries of state, who often aspire to run for governor, cozied up to the very people who -- literally -- can make that happen.



The FEC makes the rules for voting machine certification, the so-called "1990" and "2002" FEC standards (which have been removed from the FEC site, but can be found here).

The FEC left themselves a loophole. They never codified the FEC standards into regulations, so that the force of law cannot be applied to force voting machine makers to comply. The FEC standards are "voluntary guidelines".


Test how ripe they are before using: Jam a pocket calculator halfway into a banana, see if they'll certify it as a voting machine for the right money.

Three labs were authorized, but vendors chose to use only the Huntsville brand -- Nichols/PSInet/Metamore/Ciber, a series of companies that repeatedly passed the hot potato to a tester named Shawn Southworth, and handed another portion of the testing to Wyle Labs' Jim Dearman.

These labs were supposed to do source code and functionality reviews, but here's the catch: They are paid by the vendors.

The testing labs are called "ITAs" for "Independent Testing Authorities" but there is nothing independent about them. According to Shawn Southworth, in a taped interview conducted by Black Box Voting, the labs don't like to write anything negative in the reports because the vendors don't like it, and they're paying for it.

- One Voting Systems Panel from the National Association of State Elections Directors (NASED). This panel approves the voting machines after the ITAs recommend approval. They are supposed to check over the ITA's paperwork, after which they assign a "NASED number" signifying Federal certification.

The NASED panel sometimes issued cert numbers before reading the reports, and has routinely certified systems with "not tested" and "untested" notations on the recommendation forms.

NASED got some operational support via cash donations from the big vendors, and apparently never saw anything odd in the fact that two old ladies and a gun nut from Black Box Voting were running circles around the ITAs, exposing hard-core voting system defects like the GEMS defect and fundamentally flawed memory card architecture that the ITAs forgot to mention.

These defects were subsequently confirmed by reports commissioned by the secretaries of state of Ohio and California, causing ITA labs and their apologists to offer this excuse:



You don't need to be a computer scientist to understand plain English: Both 1990 and 2002 FEC standards prohibit something called "interpreted code." The Diebold memory card architecture relies on interpreted code, executing logic on the memory card by passing memory card code through -- drum roll, please -- the interpreter.

You also don't need to be a computer expert to understand that another item forbidden in the FEC standards, "nonstandard computer language" is being used. Diebold decided to make up its own language, calling it "AccuBasic." Only Diebold uses it, no one else in the world. Apologists for the ITAs explain that the AccuBasic language is similar but different to the C++ computer language. That's like saying German is English because the languages are "similar."

But the FEC standards are deficient in some areas. Here's something that doesn't take a statistician to figure out: The FEC standards set a failure tolerance so low that 10 percent of the voting machines are allowed to fail on the first day of use. Would you buy a TV set if you knew there was a 10 percent chance it would stop working the first day? Hello? This is good use of taxpayer money?

The NASED voting systems panel appears to have gone rogue years ago and their certification oversight ability is being stripped from them and given to the new Election Assistance Commission (EAC) -- which isn't functional yet.

That hasn't stopped the California Secretary of State from inviting many of the most problematic members of the NASED voting systems panel in to an invitation-only meeting on Nov. 28 and 29 to help California set "best practices."

- Add to the mix: Various academics and "experts" who were supposed to be checking this stuff out.

Even the best of them (Dr. Doug Jones of Iowa and Dr. David Jefferson of California) didn't want to get too vocal about known problems, especially early on. Others like Georgia's Brit Williams and Florida's Paul Craft cannot possibly explain their unabashed cheerleading of systems which have now been proven to be defective.

There were a small number of notable exceptions: The outspoken Dr. Rebecca Mercuri who has been telling it like it is since 1989.


The Help America Vote Act was lobbied in by defense contractors and manufacturers looking to make a buck on the backs of U.S. taxpayers. (Documentation: See Black Box Voting book, chapter 16)

Demand a Hold on HAVA -- Megan Matson of Mainstreet Moms Operation Blue(MOB) has the right idea: “Hold on HAVA.” The National Alliance of County Officials (NACO) wants to extend the HAVA deadline, at least until standards are set and adequate funding is available. The Election Assistance Commission, charged with supervising HAVA, is months behind its own deadlines.


The Election Center and NASED ignored ITA ommissions the size of the national defecit for 10 years. When this became undeniable, after the work of ordinary citizens to expose the flaws, secretaries of state at first commissioned independent studies, from the SAIC, RABA, CompuWare, and recently Steve Freeman.

These studies became inconvenient, however, when they confirmed the GEMS defect, the memory card executables, and numerous other critical defects. So people like Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell simply hid the reports, while California whispered suggestions into Diebold's ear, encouraging it to quietly resolve the issues. There was no investigation, and no one has put either the vendor or the ITAs under oath to question how this came to be.

Vendors like Diebold knew nobody was watching the store, so they acted like a pack of Goths sacking Rome.

To criticize Diebold is to critique the WHOLE SORRY HOUSE OF CARDS who all act like they were members of the same happy club -- and in fact, they are. People from one part of this structure typically relocate to other segments.

- Indicted vendors become election officials (Lance Gough, Chicago).

- Convicted felons who were vendors become elections consultants (John Elder, Diebold ballot printing.)

- Regulators become vendors (Ralph Munro, Bill Jones, Sandra Mortham, Lou Dedier).

- State elections officials become convicted felons (Ark. sec. state Bill McKuen, Louisiana elections director Jerry Fowler).

- County elections officials vacation with vendors (Los Angeles' Conny Drake McCormack, Diebold's Deborah Seiler).

- Political powerbrokers become voting machine lobbyists (former DNC chairman Joe Andrew, now Diebold lobbyist.)

- County elections officials hire PR firms and lobbyists who work for the vendors at the same time (Riverside County/ Sequoia/O'Reilly PR; Ohio Association of county election officials share their lobbyist with Diebold)

The interchangability of elections officials, regulators, lobbyists, indicted personnel, and vendors is a gigantic set of Tinker-Toys.

That's why companies like Diebold have been so protected. If Diebold goes down, people might look too closely, causing the whole thing to collapse in scandal.

- At Black Box Voting, we've been told that we need to leave these TinkerToy Turkeys a graceful way out.

- We are told that it is rude to tell it like it is.

- We are told that the situation can't be fixed if we are politically incorrect.

That's probably true, if you leave this to legislation. But We, the People, can never again leave it up to others to fix our broken election system.

At some point, we've got to hold this turkey's feet to the fire. Now all the people who cooked this turkey are jockeying for position in the free pass line.

Is that what we want? Do We, the People, really need to be that polite to those who took away our ability to oversee our own elections? Have we become a nation of bootlickers, cowed to politeness before the very people whose corrupt practices invaded our most fundamental right?

What our public servants brought to the table was not what we ordered. Send it back.

Now have a happy Thanksgiving!

- Black Box Voting


Black Box Voting is a nonprofit, nonpartisan 501c(3) elections watchdog. We are fighting for your right as a citizen to view and oversee your own voting process. Our focus is on increasing your access to the elections process, obtaining crucial public records to document what is going on in elections, and exposing procedural problems that corrupt the integrity of the election.

Black Box Voting is supported entirely by citizen donations. You can support this important work by clicking here: or by sending to 330 SW 43rd St. Suite K, PMB 547, Renton WA 98055Black Box Voting


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