Headlines, Human Rights, North America

POLITICS-U.S.: Citizens Revolt Against Paperless Voting

Marty Logan

MONTREAL, Jun 4 2004 (IPS) - Carroll County officials in the U.S. state of Ohio opted this week not to buy an electronic voting machine in time for November’s presidential election, and Dan Kozminski says his group should get some of the credit for that decision.

Kozminski’s Citizens’ Alliance for Secure Elections (CASE) is one of many campaigns – local and national – created specifically to push governments to ensure that if they jump on the electronic voting bandwagon, they must first guarantee that the new mechanism will include a “paper trail” for every vote.

“Many of our members have attended boards of election meetings. We have faxed them, we have e-mailed them many times, and sent out regular mail. We have been working with VerifiedVoting.org and the Electronic Frontier Foundation to encourage their members in Ohio to call their boards of elections to ask them please not to go forward,” says the CASE activist from Cleveland, Ohio.

Across the United States, “the land of the free” and long a shining example of democracy to people worldwide, groups and movements have sprung up in recent months fighting to ensure that everyone who is entitled is able to vote on Nov. 3 and that those ballots are fairly counted.

And their demand for paper backups to electronically-cast votes is an important part of that effort.

So far, CASE has played a part in the decisions of 28 of 31 counties in the northern state of Ohio to not take advantage of new federal funding to buy the machines in 2004, said Kozminski in a telephone interview with IPS Friday.

“Our position is that electronic voting is probably going to be the wave of the future. I’m comfortable with computers – I used to be a computer programmer. But they’re rushing into this whole procedure without really thinking through the issues, and (without) putting forward a very secure, reliable verifiable technology.”

Echoes of that view can be found on numerous U.S. websites, in Internet chat rooms and, increasingly, in the mainstream media.

One of the most-quoted voices is that of Bev Harris, author of “Black-Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century”. She is a journalist who has made uncovering hi-tech voting fraud her passion.

Harris is calling for volunteers to join an election monitoring team – what she refers to as the “Clean-Up Crew” – that would serve as poll workers, election judges and poll watchers in November, when President George W. Bush, of the Republican Party, is expected to face Democrat challenger, Senator John Kerry.

“Some Clean-Up Crew members will act as communications relays to get problems to the media instantly. Additional… members will collect information needed for prompt litigation (and) monitor results for statistical anomalies,” says an e-mail from Harris.

“Please submit your nomination for a county that needs special attention. The Top 10 clean-up sites will each be assigned 100 Clean-Up Crew members, blanketing every polling place,” adds the journalist, who writes on her website that she has embarked on a 90-day road trip to investigate who is profiting from the move to electronic voting.

Many voting activists cite a letter from Wally O’Dell, chairman and chief executive of Diebold, Inc., the largest maker of electronic voting terminals in the country, as proof of the direct link between elected officials and manufacturers: ”I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year,” O’Dell wrote in a fundraising letter in 2003.

In May, O’Dell told the New York Times the letter was a “huge mistake”.

Paperless voting machines were one of many issues to emerge from the infamous 2000 presidential election, which ended with a Supreme Court decision that Bush had triumphed by 537 votes in the key state of Florida, governed by his brother Jeb Bush.

The furore that erupted over that debacle motivated Congress to pass the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002. It provides money for states to replace antiquated voting systems such as punch cards. But it does not require that new systems provide a voter-verified paper ballot, or any form of paper trail.

Without that proof, says Kozminski, you have “no way at all to audit the results, to have a meaningful recount… the only way you can recount is to regurgitate the same information out of these machines, and that’s not a recount”.

He tells the story of an exercise in the northeast state of Maryland, where officials hired a computer expert to try to hack into a staged election. It took the expert only five minutes, “using software an eighth-grader could download off the Internet,” says Kozminski.

Other accounts of real and potential voting machine fraud are numerous and growing daily.

Two counties in Florida, including Miami-Dade, reported problems with voting machines during elections in 2003. The malfunction was compounded by the news that the state official who oversees voting claimed she learned of the glitches only in May, when her office had acknowledged the problems in a March letter.

It is estimated that in November, about a third of U.S. citizens registered to vote will do so electronically, another one-third will use optical scan machines, 20 percent will use punch cards, 13 percent will vote with lever machines and the remainder will use other options, according to company Election Data Services Inc.

On May 30 the New York Times wrote in an editorial that so-called independent testing of voting machines “is riddled with problems, including conflicts of interest and a disturbing lack of transparency. Voters should demand reform, and they should also keep demanding, as a growing number of Americans are, a voter-verified paper record of their vote.”

Earlier this week, Moveon.org, an Internet-based campaign devoted to unseating Bush in November, launched its own paper-ballot campaign, centred on an online petition citizens can e-mail to the president.

“I urge you to make sure all voters can verify their votes. We shouldn’t have to trust electronic voting machines – we should be able to verify our votes on paper,” says the petition.

“November is coming soon. Please protect my vote as if it were your own,” it adds.

Texas-based Diebold said last month that 20 of the 31 Ohio counties chosen to receive federal money under HAVA had indicated they would purchase Diebold machines if they went electronic in 2004.

That could generate revenues of up to 20 million dollars, the company predicted in a statement.

But after Thursday’s vote in Carroll County and an announcement Friday that Ohio’s Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell has banned another county from buying machines because it took too long to make a decision, only three counties have indicated they will definitely go electronic, according to Kozminski.

Yet, to date no companies have had their machines certified for use in Ohio this year.

“We’ve been told that Diebold is expecting their approval by the end of June. We’re kind of hoping that would be too late” to use in November, says Kozminski.

The former salesman says he set aside a project to develop an Internet business so he could work with CASE full time. “This has become a passion (for me), along with everybody else in our organisation, to protect democracy.”

“I was never involved in anything before this issue. And the more I learn, the more I’m horrified about how many votes are spoiled, how elections can be close… how votes are lost, mail-in ballots are not counted. It just absolutely blew my mind.”

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