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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 11.02.06

Electile Dysfunction & Unwanted Presidencies

A report from We Count 2006

By Marc Baber, TruthInVoting.org

Last May, a Zogby poll found that most Americans (excepting Fox News viewers) believe the 2004 election was stolen. If you've read Robert F Kennedy Jr.'s Rolling Stone article on the subject, you're probably convinced. If not, here's my own synopsis of 2004: The exit polls were not flawed. They were right. John Kerry won the presidential race by about five million votes, even after suppression of Democratic voters on a scale never seen before. Although we can conclude this with 99.99 percent certainty because of preliminary exit poll data, no one will be able to prove it, as was done in 2000, because there aren't paper ballots to recount in most of the critical states.

As Josef Stalin famously said, "Those who count the votes decide everything." The election was rigged, so we no longer have a real democracy. The Democrats didn't complain, so we no longer have a real two-party system. The press didn't report it, so we no longer have a real free press. Get over it. 9/11 changed everything. Go shopping.

As one senior adviser to Bush said, "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do." I submit we can no longer afford to get bogged down debating yesterday's realities.

The real question facing us now is, "What's going to happen in November 2006?" The We Count 2006 conference held in Cleveland, Ohio, Sept. 29-30 was a great chance for me to check in with several of the greatest American patriots you've probably never heard of and learn what they see happening in the near future and what we should do about it.

Because I've been reading many of the speakers' publications for two years and because I had some ideas of my own to try out, I managed to get accepted as a speaker and flew to Cleveland, thanks to the generosity of more than a few of my fellow TruthInVoting.org members.


So Many Great Speakers, So Little Time

Mark Crispin Miller, author of Fooled Again was a keynote speaker. Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman of the Ohio Free Press, whom I like to call the "Woodward and Bernstein of the election reform movement", both gave excellent talks. Videos of many of the talks are available for download on the conference website (see below).

Bev Harris, the founding mother of the Election Reform movement and author of Black Box Voting, presented yet another e-voting machine exploit she calls "The Grandmother Hack." In less than five minutes, she removed four screws from a Diebold touchscreen voting machine and replaced the memory card without breaking the so-called "seal" that is supposed to protect the official memory card from being tampered with. If you've been following the latest reports from Princeton, you'll already know that if you can replace a voting machine's memory card you can introduce software changes that, for example, flip the vote in favor of your favorite candidate before reverting, undetectably, back to the normal, certified program. You can also introduce viruses that can travel from voting machine to voting machine, infecting any number of them if they're connected to a network.

Dennis Kucinich put in an appearance Saturday and announced he's introduced legislation in Congress (HR 6200) to require paper ballots in presidential races.

Jonathan Simon, the man who had the foresight and presence of mind to save and print-out CNN's exit poll web pages on election night before they were "adjusted" to match the official counts, also gave a talk describing a random sampling technique that, if used to trigger forced recounts, would detect most instances of vote tampering if the official results are manipulated by one percent or more.

Bruce O'Dell, a 25-year software professional like myself, argued for the elimination of all electronic voting machines and central tabulators.


My "Practical Election System with Integrity"

In my talk, I presented a new voting system designed to prevent all of the election-stealing tricks that I, and the other members of Eugene's TruthInVoting.org group, have read about over the last two years. TruthInVoting.org endorsed my plan in June and we're now in the process of getting it out to other groups and gathering more endorsements.

The plan, which I immodestly dubbed "The Baber Plan," is like Oregon's vote-by-mail (VBM), only better. A link to my full paper appears at the end of this article.

VBM's weaknesses are three-fold. First, VBM makes traditional independent exit polls impossible, so it's much harder to detect election manipulation. Second, because VBM ballots move through the postal system, there isn't an observed and unbroken chain of custody for ballots. Postal workers could, in theory, play "lost and found" with our votes. Granted, the ethics of the U.S. postal service are among the best in the world, but we should strive to make our election system an example for other countries, so, if we wouldn't trust the postal workers in Iraq or Iran or North Korea or the Ukraine then we should advocate a system of democracy here in the U.S. that doesn't depend on the trustworthiness of postal workers. Third, VBM, as practiced in Oregon uses electronic central vote tabulating systems that are vulnerable to programming exploits.

The Baber Plan modifies the Oregon VBM plan in two main ways.

• First, while ballots would still be mailed out to voters two weeks ahead of Election Day, most voters would bring their ballots into official polling places in person on Election Day so ballot chain-of-custody is protected, exit polls are again possible and voters who aren't living humans or may otherwise be ineligible can be challenged (but only if there is demonstrable "probable cause" to believe they're ineligible).

• The second difference is that, while the Baber system still uses optical scanners to count the ballots, the optical scanners would be ordinary PC document scanners and anyone with such a scanner, be they Republican, Democrat, a journalist or just an interested citizen, would be allowed to scan any and all precinct ballot stacks at county election facilities. Web sites would allow voters to confirm their votes were recorded as they intended and give any number of interested parties access to the raw data files so they can compute the vote totals for themselves. Of course, all ballots would have numbers, but no names, to protect voters' identities and voting records.

My talk was well received and I easily handed out all 25 of the copies I'd brought of my paper. It was useful to present the ideas to non-Oregonians because I heard different questions. The possibility of vote buying was the biggest concern about the plan. Although our current VBM would also allow a voter-buyer to see a voted ballot and confirm the vote before it was mailed in, Bill Bradbury's office reports that there haven't been any complaints received about vote-buying for at least the past decade, which easily covers the six-plus years VBM has been used.


What Happens Next?

The media will probably continue to report most 2006 Democratic congressional candidates ahead in the polls by single-digit percentages — what used to be known as a "comfortable lead" in the old days and what we, in the election reform movement, now call "within stealing distance".

No one is really sure what "within stealing distance" means, exactly. For national elections, it's often close to the margin of error on most public opinion polls (about 3 or 4 percent) but variations between polls and official results can be in the double digits at state levels. For example, two ballot measures in Ohio in 2005 polled as passing by better than 60 percent to 40 percent, but on Election Day failed by the reverse margins. So, last year, 20-30 percent shifts occurred and no recounts or corrective action ensued. This year, emboldened by past successes, who knows how many percentage points they'll be able to steal?

I wish I could bet on what the largest spread between exit polls and official results in a congressional race will be this year, but, in all probability, there won't be any unadjusted exit polls this year. Exit poll information will almost certainly be withheld until after the official counts are decided and then only the adjusted results will be released to the public. This will prevent embarrassing discrepancies from ever being discovered as they were in 2004.

In any case, leading up to Election Day, the polls will probably give many of us a false sense that things really could get better next January and that we really might see the balance of power in Congress shift back to the Democrats. This may have side effects of reducing Democratic campaign contributions and volunteerism, possibly leading to lower Democratic voter turnout. It will have the reverse effect on Republicans.

Minorities will probably again have difficulty voting this year due to new identification requirements in some states, voter registration purges and broken or insufficient polling equipment in urban precincts. Voter suppression tactics will most likely continue in many key states.

The consensus at We Count 2006 was that Republicans will probably keep their majorities in both houses of Congress, either by stealing races outright or by "sliming their way to victory" (as Bush did in 2000). While no one knows for sure what will happen, we have a pretty good idea about what happened in 2002, 2004 and 2005, in spite of a near total blackout in the mainstream media. We've also seen plenty of ominous foreshadowing in the 2006 primary elections.

Of course, the Republican Party has its motives for remaining in control of Congress — avoiding impeachment, keeping George's torture privileges and so on. To those who've studies the problems with our election systems, it's fairly obvious Republicans have the means to steal elections. Finally, there will be even more opportunities to steal elections this year since more states now have e-voting machines. So, if they have the motive, the means and the opportunity it looks likely democracy will get murdered in November. Again. I mean, why wouldn't they? It's not as if they'd voluntarily relinquish control of either house of Congress to Democrats. That could seriously interfere with their ability to go on "creating other new realities".


What to do?

The way to deal with serial murderers is to predict their next victim and send out guards and witnesses to prevent the murder and to catch the murderer(s) and bring them to justice.

Based on 2004, we have a good idea of where the most egregious election manipulations tend to occur and where the largest "red-shifts" happened. We also know where the closest congressional races are this year, where the Democrats are ahead, from ongoing polling. Where these two overlap is where we're likely to see election fraud again this year.

There are a number of grassroots groups working on mounting a massive citizen election observer network to videotape abuses at polling places and record the vote-counting procedures. In many places, for example, in the county in Ohio that expelled observers because of a supposed terror threat that the FBI had no knowledge or record of, access to vote counting rooms is restricted. However, we have to shine a light in these dark places and make the truth visible. If you're interested in helping with these efforts, especially if you can travel to other states, please contact TruthInVoting.org.

Many liberals and progressives have become so disillusioned by the current system that they wonder why they should still bother to vote. Sometimes it feels better to refuse to play a rigged game than to be fooled again. I suggest four reasons to continue voting.

First, in Oregon the incidence of election fraud is very, very low and possibly nonexistent, so it's almost a sure thing that your vote will count in Oregon.

Second, even in states where elections appear to be rigged, it's essential to vote because if you don't bother to vote, no one has to bother to steal the election, because they'll win by default — fair and square. To stop election fraud, we have to catch the perpetrators and prosecute them. Election observers with video cameras and witnesses are going to be watching this election closely. If you don't vote, the bad guys won't need to steal the election, and the observers won't be able to catch the bad guys and put them in jail.

Thirdly, in a similar vein, Gandhi said that, when practicing Satyagraha, it's essential to provoke a response from the powers that be in order to make the injustice visible. In this case simply exercising our right to vote may be the only provocation needed to induce the powers that be to steal an election. So, vote! Dare the bad guys to do their worst!

Finally, not voting is exactly what the bad guys want you to do. So, vote, even if only to spite them! Encourage everyone to keep on voting. Voting, even if some of the elections are likely to be rigged, is our way of continuing to assert our expectation that this country is supposed to be a democracy. If we stop voting, it's like saying we don't care if we no longer have a democracy — go ahead and run it like a monarchy or a theocracy, whatever.

One more thing: Get ready to take to the streets if it looks like the Republicans keep the House and Senate by election theft. It won't be too hard to tell. Official results will not match recent polls. It was, to a large degree, massive public protest that forced the Ukraine to have a run-off election in 2004. Though the recent demonstrations in Mexico were not so successful, they did serve to press their case further than would have been possible without the protests.

At We Count 2006, Dennis Kucinich spoke about how it can take a few years for the larger public to wake up to the truth. He said that it took a few years for most Americans to reach a watershed moment in which they realized, "My God! Those people were right!" about Iraq war opposition. He now feels that such a watershed is now approaching for the issue of election fraud. Thanks for everything you do to protect our democracy.


Relevant Web Links

The We Count 2006 conferences, official web site is online at www.WeCount2006.organd now includes videos from many of the presentations at the conference

The full paper, "A Practical Election System with Integrity", is online at www.MarcBaber.com/ElectionReform.htm (click "PDF"). www.TruthInVoting.org

is Eugene's grass-roots Election Reform group where you can find Election Reform video screening schedules, meeting times and much more Election Reform-related info.

Princeton University's study cataloging numerous security flaws in the Diebold AccuVote-TS Voting Machine is online at itpolicy.princeton.edu/voting/