Last year ended with a number of voter database breaches --- from the Sanders/Clinton/DNC database kerfuffle to the discovery of the still-mysterious posting of some 191 million voter records online shortly thereafter.
But those concerns may pale in comparison to the fact that the nation is about to begin voting in Presidential primaries and caucuses using electronic voting systems and tabulators that have failed time and again, that remain vulnerable to both malfunction and malfeasance, and that are often impossible for the public to oversee in any meaningful way.
On today's BradCast: Welcome to Presidential Election 2016! Good luck! (We're gonna need it.)
Joining us to discuss the voter database breaches as well as concerns about election integrity and oversight in early caucus and primary states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada and beyond is Bev Harris of BlackBoxVoting.org.
Harris, the election integrity watchdog featured in HBO's Emmy-nominated 2006 documentary Hacking Democracy, has been investigating and writing about those voter database breaches lately, including a new one that has just been discovered concerning tens of millions of additional voter records.
While voter registration databases actually contain public information, she explains, there are restrictions on their use, and they are not supposed to simply be posted publicly for download. "This stuff is not secure. It'll probably never be secure," she warns. "One of the things I did was really research how many of the breaches have occurred over time, and it's a shocking number. You can't secure this stuff." As we discuss on today's program, that point is something to keep in mind when you hear advocates of Internet Voting systems (the next nightmare that some hope to force upon American democracy) claim otherwise.
We then step through the differing voting processes used in each of the early voting states, with Harris explaining that completely unverified and/or unverifiable e-voting and tabulation systems --- most of them hacked many times in the past --- will once again be in use in every state in the union. Yes, even where hand-marked paper ballots are used, almost all of those ballots are tabulated by unverified computer systems.
"I'm not at war with a machine," she explains. "I'm at war with no transparency. We have to be able to have some way to see and authenticate that count, before the ballots travel anywhere."
Harris tells me: "The key here is not that there will never be a mistake, or never be fraud. The key is that the public has a right to accountability. If you can catch it, and do something about it --- if you're vigilant enough and doing a patriotic duty of vigilance --- then that's the whole point. When you start saying, 'No, you can never see, you can never account for it,' then you have a problem."
We discuss how it was, in fact, public oversight of hand-counted paper ballots at GOP caucus sites in Iowa in 2012 which resulted in the correct results actually becoming known weeks later, long after the Republican Party misreported them on the night of the caucuses.
Transparency, however, is not quite as easy in other early voting states like New Hampshire (remember the unbelievably unverified mess there in 2008, when Hillary Clinton's victory defied even Exit Polls taken on the day of the Primary?) and, especially, South Carolina (remember the unknown Alvin Greene's 100% unverifiable and inexplicable victory in their 2010 Democratic U.S. Senate primary?)
"There's not just one magic wand you can wave, but there are things to at least force some accountability into it," Harris tells me, describing some of the ways election integrity advocates can try to force the issue a bit. Among her suggestions: "You can go [to the polling place at closing time] and snap a picture of what those [computer tabulated] results are with your cell phone and compare it with, at least, what they report" later on.
We cover a lot of ground in the conversation and I suspect we'll be discussing this issue with her, and others, a lot more as the election year moves forward. But today's show is a good place to begin.
Finally, speaking of warnings we keep trying to give you, Desi Doyen joins us for the very first Green News Report of the new year as El Niño --- turbo-charged by climate change --- ravaged the globe over the holidays and beyond...
Download MP3 or listen to complete show online below...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)