Why the Busby/Bilbray Election Matters (or Should) to the Entire Nation...
(HINT: It's not about Busby or Bilbray or San Diego or even California!)
By Brad Friedman on 6/26/2006, 12:02pm PT  

My reporting here, and the concerns expressed about the Busby/Bilbray election results as announced, have little or nothing to do with Francine Busby or Brian Bilbray or even, in particular, the June 6th U.S. House special run-off election in California's 50th congressional district.

It has only a tiny bit more to do with San Diego. And only slightly more than that to do with California.

It has everything, however, to do with democracy. Across the entire country. As opposed to any one race in any one area.

If I've not been clear on that until now, please allow me to set the record straight.

The concerns I've reported --- and will continue to report --- over the blatant disregard for the rule of law and clear illegalities endorsed and encouraged by the SD County Registrar of Voters, Mikel Haas, and apparently approved at this point by California's Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, have everything to do with the future viability of democracy in this country in general, and a perhaps naive hope that there's a chance in hell that taking action now will help to salvage a shred of legitimacy for this November's election.

That can only happen if action is taken now, however, directly in regard to the Busby/Bilbray election results as announced.

As far as I can see it, what happens in regard to Busby/Bilbray will be America's last, best, and only hope of affecting any real election reform prior to the November 7th general election. That's why, for me, this has become "Line in the Sand" time.

Never, in the two-and-a-half year history of The BRAD BLOG have I set aside almost everything else in order to cover and raise attention to a single story --- to the exclusion of almost every other story --- for such a long period of time as I have done since the original coverage of this matter the day after the June 6th election.

Since then, I've stated many times in both written and spoken words that I don't actually give a damn who won the Busby/Bilbray race and that I didn't even much bother to follow any of it prior to Election Day. I've got no dog in the hunt and only care that the person who actually received the most votes is the one that was declared the winner. At this point, there is absolutely no way of knowing who actually won.

The fact of the matter is that just two or three months after both the federal certification oversight body (NASED) and California's own Secretary of State issued emergency "security mitigation requirements" in light of newly discovered and massive vulnerabilities in Diebold's voting systems, those security requirements were entirely tossed out the window when all of the machines were sent home with poll workers for overnights in the days and weeks prior to the election. In doing so, the machines themselves were effectively rendered illegal and uncertified for use in any California election, and at the federal level as well.

Unless something is done, the same thing is about to happen in elections across this entire country.

(NOTE: Lou Dobbs will be covering this issue on CNN tonight I am told. Including interviews with some of the poll worker sources we gave them after originally reported on them here at BRAD BLOG.)

I'd have hoped that more media, candidates, individuals and even Election Reform organizations would have come to understand the national significance of what all the sturm and drang here has actually been about. If they haven't, that's likely my failing. So I'll try again to make both myself and the stakes here crystal clear...

What happens here and now --- in regard to this race and its results as announced --- will send a signal to elections administrators across the country. The signal will be one of two...

Either the rule of law must be followed in the administration of elections, because the citizens of this country demand accountability and verifiability in our elections and democracy itself depends on confidence in the results of these elections...

Or the message will be that elections officials, spending billions and billions of our own tax dollars, are welcome to ignore all such laws and emergency security provisions in the wake of the first-time use of the world's most tamperable voting machines, tell us on Election Night whatever (unverified and unverifiable) numbers they wish, and Americans will subsequently roll over and say "Great. Good enough for us. We'll believe anything you tell us. Even if you haven't and couldn't prove your results are accurate if your life depended on it."

I received an email the other day from a congressional office complaining that I hadn't given any coverage to a so-far successful effort by Republicans to indefinitely postpone a vote on the renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

"Busby is one race, one region," the staffer wrote, "this affects the ability to seek justice nationwide."

I replied that, of course, in normal times The BRAD BLOG would have covered the cynical, shameful, and anti-democratic story of Republicans scuttling the renewal of the beloved and necessary Voting Rights Act with much prominence. Perhaps even with a siren! We have covered issues surrounding the Voting Rights Act many times here. And, of course, we will continue to do so.

These are not normal times, however. And, as I pointed out in my reply --- and to several others recently along the same lines --- even if we could ensure tomorrow that every single American who wanted to vote legally was allowed to do so without problem or disenfranchisement, we still won't have legitimate elections without seeing to the problem of the security of the machines using secret software, written by private companies, to count our vote without any sort of accountability or transparency.

This is a lesson that the DNC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and virtually all Democratic lawmakers have apparently yet to grasp.

I've heard recently that the DNC will soon be announcing an initiative for "Election Protection" for this November's election. The initiative will include attorneys, poll-watching and a paltry $500k to pay for it all. Not one word, as far as I've heard (and I'd be delighted to hear otherwise from anyone at the DNC) about what the hell will be done to ensure integrity of the voting machines proliferating the electoral landscape for the very first time this year --- the year the disastrous Help America Vote Act (HAVA) mandates kick into full gear.

If the DNC and any of the other organizations and/or candidates give a damn about Electoral Integrity the time to act is now. Busby/Bilbray is the only federal election in the country at the moment, and it's the first one to have occurred since the discovery of the massive vulnerabilities in this new crop of electronic voting machines (Diebold in proven particular, but all of them in theory). As mentioned, those newly discovered vulnerabilities have sent both states and the federal oversight bodies scrambling to produce emergency "security mitigation requirements" for the approved use of such machines.

But what good are such rules and laws if they are not followed?

In San Diego County, in the Busby/Bilbray (CA-50) race, those emergency requirements were all but ignored when San Diego County's registrar Mikel Haas sent the machines home for overnights with poll workers in the days and week prior to the election. California's Secretary of State, Bruce McPherson, who convened a special commission of independent computer scientists and security experts to assess the problems once they came to undisputed light last December, has blithely ignored the fact that his own so-called "conditional certification" for the machines, based on his own "security procedures", were clearly violated.

The machines used in San Diego county on election day were uncertified then by both state and federal standards. They are as presumed-contaminated as a blood sample would be if taken at a crime scene, then sent home for storage in a worker's car or garage for a week before being brought into the crime lab, as the voting machines were.

The announced results of the election, therefore, as based on totals reported from presumed-tainted optical scan systems --- on the same day that two different races in Iowa were overturned after a manual hand-count of ballots revealed that the announced post-optical-scan loser had actually won the race instead! --- will always be suspect until they are verified via a 100% manual hand count of the paper ballots used in the race. (And with the hope that the chain of custody for the ballots themselves has been secure this whole time. Not an easy presumption to make given Haas' own appalling lack of security and ability to follow the rule of law in administrating the election up until now.)

It is for these reasons, not because any of us actually care about the Busby/Bilbray race in particular, that so many election protection organizations, candidates and individuals have now declared "NO CONFIDENCE" in the reported results and are demanding a manual hand-count of the ballots.

By applying enough public pressure on officials, enough that a judge might order a manual hand-count of the ballots (a COUNT, not a REcount as paid for by citizens or the candidate, since we already paid them once to count the ballots, and they failed to do so!), we want to send a signal to elections officials across the country that these things, such as following the rule of law, actually matter.

On the other hand, if absolutely nothing is done now, I assure you that by November --- when some 435 U.S. House races and 30-something U.S. Senate races occur on the very same day --- we will have an unmitigated disaster on our hands, for which it will be largely too late to do anything.

Need more indication that action must taken now before elections are held in thousands of counties across the country on the same day? See what's now being reported as having occurred in Riverside County, CA on Election Day!

No security. No accountability. And, most tragically of all in the bargain, no democracy.

It's time to act now. I will do so, to the best of my ability. If the media and the various political parties and the host of candidates who will be directly affected by this don't wish to do so, that's up to them.

I'll be doing so either way. Because it's not about them or their victory or their loss in any election. It's about our democracy. And, apparently, it's up to us to try and preserve it.

Even if many of those folks don't understand it. Or worse, even if they do understand it, but don't think it's worth bothering.

I suggest that nothing in this election year, no single issue, is of greater import to our country. That's why I've been going to such extraordinary measures. I hope you'll join me.