San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Finally Gives Us a Well-Deserved Slap --- How Dare We Work For Election Integrity?
U-T editorial page, how low can you go?
By Emily Levy on 7/25/2006, 12:07pm PT  

Guest blogged by Emily Levy of the California Election Protection Network and the CA-50 Action Committee

Challenge to county procedures unfounded

UNION-TRIBUNE

July 24, 2006

Jess Durfee, the local Democratic Party boss, was right about one thing the other day when he criticized the county's procedures with its electronic voting system: “We risk everything if we risk the integrity of our electoral system.” But about everything else, he and his supporters were dead wrong. And it is their unfounded insinuations, not the voting machines or procedures, that undermine voter confidence in the integrity of our electoral system.

As I said in my response to the ridiculous article in the North County Times over the weekend, “The most important thing is not that voters have full confidence, but that there be a basis for confidence. Public confidence can be manufactured by government disinformation such as has become Mikel Haas's hobby of late and media disinformation such as Schultz's article. But a disinformed yet confident public does not a democracy make. We deserve and demand transparent, verifiable elections.”

And as to “unfounded insinuations,” read any of the BRAD BLOG entries on the CA-50 debacle and you’ll see plenty of documentation.

After the meeting, a gaggle of protesters demonstrated outside, suggesting that poll workers can't be trusted, that the memory cards for the electronic machines could be tampered with to change the outcome of an election, and questioning the validity of the vote count in the 50th Congressional District race won by Republican Brian Bilbray.

Brad writes from the road (he just can’t stay away),

“Dozens of elections officials across the nation have been indicted concerning election irregularities. The registrar of voters in Monterey County was indicted just two weeks ago on more than 43 criminal charges.

”Honest Election officials will tell you they should NEVER be trusted! That our system was not built on trust - but rather, Check and Balances. As Reagan said: "Trust but Verify". Just ask the heroic and legendary Ion Sancho, Election Director of Leon County, FL who said in a speech last May: ‘Trust no one. If it can't be verified, it can't be used.’”

Poll workers should not be and have not been blamed or accused by those of us insisting that the election results be verified (proven), not simply certified (rubber-stamped). Brad writes, “It’s not a matter of suggesting they are ‘dishonest’ but that nobody should be trusted since it takes just one person, two minutes time to tamper with these particular machines, it's common sense to follow the Sec. of State's own team of computer scientists who recommended, in their security mitigation requirements from last February, that re-programmed voting machines remain with two elections officials at all times and be sealed with memory seals over all access points (and they were not).”

Now for the other side of the story.

Oh, yeah. You represented our side so well! No need to cite any sources, provide evidence of our well-documented claims or quote our spokespeople. Where are those Pulitzer nomination forms?

Supervisory poll workers, following 16 hours of training, do indeed take voting machines home so the equipment can be readily set up at polling places on Election Day. “It would be impractical, at best, if not impossible, for the county to distribute voting machines to the precincts in time for polls to open at 7 a.m. on election morning. There are 10,000 of them.”

Fine. If you need the poll workers to take voting equipment home, then only use voting equipment that can be taken home by poll workers without compromising the integrity of elections! Seems pretty darn simple to me.

And safeguards are numerous. The memory card inside every electronic machine has a tamper-evident seal. Before the polls open on Election Day, two poll workers check the seal on every machine and certify that the seals were unbroken.

According to this article in your own paper, “In the June election, Haas said, there were no reports of tampering. Though in about 100 cases, the paperwork regarding the seals was misplaced or not returned, he said. Those ballots were recounted by hand and showed no discrepancies with what the machine recorded, Haas said.”

Would someone please tell me this: If “it would take only one person, with a sophisticated technical knowledge and timely access to the software that runs the voting machines, to change the outcome,” couldn’t that one person fix it so that the machine that was tampered with would create an accurate count but that other machines would flip or otherwise wreak havoc with votes? So that recounting the ballots from those particular machines would not reveal the problem?

Then every machine is tested with what is called a “zero tape,” certifying that no votes have yet been cast.

It is my understanding that while a “zero tape” may lead to certification that votes have not been cast, it does not actually provide proof of that, as a machine could “zero out” if its memory contained, say, ten votes for one candidate and negative ten votes for another. Sound ridiculous? Why would these machines even be able to count negative votes? Remember that precinct in Youngstown, Ohio in November 2004 that recorded a total of negative 25 million votes? (Note: that was an ES&S machine, but I have no reason to think a Diebold system lacks the same capability.)

When the polls close that night, a “results tape” is run, with three copies, one of which is posted publicly outside the polling place, before the memory cards are placed in a sealed pouch and transported to Election Central for counting.

Sounds good. Did it happen? Mikel Haas, why have you failed to disclose the chain of custody documents for the ballots? What are you hiding?

It's been done in similar fashion for decades – without complaint or problem – no matter what kind of voting system was used, as detailed by state law.

What was done in the past is irrelevant here. In the present, the sleepovers are illegal. Those memory cards are never to be in the possession of fewer than two people at any time.

The criticisms began surfacing shortly after the June 6 primary, mostly from a small collection of Internet conspiratorialists who see a corrupt partisan behind every voting machine just waiting to sabotage the election.

Ooh, we’re getting more interesting by the minute! Can I play one of us in the movie? And who will play all the coincidence theorists?

I’d personally rather be and be seen as a “conspiracy theorist” than a “conspiracy practitioner.”

And if we’re counting “conspiratorialists,” Brad writes, “I guess we have to include CA SoS McPherson as one of those "Internet Conspiratorialists" since his own team of Computer Scientists confirmed more than a dozen ways in which these specific machines could be tampered with in a few minutes time of unsupervised physical access.

”McPherson’s own lead scientist on that team confirmed to PBS that if one machines was infected, it could affect every other machine in the race.

”We have to include NYU's Brennan Center for Justice as "Internet Conspiratorialists" as well since they confirmed within the last month more 120 security threats to E-Voting.

”The Washington Post must be added to that list as well since they're article just two weeks ago headlined "a Single Person Can Reverse an Election.”

The June 6 primary, by the way, came off with very few glitches and no credible challenges to the vote count – in the 50th Congressional District or any other race.

I guess pointing out violation of laws isn’t a credible challenge (yawn). I guess calls from organizations including The DNC’s Voting Rights Institute aren’t credible challenges. How does a challenge become credible, exactly? Could it be by being met and proven wrong? Okay, we’re ready. Count the votes. Prove that security was maintained in the custody of the ballots and election equipment. Release all the records that the public is requesting. To date, no credible reason for refusing the challenges has been demonstrated.

“They're shocked that we give poll supplies out to poll workers. I'm shocked that they're shocked,” Registrar of Voters Mikel Haas told this page a few days after the election. “Every (county) does this the same way ... like we always have for 40 years.”

Well, Mikel Haas, I’m shocked that you’re shocked that we’re shocked. Nyah-nyah. Why be shocked that we thought you had decent judgment about how to follow the laws and use the “tools” you were so happy to be provided by SOS McPherson?

“When McPherson signed the so-called "conditional certification" for these system, he issued a press release crowing about the security requirements which must be met for use of the Diebold system in the state. (The very security requirements which seem to now have been violated in the CA-50 race.)

The press release [PDF] quoted Haas himself saying:

"I appreciate Secretary McPherson’s leadership in establishing what must be the most comprehensive and rigorous certification process in the nation. To comply with new federal and state laws regarding elections, we need a new and different set of tools and Secretary McPherson made sure we got those tools."

But Haas didn't use the tools.

The critics of electronic voting or the county's election procedures have conveniently forgotten the mess in Florida following the 2000 presidential election – the hanging chads, the recounts, the differing procedures from county to county, the court challenges – that all stemmed from the old-technology punch-card system. The same kind of punch-card system then used in San Diego County.

The critics of the critics of electronic voting have conveniently forgotten that the punch card ballots in Florida 2000 were able to be counted and recounted, and when they were it was discovered that Gore won Florida and therefore the presidency. Chad should never have been hanged. The world of elections is not the same place without him.

Now that was a pall over electoral integrity. Give us electronic voting and its safeguards any day...

…and we’ll give you endless war, an end to civil rights, privatization of the commons, global warming…

Deal?

Would 6 or 7 of you please write to Bill Osborne, Senior Editor, at the U-T?

Phone: (619) 293-1395 or email bill.osborne@uniontrib.com.