A First-hand Account from this Year's Annual Democratic National Party Gathering in Chicago
PLUS: 'Internet Voting' (Incredibly) Rears Its Ugly Head at the DNC and EXCLUSIVE Outtakes from Jesse Jackson's Address on the State of Our Elections at 'High National Security Risk'
By Brad Friedman on 8/23/2006, 1:32pm PT  

Blogged by Brad from the still-long and still-winding (and still very hot) road...

"They're dumb as shit."
-- Donna Brazile to Rolling Stone for an article this week, discussing her frustration with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and making the party understand the need to be vigilant during Election 2006.

"Fuck you."
-- Donna Brazile to an Election Integrity Advocate at the annual DNC gathering last weekend in Chicago after being asked where the party was in Ohio after Election 2004.

Such were the contradictions and dysfunctions on parade last weekend in Chicago where I was invited to address a panel on Electoral Integrity at the DNC's annual gathering of state party chairs. What a mess.

The Rolling Stone piece referenced above, by the good Tim Dickinson, is not currently online. But it's from the Aug. 24 issue of RS on newsstands now. It asks "Will Democrats Fight Back?" The answer, as Dickinson reports, is a decisive maybe, probably not, things don't look so good, we hope so but kinda doubt it.

While it'd be nice to give you an encouraging report from the DNC meeting of how the Dems have finally figured out what the hell is going on here --- how they are going to get out in front of this electile dysfunction thing, take the offensive, become proactive and lead the way in becoming the party which stands for vigilance, Electoral Integrity and the assurance that every vote will be counted and counted accurately --- I can't give such a report.

Yes, there are some good things going on there. One of the most notable being Greg Moore who is now the Director of the DNC's Voting Rights Institute. He gets it. Moore was responsible for all of the Election Protection-related events over the weekend. It seems he's been fighting heroically from inside the power structure to wake the Dems up as to what is going on. He's the one responsible for the historic DNC statement a few weeks ago calling for a full handcount in the illegally administered Busby/Bilbray U.S. House Special Election in California's 50th congressional district. But it's clearly been a difficult fight. And last weekend's events made that crystal clear...

Though I am still on the road this summer and was scheduled to speak last Saturday to the Illinois Ballot Integrity Project in DuPage County, I was invited at the last minute to address a group of DNC attorneys and state party chairs at the Chicago Hilton downtown at the exact same time on the exact same day.

It was a tough call frankly. Should I speak to the citizen patriots who are actually fighting the good fight on the ground and making sure that things get done? Or should I take the opportunity to try and bang some heads at the DNC, let them know what's going on, and at the same time try to figure out what they could possibly be thinking just 80 days out before what is likely to be the next electoral train wreck in this first full year of the Help America Vote Act? This year, thanks to HAVA, there is new, untested, unreliable, innaccurate vote counting machines employing secret software set to count our votes. These machines now litter the countryside of our once great democracy. So is there some secret, unknowable reason that the bulk of the folks at the DNC seem to be out to lunch about what is going on here?

I chose the latter option: To speak to and find out what the hell is going on with the DNC. It would likely be the only chance to do so. At least in person. And at least prior to November.

...ELECTION INTEGRITY: THE ISSUE THAT MUST NOT BE NAMED...

There were two main Election Protection-related gatherings over the weekend. The first was on Friday where Moore rolled out the DNC's Election Protection plan to all 50 state party chairs. I was invited as an "observer" to that event, along with a few other activists. Among them, Progressive Democrats of America Executive Director Tim Carpenter and Chairman of the Board Mimi Kennedy were both on hand to speak, and were instrumental in seeing that activists would be invited to the weekend's proceedings bringing activists together with party officials.

The Friday event, a charming DNC aide instructed me as it began, was "off the record" so I don't have too much to report on it for the time being. Not that I noticed any particular secrets that shouldn't be shared. The focus was generally on what the DNC plans to do to help state chairs deal with issues that occur on Election Day, their 1-888-DEM-VOTE hotline number, and other items already rolled out publicly in press releases (and covered quickly by The BRAD BLOG several weeks ago.)

Given that I was on both a speakers list and a press list for the weekend, if there had been anything that shouldn't really get out publicly, there wasn't much security to keep that from happening. None, in fact. I can't imagine an RNC convention running with so little security, particularly if they felt they had some sort of information they didn't want to release publicly to the press, etc. But I guess the DNC is a trusting party...Which may explain some of the problems they have in understanding that our electoral system is not built on trust. It's built on checks and balances and vigilance. Like our constitution.

The program for Election Day itself is much needed. It's a good program. But as I've been arguing on these pages, and all over the Hilton last weekend, the time for Election Protection is now. By November 7th, it'll mostly be too late.

For "balance", a far more optimistic take than mine on the DNC's Election Protection plan, as rolled out officially on Friday, is posted here by the PDA folks. They are encouraged. I hope they are more right than I am. I guess I'll be the bad cop again for now. Someone's got to be.

The real purpose of my presence at the gathering would come on Saturday at an Election Protection round-table where I was asked to speak, along with a few other Election Integrity Advocates, to DNC attorneys, state chairs, activists and other interested parties.

The DNC, apparently, wouldn't even allow Moore to include the Saturday round-table on the official listing of the day's scheduled events! Thankfully, it was announced at Saturday morning's large general meeting of the party by Jennifer Brunner, the Democratic candidate for Ohio Secretary of State. But other than that quick announcement, it was up to the activists present to pass out fliers inviting folks to the round-table.

More on the round-table in a moment.

...GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS AT THE GENERAL PARTY MEETING...

The large gathering at which Brunner was invited to speak was the main, official party session keynoted by Howard Dean. In addition to Brunner and addresses by other party notables, the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee presented their proposal for changing the primary dates for '08 to frontload them for earlier decision-making for the party's Presidential candidate.

More notable to my ears, however, were several new recommendations the committee made, for paper "trails" in voting systems, audits, and many of the other initiatives called for in Rep. Rush Holt's (D-NJ) proposed HR 550, the so-called "Voter Confidence and Increased Accessbility Act of 2005" which is currently co-sponsored by some 200 congress members of both parties. Holt's bill has been stymied so far by Republicans on the House Administration Committee (chaired by HAVA's lead-sponsor/author, Ohio Republican Bob Ney, until he was forced to step down after being named in four different Abramoff-related indictments). The bill has so far been prevented from even coming up for debate in that committee.

While I've got several concerns about that legislation if it should ever see the light of day, I'll leave them be for now, and simply point out that the DNC itself seems to be lining up behind it --- if the new platform recommendations, which passed easily at the gathering over the weekend, are any indication.

Far more troubling for the moment, however, was a line included with the above recommendation for "Internet Voting on Inter-Party Elections." Say what?!!!

Yup, that's what they said, I believe. I have no idea if that currently refers to Democratic primaries, party caucus votes, or what. I hope to find out more in the future, but either way, I'd say that item was damned troubling no matter what it referred to. Whether primaries or caucus votes, knowing how easy it is to hack things on the Internet, it would seem that moving towards such voting is exactly the sort of thing these guys ought to be fighting to move away from! Are they out of their minds? Maybe. We'll see what I can learn about all of that once I'm back in town and on full time blog duty again.

...ELECTIONS AT 'HIGH NATIONAL SECURITY RISK' AND 'DEMOCRACY UNDERMINED BY THE PRESENCE OF TYRANNY'...

Rev. Jesse Jackson was one of the speakers at the Saturday morning general session and, aside from Dean, seemed to receive the most attention from media and others. Jackson's still a rock star at any such event, and the good news is: he was the one (aside from Brunner) who bothered to speak about Election Integrity in his speech. Dean didn't say a word about it. The bad news was that his speech was shortened on the fly, and the following --- from his official speech which I obtained prior to the address --- was truncated for time more than I wish it had been:

While Republican operatives sent terror teams to intimidate the vote counters, our team called off the fight and tried to take the team off the field. Even the supposedly "state's rights" Supreme Court voted to stop a state ruling, then stopped the clock and the count, to make sure Bush took power.

Republicans did whatever it took to win. The were relentless in the trenches. In contrast, our team conceded and took the players off of the field.

In Ohio, it was the manipulation of machines and schemes of voter suppression --- a declaration from the CEO of Diebold that he would deliver Ohio (and other states), no matter what it would take.

It wasn't the absence of faith but the presence of tyranny that undermined democracy.

Because we have private companies, with secret vote-counting programs that are not auditable and not checkable, with electronic machines, we can't check our own votes. This has to change. Our voting machine companies have less accountability for proving the proper operation of our vote counts than the gambling machine companies do in Las Vegas for their profits.

There is a lesson to be drawn from Ohio and Florida: So long as state's rights control elections and elections are controlled by state officials, partisan Secretaries of States should not be empowered to determine the outcome of elections. It would be like a World Cup match where the owner of the home team appointed the referree, and had the power to declare the winner of the match. The credibility, integrity and accuracy of our elections are at risk. High national security risk. Code Orange.

...WHAT ARE THESE PEOPLE THINKING?...

Throughout the weekend events, I did my best to meet and greet the various Dem operatives, consultants, candidates, hangers-on and state leaders to get a sense of what the hell they were thinking. Why are they, seemingly, not making Election Protection a top priority for the Democratic Party --- seeing as how it's the Dems (actually, the voters, but you get my drift) who are most likely to be screwed during this year's Rise of the Machines?

A couple of responses were telling.

One was from a state leader who said there were no problems with elections in his state because they used "paper ballots." I asked how those paper ballots were counted. "Optical scanners," he said, "some made by Diebold, some by ES&S. But at least we have a 'paper trail'," he assured me.

"Since we've now learned about the massive inaccuracy of optical scanners, how many of those optically scanned ballots are actually audited for accuracy in your state?," I asked. "Well...we're working on getting something like that in our state..." he said.

"So, in other words, you have no idea if you have any problems with your elections because you don't actually know if they are accurate at all?," I asked.

"I guess so...," he said before turning to his friend for help in the line of questioning.

Another, more heated, conversation (two of them actually) occurred with a DNC political director in one of the country's major regions. He was remarkably unconcerned about the accuracy of elections with all of the new, untested and innaccurate machinery now in play for November. At least he was unconcerned about the elections in his own region. But was he really?

The more we spoke, the more it became clear that his rhetoric seemed to be built on the premise that discussing electoral integrity out loud would discourage voters from voting. If they felt their vote wouldn't be counted, they might not show up to vote at all.

The suppression-by-discussion-of-facts line of thinking is one that I've heard more and more over the last several weeks and months. The twisted and tortured logic seemingly at play in that thinking makes my head simply want to fall off whenever I hear it discussed. What world are these guys living in?

The thinking here seems to be that if we don't tell voters the truth about the way their votes are counted (or not) they will be more likely to show up and vote. Only to then have their votes not counted accurately or at all, of course. (My head is about to fall off again, just writing about this.)

Perhaps it's just me, but I think the American Voter can handle the truth. Then again, I don't consider them to be absolute idiots, so perhaps that's the difference.

In fact, the discussion with that particular politico would lead me to realize one of the main points I'd try to hammer home during the Saturday round-table discussion: It's the lack of discussing Electoral Integrity which, in fact, supresses the vote! Americans that I hear from are plenty ticked off that the Dems are doing little, if anything, to take the lead in fighting for Electoral Integrity --- in particular, in regard to the Electronic Voting Machines --- and that anger more than anything, and the ensuing "a pox on both of their houses" notion that Dems fear, may well be what keeps folks from voting!

As today's Zogby poll shows, Americans have heard about the problems, they get it, and avoiding the conversation is, in my opinion, counter to the best interests of Democracts and certainly democracy as a whole.

In other words, Electoral Integrity --- and the fight for it --- I will suggest, is a winning issue for Dems. And that was a case I'd try to make to those in attendance during the Saturday round-table...

...THE 'SECRET' SATURDAY ELECTION INTEGRITY ROUND-TABLE...

I'll try to contain my frustration. I'll even try to focus on the good that I hope will eventually come out of last Saturday's round-table. Even if that "good" may be little more than a thought bubble occurring to one of the DNC attorneys on November 8th --- The Day After --- when they think to themselves, "Now what was it those crazy loons were trying to tell me back in Chicago last August?"

I was privy to what could be seen as a first hand close-up of everything that is wrong with the DNC's thinking when it comes to Election Protection. Frankly, I think it starts with the old-school attorneys who have been there for decades and are either too disinterested, or too entrenched to have any clue about what is actually going on on the ground. The younger ones in attendance listened to my sterling and brilliant presentation with interest and recognition. They took notes, seemed to smile and nod in agreement, and even laughed at my hysterical jokes.

The old-timers, however, the ones that currently seem to call the shots, did little more than grin smugly as if they were being held hostage and forced to listen to the tale of a UFO abductee.

Mountains of scientific reports, be damned. One primary election meltdown after another this year? Forget it. The fact that there's not a computer scientist or security expert in the country (or the world) who would go on record to state the machines we're now using to count our votes in the most essential element of our democracy --- the vote --- are actually secure for use in an election? Never mind that. The only thing to worry about is disenfranchisement on Election Day and a "close election," whatever the hell that means these days to these knuckleheads.

They are no more worried about stolen elections now, with billions of dollars of proven-hackable machines being used for the first time around the country, than they were when the entire country used paper systems which could at least be recounted and/or easily reveal malfeasance with any kind of close scrutiny.

The DNC needs a whole lotta new lawyers.

Not that they don't have thousands of them on standby should there be any need for them, we were told. Just as they had in 2004. And we all know how well that went and how useful those "thousands of attorneys" were back in Ohio.

At one point, I finally asked the lead "old-school" attorney where the hell all of these lawyers were. I told him that I'd been reporting on prosecutable elements of the electoral dysfunction across the country for at least the last two years. I said I've got mountains of evidence and whistleblowers and unrefutable reports and yet I've never heard from them once. And finally, I explained, we came to the clearly illegally administered Busby/Bilbray CA50 U.S. House election on June 6th, and yet still we couldn't get a single attorney from the DNC to join the fight for accountability. It was left up to citizen patriots on the ground to find an attorney, and raise the funds to pay for it all, one $10 and $20 donation at a time (Your donations are still needed, by the way! The contest in that election goes to trial this Friday! Please donate via VelvetRevolution.us! Please?)

So where were all those much-vaunted "thousands of attorneys" after the CA50 election was run on decertified voting machines? Well, the lead attorney said, we can only go into help fight during recounts "for very close elections. The election in San Diego wasn't close at all."

Never mind that just 4500 votes out of 150,000 separated the two candidates on Election Night. Never mind that the machines were illegal and decertified for use by the time the election began, after they were sent home for days and weeks prior to the election with poll workers, and thus, all votes cast on them were illegal votes. All I wanted to know was why this guy had any confidence in the results as reported? What proof did he have that they were in any way accurate? As is, I told him, it's completely impossible for either he, or I, or the corrupt San Diego County Registrar of Voters Mikel Haas to prove the results are accurate in any way. Period. End of story.

Of course, when you're out to lunch, it's difficult to understand all that went on while you were away from the office. This guy seems to have been out of the office for at least the last two years. How else to explain that he seemed to be simply and completely uninformed about what the hell I was talking about?

He stuck to his "we can only show up in close elections" line.

As the tension in the room grew thicker, an activist from New York spoke up to tell the story of a recent election in which a local Democratic candidate had won on Election Night by a single vote, triggering an automatic recount. After the automatic recount, the election was found to be a straight tie and would be decided by a coin toss. The Republican candidate was accompanied throughout by not one, but two, attorneys from the RNC. The Democratic candidate was on her own, received no legal assistance from the party, and eventually lost the seat during the coin toss.

"Oh, that's not good," the attorney admitted during the one moment all afternoon in which he had no snarky retort to the facts he seemed to be hearing for the first time.

But the moment in which I had to restrain myself from walking across the room and punching him in the nose (or, as PDA's Tim Carpenter corrected me: "...from walking across the room and punching him non-violently in the nose") was when an activist in attendance from Oregon spoke up about election concerns in her state. The attorney laughed and said dubiously (and obnoxiously,) "What are you talking about?! You've got all mail-in ballots in your state. You don't have any problems with machines!"

With a cold hard stare, the activist replied: "We still have to count them."

...A FOOT IN THE DOOR...

You may or may not be pleased to hear that I didn't punch anybody in the nose, at least violently. Though I believe I did manage to push things as far as I could at the Saturday round-table without being disrespectful to our host (Moore) who had fought tooth and nail for the meeting to occur at all. As mentioned, he's a champion. I learned from others that Moore had wanted Saturday's meeting to occur the previous day, in the big room, with all 50 state chairs instead of the super-secret, off-the-record session that was held instead. Whoever the Powers That Be are, however, they would have nothing of it. And, of course, they managed to keep the Saturday event from even being listed on the agenda at all, as previously noted.

But at least we managed to get the message through to some of these folks on Saturday. It was clear that it was the first time some of these people were even hearing any of this stuff. So lets say we managed to get at least a foot in the door, even if we've yet to bust it wide open.

"What was it those crazy loons were trying to tell us back in Chicago last August?..."

You'll note I've not called out any of the "bad guys" by name in this article. As much as I'd love to. But I continue to be hopeful that something good will come of all of this and that somehow common sense will prevail. Someday, I hope, we'll be able to work with these folks. So, in truth, I don't wish to publicly shame any of them. They know who they are, if they are reading this, and hopefully they will understand that I come not to destroy them, but to help them. And all of us. As best as I can.

All in all, I'd rather have been in DuPage County on Saturday, meeting with and speaking to the folks who are courageously fighting for Electoral Integrity in real time where the rubber meets the road. Right now. And, of course, this November. Those are the folks who are going to make the difference, if any is possible, this November.

The fight for Election Integrity must begin now as I told the folks on Saturday. If you wait until Election Day, it will be entirely too late. Which is just one of the reasons the fight in CA50 is so important.

But every path is built one stone at a time. So I'll have to take some comfort in the hopeful idea that one stone has finally been laid with the entrenched, if currently clueless, Powers That Be within the Democratic National Committee. I'll have to hope that those who get it --- and there are several --- will eventually win the day.

We'll get this whole mess straighted out by 2008, right? We can only hope. But for now, it seems that may only happen if the Republicans find their ox "gored" between here and there by these god-forsaken machines. The GOP isn't afraid of being called sore-losers or conspiracy theorists. They'll fight for their elections, even if they have to steal them to do it.

The DNC has yet to figure out that Election Integrity is the cross-over issue of all cross-over issues in this country. At this time, they should be the party that stands for Transparency, Accountability and the Assurance that every single legal vote in America will be counted and counted accurately. Every vote. Democratic, Republican, Green, Libertarian, whatever. To me, that's a winning issue. To many of the entrenched Powers The Be at the DNC, however, that seems to be just another distraction from...whatever the hell it is they're doing.

Donna Brazile seemed to be singing a different tune in her comments to Rolling Stone, but the message from too many of the folks at the DNC seemed to be a big "Fuck You" to all of us.

Oh, and I should add that she reportedly followed the "Fuck you" to the Election Integrity Advocate with a "where the hell were you twenty years ago?"

The Election Integrity Advocate replied in kind: "I don't know, but 40 years ago I was across the street getting beat up by the Chicago police." The weekend's gathering was held in the same hotel, apparently, as the infamous 1968 DNC Convention where protesters had hit the streets to make their points to the DNC, only to meet the business end of Mayor Daley's police brigades.

Such as this is 2006, the citizens of Chicago were mostly enjoying quiet weekends elsewhere apparently. The streets outside the downtown Chicago Hilton were quiet as could be.