Or, Counting Voters' Ballots in American Elections, and Other 'Conspiracy Theories'
Or, the Mainstream Media and the 'Progressive' Blogworld...One Big Happy Family...With Liberty and Democracy for None...
By Brad Friedman on 1/14/2008, 10:53am PT  

-- By Brad Friedman, The BRAD BLOG

Counting ballots is not done to find out what went wrong, but rather, to assure the results are right.

ATMs are fairly reliable. But I have a feeling if you get $300 from one of them, you'll likely count, by hand, all three hundred dollar bills to make sure they are there. Right? You'd be an irresponsible fool to do otherwise.

But with election results? Um, not so much.

Mahjoun at "Drunkard’s Lamppost" --- a blog which brands itself as "Politics with a spreadsheet and a calculator" --- offers a concise and easy to read summary of the results, as reported, in Diebold vs. Hand-Counted precincts in New Hampshire, along with a very sober analysis (notable for such a "Drunkard") of what may, and may not, be taken away from such an analysis.

Writes Mahjoun:

There are so many variables in an election result that to put Hillary’s win down to jiggery-pokery without any real evidence is over the top.

We concur. Although earlier in his piece, perhaps inadvertently, Mahjoun does a bit of "jiggery-pokery without any real evidence" himself, by stating:

In the end, Clinton won because she was more popular in the large precincts which happen to be tallied by Diebold machines.

Did she? Is there any evidence for that?

As they like to say over at Daily Kos, after all, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." But that only seems to work one way. So, what exactly is the "extraordinary evidence" for the "extraordinary claim" that for the first time in United States history, a woman has won a Presidential Primary Election, while staring down the barrel of dozens of independent pre-election polls, all predicting she would take a thumping?

Mahjoun's point might have been more accurately stated as "In the end, Clinton won because Diebold machines reported having tallied the ballots more in her favor in large precincts."

That can be proven, after all. The Diebold machines did report, after they, and they alone, counted the paper ballots, without examination or independent verification, that Clinton received more votes in enough precincts to be announced the winner of the election. But unless there's something I'm missing, that's the only thing in this whole matter which can proven.

Some democracy, huh?

In conclusion though, Mahjoun gets it dead right, by pointing out what is, perhaps, the most important take-away from this entire mess, unless you are the sort, unlike me, who enjoys seeing these nightmares and questions repeated over and over again, in election after election in this country:

For democracy to work, the system must be transparent and maintain the confidence of its participants. Proprietary voting machines fail both these tests. Americans, as far as I know, are still capable of counting, so should return exclusively to the paper ballot.

Bingo. Buy that drunkard another drink!

But such responsible coverage, from the mainstream media --- or, more disappointingly, the supposedly-Progressive blogosphere, which has had no shortage of new epithets for The BRAD BLOG and its founding father, Brad Friedman, over the past week --- has not been easy to come by.

Rigging the Coverage...

Counting ballots in an American election. Who knew the idea was such a controversial one?

Interestingly enough, you'd think the folks out there offering speculative theories, without any real evidence to back them up, would be the ones accused of being "crackpots" and "conspiracy theorists." Instead, my suggestion that, in an election as anomalous as this one (though it should be true for any election, says crazy me), the ballots of the voters should actually be counted, is seen as some sort of crazy, whacked out notion.

For my coverage here in the earliest hours of the New Hampshire question, I was even compared to Tawana Brawley (a woman who lied about being gang-raped by a bunch of public officials whom she publicly named), by another supposedly-Progressive blogger, Marc Danziger, who calls himself "Armed Liberal," ironically enough, and who felt I was deserving of "a boot to the head," have "gone off the deep end," and at locations unknown have reported that the NH numbers were "the result of a Diebold conspiracy." Keen, huh?

Eighty percent of New Hampshire's ballots have never been counted or examined by anyone. It seems to me they should be. Oddly enough, folks are ascribing all sorts of bizarre notions to that rather sensible (or so I thought) suggestion. Especially while nobody else has been able to come up with any particularly compelling or conclusive evidence to back up their speculative theories about what happened in New Hampshire's primary. Lord knows they've tried.

"Is it ever going to be possible to have an election in this country where some idiot lefty doesn't believe that voting machines were hacked and the results tampered with?...Brad Friedman of Bradblog is a dope," wrote Rick Moran at American Thinker the morning after the election, without substance to back up the allegation.

"While professional pollsters are suprised [sic] that the results were so different than predicted, they are quietly going about the business of determining where they went wrong. They are taking a scientific approach to the problem - something that Friedman has rejected in favor of hysteria and paranoia," Moran continues, before taking another swipe at me as an "intrepid lefty dolt."

He then concludes, still, without bothering to cite the evidence for his claims that I've concluded "the vote was rigged":

Bradblog is no fly by night website. It is one of the top political blogs on the left. For any sane, rational person to jump to the conclusion that the vote was rigged based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever is astonishingly stupid except that evil Diebold is involved and that the pre-election polls were so wildly wrong.
...
[I]t is commentary like this that gives internet journalists and pundits a bad smell and denigrates the real investigative work of others.

I'm fairly sure, but not positive, that Moran was referring to me, instead of himself in that last sentence. But we have no more proof of that, than he does for the assertion that I've "jump[ed] to the conclusion that the vote was rigged."

The Dallas Morning News was a bit more responsible. They bothered to call first to find out what I was actually concerned about. They ran an interesting piece on all of this last week, including several quotes from yours truly. Unfortunately, it seems either the editing, or the headline, "Bloggers form theory New Hampshire vote was rigged," would have skewed the perception that readers might have taken away from it, while I was lumped in with others out there, largely anonymous commenters across the blogosphere, as opposed to responsible investigative blogger/journalists, who have declared the NH Primary to have been "rigged."

Of course, I have made no such accusation.

In the bargain, the Morning News article quotes Markos Moulitsas, the founder of the top progressive blogsite, Daily Kos, in such a way that it would seem he believes questions of the sorts I've raised (pointing out the issues and concerns, and questioning what's going on here) are "a load of bull" from "a bunch of cranks."

The article's writer, Karen Brooks, told me after publication that she didn't believe Kos was referring to me specifically. And in an attempt to clarify, she ran another item on her Dallas Morning News blogsite in which she posted fuller excerpts from both Kos and myself. I leave it to you whether it helped to clarify. I know Brooks certainly meant well in her attempt, and even in her original article.

But in a front-page post over at dKos last week, titled "Enough with the 'Diebold Hacked the NH Primary' Lunacy," by anonymous diarist "DHinMI", in which questions of the sort I've been asking (not-anonymously) are supposedly "debunked" --- in both the article and the comments --- and with a sizable arsenal of out-and-out inaccurate information, bludgeoned up and down the comments section, from the original diarist and his fellow "faith-based" voting supporters and blogging conspirators.

The eponymous Kos himself even jumped into the comments thread on that story to warn, rather threateningly: "Anyone who persists with this crap is engaging in unsupported conspiracy theories and violating site policy, a bannable offense."

Well, in case I didn't remember why I don't post over there, I guess I do now.

In his/her to-the-point opener, "DHinMI" misdirects readers, right out of the box:

New Hampshire has no touchscreen voting. None.

Every ballot cast in New Hampshire except those few cast by the handicapped is written on a piece of paper. It's redundant to say this after the previous comment about touchscreen voting, but let's make it clear: in New Hampshire there is a paper trail.

There is, more accurately, a paper ballot in New Hampshire. But no matter, "DHinMI" is satisfied that one exists, which it does, even if it's never to be counted or examined or audited or even spot-checked by anyone. The reason for his/her arguably misplaced trust: "the incentive for hacking them is not very great, because unlike with the paperless voting, again, there's the paper trail."

Common sense. Nobody would hack a machine with a "paper trail" because they might get caught if someone counted the "paper trail" (again, it's really a ballot), so it's perfectly fine to not bother counting the "paper trails" at all.

From behind his/her mask of courage and circular mis-reasoning, he/she goes on to note:

If Tuesday's results really were the likely result of malfeasance, the Obama and Edwards campaigns would be raising holy hell. They would be seeking a recount, and investigation of the voting, and they would be doing it because they saw the irregularities in the vote results.

Of course they would, Mr. Kerry.

To be fair, "DHinMI" did not either link to us, or mention me or this site by name in the original post. Though in comments, when my name came up, he/she did write "When I see someone citing Bradblog, that's a clear indication they are out of their element, and don't know what they're talking about." Ironic, that.

(UPDATE 2/16/08: Further irony. Turns out the pseudonymous "DHinMI" is actually Dana Houle, the recently former-ized Chief of Staff for New Hampshire's Democratic U.S. Congressman Paul Hodes. Apparently "DHinMI" forgot to disclose that seemingly notable point while attacking those of us questioning the integrity of NH's election processes. Details here...)

He/she goes on to bravely warn us that no problems were found during a partial recount by Ralph Nader in New Hampshire in 2004, so clearly none would be found four years later in a completely different election. He/she discusses New Hampshire's excellent reputation for running clean elections, conveniently ignoring the three convicted GOP operatives who went to jail, with another likely on his way, for jamming an election in 2002. And his/her coup d'etat: "Election administration is done on a town-by-town basis, so rigging the election would require not just a few well-placed individuals, but a vast conspiracy involving hundreds of people, probably more."

Back to the books for ya Mr./Mrs. "DHinMI". We'd recommend BradBlog.com for a starter. Lots of good stuff there. Facts and things that might come in useful when many words in a row must be written about stuff.

You'll find, for instance, that a single company, with a reputation for failing to follow the law, controls the programming and servicing for every Diebold machine, even those that failed during the election, used in the state (and in Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont, to boot).

You'll also discover that the exact same machines used in NH could be used to flip an election without detection, save for counting the paper ballots to make certain the machines scanned them correctly. (See that happen, live, on video, before your eyes, on the exact same Diebold machines.)

There's so much more there, of course. Including another anonymous fellow traveler of "DHinMI", calling him/herself "ne plus ultra" and claiming to have been "thanked" in some 2003 Congressional report on voting, in a comment that he/she then asked be deleted. This self-proclaimed anonymous beacon of election knowledge, then claims to be a "a stickler for accuracy" before the embarassing, and completely inaccurate declaration that...

audits are routine...typically three or five percent of precincts, chosen randomly by the election authority, generally in a public drawing of some sort.

I don't know of the exact provisions in NH, but I know of no state that doesn't have some routine audit of a percentage of the paper-ballot counters.

And these are the respected front-pagers and not-banned commenters of dKos.

Even the great Josh Marshall (and I mean that) decided to sit this one out, by pointing, instead of reporting, over to our anonymous errant Kossack. Josh usually gets it right. Unfortunately, he got this one wrong.

A few days later the next anonymous hero to show up at dKos, "DemFromCT", in a new diary, is pushed for reasons why he and the "front-pagers" over there seem to have such problems with The BRAD BLOG.

Mind you, the undercurrent beneath all of this is that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" according to the rules for posting over there. And with that, the reasons for disrespecting our work on NH concerns are described by "DemFromCT" as follows:

[Brad's] premise is that because machines can be hacked, they were hacked (i.e., we should assume the vote is not accurate). There is nothing, including a successful recount, that will change Brad's premise.

OTOH, there are many, many election integrity people here that have different concerns. They/we are concerned about the potential for error, not the actuality that there was in NH on this occasion. Some want a recount for assurance (trust but verify, if you will). Some want a recount as deterrence. Some want to advance paper ballots and random audits (that's where I am). But they are not arguing that there was fraud in NH. Brad clearly is, if he says that you should not assume the vote is accurate.

The self-declared "CT Dem" has no evidence, extraordinary or otherwise, for the nonsense above. But he/she won't get banned, he/she may even get bumped up to the front-page for such exemplary Kossian Arguendo.

Any semi-regular reader of this site knows full well my concerns about "potential for error"; that we believe ballots should be counted "for assurance"; and we think that the idea of counting all ballots would certainly be a positive "deterrence," particularly if it was done for every ballot, in every election. And yet, says "DemFromCT", I must surely be "arguing that there was fraud in NH" simply because (and this part he/she is correct about) "you should not assume the vote is accurate."

Why would you? May I be your ATM, please, "DemFromCT"? I'll give you exactly the amount of money that I'll tell you I'll give you. No need to count it. Just put in your pocket and walk away. You can trust me.

But finally, the Kossacks charge, 'what happens if they count the paper ballots in New Hampshire, and find the results, as reported, initially were correct? Will you admit you were wrong?'

Wrong to believe that ballots should be counted in an election? Hardly. Though we will remember to send a thank you note to those who spent their own time and money doing what the state --- every state --- should have done with tax-payer money in the first place. Namely, run an election where the results are beyond question because the process is 100% open and transparent and verified (not just verifiable) for every citizen.

Though I'm not sure that I should take much comfort in it, given his now-infamous reputation for apologizing his way through Ohio '04, despite all evidence against him, but even Salon's Farhad Manjoo --- who unlike "DHinMI" or "DemFromCT" --- both has shown the courage to put his own name on his work, and the smarts to do some actual reporting (he called me), instead of stuffing feet in mouth.

Manjoo had this to say in his recent piece on the NH democracy kerfuffle [emphasis mine, for the benefits of near-sighted Kossacks]:

Last night I had a long discussion with Brad Friedman, who runs the election-reform news Web site Brad Blog. Over and over, he said, "My biggest concern here is that 80 percent of the vote is uncounted by any human being." His request is simple and straightforward: "Why not count the damn votes?"

He's right. Why not count the votes?

Manjoo has more to say of course, and some of it is very good. For "balance," he's thrown in some stuff that's just completely wrong and/or misleading, but such is life in Roger Ailes' world.

In the bargain, as the media world chatters and grinds and sifts for low-lying fruit from the masked men and women at dKos and elsewhere, it all results in this: A Seattle Times article on the same topic, which pulled coverage from several different papers, including the Dallas Morning News, to condense the blogosphere, and the Morning News' Brooks to just:

A number of bloggers Wednesday cited the "wildly inaccurate" polls as evidence that the vote was rigged.

"Other folks that I've spoken to, who follow this sort of thing, share my concern at this hour," wrote blogger Brad Friedman, a Los Angeles-based election-fraud watchdog, on bradblog.com.

"Rigged" again. Oh, well.

And around and around it all goes. And it's only Day 14 of this new Election Year.

Eternal Vigilance...

To be sure, there has been some responsible coverage out there, mostly from those willing to put their name on their work, including:

Anyway, I leave you to explore all of the above as you see fit. But I would suggest, as I have previously, that the sort of attempted intimidation, overt or otherwise, such as is found at dKos, and some of the other sites I've linked to earlier in this piece, against those demanding transparent elections that we can all have confidence in, are simply shooting themselves in the face. Please do not be intimidated for standing up for your democracy against such counter-productive, self-destructive, and thuggish behavior, no matter which political coalition may be employing such tactics.

Remember, many of these people are the same folks who wrote the same cowardly bullshit four years ago, giving permission to their Democratic heroes in Congress, in the bargain, to do absolutely nothing at all about this problem for another four years, such that we're now where we are: Another Election Year where things have grown more uncertain, instead of less, and the system far less transparent to citizens than ever before. Such was the case, even right up until New York Times Magazine, a week ago Sunday --- just two days before New Hampshire --- finally dropped the issue right onto their cover, with an 8,000 word report on the dangers of e-voting, and a cover featuring a photo of an exploding voting both with a "WARNING" label: "Your vote may be lost, destroyed, miscounted, wrongly attributed or hacked."

That, finally, three full years after they too played the "conspiracy" games to plump themselves up, to the detriment of your democracy, by describing concerns by folks such as The BRAD BLOG as "the conspiracy theories of leftwing bloggers," in the days just following the 2004 Election.

So here were are. And here they all go again. And this time, it's the so-called "progressive" bloggers, once again, aiding and abetting the media. They continue to whistle past democracy's graveyard, as we continue to count the days until their ox likely becomes gored, and they are forced to suddenly find Jesus on a piece of paper, a box to put it in, and two eyeballs to bother counting it with.

If you blog it, you own it. If you can't prove your claims, state as much, or better yet, don't make the claim at all. That goes for everyone. Don't make me pull this blog over again. I'm driving up to Northern California today to appear at this week's West Coast premieres of, ironically enough, a documentary film called UNCOUNTED: The New Math of American Elections.

My advice to all: We're all in this democracy together, and we damned well better start realizing, as Jefferson said, "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance," before democracy is little more than a wholly vanished remnant of a dream long passed.

Please blog responsibly.

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Our index of New Hampshire '08 Concerns Special Coverage is here.