Election Integrity Experts Converge and Join Both Republican and Democratic Candidates in Quest for Transparency
New Hampshire Secretary of State Questioned About Documentation, Poll Records, and Diebold Memory Cards...
By Brad Friedman on 1/15/2008, 4:27am PT  

By Brad Friedman from Sacramento...

Election Integrity experts from around the country have been converging on the Granite State over the last several days, in preparation for "historic" state-wide hand counts of New Hampshire's Primary Election ballots, The BRAD BLOG has learned. Counts of votes on both the Democratic and Republican sides will begin in earnest this Wednesday, as long as the two contesting candidates deliver certified checks by 3pm on Tuesday, in amounts determined on Monday by Secretary of State William M. Gardner.

The battle for transparency and accountability on the ground, where some 80% of the state's ballots were tallied only by error-prone, hackable Diebold optical-scan voting machines, without human audit or spot-checking of any kind, in last week's first-in-the-nation Primary, is already growing heated on both sides of the aisle, and even inside the statehouse as of Monday.

While representatives from each of the contestants have reportedly been working together on several aspects of the two separate counts --- each claiming to have requested the hand-counts in order to help answer questions about anomalous reported results --- what has become immediately clear, during our interviews with several members involved in the challenges as well as Election Integrity advocates now in New Hampshire and elsewhere, is that these election challenges likely may not mirror the partial recount in 2004, held at the request of then-Presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

The BRAD BLOG has obtained the two-page request for a detailed list of ballot and voting machine-related public documents and records submitted on Monday to Gardner by the previously obscure Republican candidate Albert Howard. Howard's request makes clear that the battle for integrity and transparency in post-election challenges may have finally caught up with the technical sea-changes in voting equipment that have overtaken the American election system over the last several years.

Due to extraordinary complexities in the ever more complicated computer systems, scanners, tabulators, record sets, databases, and proprietary programming that have now been employed by election administrators across the country, the once-simple task of examining and recounting paper ballots --- where they still exist, as they do in New Hampshire --- has grown exponentially more technical and confusing.

Early word on the ground in New Hampshire's capital city of Concord, along with concerns from candidates, surrogates, and election experts alike, suggests that these "recounts" could be like no other in the history of the country...

Howard, himself, has apparently been a quick learner, according to a number of Election Integrity experts with whom we spoke on Monday. They've been advising him on matters of technical and chain-of-custody concerns, as his requests for transparent documentation have already led to confrontations with the Secretary of State on Monday, as Howard told The BRAD BLOG later in the evening.
"I had the election integrity 'Dream Team' in there with me," he told us, delighted about the progress they had been making on Monday. "We've already been learning some incredible things, today. And we've got it all captured on video tape."

"Wait until you see it," he promised. "I'm telling you, it's better than Hacking Democracy," he said, referring to the 2006 Emmy-nominated HBO documentary film in which one of the very same Diebold machines used to tally 80% of the ballots in New Hampshire is seen flipping the results of a mock-election in Leon County, Florida, after its sensitive memory-card had been hacked. (Video of that seminal hack here.)

Two of the citizen election watchdogs present at that Leon County hack, filmed back in late 2005, were also present along with other citizen advocates at the statehouse in Concord on Monday.

On the Democratic side, surrogates for hand-count requester Congressman Dennis Kucinich were said to be conferring with Election Integrity advocates and computer experts across the country as well, as they prepared to focus on the technological aspect of the recount.

As well, concerns were expressed about the private company, LHS Associates, which oversees programming, sales, and service for all the Diebold voting machines used in New Hampshire, as well as most of the other states in New England. Concerns included the recently revealed criminal background of a senior LHS executive, Michael Hajjar, and other less-than-appropriate behavior by fellow officials at the company. The BRAD BLOG has reported on questions about LHS over the past year. We've previously detailed a number of those concerns, along with the criminal record of Hajjar, who pled guilty to narcotics trafficking in 1990. Our most recent reporting on LHS, and what seems to be inappropriate access to voting machines, and confusion concerning protocol for access to voting equipment before, during, and after elections in New Hampshire, can be found here and here.

The costs for the hand counts must be paid, in full and up front, according to Gardner's interpretation of the state recount statute, according to letters given to the candidates today. (The full letter to Howard is at the end of this article.) Both a Kucinich representative and Howard himself questioned the Secretary of State's demand for full payment up front during conversations we had with them Monday evening. Kucinich must deliver a check for $69,600 by Tuesday afternoon. Howard is being charged a total $57,600. Each, at a cost of 24 cents per ballot.

"It's ludicrous," charged senior Kucinich campaign representative, David Bright. "New Hampshire has the privilege of being the first in the nation. This election brings in $3 billion dollars to the economy, so you'd think a measly 70k would be part of the cost of doing business," he told The BRAD BLOG in a phone interview on Monday night.

Both Bright and Kucinich's New Hampshire Attorney Manny Krasner told us that their candidate would pay the fees up front, as required, though they contested Gardner's reading of the law which, they pointed out, only requires a written guarantee of payment.

"We've already signed documents to agree we're doing this," Bright said. "I think they ought to be doing this themselves anyway, on behalf of the voters and integrity."

"If Obama had done it, it would have been $2,000," Bright explained, referring to the state law which allows a candidate in a close election to pay just $2,000 total for a hand count. "So it's clearly an obstacle they're throwing in our way. I don't think it's good government," he added.

Both camps seem confident they will be able to raise the fee demanded by Gardner, though delivery of funds on time to Howard in New Hampshire is still a concern. Supporters of Republican candidate Ron Paul have been helping to raise funds, as questions about the vote totals of the Libertarian-leaning Conservative Congressman from Texas arose after zero votes were recorded for him in the hand-counted wards of Summit. Paul was later given 31 votes, and the issue was chalked up to an error by a local election official.

Donations to the Howard's count can be made here. Donations to Kucinich's count can be made by calling (877) 413 3664 (updated info).

* * *

Last Friday, in a press release from Kucinich, who received just over 1% of the Democratic Primary votes, according to the reported results last week, the Ohio Congressman said that he was calling for the count in the wake of questions about the disparities between results from hand-counted precincts and Diebold precincts. In hand-counted precincts Obama was reported as the winner, while in Diebold precincts Clinton came out on top. Though logical explanations exist for the nearly identical, if reversed, percentages, concerns about Diebold voting systems, found vulnerable to manipulation in independent study after independent study, have driven fears that the tallies were somehow tampered with.

"This recount isn’t about who won 39% of 36% or even 1%. It’s about establishing whether 100% of the voters had 100% of their votes counted exactly the way they cast them," Kucinich said last week, after questions arose about the apparent come-from-behind win by Senator Hillary Clinton which had stunned pundits and pre-election pollsters who had predicted a substantial win by Senator Barrack Obama.

The internal polling of both Senators also, reportedly, predicted an Obama win, as did mid-day Exit Polling numbers, according to MSNBC's Chris Matthews, and other sources who have independently confirmed that Obama was leading throughout the day, according to the unadjusted Exit Polling results, taken as voters were leaving the voting booth.

Howard, a little-known African-American Republican candidate from Michigan, had received just 44 votes according to the officially reported results, but became alarmed after he says television reports had shown him having more than one hundred votes as results were still coming in last Tuesday.

Reportedly, Howard saw his totals on C-SPAN climb to 50 votes, with just 12 percent of precincts reporting on Election Night. Later, he was pleased to note his vote had grown as high as 187.

In Howard's official statement on Sunday, offering reasons for his challenge of the final tallies, he echoed the concerns of Kucinich, the Democratic candidate:

"My real concern is the controversial Diebold Electronic Scanning machines. They were used for 81% of the vote counting in New Hampshire. For the security of a free State we must keep our election process clean, open and fair. This is why I as well as many others supporting this effort feel it is necessary to challenge the discrepancy between the hand counted votes and the Machine counted votes. I believe it is better to take action now in the first primary than later."

* * *

According to BRAD BLOG interviews with a number of the citizen Election Integrity advocates and experts from around the country who had come to New Hampshire's capital, Howard was receiving a crash course on the many technical sensitivities of Diebold voting machines, concerns about LHS Associates' access, the perils of secret software used in New Hampshire's voting systems, and the all-important chain-of-custody issues for ballots, polling records, and, yes, Diebold voting machine memory cards.

Melisa Urda, of the Illinois Ballot Integrity Project (IBIP) was with Howard throughout the day, as video cameras rolled on nearly every moment of the early proceedings, discussions, and even confrontations with SoS Gardner, and his Deputy SoS David M. Scanlan.

"It's a violation of federal statute that requires original electronic and other election media be retained for 22 months after a federal election," Urda explained, as she described questions that have already arisen during talks with officials concerning the whereabouts and chain-of-custody records for sensitive voting machine memory cards, ballots --- both voted and unvoted --- and other election records such as end-of-election poll tapes printed out by the machines and signed by poll workers after the close of voting at each precinct.

"The poll tapes were in a box on a floor, many of them not signed," said Paddy Shaffer of Ohio's Election Justice Campaign, who had flown in on Monday to help with preparations for the statewide hand counts.

"Initially [Gardner] said 'here are all the election records,'" Shaffer said, as he pointed to the box. She, and the others on hand, expressed worry about the condition and storage of the records, and what seemed to be a great deal of as-yet-unaccounted-for documentation.

Howard's letter to Gardner, in preparation for the count, was sent after consultation with several of the Election Integrity experts, including BlackBoxVoting.org (BBV)'s Bev Harris and the others. Harris said she has given identical recommendations to both campaigns, as her non-profit, election watchdog organization is mandated to be both non-partisan, and non-political. BBV had helped organize the landmark Diebold AccuVote Optical-Scan test, seen in Hacking Democracy. Both she, and Florida Fair Elections Coalition's Susan Pynchon, who was also on hand in Concord, are key participants during the climactic hack in that film.

Howard's letter, detailing the requirements for his hand count, begins...

Dear Mr. Gardner:

I request a proper ballot reconciliation for my recount of the 2008 New Hampshire Presidential Primary Election, and that my recount will include hand counting of Election Day and absentee ballots, including all blank ballots, spoiled ballots, and voted ballots, with each count recorded on the recount form.

For each town and/or ward counted, I request that my recount include the result from each original poll tape, such tape (signed by the election judges) to be examined and recorded by the ballot recount team.

When preparing the results for the Jan. 8 primary election, the office of the NH Secretary of State prepared a tally using an Excel program or similar program. I request a copy of this electronic tally file and a copy of the original data printout from the tally program as used for the Jan. 8 election.

The letter then details public records requests, as per New Hampshire state law, for documents needed to reconcile the accurate hand counting of ballots, as slated to begin in proper on Wednesday. (See the complete letter below.)

The women told us, however, that Gardner, "a lifelong Democrat who has been elected 16 times by a state Legislature that until last year had been dominated by the GOP," according to the New Hampshire Union-Leader, seemed less than eager to meet the candidate's request, despite the nearly $60,000 being charged to Howard, a limousine driver and father of eight from Ann Arbor.

Gardner reportedly attempted to refer Howard's requests for ballot reconciliation numbers, poll book records, reported machine errors, etc., as detailed in his letter, to the Attorney General's office, suggesting the candidate was not entitled to an investigation, only to a recount.

The Secretary was said to have grown visibly, and increasingly, upset at various points through the day.

"The candidate has been willing to educate himself to make important decisions. He's spending a lot of money," Shaffer says she told Gardner, after the Secretary balked at many of the requests. He was unable to provide the whereabouts of many election records, Shaffer and the others confirmed. "We kept asking him questions, and he just didn't want to go there."

In addition to the repeated concerns about the whereabouts of the crucial memory cards --- more details about which, they said, they would likely be releasing soon --- Harris explained that in order to adequately reconcile any hand-count of the as-yet-uncounted-by-anyone 80% of New Hampshire's ballots, a "full accounting" of all ballots ordered, printed, delivered, voted, and left blank, as well as ruined ballots, such as ones where the voter had messed up, and asked for another, needed to be provided, and should be readily available from each polling location.

Florida's Pynchon --- seen weeping at the end of Hacking Democracy when proof of the hacked system finally became clear, as the results of a mock-election on the same equipment used in New Hampshire printed out, with reversed results, on the poll tape --- was troubled that so little had been done since that notable moment two years ago, which revealed that Diebold had been secretly using computer code on the memory cards, which had been expressly banned by federal voting system guidelines.

"Having been at the Hursti Hack," --- (so named after Finnish computer security expert Harri Hursti, who devised the successful scheme to flip the votes, and is also seen in the film) --- "and having witnessed first hand the vulnerability of the Diebold memory cards and machines, it's very disturbing to me that these systems are still in use and that in New Hampshire, there have been, apparently, no precautions taken to even try to mitigate those vulnerabilities."

"It's great to have paper ballots, but paper ballots are just a part of the process," Pynchon emphasized. "The entire process needs to be completely open, completely transparent to the public. When you have a weak link in the process, that's a weak link in the whole election."

"When the Secretary of State won't tell you," about certain key elements of the election, "it's really a red flag," she said.

Nonetheless, BBV's Harris remained optimistic. "This is truly historic. You have two presidential candidates, one from each party, and they're going for a full state wide recount, in a state that has good visibility."

"We need 15 to 20 video cameras and tapers, maybe more" to document everything, she said, as the counts are set to proceed this week. "This really is one of the most fascinating primaries in history. Hand counts [of 20% of the state's ballots] and machine-counts [in the rest.] And full hand recounts. It's really historic."

As we wrapped up our conversation with Kucinich representative David Bright, he was, perhaps, inadvertently prescient about where things may end up going, not only in New Hampshire's upcoming ballots counts, but in the rest of this Election Year, now just 14 days old as of this writing.

"Our new motto," said Bright, riffing on the old Warren Zevon rock and roll classic: "Send lawyers, peace, and money."

For related coverage, please see our index of notable New Hampshire-related BRAD BLOG articles, since the '08 Primary.

Recount record request sent from Republican Presidential Candidate Albert Howard to NH Sec. of State William Gardner on 1/14/08...

NH Sec. of State William Gardner's notice of recount costs to Republican Presidential candidate Albert Howard, 1/14/08...