By Ernest A. Canning on 4/29/2013, 6:35am PT  

Over the past decade, The BRAD BLOG, has become one of the nation's largest repositories of articles documenting the folly of e-voting. Thousands of articles at this site, written over the years by multiple journalists, computer experts, scientists, whistle-blowers and election integrity advocates, have pointed to academic and government studies, electoral train wrecks in election-after-election and out-and-out system crashes resulting in long lines, lost votes and denial of both service and democracy on Election Day.

We've even documented instances in which the official results were not merely absurd, but in some cases, virtually impossible --- from the negative 16,022 votes registered for Al Gore by a Volusia County, Florida optical-scan system during the contested 2000 Presidential Election to the thousands of electronic votes which simply disappeared after election night in Monroe County, Arkansas' 2010 state primary, just to mention a couple.

With rare exception, these very real, scientifically-based and independently verifiable concerns about the threat to democracy posed by a lack of transparency in how, if at all, votes are counted within the confines of computer vote tabulators, have, at best, been all but ignored by the mainstream corporate media, or, worse, scoffed at by the likes of "journalists" like Chuck Todd, NBC News' supposed election expert, as little more than "conspiracy garbage." With rare exception (e.g. last year in Palm Beach County, FL where, as a result of a 100% hand-count of paper ballots, several "losing" candidates, as initially determined by the Sequoia optical-scan tabulators, were actually found to be the winners) election-after-election has been decided in this nation without so much as a single ballot having been counted by a human being before results, right or wrong, are announced to the public.

The extent to which the U.S. government has ignored these scientific concerns was encapsulated by the fact that, last Fall, the President of the United States saw fit to cast his early vote on the oft-failed, incredibly-vulnerable, easily-hacked and 100% unverifiable Sequoia AVC Edge Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) touch-screen voting system in Chicago --- a system manufactured by the same voting machine company which, according to its former employees, deliberately sabotaged the punch card paper stock that was bound for use in Miami-Dade, Florida during the 2000 Presidential Election. That same tabulation system, relied upon by the President in Chicago, was also the one which declared the wrong "winners" in three different races in the Palm Beach County elections held earlier last year.

President Obama, in an apparent reference to the secrecy of the vote, said "I can't tell you who I voted for." He either didn't realize or didn't care how ironic that statement was given that it is scientifically impossible to ever know if his vote, or anyone else who cast a vote on that same 100% unverifiable e-voting system, was recorded accurately, or at all. It disappeared into the electronic black hole on equipment now ostensibly owned by Dominion Voting Systems, the Canadian corporation which purchased Sequoia in 2010. The Sequoia-manufactured, Dominion-owned e-voting machine Obama used to cast his vote last year was the trade secret Intellectual Property of yet another company: Smartmatic Voting Systems, a Venezuela-based, international e-voting systems manufacturer and supplier which had long ago been tied to the late President Hugo Chávez.

But a funny thing happened after the results of Venezuela's recent Presidential election were announced by the country's National Electoral Council (CNE). According to the electronic central tabulators of the country's 100% unverifiable Smartmatic DRE e-voting systems, Chávez protégé, Nicolas Maduro, had narrowly defeated the U.S.-backed Henrique Capriles.

At that moment --- and only for Venezuela's election, clearly --- both the U.S. government and U.S. mainstream corporate media suddenly became election integrity converts.

They insist on a 100% hand-count of the DRE-produced paper receipts because, as observed by ABC News, the CNE results are based upon "information that is sent electronically from each voting machine to the central vote counting hub," and not "from a manual count of the voting receipts deposited in ballot boxes." That, of course, is almost the exact same way that President Obama's vote in Chicago was tallied, either accurately or not, last year.

When asked by the AP's Matthew Lee whether the U.S. would recognize the Maduro government now that the election had been certified by the CNE, the State Department's Patrick Ventrell said earlier this month: "We're not there yet." His sentiment would be echoed by Secretary of State John Kerry, ironically enough, in an appearance before Congress. Both Ventrell and Kerry claimed to be concerned about the "confidence of the Venezuelan people in the quality of the vote."

Setting aside the fact that there is no way to know whether any computer-printed paper receipt accurately reflects the will of any voter in any election, the event underscores, once again, the striking duplicity of both the U.S. government and the corporate-owned mainstream media on the subject of democracy...

Unverifiable count

It is not altogether clear whether those calling for a hand-count in Venezuela understand that there are no actual paper ballots known to have been verified by any voter, to be hand-counted. As observed by the Chief Justice of the Venezuela Supreme Court Luisa Estella Morales, "the electoral process is absolutely automated in a way that manual counting does not exist." In fact, the Chief Justice observed, under a provision in that nation's constitution, adopted in 1999, manual counts were "eliminated."

The paper trail referred to by the ABC News report are simply printouts produced by the Smartmatic DREs, aka, a so-called "Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail" (VVPAT), similar to the ones produced by many of the DRE machines still shamefully used in U.S. elections. Unlike hand-marked paper ballots, VVPATs do not provide a reliable source for determining the accuracy of the vote count. As revealed by an MIT/Caltech study of the Sequoia DRE system, the vast majority of voters don't even bother to check their VVPATs at the end of the voting process. Another study, performed as part of a doctoral thesis by Rice University's Sarah P. Everett, found that, during a mock election, nearly two-thirds of voters who did review the final confirmation of their vote on the computer, failed to notice when their votes had been flipped by the system.

Everett observed, "it is highly unlikely that voters will detect changes to their ballots on the VVPAT, that prints out on a roll of paper next to the machine, if they are not even noticing them on a screen presented directly in front of them."

In September 2008, the Computer Security Group at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) released a short video demonstrating how a single person can hack an election on a touch-screen voting system --- even one with a VVPAT --- in such a way that it is highly unlikely that the manipulation would ever be detected by either the public or by election officials.

In the UCSB video, posted again below, the hack of a Sequoia voting system being prepared for use in an entire county is done in approximately 3 seconds, by a single person with simple insider access and a $10 USB thumb drive. Every machine used in the county, in such a case, would be affected by the manipulation. Moreover, the hack would not be discovered by pre-election "Logic and Accuracy" testing --- in cases where election officials actually bother to perform such tests prior to elections --- nor would it likely be discovered even in the event of a complete, 100% post-election audit of the touch-screen "paper-trail" records. That is the same sort of 100% post-election hand-count that U.S. officials are now calling for, for some reason, in Venezuela.

Here's the demonstration of the UCSB Sequoia hack...


PART 1
PART 2

The UCSB video was made as part of the "Top to Bottom Review" carried out by CA Secretary of State Debra Bowen (D). As a result of that review, in 2008, the same Sequoia DRE on which the President of the United States cast an early vote in October 2012 was decertified for use within the Golden State, with limited exceptions for disabled voters who choose to use them, as per federal law. Indeed, during the 2012 general election in U.S., despite the findings of the world-class computer security experts who worked on Bowen's study, the Sequoia AVC Edge touch-screen was used in 234 jurisdictions across all or part of some 13 states.

Why conceal Smartmatic/Sequoia/Dominion connection?

A critical feature of the U.S. corporate media's response to studies like the ones cited above is not simply that it has chosen to ignore the documented vulnerabilities of our e-voting systems, but has also largely ignored Brad Friedman's in-depth reporting about the confirmed link between Smartmatic, Sequoia and Dominion, as well as the remarkable lengths to which Sequoia and Dominion have gone to downplay, or all together conceal, their connections to the Venezuela-based e-voting system vendor.

In May 2008, Friedman not only exposed the fact that Smartmatic retained the proprietary, trade secret protected IP rights in the Sequoia DREs, but documented that the connection was fraudulently concealed by Sequoia's then CEO Jack Blaine during testimony to Chicago Alderman Edward M. Burke and the Chair of Chicago's Board of Election Commissioners Langdon D. Neal.

Subsequently, in 2010, Friedman exclusively reported that Dominion lied about the company's Intellectual Property being owned by the Chávez-tied company when the Canadian firm initially announced their takeover of Sequoia's assets that year, becoming this country's second largest voting machine provider.

While the deception is, of itself, disturbing, the question naturally arises --- why?

The answer may have at least been hinted at in a civil complaint filed late last year by Smartmatic in the Delaware Chancery Court. The complaint alleges that Dominion breached a 2009 License Agreement in which Dominion allegedly granted Smartmatic "a worldwide license to market, make, use, and sell precinct count optical scan voting systems (PCOS) utilizing Dominion's optical scan voting system technology."

The legal dispute arose when Dominion began competing directly over PCOS international sales. The dispute gave rise to a concern, expressed by The Manila Times, that Smartmatic's ability "to correct errors" in PCOS machines it had sold to the Philippines would be compromised if Smartmatic lacked access to the Dominion software source code.

The flip-side of The Manila Times' concern could arise in Dominion's inability to correct "errors" in the Sequoia AVC Edge DREs because of Smartmatic's trade secret, proprietary control over that touch screen's source code.

Long time readers of The BRAD BLOG, who are familiar with the Clint Curtis story, however, realize that just one outrageous aspect, when it comes to issues of election integrity in this country, is that any private e-voting system vendor retains trade secret proprietary control over our public elections, even as they also conceal actual vote-counting from the public.

In a sworn affidavit, first published by The BRAD BLOG in 2004, and again in subsequent sworn Congressional testimony, Curtis, a computer programmer and former Republican, alleged that, in October 2000, former Congressman Tom Feeney (R-FL) asked the firm Curtis was then working for, to design a prototype for e-voting software capable of flipping the vote in South Florida. Feeney, according to Curtis, wanted the vote-flipping routines to remain undetectable even if someone gained access to the source codes. Curtis told him that was "virtually impossible," according to his affidavit and testimony, but that as long as the source code was not revealed, "any vote fraud would remain invisible."

The real problem is not whether private e-voting system vendors can conceal the source codes from one another, but why we the people permit any private e-voting vendor to conceal the source of an otherwise invisible electronic count. But even revealing the source code would not reveal if machines tabulate votes correctly, as there is no way to know if the source code examined on the Monday before an election is the same code used during the election on Tuesday.

We the people have permitted all of this even in the face of patently absurd results, such as the one which occurred when the 100% unverifiable ES&S iVotronic DREs in South Carolina produced inexplicable results claiming that the unemployed and virtually unknown Alvin Greene had somehow defeated the respected, well-known Circuit Judge Vic Rawl to win the nomination for the U.S. Senate in that state's 2010 Democratic primary election.

Those same 100% unverifiable ES&S iVotronics are still in use in South Carolina and elsewhere. They will, next week, determine the outcome of this year's special election for a U.S. Congressional seat in the much-watched race between Elizabeth Colbert Bush (D) (Stephen Colbert's sister) and former Governor and disgraced philanderer Mark Sanford (R). And, if it runs true to form, the MSM will report on who "wins" that election just after the close of polls next Tuesday night without noting that almost every single vote cast in the race --- save for those cast on paper-based absentee ballots --- can never be verified by any human being as having been recorded or tabulated accurately.

'Democracy' as pretense

Whether one turns to the insider account provided by John Perkins in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man or any of hundreds of available academic works, the one salient feature is that, for more than 60 years, U.S. foreign policy has been grounded upon the financial interests of a U.S. based, multinational corporate empire. The reality is that our government has had no qualms about aligning itself with harsh, right-wing dictatorships, so long as those dictatorships act in the interest of what Perkins dubbed "the corporatocracy."

Instead of supporting democracy abroad, our government has, time-and-again, used subversive means to overthrow democratically elected governments --- e.g., the CIA-supported coup d’états, which deposed the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, Iran 1953, the democratically elected government of President Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán, Guatamala, 1954, and the democratically elected socialist President Salvador Allende, Chile Sept. 11, 1973. Although Iraq, in 2003, was under control of a dictator, only the deceived and the naive still actually believe the unprovoked 2003 invasion of that oil-rich nation had anything to do with either WMDs or the democratic aspirations of the Iraqi people.

And, as documented by Professors Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent, for more than half a century, the corporate-owned U.S. media has played the role of a propaganda outlet for the corporatocracy, slandering the integrity of foreign governments who do not hew to the corporate line while minimizing the anti-democratic and often brutal features of U.S. supported dictators who have sold out their own people for a slice of the corporate pie.

This pattern continued throughout the years of the Hugo Chávez Presidency, where the U.S. MSM, led by its paper-of-record, The New York Times, sought to portray the aborted attempt to topple the Chávez government by a U.S.-supported coup d’état as a "pro-democracy move."

Consistency in duplicity

Perhaps the best that can be said is that, when it comes to the gap between election integrity concerns at home and abroad, the U.S. government and the corporate MSM have been consistent in their selective outrage.

For example, as observed by Steven F. Freeman, Ph.D. and Joel Bleifuss in Was the 2004 Election Stolen? Exit Polls, Election Fraud and the Official Count, the U.S. and the corporate MSM will routinely cite significant variances between Exit Polls and official election results as evidence of election fraud --- but only as applied to foreign elections. When those variances occur in domestic elections, as was the case in the 2004 Presidential election in the U.S., the government and the media not only presume that the error is to be found in the Exit Polls, not the election results, but the pollsters actually "adjust" (corrupt?) their Exit Poll results to conform to the official count. That is not "conspiracy theory". That is simply a fact, which Exit Pollsters themselves will confirm.

The fact that John "can't concede fast enough" Kerry would ask for a Venezuelan hand-count in 2013, out of a supposed concern about the "confidence of the Venezuelan people in the quality of the vote", is particularly ironic --- and galling. Where was the concern for the confidence of the American people in the quality of the vote in the face of significant evidence of GOP election fraud in the Ohio 2004 Presidential Election, including what some have described as a classic man-in-the-middle manipulation of the computer-reported results?

So, if nothing else, U.S. government/media duplicity in the variance between their recognition of a need for hand-counts of paper ballots for foreign elections, while the need is all but ignored in the U.S., is, at least, consistent with past duplicity.

Who are we to judge?

It has been a consistent theme at The BRAD BLOG that election integrity is "not a matter of Right and Left but of right and wrong." The ideal would be for all nations, including our own, to adopt Democracy's Gold Standard --- hand-marked paper ballots, publicly hand-counted at each precinct on Election Night, with results posted decentrally at the precincts before ballots are moved anywhere.

But one can best lead by example. As long as the U.S. refuses to adopt election integrity for its own domestic elections, it is hardly in a position to criticize a foreign government for a lack thereof. To the contrary, its duplicity has opened the door to the charge leveled by Bolivian President Evo Morales that the U.S. demand for a recount in Venezuela amounts to an "open meddling, which looks to create unrest, leading to further interference with a coup d’état."

So who are we to argue with him?

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Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968). Follow him on Twitter: @Cann4ing.

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