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Commentary: When Voting Becomes a Challenge

Commentary: When Voting Becomes a Challenge

Early voting in Texas started on Oct. 23, and after six days of it, 7,416 Jefferson County voters had cast ballots.

The question is, did the candidates for whom they cast ballots actually receive the voters' votes?

"KFDM[-TV] continues to get complaints from Jefferson County voters who say the electronic voting machines are not registering their votes correctly," the station reported on Oct. 28. "Friday night, KFDM reported about people who had cast straight Democratic ticket ballots, but the touch-screen machines indicated they had voted a straight Republican ticket. Some of those voters including Lamar University professor, Dr. Bruce Drury, believe the problem is a programming error."

Early voters in some precincts in Florida can relate to that.

"Several South Florida voters say the choices they touched on the electronic screens were not the ones that appeared on the review screen -- the final voting step," reported the Miami Herald. "Debra A. Reed voted with her boss on Wednesday at African-American Research Library and Cultural Center near Fort Lauderdale. Her vote went smoothly, but boss Gary Rudolf called her over to look at what was happening on his machine. He touched the screen for gubernatorial candidate Jim Davis, a Democrat, but the review screen repeatedly registered the Republican, Charlie Crist."

Similar "glitch" reports have come in from San Antonio, Dallas, Arkansas, Virginia and Missouri, as well as from San Diego County in a recent run-off election to fill convicted Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham's seat.

More recently in San Diego, according to Brad Friedman, dozens of Diebold electronic touch-screen voting machines were sent home with temporary poll workers three weeks prior to their use in the upcoming election, even though researchers and scientists at Princeton University – notably, Prof. Edward Felten, who demonstrated his techniques in front of a congressional investigating committee – have shown that a savvy computer programmer would need just 60 seconds to install viral code on Diebold memory cards that could changes the results of every Diebold machine in use in the county!

In Ohio, though, as reported by USA Today, poll workers must take four-hour training courses and study 137 pages of machine manuals, then be tested on what they've learned.

Too bad that roughly one-quarter of them flunked the test.

Not that that would make a lot of difference; the new electronic voting machines are so complicated, and poll workers generally so computer-illiterate, that when it comes to fixing or even troubleshooting the problems that will crop up on election day, they might as well be chimpanzees.

"We know more today about how to build a machine to take pictures of rocks on Mars than we know about how to build a machine to safeguard the American right to vote," complained former U.S. Elections Assistance Commission chairman Rev. DeForest Soaries in an unpublished interview conducted last August.

"We're facing a huge problem as a nation," said Candice Hoke, director of the Center for Election Integrity at Cleveland State University. "We've made the entire election system overly complex and technologically vulnerable, and lowered public confidence in the legitimacy of the results."

Interestingly, in the scattered reports of early electronic voting machine errors this year, as well as myriad reports of the same problem in 2004, it's almost never the case that a Republican vote has been changed to a Democrat.

Or as Soviet dictator Josef Stalin reported said, "It's not the people who vote that count; it's the people who count the votes."

Be afraid; be very afraid.

Debra Bowen, Democratic candidate for California's Secretary of State, has come up with what she calls the "Voter Bill of Rights," which includes "The Right to Vote on Paper," "The Right to Have Election Results Properly Audited," and "The Right to an Open, Transparent, Public Process."

That'd be somewhat different from the attitude of California's current Secretary of State, Bruce McPherson, who allowed Diebold operatives to send out an "invitation," on official Secretary of State stationery, to European computer expert Harri Hursti to come to California to attempt to hack a Diebold voting machine ... except that this would be a special "hack-proof" machine not used in any actual election.

To see Hursti's ability to hack an actual electronic voting machine, just check out the HBO documentary, available Monday on HBO On Demand, titled "Hacking Democracy." The 80-minute show revolves around several electronic voting failures of the 2004 presidential election that were discovered by Bev Harris, founder of BlackBoxVoting.com, and several members of her group. It's "must see" TV.

Hacking electronic voting machines, it should be noted, isn't necessarily being done by outsiders. In an August 14, 2003 Republican fundraising letter, Diebold chief exec Walden O'Dell stated that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." Maybe that's why one of Debra Bowen's voter rights is, "The Right To Vote in a tamper-Proof Election."

But the voting machines themselves are only part of the problem voters have with actually being able to vote. For instance, several states enacted requirements that voters bring with them passports, birth certificates or some other form of state-approved ID card when they show up at the polls, and would be turned away if they didn't have them. Judges knocked out some states' requirements, but not Indiana's or Arizona's.

The Arizona case went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Justice John Paul Stevens, who ought to know better, filed a one-paragraph concurring opinion that claimed, "Allowing the election to proceed without enjoining the statutory provisions at issue will provide the courts with a better record on which to judge their constitutionality." However, U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver ordered Arizona election officials to count how many people without identification walk away without voting.

Moreover, in South Dakota, where the big controversy is a ballot initiative to overturn the legislature's complete ban on abortion, voters won't be able to vote unless their voter registration record precisely matches personal information on some other official list, such as that of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Typos or common glitches could keep an estimated 20% of legitimate registrants from voting – and rest assured, Republican poll watchers and attorneys will be deployed en masse to make sure those rules are followed to the letter. The same will hold true in Florida, North Carolina, Texas and some other states.

And all that is without taking into account the dirty tricks, which by now are legion. "Voting registration drives" whose main purpose is to register Republicans but throw away Democratic registration cards, or drives to surreptitiously switch Democratic voters to the Republican party, are already well documented. In Ohio, Secretary of State (and 2004 Bush campaign committee chairman) Ken Blackwell, who's running for governor of the state this year, issued an order to enforce an archaic law that voter registration cards printed on too-heavy card stock were invalid. Blackwell also seriously considered declaring his gubernatorial opponent, Ted Strickland, ineligible because Strickland's voter registration address didn't match the address of his primary residence – not a crime in Ohio. Also, push-polling accusing Strickland of having hired a child molester was also rampant.

Recall that in 2004, Blackwell declared that provisional ballots cast in the wrong precincts would not be counted, and allocated too few voting machines to low-income and black precincts, while upper-class white voters had plenty. The result was six- to seven-hour waits to vote, which caused many registrants to simply give up and go home without casting their ballots. More recently, Blackwell ordered 21 counties to inform residents who were ex-felons that they had no right to vote. A judge ordered that "information" to be rescinded.

Fortunately, according to Focus on the Family, a poll conducted by Zogby International found the "values, morals and character" of a candidate were the most important thing to consider when casting a vote. Broken down by political affiliation, 63.2 percent of Republicans chose character, while 24 percent of Democrats did so. (They said opposition to the war in Iraq was the most important consideration.) Theoretically, that should guarantee a win for Strickland, but don't hold your breath.

So yes, it's going to be difficult to vote in some areas on Tuesday – but don't be dissuaded! For those who believe in America's constitutional liberties, and know how much in jeopardy they are from the current administration -- Congress and the Republicans in general -- this may be the most important vote you ever cast.

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Mark Kernes

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