Sunday, December 16, 2007

Now, do we get our money back??

Project Everest Commentary from Victoria Parks


In my last commentary, I stated that is just plain "wrong to assume." And now we know. The Secretary of State of the great State of Ohio just released her long awaited tests results in Project Everest, Secretary Brunner's plan to determine once and for all where vulnerabilities lie with Ohio's voting machine hardware and software. I just want to say that on the one hand the results of the Project Everest testing were brilliant—so revealing and so damning. I feel vindicated.  Long time election justice activists everywhere have indeed won the argument on the DRE voting machines. The touchscreen voting machines have proven a danger to democracy. It is just one more nail in the coffin of lies and deceit. Whew, that was a long haul. Though I am pleased and feel vindicated I have to ask, was it worth 1.9 million dollars to prove this again? Just because something is really, really expensive does that mean it is worth what you paid for it? On the other hand, Secretary Brunner has no plans to decertify the touchscreens. Why not? Even more rigorous testing was done in California which found even more vulnerabilities which resulted in the unprecedented action of California's Secretary of State Debra Bowen decertifying the all three voting machine vendors in that state. Even with the findings, yesterday's news from the Secretary of State didn't produce what most of us in the Ohio Election Justice Campaign were hoping for. Surely, she would do the same, and decertify the machines, we thought. And just look at those test results.  Why, it is as if the vendors designed the machines to fail! hmmm. That's getting my blood pressure up. I also want to know, how was that 1.9 Million in HAVA money spent? Blood pressure is going even higher now. To whom did it go? ...higher...  Why did it pay for testing which resulted in conclusions that have already been established? ...pop.  So many questions, so few real answers. Now, I hear Project Everest managers and observers had to sign a non-disclosure agreement that shuts them up until 2017. So, complain all you want public, "you have no right to know what we are doing." "Just trust us." That is the message. No transparency, still no trust.


The fact that so many holes were poked in vendor claims of voting machine security is absolutely another victory for long-time election justice activists who have long claimed this. For that I am grateful and congratulate the Secretary of State for looking into this critical matter even though it came at a price of 1.9 million to taxpayers way too late. Voters have long awaited official confirmation of these allegations.  The fact remains though that the primaries are only two months away and that is unsettling. We all remember what a mess the last election turned out to be. We expect it will be again in '08. Will we just hear more overtures of "everything went just fine" in '08? The tests are better late than never but where will that put us in two months? I only wish this testing had been done early in the year after we had given Secretary Brunner all the ammo in the world to decertify. To her credit she did take action in Cuyahoga County. And, now she has tested the machines and confirmed what we all suspected—that these voting machines are like crack houses. The door is always left unlocked and you may not know who is inside at any one time, but, you do know that crimes are being committed while the criminals are inside. Enforcing the rule of law is now long overdue.  I know Secretary Brunner has a huge task ahead of her in 2008 and I will try to take that into consideration, but I also must say that essentially nothing has changed. The same group of officials are still in place who botched the last general election so badly. What is worse, many of the Project Everest observers were Ohio BOE officials who defied a Federal Court Order to preserve '04 election records. What does that say? They should be held in contempt of court. So, what were they doing observing Project Everest? Was it meant as part of their learning curve? And what was a registered lobbyist for ES&S doing picking the observers for Project Everest? I am worried indeed. 


I must ask the Secretary of State, why not decertify the machines?? Because the state doesn't have the money to go to a hand-counted paper ballot system? The answer could be "well, yes, we're broke. We just blew our HAVA wad on machines that  went for about five thousand dollars a pop." That's all the more reason to get our money back. Or, does the Secretary of State's reasoning not to decertify reflect the view that "we already spent so much money on them, we have to continue spending money with these vendors to try to make electronic voting work!"? That reasoning is so flawed. Like I said, putting good money after bad is not only illogical, it is stupid. Secretary Brunner you know this. You also know we don't have the money. Heck, we've already spent 1.9 million to prove something we activists, and the California SoS already knew. That is why it is so troubling that you choose NOT to decertify the machines as California's Secretary Bowen so wisely chose to do. I am bewildered. Proving your independence of judgement apart from that of Calfornia's Debra Bowen, will not score political points for you. This will not wash with voters. I guarantee it.


Madame Secretary, don't you think we should get our money back??


I've said previously, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results", a saying from our great founder, Ben Franklin who had little respect for lightning but much respect for scientific process. OK, Project Everest did not reveal results any different from those in California, Of course. that was an easy assumption to make. Now, can we move on and get our money back because we all know what landfill these machines turned out to be? Respectfully, there is something else that bothers me and it has nothing to do with you, Madame Secretary. The Help America Vote Act which forced these voting machines on us in the first place, was written in Bob Ney's office with the help of Jack Abramoff and two-hundred-seventy-five thousand dollars from the Diebold corporation. Yes, our tax money went to vendors who finance people like Bob Ney (Federal Prisoner #28882-016) and Jack Abramoff (Federal Prisoner #27593-112). If Bob Ney and Jack Abramoff are both convicted criminals, what does that make HAVA?


Brunner's recommendations long on money, short on transparency


Secretary Brunner enjoyed a great coup at her press conference on 14 December when she revealed her damning Project Everest findings. For a politician to get press like that in front of a 30 foot Christmas tree is a slam dunk. Good on her.


Nevertheless, one could conjecture that absolutely nothing will change in Ohio for the primaries. Her recommendations will not be implemented because there isn't the cash, nor the time now, to put her recommendations into place for '08. We will keep using the DRE's, certainly in every other county save Cuyahoga perhaps. Her recommendation may not be enough to solve the great challenges that lay ahead for Ohio voters in '08. If the past is any indication, the primaries are guaranteed to be a mess when once again we expect to be told by elections officials that everything went "just fine", "just trust is" and "move along. There is nothing to see here." However, as Bev Harris of Black Box Voting pointed out recently, appeals of "just trust us" don't wash anymore with voters. This is not about "just trust us." This is "prove our vote count is correct beyond a doubt by implementing the proper checks and balances." Harris is spot on. We the people are entitled to full transparency in our elections and we are just not there. We are angry and we are still waiting for genuine election integrity by means of genuine transparency.


Secretary Brunner made it clear that in-precinct vote tabulation audits using optical scanners against hand-counts are gone. She, in doing so, has eliminated the most critical opportunity to achieve election transparency. Her move towards strict central tabulation effectively shuts down transparency at the precinct level. Secretary Brunner, we need MORE transparency in the precinct, not LESS. But you know that. No, Secretary Brunner, We the People would demand a mandatory, truly random, ten percent in-precinct hand count audit against the optical scanners on election night. We the people will not let another elections official, politician or bogus legislation, eliminate every avenue to transparency that was once available to us. A real paper ballot provides us that one chance to make sure the vote count is right on election night and you understand this. We will achieve this through a process called citizen oversight.  So let's not make it a paper trail. Let's make it a paper ballot. Give us that in our precincts.


I am dreading the March primary. Ohio doesn't have the money for the Secretary's recommendations to shift to optical scanners and paper ballots for '08. Where will we ever find the money? Even if we did have the money, are we to understand her recommendation would be to continue rewarding the vendors— the vendors who sold taxpaying voters a bill of goods in the first place and whose only punishment will be?.... drum roll please...  A BRAND NEW CONTRACT for the manufacture of 2 billion-dollars-worth of NEW ELECTRONIC Voting machines!? Oh, that again. I can see it now just as clearly as a train coming down the track and guess who is tied to the tracks? The voters are. The taxpayers are. That is just not going to wash with us anymore. We are tired of spending billions for questionable elections. We want verifiable election results. Anything less than total transparency is unacceptable. We want our money back so we get get back on track—that is, on the train, not the tracks. Methinks it is not only time for real transparency but that it is time for some hefty lawsuits filed against the vendors for the biggest democracy-killing taxpayer rip-off in history. Vendors shouldn't be rewarded, they should be decertified, then they should be sued. 


If we ever do get our money back, which I doubt, we should spend it on hiring randomly selected independent auditors to conduct in-precinct random 10% hand-count audits against the optical scanners counting our precious, real paper ballots. Now THAT would prevent the cheaters from cheating. Yes.  It would offer genuine checks and balances by the people, for the people offered the freedom to verify their own election results. That's real transparency. Remember, it's not about "just trust us" anymore. Accustomed to disappointment once again though, voters get coal for Christmas. We have been duly informed that in-precinct audits are off the table by Secretary Brunner.


Though some of Brunner's recommendations on the surface appear to be actually quite good, like the 12-day window voters would be given to cast their ballot in "Super-precinct polling stations", the recommendations do nothing to address  the urgent need for real transparency. Consider for example, what might happen if some unscrupulous individual counted super-precinct ballots early and was able to use the early results like an exit poll that could be used to fine-tune a rig? The possibilities for fraud are stunning. For another example, weak links in the chain of custody exist for the transport of millions of paper ballots to an ill-conceived "Central Tabulation" point in each county. Without polling station audits with citizen oversight, we still won't know if our vote truly counted.


Transparency is the key word in verifiable elections and we still have none of it. What Secretary Brunner has proposed guarantees voters will have solved some old problems but will gain an entire boatload of new ones—more than we had during the Office of Secretary of State under Blackwell. If anything, voters fear we will feel the noose again in '08 amidst the chaos and desperation of voters who fear their vote, and perhaps their voter registration as well, will be manipulated again. The election of '08 may well become just another fake election that "went just fine." Prove me wrong, Oh please, prove me wrong. In the meantime, can we get our money back?



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