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2004 The Beast

The Brave New World of Elections Fixing

by Al Uthman

"The people who cast the votes don't decide an election; the people who count the votes do."
--Josef Stalin

"Free and fair elections" has been a mantra in DC lately in regards to Iraq and Afghanistan. The people who live in these war-torn regions are encouraged by our state Department not to be intimidated when and if such elections do occur, regardless of terrorist threats. But here, things are a little different.

In a story that raises the hair on the back of my neck, Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge has asked the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel to analyze what legal steps would be needed to permit the postponement of the election were an attack to take place. Ridge cites "alarming" intelligence about a possible al Qaeda attack this fall, but Rep. Jim Turner of Texas, ranking Democrat on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, privy to such information, says he has no information that al Qaeda plans to attack the election process.

Ridge's request is the result of a letter to him from DeForest Soaries Jr, the Republican chairman of the new Election Assistance Commission. The Washington Post has quoted him as saying this on fears about touch screen voting machines: "Legislators are proposing solutions to a problem that doesn't exist. They're talking about 'What if?' scenarios." Now Soaries has a "what if?" scenario of his own.

Whether such an attack happens or not, it's clear that canceling the election would be an idiotic response, and that a plan to do so would only encourage such an attack, and also serve as a temptation for Bush-supporting spooks to stage an attack if it became clear that he would lose the election.

This is just the latest in a stream of unpleasant information regarding elections here that scares the living hell out of me, personally. At the risk of sounding like an alarmist myself, I don't think it's an overstatement to say that our next election could and indeed may be rigged, if not cancelled outright. The worst part is that it will be largely unverifiable, due to the lack of a paper record from the growing number of precincts relying on new and unauditable touch screen voting machines produce by three major companies with the usual money ties to Republican politicians.

Separate but Sequel

Another disturbing trend is the systematic disenfranchisement of black voters, who are among the least friendly to Republicans. In fact, things are so bad that a group of Democratic Congressmen have requested UN oversight in November. In response, Republican Steve Buyer of Indiana proposed a measure barring federal officials from making any such request.

Corrine Brown, a Florida Democrat, was incensed. "I come from Florida, where you and others participated in what I call the United States coup d'etat. We need to make sure it doesn't happen again," Brown said. "Over and over again after the election when you stole the election, you came back here and said, 'Get over it.' No, we're not going to get over it. And we want verification from the world."

Buyer demanded that Brown's words be stricken from the record. The presiding officer, Republican Mac Thornberry of Texas, agreed. Put to a vote, the Republican-run House voted 219-187 along party lines to strike her words. She was then made to shut up for the rest of the day. Buyer's proposal to prevent his colleagues from asking for UN monitors also passed, 243-161, with 33 Democrats voting yes, as an amendment to a foreign aid bill,

Brown was generally cast as a hothead in the press, a black female unable to retain her composure in the white man's world. Such emotional people, really. The thing is, she was right-as were the others calling for external monitoring of our elections. The electoral process in America isn't just being screwed up; it's being screwed with.

That's not just a theory. The symptoms are obvious: for instance, in Florida, ground zero for domestic elections fraud, where scores of black voters were improperly turned away at polling places last election, the very same company was used to create the "felons list" again…and Governor Jeb Bush would not release its contents to the press until CNN sued. Of course, once the list was scrutinized, it was found to contain a similar pattern of errors to the last one-surprise, surprise.

Florida's Secretary of State, Glenda Hood, a Jeb Bush appointee, calls the discrepancies unintentional, but the details tell otherwise. According to the New York Times, "Of nearly 48,000 Florida residents on the felon list, only 61 are Hispanic. By contrast, more than 22,000 are African-American. About 8 percent of Florida voters describe themselves as Hispanic, and about 11 percent as black." Of those blacks on the list, more than 1,600 have had their right to vote restored, yet they haven't been removed from the obviously bogus list. Keep in mind that Bush "won" Florida last time by less than 600 votes. Now the list is scrapped, but anyone who claims it was an honest mistake is either lying or stupid.

The Touch-Screen of Death

Then there are the new voting machines. Ironically enough, slot machines are much more secure and tamper-proof than voting machines. In Nevada, for instance, state officials have access to all gambling software, and often spot-check the machines to assure compliance with strict regulations. Slot machine producers are thoroughly scrutinized prior to approval.

By contrast, there are absolutely no federal guidelines regarding voting technology, and it shows in the many uninvestigated anomalistic results that have surfaced over the years. However, the Bush Administration has pulled funding for the development and implementation of standards or certification for voting technology, So comparing touch screen voting to gambling really isn't fair-to the gambling industry.

In addition to the more-publicized problems with touch screen machines, millions of ballots are optically scanned with machines made by the very same companies who make the new touch screen models. So even if you are filling out ballots by hand, odds are that your vote will also be counted by ES&S or Diebold. Ballot scanners have been in the mix since 1964, but don't take that to mean they are reliable: they have been problematic and susceptible to rigging from the start. Take, for instance, the 2000 episode in which a scanner in Iowa reported 4 million votes after being fed only 300 ballots. Or the case of an election in the '70s in Cincinnati that was tampered with by the phone company with software an employee said had been provided by the FBI.

If you think vote fraud can't happen here, think again. It's ludicrous to think that politicians and big businessmen are morally above the concept of rigging an election. Think about it. For one, America regularly tilts elections and foments the violent overthrow of democratically elected leaders in other nations through the CIA-that's not a theory either; it's just true. It was really only a matter of time that these folks realized they could apply the same principles to the homeland itself.

America is the land of opportunity, and the opportunity most certainly does exist to steal an election without leaving a trace of evidence here. When both touch screen voting machines and optical scanners are included, Election Systems &Services (ES&S) and Diebold, one of whom is owned by the other's founder, count about 80% of America's votes. And these companies most certainly share a common agenda, and scores of high-ranking employees who have been in trouble for unethical business practices in the past. They also share ties to Republican politicians that stretch the definition of the world "close," and it seems the glaring irregularities that frequently turn up in recent elections tend strongly to favor GOP candidates.

The list of breathtaking vote-counting "glitches" and outright skullduggery goes back to the '70s and runs many times too long to enumerate here, but I'll give you a few highlights from the most recent elections:

· 2002 Alabama - a sudden reversal of fortune flipped the results from the Democratic winner to a Republican in the Alabama Gubernatorial race-after polling places had closed. Baldwin County election observers went home after results showed that Democrat Don Siegelman had earned enough votes to win the state. The next morning 6,300 of Siegelman's votes had mysteriously vanished, and Republican Bob Riley was the new winner. A recount was requested, but denied. Of course, the "error" is being investigated-by an ES&S employee.

· 2002 Kansas - From an AP report: "The discovery of a computer glitch reversed one outcome from this month's primary elections in Kansas, and an unsuccessful candidate in another race has based his request for a special election on technical difficulties that allegedly occurred in his race. In Clay County, computer results from a county commission primary had challenger Roy Jennings defeating incumbent Jerry Mayo by 22 votes. The hand recount, completed Tuesday, revealed Mayo as the winner - and by a landslide, 540 votes to 175. In one ward, which Mayo carried 242-78, the computer had mistakenly reversed the totals. And in the absentee voting, which originally showed a 47-44 edge for Jennings, a hand count found Mayo winning 72-19.

· 2002 North Carolina - A programming error caused machines to skip over thousands of votes. Fixing the error turned up 5,500 more votes and reversed the election.

· 2002 Texas - In Comal County, a near-impossible coincidence: three winning Republican candidates racking up identical numbers of votes--exactly 18,181. This was called "weird," but no action was taken to investigate.

· 2002 Texas - From an AP report: "A Scurry County election error reversed the outcomes in two commissioner races. A defective computer chip in the county's optical scanner misread ballots Tuesday night and incorrectly tallied a landslide victory for Republicans. Democrats actually won by wide margins."

· 2003 Indiana - Machines counted 144,000 votes in Boone County. Only 5,352 existed.

· 2002 California - election of some members of the Board of Supervisors...in one precinct, the city reported counting 328 ballots and 327 signatures were in the roster. But when state investigators opened the box for that precinct that city officials pulled from storage, they found only 170 ballots. In one precinct, the major discrepancies found by Jones seem to have existed on election night as well. In polling place 2214 in the Western Addition, the city counted 416 ballots, but there were only 362 signatures in the roster, and the secretary of state found only 357 paper ballots

The list goes on and on, but you get the idea. Of course, not everyone does-now the Florida Department of State is saying there's no need for hand recount protocols in precincts using the new touch screen machines, based on the premise that they work absolutely flawlessly and aren't subject to error.

Back Door Burgling

Because electronic voting is handled by private companies and is almost wholly unregulated, companies are not required to reveal their software, which is considered proprietary. What is clear from the few glimpses that programming experts have gotten at the source code for these machines is that it is not at all reliable or tamper-proof.

In fact, both Diebold's and ES&S' software contains many "back doors" and loopholes, ways in which even a mediocre hacker can change vote counts remotely-in Diebold's case, it's a simple Microsoft Access hack. This is acknowledged by Diebold's own internal e-mails from Ken Clark, their chief engineer:

"Right now you can open GEMS' .mdb file with MS-Access, and alter its contents. That includes the audit log. This isn't anything new." Clark goes on: "Being able to end-run the database has admittedly got people out of a bind though. Jane (I think it was Jane) did some fancy footwork on the .mdb file in Gaston recently. I know our dealers do it. King County is famous for it. That's why we've never put a password on the file before."

Another e-mail from Clark, regarding problems with demos for potential buyers: "For a demonstration I suggest you fake it. Progam [sic] them both so they look the same, and then just do the upload fro[m] the AV. That is what we did in the last AT/AV demo."

No Campaign Necessary

In this brave new world of voting, the phrase "Upset victory" carries a whole new connotation. Take the string of "upsets" that catapulted former ES&S chairman Chuck Hagel into power as the first Republican senator from Nebraska in a quarter century back in 1996. First Hagel had an unexpected win in the Republican primary, then he beat popular Dem Ben Wilson, despite Wilson's consistent lead in the polls.

The media hailed Hagel's shocking upset, but never mentioned that he had quit his job as Chairman and CEO of AIS, now known as ES&S, just days before he announced his candidacy. In other words, Hagel ran the company that counted the votes in his election, and in his subsequent reelection, with suspicious results. In addition, Hagel owned stock in AIS Investors Inc, a group of investors in the company.

If this clear appearance of conflict of interest was just an innocent coincidence, why did Hagel choose to leave AIS off his required personal disclosure forms? In a glaring omission, Hagel decided not to list his salary from AIS in his tally of all former positions, nor did he list his investment ties to the company.

In fact, in 2002, as reported in Black Box Voting by Bev Harris, Hagel still "had undisclosed ownership of ES&S through its parent company, the
McCarthy Group." Incidentally, Harris adds, "The McCarthy Group is run by Hagel's campaign finance director, Michael R. McCarthy, who is also a director of ES&S."

He called his $5 million investment an "excepted investment fund," thereby dodging the usual disclosure rules. Smart move, but the only trouble is that The McCarthy Group clearly fails to qualify: an excepted investment fund is required to be publicly and widely traded, and McCarthy is neither.

When his 2002 opponent, Charlie Matulka, wrote Senate Ethics Committee Director Victor Baird requesting an investigation into Hagel's ownership and nondisclosure, Baird told him his case was without merit and required no action (Pressured further by Washington publication The Hill, Baird admitted that the McCarthy Group didn't qualify as an excepted investment fund; then immediately resigned and was replaced by Robert Walker, who-gasp-supports Hagel's interpretation, in defiance of simple logic). When Hagel won by yet another landslide that November, Matulka requested a recount and was flatly denied.

Unsurprisingly, Hagel is considering a run for President in 2008. You may not have heard of him yet, but I'd say he has a pretty good shot.

Controlling Interest

Hagel is just one of the nefarious characters in the mix. Take the Urosevich brothers. Bob Urosevich was a founder at ES&S and is currently president of Diebold, having been involved in software development for both companies. Todd is Vice President of ES&S, which was formed in 1999 when AIS bought Business Records Corporation (BRC), a company owned by wealthy Texans which had already acquired a long list of other technology companies over the past two decades, including election services firms. AIS was formerly Data Mark, and both were founded by the brothers. In 2002, Diebold acquired Global Election Systems. Global was founded 1991, which itself acquired the AccuVote system the same year. Bob Urosevich is also a past president of Global.

ES&S is owned by the Omaha World-Herald and the McCarthy Group. The Omaha World-Herald was owned by Peter Kiewit Sons' Inc., which was run by Peter Kiewit until his death. Now the World-Herald is owned by the Peter Kiewit Foundation. Peter Kiewit Sons' is now directed by-Michael McCarthy of the McCarthy Group. Having fun yet?

Kiewit was a roads contractor, a particularly dirty one, who has been fined many times in huge bid-rigging cases around the country. The Kiewit agenda is about further privatization of infrastructure, including toll roads, and special tax treatment. His companies have been banned from bidding by the Army Corps of Engineers and Oklahoma. They have reacted to this by setting up new companies and getting contracts by lying about who they are, even pretending to be a business owned by black women in one case in Washington.

Then there is Sequoia, the smaller but up-and-coming competitor to the ES&S-Diebold empire. Sequoia received part of BRC's assets when the SEC balked at the AIS takeover of BRC on anti-trust grounds. Phil Foster, their southern regional sales manager, testified against his brother-in-law and Louisiana elections chief Jerry Fowler in a bribery scheme in which he admitted hand delivering five separate envelopes full of money, placing them in Fowler's desk drawer. Sequoia is also in the habit of hiring regulators who have previously awarded them millions in government contracts, but that's become a fairly standard practice these days.

These are the guys that will be counting our votes this fall. Frankly, I think the Iraqis stand a better chance of getting a clean and fair election.

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