Alagoas and Ohio: E-Elections on Trial in Alternate Hemispheres

The Free Press of Columbus, Ohio, is raking muck on elections-rigging involving electronic voting, in a court case that is very interesting to watch in parallel with a case involving recent elections in the Brazilian state of Alagoas.

I should try to translate to PT-Br, as a personal professional exercise and as a service to Tupi good governance geeks, whom I admire.

First there was this: First criminal convictions from Ohio’s stolen 2004 election confirm recount was rigged (Jan. 27).

The first felony convictions of two Cleveland poll workers stemming from Ohio’s stolen 2004 election confirm that the official recount in that contested vote was, in the words of county prosecutors, “rigged.” The question now is whether further prosecutions will reach higher up in the ranks of officials who may have been involved in illegalities throughout the rest of the state.

You will recall that, as in Florida in 2000, the state elections commissioner also served on the election committee of one of the candidates. Worse, the state elections commission apparently shared IT infrastructure with the state GOP.

The gentleman, a Mr. Blackwell, was also found to have owned shares in Diebold, which manufactures the voting machines used in the state. You will also recall that it was an Ohio congressman named Bob Ney, with the assistance of lobbyist Jack Abramoff — both convicted felons, by their own confession — authored the Help American Vote Act of 2002 that put us on this path.

See Ohio Election Results Network Topography Has a Familiar Contour.

Mr. Lyra of Alagoas will experience a certain sense of déjà vu from the pattern detected here.

The convictions have come down in Cuyahoga County, where Democratic candidates traditionally run up huge majorities. Suspicious vote counts and other irregularities cut deeply into John Kerry’s margins in 2004. Official vote counts gave the state—and thus the presidency—to George W. Bush by about 118,000 votes out of 5.5 million counted.

More recently, a case involving a judicial race has software developers squirming on the stand while Harvard fellows from the Bush v. Gore case — Gore was represented by Microsoft lawyer David Boies — as the reporters note, “parse their responses carefully.” The case concludes today.

The Squire v. Geer case is more than just a mere election challenge lawsuit; the reliability of electronic voting was on trial last week in a small courtroom in Franklin County, Ohio. Voting rights activists see the issues before the court as going to the heart of democracy itself and whether or not election results obtained through the computerized voting machines can be trusted.


Blackwell

Former Franklin County Judge Carol Squire is contesting the victory of her opponent, Chris Geer in a challenge that has shed new light on the problems with e-voting machines.

Okay.

Franklin County Board of Election’s Chief Elections Officer Karen Cotton told the court that in an audit of the Squire/Geer race she was unable to balance the audit books, and could not state why. She said multiple staffers of both parties spent the previous Saturday, a full two months after the initial audit, conducting a hand recount of some books that were called into question in the Squire challenge. Cotton conceded that critics claim“our elections are all whacked up,” referring to accusations about election irregularities. Percy Squire, representing his wife, Judge Squire, noted that the public count does not balance even after last Saturday’s new audit.

As in the Alagoas case, the audit trail was garbled by system failures, as you will read below.

In a December 2006, an independent audit conducted by voting rights activists trained in signature count audits, found that 86% of 206 Franklin County precincts would not balance with certified results. Most of these were off by significant margins when comparing poll book data and signatures to machine totals.

I believe that these are the activists in question.

This is the sort of citizen recount being pushed for by Proceso magazine in Mexico, recall, in the national elections held last July, testing Mexico’s young freedom of information law. See Mexico’s IFE: Open-Ended Exceptions to Transparency.

The Franklin County Board of Elections (BOE) has no plausible explanation for these discrepancies other than to say that their error rate is better than most counties in Ohio. In earlier testimony, Squire questioned the Republican Director of the Franklin County Board of Elections, Matt Damshroder, who stated that the BOE has no written policy to protect the poll books and has nothing in writing that he can show the court. Damshroder further testified that the BOE, in preparation for this litigation, did go through the books again and claimed they matched his earlier totals. This seems to contradict Cotton’s later statements made under oath. The county prosecutor objected to Squire’s request that Damshroder count poll books before the court. Damshroder said he would comply with the court ruling that he count poll books.

On Ken Blackwell, by the way:

Blackwell gained national prominence for his dual roles as Chief Elections official of Ohio and honorary co-chair of the “Committee to re-elect George W. Bush” during the 2004 election. Allegations of conflict of interest and voter disenfranchisement led to the filing of at least sixteen related lawsuits naming Blackwell. Regarding voter disenfranchisement, the US Court of Appeals ruled, in agreement with Blackwell, that provisional ballots cast in the wrong polling location should not be counted in the election. Blackwell was also named in a 2006 lawsuit related to his office’s public disclosure of the Social Security numbers of Ohio residents.

That’s from Wikipedia. You can tell because it does not cite the Appeals Court case involved here.

Vice President of ES&S Software Development Gary Weber’s inability to answer a simple yes or no question drew audible laughter as Squire restated the same question before a stumbling witness and bemused Cuyahoga County magistrate Joel Sacco. Squire pressed the witness regarding upgrades of ES&S software being used in tandem last November. Squire brought into question whether or not the vendor’s sequential Unity software upgrades as used together, were in fact legally certified at the time by the State of Ohio as required by law. Weber buckled under questioning on more than one occasion and contradicted himself to statements made in earlier deposition, according to attorney Squire.

ES&S is owned by the brother of Diebold’s founder, if I am reading right. The Urosevich brothers.

On Diebold and Blackwell:

Ohio State Senator Jeff Jacobson asked Blackwell in July 2003 to disqualify Diebold Election Systems‘ bid to supply voting machines for the state, after security problems were discovered in its software,[57] but was refused. Blackwell had ordered Diebold touch screen voting machines, reversing an earlier decision by the state to purchase only optical scan voting machines which, unlike the touch screen devices, would leave a “paper trail” for recount purposes.[citation needed] The controversy was inflamed the next month when Walden O’Dell, chief executive of Diebold, sent a fund-raising letter to Ohio Republicans, stating that he was “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.” [58] Although he clarified his statement as merely a poor choice of words, critics of Diebold and/or the Republican party interpreted this as at minimum an indication of a conflict of interest, at worst implying that those newly purchased electronic voting machines which did not leave any verifiable paper trail represented a risk to the fair counting of ballots.

Insert foot in mouth. Chew. Blackwell’s spectacular problems with maintaining the privacy of voter Social Security numbers makes me wonder sometimes if we are not catching a glimpse of something not unrelated to the Hildebrando117 affair in Mexico.


The Hildebrando117 “hack attack” as seen on CNN. Click to zoom.

On April 4, 2006, the Columbus Dispatch reported that Blackwell “owned stock [83 shares, down from 178 shares purchased in January 2005] in Diebold, a voting-machine [and ATM] manufacturer, at the same time his office negotiated a deal” with the company. After discovering the stock ownership, Blackwell promptly sold the shares at a loss. [59] He attributed the purchase to an unidentified financial manager at Credit Suisse First Boston who he said had, without his knowledge, violated his instructions to avoid potential conflict of interest. [60]

The experts hem and haw, before busting out into extravagant adjectives.

Electronic elections expert and Harvard Fellow, Dr. Rebecca Mercuri parsed questions from assistant prosecutor Nick Soulas, carefully answering his technical questions. She concluded there is “significant evidence that there is no way to conclude that the vote tally as provided is correct.” Mercuri reiterated that because of the lack of complete data sets, accurate vote totals could not be assumed. Mercuri referred to numerous “egregious disparities” in last November’s election.

“Egregious” is strong language from a question parser.

Squire asked “Based on your experience in elections as you testified earlier in Bush v Gore and in countless other political contests around the country, can you quantify to what extent you view the issues and problems that you encountered in this election versus what you’ve seen elsewhere?” Mercuri emphatically replied, that “the issues and problems I’ve seen in this election far outstrip any of the times and issues that I have seen, even those in Bush v Gore. In most of these instances there was one problem, or one set of problems. But in this, it cuts across the methodology used for the recount, the quantity of ballots that were supposed to have been counted, that were not counted, the methods by which things were impounded, the lack of certification of the voting system…it is so broad, it is beyond any type of experience I have had in it’s nature of multiple types of things that seem to have blatant disregard of the admonitions of the rules and the procedures that were supposed to have been prescribed, including those things the county was warned about.

What are they pumping into the water supply there in Ohio these days?

Mercuri also noted that the Board of Elections failed to count 3% of the absentee ballots. She testified that they only manually recounted 2072 absentee votes instead of the 2700 as legally required.

Confusion over recording the paper trail.

Records show many machines ran out of poll tape on Election Day. Independent auditors found several separated machine poll tape summary reports that were run more than three weeks after the election, and some were found with torn ends. This led auditors to question the accuracy of poll tape machine totals that were matched with a separated summary report. In a deposition, County Prosecutor Patrick Piccininni alluded to the fact that poll tape may have been “loaded backwards.”

Developers contradict one another, and are contradicted, about the specifications of their own machine.

One Election Observer noted that some voting machines ran out of tape but continued recording votes on Election Day. This fact seems to contradict testimony from ES&S’ account service manager Jerry Amick, who claimed under oath that the machines are designed to shut down when they run out of poll tape. Records indicate, that in fact numerous ES&S voting machines continued to operate on Election Day in Franklin County despite running out of poll tape. Questions persist that poll tapes may have been installed incorrectly or perhaps tore inside the machines. In which case, the machine would continue to operate despite not producing a paper trail. Amick also squarely laid the responsibility with the Secretary of State for making sure successive upgrades of the company’s software are, in fact, certified for use in Ohio’s elections.

Hackability.

In recent months successful hacking demonstrations by Princeton, Johns Hopkins University, and other independent software experts, have put electronic voting under public scrutiny and have raised eyebrows among public officials. Consensus among the experts has not been good for the vendors. Incidents as the electronic voting debacle in Florida’s 13th district – where eighteen thousand votes were lost in November’s midterms – have further chilled voter confidence in electronic voting. In Montgomery County, 30,000 undervotes were recorded in the Ohio U.S. Senate race between Sherrod Brown and Mike Dewine.

Legendary crooks.

The implementation of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) has proliferated this new voting technology into America’s voting booths, creating new challenges to a system already in doubt, and leaving a dissatisfied and disenfranchised electorate feeling duped. HAVA is a bill pushed in 2002 by convicted former Ohio congressman Bob Ney with the assistance of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Now, the effects of HAVA are being tested in this case.

Actually, Ney was elected congressman, but was convicted, while in Congress, or shortly after resigning therefrom, of all kinds of crazy shit.

The ruling in this case could add to the ES&S woes as HAVA is implemented nationwide. ES&S has ties to Republican Senator Chuck Hagel. Hagel is a 2008 presidential candidate and a past owner of a predecessor voting machine company to ES&S. In recent months, the embattled electronic voting vendor has lost product liability lawsuits in other states as in New Mexico, Indiana and Illinois, a fact that looms large over this courtroom.

Sen. Feinstein has asked the GAO to look into this, I believe.

Electronic voting seems more questionable than ever as vendors pass on the substantial costs of software service contracts to taxpayers in already financially cash-strapped counties. Electronic voting also appears more vulnerable than ever at this time of slumping voter confidence. In the final analysis, the integrity of electronic voting continues to dog this industry — a private industry that holds so much power over a democratic process meant to be fully transparent and accountable to the public. The trial reconvenes Wednesday, February 28, to hear final arguments. Afterwards, Sacco’s findings go before a three judge Appeals Court panel which will decide to accept or reject his recommendations. All Franklin County judges have been removed from the case to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Recusing yourself to avoid conflicts of interest: One thing we gringos could teach you Tupi.

In principle, anyway. We have slacked off on practicing that principle of late, I’m sorry to say.

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