By Myriam Miedzian
September 9, 2008
In introducing Joe Biden as his vice presidential running mate, Barack Obama described Biden as "the kind of fighter I want by my side in the months and years to come." While Candidate Obama is dealing with big picture issuesthe economy, Iraq, health care, global warminghe would do well to put Biden's widely recognized aggressive talents to use ensuring that Obama/Bidenand other Democratic candidatesnot be denied their rightful victories by voting machines that leading cyber security expert Stephen Spoonamore describes as "IT junk."
Spoonamore, a lifelong Republican, is the founder and former CEO of Cybrinth (recently merged with Duos Technologies) a company which works with major credit card companies and banks to run programs to detect fraud. He points out that no bank would ever consent to using ATM machines as unreliable as the voting machines in use in much of the country. He is convinced that the 2004 Ohio election results which put Bush over the top were not credible because of voting machine irregularities favoring Republicans. Irregularities include the fact that in 14 counties, Ohio Supreme court candidate, Ellen Connelly, who had little funding or visibility received tens of thousands more votes than Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Spoonamore comments: "Those are the sort of results that would instantaneously launch a credit card fraud investigation or a banking settlement investigation."
Spoonamore's concerns echo what numerous computer experts, among them, Johns Hopkins computer science professor Aviel Rubin, and Stanford computer science professor David Dill, have been pointing out for yearsthe voting machines used around the country are extremely vulnerable to manipulation, and very easy to hack. Howard Dean hacked one on TV a few years ago!
An August 21 Washington Post article revealed that the Premier Election Solutions company admitted that its voting system used in 34 states has flawed software, and that the company has known about this for the last ten years. The flaw in the system is most likely to affect large jurisdictions that upload multiple memory cards during countsthe system gets overloaded and doesn't count all the votes. The result is that heavily populated areas, which tend to vote Democratic, lose votes, while small towns and rural areas which tend to vote Republican have no such problem.
Premier Election Solutions was formerly known as Diebold, but after CEO Walden O'Dell, a major donor to the Republican party, promised in a 2004 fund-raising letter that he is "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year," the company got a lot of negative publicity. This was followed by a long series of well-documented problems with the machines. Instead of fixing its problems, the company chose to change its name.
Despite the efforts of concerned computer experts, non-profits, activists, and some state legislators and governors (including a few Republicans) to ensure honest elections, nineteen states, including swing states such as Pennsylvania, Florida, and Virginia, still have electronic voting machines without any paper trail. In case of problems, only the companies that manufacture the machines are able to check if the vote count was correct.
Americans could have been assured of basically honest, verifiable elections if Congress had passed a May 2003 bill introduced by New Jersey Democratic Congressman Rush Holt mandating that all voting machine have paper trails. The billwhich had 133 Democratic and 7 Republican co-sponsorsremained locked in the House Administration Committee chaired by Ohio Republican Robert Ney. Shortly thereafter, when Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer and Phil Graham introduced a similar bill in the senate, it was locked in the Senate Rules and Administration Committee chaired by Republican Trent Lott. Keeping a bill locked up in committee is the best way to ensure that it is never enacted.
Earlier this year when Democratic members of Congress voted overwhelmingly to fund the Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections bill, the White House viewed the bill as calling for "excessive spending" and engineered its defeat. (The United States has spent $330 million in recent years to provide election assistance in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.) Only 16 Republicans voted for it. The purpose of the bill was to provide federal funding to states that want to use paper based ballot systems and want to be able to audit their election results.
Why are so many Republicans, especially Republican leaders, vehemently opposed to paper trails? Why are they opposed to verifiable voting? These are troubling questions. Also troubling are their efforts to pass legislation requiring all voters to provide picture I.D.'s, supposedly to avoid voter fraud through voter impersonation at the polls. Just one problem: studies have shown that this is no way a serious problem. Since a significant percentage of the poor, who tend to vote Democratic, don't have driver's licensesand certainly don't have passportsthis makes it more difficult for them to vote. Even in states that offer free I.D.s, voters must provide birth certificates which are often costly. Representative John Conyers has dubbed the requirement, "a poll tax in disguise."
While the nation is suffering from electoral cancerin the form of tens of millions of people voting on voting machines which can easily be hacked or programmed to favor one candidate over anotherthe Republican leadership chooses to focus on an electoral hang nail in the form of an occasional vote cast in the name of a deceased person.
Besides voting machines, there are other reasons for Democrats to be concerned. Thousands of incidents of voter fraud favoring Republicans have occurred in recent elections. Just a few examples: in the 2004 election in Ohio, Democratic voters in some areas were misinformed that their polling place had changed. Polling places in African American neighborhoods as well as those serving liberal colleges such as Oberlin and Kenyon, had a shortage of voting machines, while Republican areas had no such problem. In 2000 in Florida, ninety thousand African Americans were not allowed to vote on the grounds that they were felons. Most of them were not.
While most Democratic party operatives recognize that there is a serious problem, they have stayed away from dealing publicly with it in any serious way. Are they afraid of Republican attack dogs accusing them of paranoia and lack of patriotism for questioning the integrity of our voting system? Do they fear that large numbers of people will not vote if made fully aware of the voting machine problems? Are some caving to special interests in their own party? A frequently heard remedy is that Democratic candidates including Senator Obama must win by large enough margins to make tampering ineffective. Such an electoral double standard is not good enough; the problem is much too serious to just hope for Democratic landslides.
If Senator Obama wants to both be elected and be president, Senator Biden needs to take on the role of election watchdog. The usual election day poll monitoring is not enough. Biden should heed the advice of non-partisan honest election advocates such as Common Cause and:
Urge all states which deploy electronic voting machines, especially those that employ machines without paper trails, to have large numbers of back- up emergency paper ballots on hand.
Urge all states to emulate Ohio which will be launching a state-wide post election audit.
Educate the media about states and counties at risk, and make sure that reporters and columnists have adequate information, and investigate and expose potential problems before election day.
Develop an election day and post election day contingency plan in case of serious problems.
I was told by a source very close to John Kerry, that Kerry had serious doubts about the 2004 election results, but conceded without a fight because he feared that he would be viewed as a sore loser. Barack Obama and Joe Biden must not be put in such a position. They must stand up and fight for an honest election before hand, and if need be, during, and after election day.
Myriam Miedzian is the author of Boys Will Be Boys, and writes frequently on social and political issues. Her website is: www.myriammiedzian.com