How We Lost The Vote - How To Get It Back
by Lynn Landes
(A speech by Lynn Landes given at the forum: Voting Machines: A Threat To Democracy? Sunday Sept 7, 2-5 pm at the Ethical Society in Philadelphia.)
Walden O'Dell wrote a letter the other day. He wrote a fund-raising letter to Ohio Republicans. And, in that letter O'Dell said that he was, "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to (President Bush) next year."
Walden O'Dell is the Chairman of the Board of Diebold Election Systems, the second largest company in America whose business it is - to count your vote.
O'Dell's letter should serve as a call to action for Americans, and for citizens around the world, who have surrendered their elections to technology and those who control it. American tax dollars are helping to fund a worldwide conversion from paper ballots to computer and Internet voting. The effort to promote electronic elections is being led by three international organizations: The International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES), the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. IFES was founded in 1987 by the late F. Clifton White, a high-ranking Republican Party official who is credited with turning the GOP into a bastion of right wing conservatives.
Today, the right to vote in America is held hostage by technology - a technology that stands between the voter and a real ballot - a technology that delivers only circumstantial evidence of a vote while people push buttons, punch holes, throw levers, and dial-up.
What is a real vote? In many countries it's a paper ballot that you can touch and mark and know who you voted for, that gets hand counted at the end of the day by local election officials in full view of fellow citizens and poll watchers...all engaged in safeguarding your right to a free and fair election. But in America today, a vote is an electronic image, or an indecipherable punch card, or a paper tab that lever machines produce. Do we need both man and machine counting the votes? And if that's the case, whose count should prevail in the end?
It's not just political elections that are threatened by voting technology. The expanding use of the Internet to elect the leaders of our civic associations, business groups, and labor organizations... threatens the very fabric of our society. For the companies and individuals who control voting technology can come from anywhere and everywhere, unhindered by government restrictions or oversight or accountability. Last spring Election.com, an Internet voting company, was purchased by Osan, Ltd., a group of Saudi investors. In the year 2000, Election.com was used to count the votes in the Arizona Democratic Primary. Although another company, Accenture, has recently purchased the public sector portion of Election.com, that still leaves the private sector. Election.com has about 600 customers who use its Internet voting service, including the Democratic National Committee, the Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union, the Sierra Club, and the Florida Bar.
We are in a constitutional crisis. Our right to vote for our political leaders and to have our votes counted properly is not just in jeopardy - there is mounting evidence that it has slipped away.
How did we get in this mess? It all started about 100 years ago. In 1892, the lever voting machine was first used in Lockport, New York. By the 1930's most large cities were using these machines. In 1964, electronic scanners and computers entered the voting process. It was also in 1964 that pre-election polling and exit polls began to dominate the news. And although polling data can be used to raise red flags where election fraud may have occurred, polls can also be used to create false expectations and in the case of exit polling, data can, and some say was, used to legitimize rigged election results.
Today, we're being told that touchscreen machines and Internet voting will make the process of voting quicker and safer. But in the 2000 election, Canada hand counted their paper ballots in four hours without suffering any of the boondoggles that continue to plague our electronic elections. Even if it took four days or four weeks to count ballots, democracy is not on a stop watch, where time is more important than how the race is won. And how the race is won, is at issue.
There is a long history of voting machine irregularities that span the last several decades. They have been documented in the Saltman Report, the book VoteScam, the landmark article Pandora's Box, and in countless reports and news stories. And, although we may prefer that this not be a partisan issue, voting machine irregularities appear to overwhelmingly favor Republican candidates. This was alarmingly apparent in 2002, when 74% of the upset elections went to Republican candidates. Many of the Republican upset victories were well outside of the margin of error of the pre-election polling.
Who sells and services voting machines and technology is beginning to attract a lot of attention. Only U.S. citizens can vote... but anyone can count your vote, including felons and foreigners, political candidates and office holders, news organizations and defense industries. Many voting systems companies have partnerships and agreements with each other, making it difficult to separate one from the other.
As the situation stands today, three corporations (Election Systems and Software - ES&S, Diebold, and Sequoia) sell and service the machines and software that counts about 80% of the electronic vote in the U.S..
ES&S, the nation's largest voting company, is owned by the Omaha World Herald Company and has solid ties to the Republican Party. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) was the past president of American Information Systems, the company that counted the votes in his first election. AIS then merged with Business Records Corporation to form ES&S, which then proceeded to count the votes in Senator Hagel's second election. At that time, it has been reported, that the Senator had a substantial financial interest in the company.
Sequoia is owned by De La Rue, a British-based company whose machines will count the votes in more California counties than any other company in the upcoming recall election. De La Rue is the world's largest commercial security printer and papermaker and owns a 20% stake in Camelot, the operator of the Great Britain's National Lottery.
The Internet voting business is dominated by two corporations: Accenture, which is based in the British territory of Bermuda, and VoteHere from Seattle, Washington. The U.S. Department of Defense recently awarded a coalition of corporations, led by Accenture, the contract to provide the Internet service that will count the votes of the U.S. military and other civilians in the 2004 presidential election. As many as 6 million voters could use their system. Accenture was formally known as Andersen Consulting, a subsidiary of Arthur Andersen, a company convicted of destroying evidence in the Enron scandal. A major business partner of Accenture's is Halliburton, Vice president Dick Cheney's former employer.
The current Chairman of VoteHere, the leading worldwide supplier of Internet voting technology, is Admiral Bill Owens, a former senior military assistant to both Secretaries of Defense Frank Carlucci and Dick Cheney. Ex-CIA director Robert Gates, who was caught up in the Iran Contra scandal, also sits on the VoteHere board.
But there are many other corporations that work with the top voting companies and therefore have a piece of the action. It's a who's who of corporate America, a corporate America that we are routinely reminded doesn't want to pay taxes, likes to cook the books, and frequently engages in predatory business practices. Some of the companies who want to count your vote include: Microsoft, Dell, Cisco and various military defense companies, such as Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Unisys, National Semiconductor, and Perot Systems Government Services. Yes, even Ross Perot wants to count your vote.
The new kid on the block is Populex, which is creating an electronic voting system for Illinois. It has on its advisory board, Frank Carlucci of The Carlyle Group. Carlucci was the former Secretary of Defense in the Reagan Administration, a Deputy Director of the CIA during the Carter Administration, and also worked in the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations. Carlucci's business partner is former President George H.W. Bush.
The boards of many of these companies are dominated by top donors to the Republican Party, former high ranking military officers, and several ex-CIA directors. The CIA directors include: James Woolsey, Bobby Ray Inman, and John Deutch, and as mentioned before, Robert Gates and Frank Carlucci. The CIA, it should be remembered, has a decades-long track record of assisting in the brutal overthrow of democratically elected governments around the world.
Some of the largest companies in the elections industry are privately held and therefore not open to scrutiny by investors or the public. And in a similar vein, the software used by voting systems companies to count your vote, is also not open to inspection... except by three individuals selected by a private non-profit organization called, The National Association of State Election Directors, which has close ties to the elections industry.
So, today, in most voting precincts, there is nothing for the poll watchers to watch, nothing for Federal Observers to observe, and no real opportunity to discover if votes are being altered and if election fraud is being committed. In many cases, there is no paper ballot or paper trail of any kind, eliminating the possibility of a recount or an audit. When legal challenges to election results do occur, these companies can and do go to court and successfully shield their technology from inspection by claiming proprietary rights. And even if their technology is open to inspection, the manipulation of votes can occur in an endless variety of ways and remain undetected.
The lack of transparency and accountability of voting technology in use today makes the Voting Rights Act of 1967 and its enforcement...moot...and that fact alone…one would think... would set the stage for a solid legal challenge. But to date there has been no litigation filed using that argument. Strangely enough, voting rights groups like Common Cause and the ACLU of Southern California have actually adopted policies in opposition to paper ballots. And some organizations for the disabled are taking a similar position. "Total access" to voting is really code language for imposing on the electorate a paperless voting process that provides no security against election fraud or technical failure.
Where does the federal government come into the picture? Nowhere, really. There is no federal agency that has regulatory authority over the elections industry. There are no restrictions on who can own or operate a voting systems company. There are no mandatory federal standards for voting technology, and no federal certification of that technology. Meanwhile, the states are relying on guidelines and a certification process that are essentially controlled by the industry. The free-market is in control of our elections and the result is that the process has been privatized and our votes are up for grabs.
Congress has made the situation worse. With no safeguards in place, The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) allocated $3.8 billion to encourage states to buy the latest voting technologies - touchscreen machines and Internet voting. These technologies, like the ones that have gone before them, are an open invitation to vote fraud and technical failure, except on a massive scale. And particularly, with the introduction of Internet voting, we are truly entering the Land of Oz where one person can literally control elections across the country.
The right to vote and to have your vote counted properly is the centerpiece of our democracy. Yet, most people today say that they don't believe that their vote really counts. And perhaps, they're right. Perhaps they've sensed it intuitively. Perhaps, when they look at our elected leaders, out of touch with the needs of most voters, unwilling to break with wealthy donors, they have every reason to suspect that elections are a charade to convince voters that the power lies in their hands, when it truly rests elsewhere. The concealment, the secrecy, the non-transparency, inherent in the use of any machine - mechanical, electrical, computerized, or the Internet - is counter to a process where local public oversight is a critical component to ensure our right to free and fair elections. Instead, voters are told that they should trust...trust in their election officials to pick an honest company with sound technology. But faith and trust was not what our forefathers had in mind when they created a government of checks and balances. With our current voting process, those checks and balances are a distant memory.
What can be done? Speak out. Educate those around you. Most people haven't given this issue a second thought. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Justice should be sued for failure to enforce the Voting Rights Act. The exclusive use of technology to vote, technology that counts votes in a manner that cannot be observed, violates your rights. If technology is used, it should provide the voter with paper ballot that the voter verifies and then gets hand counted at the local precinct. And no election should depend on electricity or technology. If the power shuts off, the election should go on. But, speaking for myself, it seems that voting technology creates more problems than it solves.
As I look out over this room, full of concerned citizens...as I receive a steady stream of calls and emails...and see an increasing number of news stories about this issue, perhaps a second American revolution is on its way. A revolution to take back the vote. And it couldn't begin in a better place than Philadelphia.
Lynn Landes is a freelance journalist. She publishes her articles at EcoTalk.org. Formerly Lynn was a radio show host, a regular commentator for a BBC radio program, and environmental news reporter for DUTV in Philadelphia, PA. She can be contacted at (215) 629-3553, or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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