Saturday, November 10, 2007

Defending Democracy

The passage of another election day, with a half empty ballot to contemplate, gives me cause to wonder....and worry.

Sarah, a forty something housecleaner, teenage waitress Wendy, Billy the auto mechanic, Elliot, a retired civil servant and his wife Susan, a used to be hairdresser: these ordinary folks, and many others like them who’ve crossed my path recently, have shaken my confidence in the viability of the grand American experiment.

I hold these folks to be typical American citizens, salt of the earth, honest hard working people who, if it weren’t for one characteristic they have in common, would bring a smile to my face and a warm sense of community to my heart. That one terribly disheartening commonality: They don’t vote!

The catalog of excuses, explanations and justifications for this sad fact includes; a weak smile with a shrug, “I don’t vote,” “I’m not a voter,” “I’m not registered” and “I don’t know anything about politics.” To this I usually respond with a non-judgmental suggestion that there are important issues at stake, issues that their self-interest argues for participation. I have no data indicating such encouragement has actually caused someone to register or vote. Maybe I’m going about this all wrong.

In his inaugural address John F. Kennedy said “…ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Perhaps it would be more effective if I appealed to a citizen’s responsibility to the nation as the rationale for participating in elections.

It should be increasingly obvious to anyone paying attention to national political developments that our democracy is hurting. The important underpinnings of democracy, well articulated in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, have been systematically attacked by the Executive, Congress and sometimes even by the courts over the past several years. Recognizing that damage, let’s agree America needs an infusion of democracy!

Using JFK’s formulation we can state that as citizens of America we are responsible for defending and repairing the Constitution. We, each one of us, are responsible for keeping our democracy healthy. So, what will you do for democracy?

I’ve devoted time and energy to protecting the integrity of our elections. My niche in this larger effort is stopping electronic voting machines and the privatization of election administration. There are many other opportunities for contribution. See: , , , or .

For the sake of our nation, and for our children, vote, and then find your place in the struggle to defend democracy. Democracy is something you do!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Untested Voting Machines

The New York State Board of Elections met yesterday 11.7.07. The only positive I can report is that the main stream media was represented, AND, ABC's Nightly News coverage included good interviews with three election integrity advocates......YES! Finally!

The news:

With the US Justice Department and the Federal District Court looking over their shoulder, The State Board of Elections is under a great deal of pressure to get something done…..quickly.

Defenders of democracy be afraid, be very afraid.

A controversial proposal by the State Board of Elections to allow Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines to be used in each polling place for disabled voter accessibility and to serve as a Ballot-Marking Device (BMD), rather than using actual ballot-marking systems designed for the purpose, has gone forward.
The proposal will allow DRE vendors to submit their equipment with the machine’s vote recording and tabulating capability disabled, and to use the DRE’s VVPAT as an official ballot.

Opponents of the plan point to significant problems with this proposal. The DREs do not permit a voter with visual disability to receive an alternative verification (audio) from the paper record itself, while the ballot-marking systems do. This a critical failing since the VVPAT is a small document and difficult to see even for people with normal vision.

Opponents also note a significant legal question remains as to whether the VVPAT output satisfies NYS laws defining a ballot. State BOE officials are aware of this issue but chose to not require the vendors to equip their machines with more sophisticated printers which could print a proper ballot.

The BOE has already issued a request for proposals for ballot marking devices using the modified rules and apparently there are several vendors that have expressed an interest in submitting their DREs for authorization as a BMD. The vendor’s interest is not surprising since this new proposal provides an opportunity to place their DRE machines in the field absent the otherwise required certification, and a year earlier than if they had to wait for testing to be complete.

Vendors also surely recognize the probability, that once deployed, the BOE would not allow the certification process to fail a machine already paid for and deployed by the counties.

The Voting Integrity Project, NYVV, LWV-NY and several accessibility advocacy groups continue to oppose this plan. If and when any DRE is actually “authorized” as a ballot marking device, opposing organizations will likely mount a legal challenge.

see related earlier posts: Oct.'07 "NYS BOE End Run Scam" and "NYS BOE Chastised by Peacemakers VIP"