Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Democracy Appeal

The following remarks were originally prepared for the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors with the hope that the lawmakers would rise to the occasion and do the right thing for the electorate and our democracy. Because of pending changes to the Makeup of the board, and the imminent intervemtion of the Federal Court, the remarks have not been directed to the board but are posted here for your consideration.

The greatest threat to peace and security for any person is their own government, not some foreign power or alien national. Government has great power over a citizen’s everyday life, and therefore, the potential to cause great harm. America’s founders understood this and structured the constitution to protect us, today however, some of those constitutional protections are in doubt.

Naomi Wolf, writing in "The End Of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot," informs us that democracy can be lost, and indeed, has been lost to other peoples in the past. We would be wise to learn the lessons of history that are there for us.

It should be obvious to anyone watching national political developments that our democracy is threatened. 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 the damage that has been done, let’s agree that we all must assume responsibility for protecting democracy!

Politicians frequently remind us of the many Americans who have fought and died for democracy, and then admonish us to "support the troops." I suggest the same rationale for supporting democracy and the integrity of our elections. The least we can do is not let democracy and election integrity go without a fight.

Where am I going with this? Well, you should expect that I’m going to talk to you about voting machines again. I will not disappoint you, but the main point I want to make is our shared responsibility for preserving democracy by protecting the integrity of our ballot.

The purpose of elections is freely choosing our public servants by majority-rule. The essence of America is self-government, recognizing that all legitimate government power comes only from elections in government "of the people, by the people and for the people." To this end election officials must provide a voting system compatible with democracy, that is a system which is trustworthy, or they're not public servants. Democracy can not long survive in secrecy behind closed doors, or in the secret black box of an electronic voting computer. Democracy requires transparency in elections.

An August 2006 Zogby poll found 92% of Americans preferred observable vote counting over secret proprietary systems. The electorate intuitively knows that they shouldn’t trust something they can’t see. If we were to survey the citizens of Schoharie County about computerized voting machines, something our Election Commissioners should have done years ago, I expect a similar proportion of our citizens would reject the invisible ballots of electronic voting machines.

Is it possible for public servants to pursue policies out of touch with over ninety percent of the electorate? Yes, they can and will if you let them. Remember those 6th grade lessons about checks and balances? It's time for election officials to be checked on the voting machine issue.

Thirty some years ago the New York State Election Law was amended to create the election administration we have today. The legislature, apparently embracing a security philosophy of mutually assured distrust, gave the two major political parties control over the process. This was tantamount to putting two foxes in the henhouse. These two partisan groups are not committed to protecting democracy. Their job is winning elections - not protecting the integrity a citizen’s ballot . This is evinced by a long history of fraud and anti-democratic actions by election officials.

I’m sure that somewhere out there there’s an honest, idealistic election official who might justifiably take offense at this generalization. We can acknowledge that there are exceptions, but this does not alter the facts which must guide public policy. In this debate over voting systems the only party without a conflict of interest is the electorate, the people you represent.

Because national election results since 2000 have been so controversial there have been many election fraud investigations, most conducted by voting integrity advocates rather than government agencies. This fact is itself additional evidence of failed election administration. Such private party investigations are usually reported in documentary films, reports, or books.

One such report is "Was the 20045 Presidential Election Stolen? Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count" by Steven F. Freeman Ph.D. & Joel Bleifuss. Doctor Freeman is a Visiting Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, Graduate Program of Organizational Dynamics. Mr. Bleifuss is an investigative reporter and Editor of In These Times.

Historically, election exit polls have been very accurate. Germany uses exit polling to verify the integrity of their elections. Their polls average less than ½ of 1% divergence from official counts. A 2005 initial exit poll in England was right on the mark. And, in 2004, a discrepancy in the exit polls resulted in the presidential election being voided in the Ukraine.

Edison/Mitofsky pollsters have been conducting exit polls for the national elections since 1993. Over the past few years those exit polls have been seriously off the mark, sometimes almost a double digit divergence from the official tallies.

The 2004 presidential race produced some highly improbable exit polls. If the polls were inaccurate due to chance circumstances those discrepancies should have been distributed more or less evenly between Kerry and Bush.

However, in that nationwide survey, the discrepancies between the exit polls and official results favored Bush in 44 states but in only 6 states for Kerry. The odds against this happening by chance are tens-of-millions-to-one according to Freeman & Bleifuss.

The investigators also report that in ten of the eleven so-called battleground states the official count differed from the exit polls. In all ten states the difference favored George Bush, a one-in-a-thousand possibility.

Another "improbable" statistic: In every presidential election between 1988 and 2004 the official count was divergent from the exit polls. In each case it was a Republican candidate that benefited from the discrepancy. In each case that Republican was named George Bush. And, in each case that candidate was running with the benefit of an incumbency except for the 2000 contest.

In that race George W. Bush was not an incumbent, but he did have his brother Jeb the Governor of Florida, Secretary of State Kathleen Harris, and the US Supreme Court pulling for him.

The statisticians found other curious correlations; the racial makeup of the state, Republican control of governorship, whether a swing state, and … where paper ballots were not used, all correlated positively with poll discrepancies.

When they were done analyzing the available election polling data Freeman and Bleifuss had uncovered considerable evidence tending to answer their title question in the affirmative. They confidently reported:

"National exit polls indicate that Bush suffered a defeat in the popular vote by approximately 7 million votes, a margin of about 5 percentage points. On the other hand, the official story of Bush’s 3 million vote victory is simply not substantiated by the data.
The only conclusion consistent with the data is that the 2004 U.S. presidential election was stolen."

And there’s more: Remember the hanging chads? - Just a few weeks ago several former employees of Sequoia Pacific came forward to confirm that the voting machine company had sabotaged the 2000 vote in Florida.

In another investigation, we learned that intentional degradation of quality control standards by another voting machine manufacturer resulted in machine failures that altered the outcome of a 2006 congressional race in Florida.

This past month, We learned that the government of The Netherlands has decided to decertify and withdraw from service the Nedap/Liberty voting machine because of security concerns. Said security concerns are likely due to exposure of the machine‘s security weaknesses by voting integrity advocates, and possibly the unethical behavior of the company’s software executive.

Last year Ireland decided to put their Nedap machines into storage because the responsible authorities were unconvinced as to the machine’s security.

Mounting numbers of election administrators across the country are abandoning the electronic voting machines they purchased with HAVA funds and are now deploying paper ballot systems instead.

So, here we are:

There is no responsible argument supporting the use of electronic voting machines.

Citizen voters know it.

Election integrity activists know it.

Computer Security experts know it.

Newspaper editors know it - 20 NY papers support Paper Ballot Voting

Governors and Secretaries of State of the states which have either switched to paper ballot voting or seriously restricted DRE use know it, among them; California, Connecticut, New Mexico and Florida.

Some NY Election officials have admitted it.

And…..Certainly, by now I believe you know it, and you know what you should do.

The Election Commissioners are the appointed co-department heads of the Elections Department. Oversight of this department and its administrators is the responsibility of the Board of Supervisors.

For the preservation of election integrity, you can not allow the Election Commissioners to impose electronic voting machines on the citizens of Schoharie County.

I repeat: The Election Commissioners must be checked on the voting machine issue. As the body with the power and responsibility to do so the citizens expect you to act.

As I indicated at the beginning of my remarks, this problem is bigger than Schoharie County, however, each of us needs to do our part because democracy starts right here.

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

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