Saturday, April 4, 2009

New York Democracy War

A Short History of the New York Democracy Wars

I'm not an investigative journalist or a war correspondent. I'm just an ordinary citizen and voting integrity advocate watching the battle from my vantage point in the hills of Schoharie County.

I am an observer of political currents, political critters and would be captains of commerce. The captains and their lobbyists can be spotted circling the capital buildings when the scent of money is on the air. It is in times like this that politicians can be easily observed engaged in intercourse with said captains and their lobbyists. These exchanges are important to us because the people's treasure is the currency of this drama and our democracy is very much at risk.

The drama of which I speak began earlier but we'll click on the play button at about ten years ago. The militant anti-democracy idealogues had been in exile for several years but they were not still. They had published their plan, an explicit statement of what America's world position should be in the 21st century. It was a blueprint for the America of their dreams and it's execution would depend upon the Republican partisans winning the 2000 election. The Republican party, determined to take the Presidency by any means, and aided by corrupt Florida election functionaries, a seriously unethical and probably criminal voting machine company and a surprising Supreme Court ruling, installed an ignorant puppet as President of the United States in January, 2001.

Spurred into action, ostensibly by the horrors of deformed chads which defied all attempts to discern the will of voters, and recognizing that they needed a more reliable system to control democracy and maintain a permanent Republican government, Congressman Bob Ney, with the guidance of Diebold voting machine company, introduced the Orwellian Help America Vote Act. Ney's no longer a congressman, he's in jail now for unrelated crimes, but the HAVA regulations live on.

Early on in the play a second plot line was introduced, some say with the direct involvement, or at least the passive acquiescence, of the newly installed regime, when angry Arabs from the other side of the world took vengeance on America for it's imperialistic behavior over there. They flew airliners into the capitalists' prayer point knocking down two very tall buildings and killing many, many Americans. This incident instantly endowed the puppet with extraordinary powers he then used to transform our country into a habitat more hospitable for the oligarchs, and repressive of the peons, a habitat more a monarchy or dictatorship than a democracy.

Scoring several wins in the 2002 midterm elections the new authoritarian, monarchical, Commander-in-Chief puppet regime was on a roll. Popular Democratic incumbents were ousted in states where Diebold voting equipment was used but the would be rulers of the world knew they had more work to do to ensure the puppet's second, third and fourth term. A partisan-politicized Justice Dept was put into play aggressively prosecuting trumped up voter fraud cases and threatening to force HAVA compliance in any state which seemed reluctant to deploy electronic voting.

Ohio was the chosen battlefield for 2004. Ohio was home for Ney, the Diebold company (with many election districts served by Diebold machines) and a Secretary of State with a penchant for unethical behavior in the service of the party. The permanent Republican control enterprise had grown in sophistication. There were now talented IT people on board to create a complex "man in the middle" routine for shaping the election results. They pulled it off. The ignorant one was re-installed for a second term.

So it was in 2008 that many of us observers of currents, captains and criminals were at the ready and working hard to prevent New York State from becoming the next battleground lost in electronic service to the permanent power empire builders.

Collectively we had made a hell of a stink in opposition to direct recording electronic voting machines and in favor of a paper ballot system. Then, when a little luck came our way in the form of a state BOE crippled by partisan squabbling and a federal judge short on patience, a paper ballot scanner system was the only system left standing at the very moment of decision. That would be the Sequoia ImageCast combination Ballot Marking Device and ballot scanner. We bought it, and it must be a really good system because we paid way, way too much for it.

An important subplot throughout this drama, little recognized or attended to by politicians, lobbyists or the captains of commerce, was the preservation of democracy. It was a strange battle with politicians, lobbyists, bureaucrats both federal and state, and judges all focused lemming-like on the goal of imposing electronic voting upon the citizens of America. It was as if all the aforementioned rodents had experienced an identical Epiphany: To vote requires a machine, and modernity demands that machine be solid-state electronic, and the huge amounts of federal money appropriated for the transition dictated that these machines were to be expensive. And so it came to pass.

Some will describe it as a compromise. The democracy defenders got their paper ballots. The lemmings got their solid-state electronic and expensive ballot marking device/scanner machines. All the Federal money has been spoken for. Everybody should be happy. What more could they want?

The partisan patronage appointees charged with managing our elections really didn't want to have to deal with paper ballots. They had hoped to avoid any of the extra chores paper ballots might require. Obviously, most of the voting machine manufacturers did not get a contract to supply machines. Only two companies will be supplying all of New York State. Of all the actors the ones most ill at ease are the good government groups, election integrity watchdogs and individual democracy defenders. They remain concerned that, absent adequate audits, transparency and citizen participation, the electronic ballot scanners might be programmed to control election outcomes.

Of these patriots many are dissatisfied with the ballots being counted by an electronic machine and are pressing for more extensive audits than provided for in NY law. Some are in court arguing to retain the lever machines rather than trusting a scanner count of ballots. And there are some who so distrust the electronic machines, the companies that make them, the election management bureaucracy and the various other governmental agencies that might otherwise be expected to stand guard over democracy, that they want every paper ballot counted by hand under the caring eyes of the citizens, with the ballot counting chores being handled by randomly chosen citizen volunteers. And they demand, if there is to be a scanner count, it must be relegated to serving as a confirmation of the hand count.

This last group of pro-democracy patriots claim support for their position in none other than New York's HAVA compliance legislation, The Election Reform and Modernization Act of 2005. They note that the amended Election Law (Sec.9-211, Sub 3,4 & 5) recognizes the primacy of paper ballots as the official record of an election and reason that official records of an election can not be disregarded or subordinated to an electronic count and therefore the paper ballots must be 100% counted by hand.

Late last year certification testing of the Sequoia ballot marking device/ballot scanner machines, most of which have already been delivered to local Boards of Election, was interrupted when the testing contractor itself was de-certified due to poor performance, inadequate record keeping and inappropriate assurances to machine manufacturers. Testing had barely just resumed when the national economy began to crumble threatening state and local governments with huge budget shortfalls. Sequoia, apparently numb to the world around them, decided the time was right to announce price increases, including a demand for outrageously high license fees for software required to run the machines.

So that's where we are. The New York State election administrators will continue to slog through their partisan differences while conducting machine testing, developing an audit regimen and resolving the software licensing fees issue. Our responsibility, every citizens' responsibility, is to continue defending democracy.

We have to continue hacking away at the election administration lemmings, zombie voting machine reps and other corporate shills who would have us lay down and give them control of elections and our democracy. We will continue to confront, write, call and message anyone and everyone who might be instrumental in developing the election administration procedures and practices which will protect the integrity of our elections.