Tuesday, November 01, 2005

An Election in Turnaround

Here's an article I wrote last year, I thought I'd share it as it gives some background on the election history, my role as an activist, and how I view election reform issues. It was orginally posted and published by Seattle's Independent Media Website, http://www/seattle.indymedia.org, here:

For almost a year I traveled Washington State as a voting activist thinly veiled as the campaign manager for an unknown candidate for Washington State's office of the Secretary of State, Andy Stephenson. Together we warned everyone we could about the upcoming catastrophe that King County, Washington State, and the Country would be facing during this election. Namely that the election system is flawed, the machines are faulty, the procedures are unclear, the people running the show are partisan, and that corporations like Diebold and ES&S are trying to privatize the entire process.

While Andy ran as a Democrat, the campaign felt no particular allegiance to a party that shunned us at every turn, and showed, at times, open hostility towards our “fear mongering” tactics. Paul Berendt had already chosen the Democrat's candidate for the office long before any of you went to the Democratic Primary, and that candidate was Laura Rudderman. So the Stephenson Campaign was left out in the cold, with no money, and only the truth on our side.

The campaign was run on the blood, sweat and tears of a grass root budget that rarely had more than a few hundred dollars at any given time. But we persisted, spending our own money on the essentials, and gathering a few core volunteers along the way. We took the message to the streets and we sold Bev Harris' book “Blackbox Voting, Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century” for gas money along the way.

So why am I writing this? What's the point? Well there are several points about the current fiasco that need to be made.

First off, neither side of this controversy has a right to claim the moral high ground. While the Democrats chant, “Count Every Vote” and the Republican's chant, “don't change the rules”. Neither party is willing to face the numbers. This race is statistically tied. The machine count has a margin of error, and when the victory is awarded based on a difference that is smaller than that margin, there is no clear winner. Counting every vote does not matter. Changing the rules does not matter. The race is tied.

It seems funny to me the turnaround that the Democratic party is trying to get away with. Or maybe ironic is the word? As the manager of a campaign trying to win the Democratic nomination based on the idea that every vote should count, the Stephenson Campaign broke the news about King County's Felons, Sam Reed's seemingly illegal certification of software for Voting Machines, and Bob Terrwilliger's (Snohomish County Auditor) obvious incompetence. And at every turn we encountered Democrat's who worked to undermine our efforts. Dean Logan of King County originally denied that felons ever worked on King County's Voter Tabulation software, which was proven true, Christine Gregoire's office of the Attorney General got Andy Stephenson's lawsuit against Sam Reed dismissed on technicalities, and the entire Democratic Party seemed to rally around Bob Terrwilliger, one of two County Auditor's in Washington who have installed touch screen voting machines that have no legitimate way to be recounted in the hand recount, the infamous “Blackbox Voting Machine” we all know so well. The message here, I guess, is that as long as its the Democrats selling out the integrity of Washington State's voting process to private corporate interests, that's just fine with the Democratic Party.

Just for fun Google “Bob Terrwilliger” and cross reference it with “Sideshow Bob” of the Simpon's.

But I digress...

Practically anyone with their head above ground knows by now that the Diebold and ES&S are heavily tied to the Republican party. And if you aren't suspicious of their tactics, well you're probably not reading this article anyway. However, I'd like to point out that the Democrat's are at least following the rules at this point in the Governor's race.

Washington State's election rules allow any candidate to contest the race and demand a recount, as long as he or she finds a way to pay for it. The Dems ponied up the cash, and the recount is moving forward. All very legal, and all very necessary, in my opinion. But not because I care if Christine or Dino are Washington's next governor. Rather, it's nice to see the train wreck finally hit the front page news. It's nice to say I told you so, and it's nice to see both the parties in turmoil due to a system that is broken.

But what is still troubling me, is that the media is doing such a whitewash of the issue. Too dumb, or too corrupted to tell the truth, the talking heads go on and on about the hand recount, without mentioning some key facts. The vote is tied, the hand recount is exposing major flaws in the system, and two counties Snohomish and Yakima are putting on a smoke and mirrors display that is costing lots of money, to simply go through the “motions” of a hand recount, without the actual substance of a hand recount.

And perhaps most egregious of the media's failings is their utter incompetence in explaining the legal challenges, and Washington Supreme Court's recent legal decision. So, while I'm no lawyer, I'll take a stab at it just to get the ball rolling.

The Gregoire team brought a lawsuit that sought to include thousands of previously disqualified votes into the hand recount. The Supreme Court ruled on the law, and basically said they have no authority to include votes that had previously been legally disqualified. So to break it down in terms of a single voter, say Joe Schmoe votes absentee, signs his ballot, and mails it back on time. It gets into the hands of the an election official on time, and that official checks the records and Joe Schmoe's signature appears not to match. This ballot has been “legally” disqualified by the elected official. The county then sends out a letter to Joe Schmoe that says basically, “hey your ballot is not going to count unless you come in and personally verify your own signature, by the way you only have until Nov. 17th to do this, or even if it is your signature, your vote is disqualified.” Ok, so Joe Schmoe doesn't act in time, his ballot has now been legally disqualified. Regardless of whether or not it was actually Joe Schmoe's signature, the election officials acted legally, and Joe's vote doesn't count. A process that caught both King County Council Chariman, Larry Phillips, and Andy Stephenson in the fray.

Now there's obviously something wrong with a system that routinely disqualifies thousands of votes, and one which seems to assume voter fraud due to signature's that don't match, but the Supreme Court doesn't have the power to correct that situation. That's the job of Washington's Congress, which regardless of the outcome in the Governor's race is controlled by Democrats.

So Gregoire brought a lawsuit to include legally disqualified votes and lost on a ruling that was pretty clearly going to happen even before she brought the case. However, if you turn that ruling on its head, the flip side is this, votes that were previously excluded due to election official's errors, miscounts, or any newly discovered votes that were never previously “legally” disqualified must now be counted under this ruling. Votes that were never counted, or illegally disqualified due to human error, machine error, or any other reason that is not a legal way to disenfranchise the voter, these votes must now be counted. The media will not explain this to you, the party will not explain this to you, and unless you explain it to yourself, it seems like nothing here makes any sense.

But just as assuredly as the Republican's will argue that changing the rules in the middle of the election isn't legal, they will now go to court and ask just that in trying to exclude King county's newly discovered votes. And just as assuredly as Democrat's argued to include legally excluded votes, they will now seize this Supreme Court ruling and argue that these new votes in King County must be counted.

So what it all comes down to is an election in turnaround. Neither party wants to address the real problem... the election is tied, the system is faulty, and no matter who wins the integrity of the system by which we carry out the most fundamental of our rights is the real loser. Politics used to be called the art of the compromise, but in today's reality it is a war in which the party's victory is the only goal regardless of the cost to our society, our history, or the very integrity of the system each side seeks to control. In doing so, each side turns around and around seeking only the argument that wins the battle, but not the argument that would end the war by fixing the system.

So in conclusion, I submit a few predictions. The first is that King County's newly discovered votes will stand up to any court challenge. And regardless of who gets into office, neither side will do anything fix the problem. Unless you count installing more touch screen voting machines, which will make this hand recount problem go away, but only by making it impossible to question the validity of a system that has been completely bought and sold by corporate interests. Flying low under the radar, Snohomish county is conducting the recount of the future, and it's a total sham.

A Reader Responds

From my email this morning:

"If Iron wins, your run will be responsible for anightmarish period for KC -- plus long-lastingenvironmental damange and harm to real people who willsuffer from bad social policies. Irons is an abuserand you are facilitating his possible win. Please,you've demonstrated you can get votes. Great. Nowplease do the responsible thing and urge support for Sims."

--Name withheld

And here's my response:

How much do you know about Ron Sims, and his corruption of our election system? Really, I'm just asking. Because if selling out Democracy isn't enough for you, I don't know what is.

In addition, David Irons has drawn far more Democrats than I have. Ron lost 30% in the primaries, David captured 15% of those Dems, I have captured 10% of those Dems, the fact is I get far more David Irons supporters supporting me instead of David. I get very few Ron supporters that had not jumped ship before they even knew about me. So frankly the idea that I'm taking votes from Ron is just not supported by the facts.

Finally, I am not a Democrat. If you would like to stand up and fight for your beliefs, by all means do so. If you want to go doorbelling for Ron, or would like to espouse why it is you support Ron, fine. But my job is not to protect Ron Sims. My number one issue is Democracy, selling out Democracy is simply not acceptable. There are both Democrats and Republicans I support, Ron Sims is not one of them.

Ron could take all my supporters away in one fell swoop. Come out strongly for open-sourced pulbicy owned software, against Diebold, and for real voting reform. Until then he is not just part of the problem, he is the problem.

Regards,Gentry Lange

PS: Here's some reading from Congress to look into if you are interested.

GAO Issues a Report on Electronic Voting

The General Accounting Office (Congress) has issued a rather detailed report regarding the use of Electronic Voting Machines. The report does a pretty good job highlighting the key concerns that activists have been complaining about for years:

Democrats Reform House

There is also another report our by a group called the National Election Data Archive, or NEDA:

Elections Archive for 2004

So while local election officials say everything is fine, Congress has issued a report supporting many of the criticisms activists have raised.

This whole conversation has shifter to Washblog:
Anyone that wants to comment should check it out.