Sunday, February 27, 2005

Electronic Voting - reform now or never!

(Apologies in advance - I'm too tired tonight to proofread. I hope I didn't murder the language too badly.)

I spent the greater part of the weekend involved in two separate but related events about electronic voting. Friday night, I saw and met the filmmakers of three separate documentaries, all with a different story, on the horror stories of electronic voting. I’ve been fighting this battle myself since I first heard HAVA required the purchase of electronic voting machines. As someone who has actually set up databases and written code, I can tell you it’s very easy to write code with backdoors, secret triggers, routines that delete themselves after running, etc. I can also tell you that no one can tell you by turning on a machine if malignant code is inside. The only way to find that is to examine the source code. I’ll come back to my contributions to the weekend based on my own work in a moment. First, I want to introduce you to a host of special people, people who have put their lives to the side so they can work day and night to help save our Democracy. The first one I met is not even from this country!

Russell Michaels is one of the three producers behind Votergate, a work-in-progress on its way to becoming a 90 minute feature documentary. In fact, the filmmakers were at the Saturday event, filming more material for their film. We saw the video from their Web site, which focuses on Bev Harris’ and Andy Stephenson’s journey through several states interviewing polling place workers, some who had electronic voting machines sent home with them prior to the election(!), their Diebold trash forays, Bev’s introduction to Howard Dean on National TV of how easy it is to change the numbers in the “central tabulation” program (Diebold’s version is called GEMS), and more. The filmmakers captured with humor the tragedy that has become our voting process.

I was fascinated by Russell because he was movie-star handsome. He was, but really, I was fascinated because he was from Great Britain. Why would someone outside our country care? Why would this guy travel all over America to tell our story? But of course, why would someone not? As our planet becomes ever smaller, as resources become ever more scarce, naturally friends, allies and enemies have more and more at stake in elections held in America. Russell saw it as a great story. But he also just cares. His own passion for the topic became readily apparent after my first few minutes with him. I didn’t get as much time with his equally knowledgable co-producer, Rob Cohen, who lives here in Los Angeles, but it’s clear they are both totally committed to raising the noise level on this issue and educating people about how much has already been taken from them by electronic voting. Their film is fun and informative and off to a great start. They’re getting funding in part from Barbara Streisand’s fund and from the new patron saint of documentaries, Public Interest Pictures.

The next film was an appropriately titled documentary called “Electile Disfunction”, directed by Penny Little, an energetic and charismatic character perpetually perky under her pink hat. While Votergate told the story through the efforts of Bev Harris, Penny’s film told the story through the eyes of different commentators, many of them voters. I laughed hard when Jim Hightower, who always has a way of putting this just right, called voting on electronic machines “faith-based voting.” She intercut scenes from old horror flicks, robots controlling the world, or robots failing, and so forth. Fun and informative. The credits were hilarious!

The most heartbreaking film was the one with the least production quality picture/soundwise, but the most raw emotion. Directed by Linda Burkett, this was raw footage of many people, in a predominantly African-American precinct, waiting HOURS to be able to vote. HOURS in the rain. HOURS with instructions so poor that once inside the building, they might spend ANOTHER hour in the wrong line because there were two precincts inside, and no clear signs indicating which line was for which precinct. The site of all those people standing and waiting, confident that they would be able to vote, and confident that there vote would count, just broke my heart. Over and over, I’ve heard it said, anecdotally and from testimony from hearings that precincts that were predominantly African American, a segment of the population that votes overwhelmingly Democratic, had to wait for hours, whereas neighbors in predominantly Republican precincts only had to wait minutes to vote. There were shots of people arriving just as the polls closed, finally off work, and the look on one man’s face said it all. It was clear he had been looking forward to voting and had come there as fast as he could, only to be told he could not vote. Geez, folks, this is America. When is a rule (closing time) more important than letting another few stragglers vote? All weekend I alternated between rage and sadness at such stories. This is America. This is America! This should never happen in America!

The Saturday and Sunday events were organized by Sheri Myers, a tireless, tiny blond who credits Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin with teaching her to be a warrior. Looking at Sheri, one could hardly imagine meeting a more friendly, loving warrior! She was all smiles, hugs, credit to others, doing the opposite of micromanaging - inviting any who wanted to help readily into the fold, including yours truly.

When I first read about these events, I wrote their publicist, who had also helped publicize my book The Assassinations, and asked, was there going to be a call to action - something people could run home and do that night? Sheri wrote back immediately saying well, not exactly, but if you have something by all means bring it. So I spent Saturday pulling together this flyer which was distributed and which I presented briefly at both events. Right now, in Congress, there is a bill, HR 550, presented by Congressman Rush Holt and co-sponsored by another 100+ Representatives, but the Republican-controlled Committee on House Administration is sitting on it and not allowing it to come to the floor for a vote. Check out the flyer - I’ll talk about this more over time.

The Saturday event had nearly 100 people. The Sunday event had perhaps closer to 150 - hard to tell. Sunday was the heavy hitters. Bob Fitrakis spoke, from the heart, and without any compromise. The Ohio vote was provably, definitively stolen. He was one of the lawyers on the suit against the state. Now the state is suing HIM for what they deem a “frivolous” law suit, brought without any merit. Here is a guy putting his neck on the line to defend Democracy for all, and some partisan hacks in Ohio are going after him to ensure not only that he doesn’t do that again, but to put the fear of God in anyone else who tries to pursue wrongdoings. Fortunately, they’ve picked the wrong guy. I had only known Fitrakis before from his writings. But now that I’ve had a chance to see him in action (and to talk with him at dinner after) he’s a man of fierce intelligent, unwavering commitment, and fiery passion for what America should be, for what our vote should be. GOD BLESS BOB FITRAKIS!!!

Congresswoman Maxine Waters arrived late, but jumped right in saying how important this issue was, how pleased she was to see so many people there, and then proceeded to talk about issues of disenfranchisement. She talked about how important it was that voting reform not be left to individual states, that we needed federal guidelines. This was music to my ears, because when I first heard about electronic voting and called my two Senators (in WA state, where I was then residing), both offices told me “this is not a federal issue - take it up with the state.” I argued with both staffs that this should be a federal issue. We have to see, there has been progress just getting people in the Congress and Senate to admit this is a national issue. That’s a start.

Blair Bobier spoke next. He had helped David Cobb of the Green Party press for a recount. He reminded us, and I’m sorry to admit I needed to be reminded, that the Democratic party stood by and watched as the Green Party led the way, pressing for a recount of the Ohio vote. Were it not for their actions, we’d have far less information on what really transpired there. Yeah, we called them spoilers in 2000. But in 2004, we have to call them saviors. They did what the Democrats and frankly, the Republicans should have done - pressed for a recount because the exit polls did not match the machine counts. Why is it that in the Ukraine, exit polls proved the vote was not counted properly, but here in America they were pooh-poohed and dismissed?

Bev Harris spoke next. And she was exactly as I expected her to be. Sharp. Funny. Incredibly knowledgeable. Happy to share the stage with the others around her. Not a microphone hog. Just a great, great lady. She’s gotten a bad rap from some people who were formerly friends. Now I understand why.

She was targeted. She was set up on several entrapment attempts. She was interviewed by the Secret Service FIVE TIMES and has been under a gag order for a year. But the year has ended, and she wants to talk. She was investigated by a branch of the Treasury involved in terrorist funding. They even confiscated all the records of what machines, by IP address, had visited her site. In other words, the government has been running a fullout campaign trying to find a way to discredit her, trying to find out whether they could tempt her to overstep a legal boundary. That they have not is testament to the woman’s wits and integrity.

The funniest thing I heard either night was Bev’s latest stunt. She and her associates literally taught a chimpanzee how to hack the vote on video, and a San Diego TV station aired it.

Bev’s direction to us was clear and straightforward. FOLLOW THE MONEY. It worked in Watergate. (It would work in the 9/11 case, I’m convinced.) She said look not just at who runs elections, but at offices like the County Supervisor. These are the places where big money deals go down. Developments that need permission to start. Businesses looking for tax incentives. She reminded us that both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of accepting what amounts to bribes and payoffs, and perhaps that’s why some Democrats have turned against her. But I hear her just being honest. And it’s especially important that something as critical to our democracy as our vote not be seen as any kind of partisan issue. Follow the money, find out where the graft is going, and work to reform from the bottom up. She talked about one county supervisor in Florida who was so aggressive about auditing machines, popping in for surprise visits and such that no one would dare try to tamper with results in that particular county.

She encouraged us too to be especially sensitive to the African American community. Her husband is African American, and his attitude when she discussed disenfranchisement and vote manipulation was, this was nothing new, and it’s been happening to us for many years. We need to remember that women only got the vote in the early part of the last century. And the Jim Crow laws prevented African Americans from voting well into the 1960’s.

And she said it’s not enough to talk to each other. Go find new people. Find people on the right who are honest and who care about us all having a vote. There are a lot of them. Work with them. Network with them. Put them on your boards.

There were several other speakers, but I have to hit the hay. There’s much to discuss. To me, there are two daggers hanging over the heart of our democracy. If either falls, it can kill our faith in government. One is our vote. If that is compromised, it really is time for a revolution. The other is the media. If the media cannot tell us what is going on, our votes will be based on false, missing, or misleading information. Either is fatal. Get out there. Get busy. And write your Congressman as a first step. Tell them to back Rush Holt’s bill HR 550 AS IS without amendments that weaken or destroy it. It’s important. And time is running out!


Blogger erlenda said...

I´m not sure what you mean with spam. Your e-mail address sounds really forbidding.
But I would like you to link to my blog and I will link to yours.
I like your blog and also your history archives. I was especially
faszinated by the talk of Robert Parry when he describes the South American contra wars and the US involvement.
I´m interested in the politics of the American Empire, because they scare me silly.
And when you wrote here about an foreigner helping the cause against vote-repression in the US. I don´t think this is even an inner-American affair.
In my opinion, every living soul on this planet, of voting age, should theoretically have a voting right in your elections, since America is meddling in everybody´s affairs where ever he or she lives. And America has
the power to destroy the live of everybody on earth and right seems to be
intending to do just that, dragging the whole world, and if necessary
on it´s hairs into the next world war.
Sorry, I sound like a crazy anti-American hatemongerer. I really do not
hate Americans. I do not even hate the people who voted for Bush, since
as a German I know, how easy it is for a whole people to get misled by propaganda. But I see us all on the edge of a cliff and somebody is trying to push us over into an abyss of death and suffering.
The Iraqi people have been pushed in there, as so many others in the
last 60 years and this all for the greed and power-hunger of a few
oligarchs. And this were just some limited wars.
50 million died in the last world-war.
How many will die in the next, when weapons have so much evolved and the ethics of the powerful not at all?
So that´s how I see it.

11:29 PM  

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