Saturday, July 07, 2007

Eureka Reporter OpEd: Group urges dialogue about elections

Last weekend I posted a quickie response immediately after seeing this Eureka Reporter article based on the Voter Confidence Committee press release about our new Report on Election Conditions in Humboldt County (.pdf). After meeting with the VCC on Tuesday night it was decided that a slightly revised version of my response should be submitted to the Reporter, which will apparently run it in Saturday's edition, online now (full text below).

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Group urges dialogue about elections
by Dave Berman, 7/6/2007

As in the past, I would say again that elections beat writer Rebecca S. Bender presented a fair piece in the July 1 Eureka Reporter: "Watchdog group calls for hand-counted ballots," with quotes from a Voter Confidence Committee news release and one item straight out of our report, balanced with quotes from Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich.

Bender does err in referring to the 20-page report as a 30-page report, but I suspect this will be quickly forgotten.

Of greater consequence, Crnich questions the relevance of some of the references in the time line portion of the report. True, not everything in this section refers to equipment used in Humboldt County.

However, this series of brief paragraphs does include detailed information about the history of machine failures in Humboldt County, the results of hack tests on the same type of equipment used here, results of a statewide audit that found Humboldt County was using uncertified software, the determination by the Department of Homeland Security that our central tabulator program, GEMS, is a threat to national security and the finding that requisite independent testing of our equipment was not done.

One might argue we had enough with just those bits of information. But, we felt it was important to place all this against the backdrop of what was happening nationally, revealing that machines by other manufacturers were also failing or found to be highly vulnerable to tampering, that some elections counted by optical scanners were overturned by hand counts and that official reports by the GAO and congressional committees found that votes had been lost and miscounted. This context is not irrelevant because we want readers to understand why the VCC has such a keen interest in how our elections are run. No more secret vote counting!

In The Eureka Reporter article, Crnich attempts to marginalize the recommendations in the report by saying the Humboldt Transparency Project makes most of them moot. With due respect to the registrar, this is disingenuous. The Transparency Project allows for the scanned images of all ballots to appear on CDs so that any community resident can do a recount and compare with the official results. This is lipstick on a pig. It is a red herring that doesn’t make Diebold's secret vote-counting machines OK.

Another concern we have about the Transparency Project is that citizen review of the ballot image CDs won't occur until after the election is certified. It is vital to get it correct on election night because the prospects of later getting election results changed are prohibitively small.

This spring there were several official challenges to questionable congressional results from November. Congress dismissed all but one of the challenges without considering submitted evidence. If the public gets the ballot image CDs after certification, whatever may be found on the disks is not likely to matter.

The VCC report also points out that Crnich is at greater risk by allowing the post-certification audits than she would we be if such review were possible before certification.

Obviously, once the registrar certifies an election, she is staking her reputation on its accuracy. It only makes sense to do all the accuracy checking before certifying the results as accurate.

The VCC does not oppose the Transparency Project, but we do have some reservations about how it is to be deployed. We encourage more public dialogue, in general, about how we run our elections.

We invite you to visit to get a free copy of our "Report on Election Conditions in Humboldt County, California."

We can't imagine anyone reading this and still justifying the Diebold optical scanners. Visit our Web site or e-mail the VCC at to learn more about our campaign for hand-counting paper ballots.


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We Do Not Consent, Volume 1 (left) and Volume 2 (right), feature essays from Dave Berman's previous blogs, GuvWurld and We Do Not Consent, respectively. Click the covers for FREE e-book versions (.pdf). As of April 2010, paperbacks are temporarily out of print. Click here for the author's bio.

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"If in the future we have vital elections, the "no basis for confidence" formulation that GuvWurld is popularizing will have been a historically important development. This is true because by implicitly insisting on verification and checks and balances instead of faith or trust in elections officials or machines as a basis for legitimacy, it encourages healthy transparent elections. It’s also rare that a political formulation approaches scientific certainty, but this formulation is backed up by scientific principles that teach that if you can’t repeat something (such as an election) and verify it by independent means, it doesn’t exist within the realm of what science will accept as established or proven truth."

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"Dave Berman's work is quietly brilliant and powerfully utilitarian. His Voter Confidence Resolution provides a fine, flexible tool whereby any community can reclaim and affirm a right relation to its franchise as a community of voters."

— Elizabeth Ferrari, San Francisco, Green Party of California

"This is an important collection of essays with a strong unitary theme: if you can't prove that you were elected, we can't take you seriously as elected officials. Simple, logical, comprehensive. 'Management' (aka, the 'powers that be') needs to get the message. 'The machines' are not legitimizers, they're an artful dodge and a path to deception. We've had enough...and we most certainly DO NOT consent."

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