Thursday, August 16, 2007

Accountability Moment For Eureka Times-Standard

Recently here at WDNC, I have been calling attention to fact-deficient articles in the Eureka Times-Standard (see here and here). Naturally the focus has been on the coverage of "voting machine" news. Today the T-S has published a "My Word" guest opinion column (archive) that pulls it all together. The full text is at the bottom of this post.

But first, I want mention this past Tuesday, when Voter Confidence Committee members Rabbi Les Scharnberg, Ruth Hoke, and I met with the T-S editorial board to discuss the VCC's Report on Election Conditions In Humboldt County, our campaign for hand-counted paper ballots, and of course, their recent dreadful coverage. The meeting was roughly 42 minutes and on the record. A complete recording is here (.mp3). It may not be uniformly exciting, but then we stood our ground several times in challenging their assumptions and rejecting some of their marginalization tactics, and that may be worth hearing.

And one last thing before I get to the My Word column, in case you missed it last night, click here for a letter to the editor which I had published in this week's issue of the Journal.

* * *
Eureka Times-Standard

Collective amnesia about e-voting safety
Dave Berman
Article Launched: 08/16/2007 04:15:49 AM PDT

Election conditions have figured prominently in recent news, thanks in part to a technical review of the state's voting systems conducted by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen. Bowen's "Red Teams" of computer security experts compromised the security of every system tested, including Diebold and Hart InterCivic equipment used in Humboldt County. The Times-Standard's coverage of this topic deserves serious scrutiny.

On July 28, the T-S ran this headline [on the Web]: "Local election systems may be vulnerable to hackers." This was the first paragraph: "A team of University of California computer scientists were able to hack into several voting systems used by California counties, including the two systems currently used in Humboldt County, the secretary of state announced Friday."

When clearly reporting that election systems are vulnerable ("were able to hack"), why does the T-S headline say they may be vulnerable? [Editor's note: The headline in the print edition said, "Election systems at risk of hacking."]

The T-S quotes Humboldt Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich being dismissive of these results, and in a manner extraordinarily similar to corporate propaganda defensively spun by "voting machine" vendors. This phenomenon is afflicting registrars throughout the state. They want the public to believe some new precautions can offset the machines' systemic design flaws.

In a report found on the secretary's website, Bowen's Diebold Source Code Review Team wrote: "Improvements to existing procedures may mitigate some threats in part, but others would be difficult, if not impossible, to remedy procedurally. Consequently, we conclude that the safest way to repair the Diebold system is to reengineer it so that it is secure by design."

On Aug. 7, the T-S presented another distortion: "E-voting order may have little impact here." While I may not think Secretary Bowen went far enough in defining new certification conditions, it is definitely a good thing that she has banned modems from transmitting precinct results to election department headquarters. Memory cards from all precincts will now have to be physically delivered to central HQ, and announcing results on election night may no longer be possible. Little impact?

On Aug. 8, the T-S again created a false impression with the headline: "County election system fares well in review." This headline contradicts previous T-S reporting as well as the facts.

This same article also congratulates the registrar for previously choosing optical scanners over touch screen machines, both of which "count" votes in secret. The T-S is correct to place a premium on paper ballots. But the methods of casting and counting votes must be evaluated separately. Lauding this decision is like feting Ford for new seat belts in response to exploding Pintos.

Why is the T-S shaping news this way, without even a balancing view from within the community? How can the registrar defend previously discredited equipment now again debunked? How could recent test results have strengthened her resolve to use Diebold's optical scanners? Why does the registrar choose to align herself with a company that employs convicted computer fraudsters and faces multiple class action lawsuits from investors, rather than with results of legitimate state-sponsored academic university studies?

Humboldt County's Voter Confidence Committee recently completed an eight-month study and published a "Report on Election Conditions in Humboldt County, California." Over the past several years, Humboldt media have documented numerous breakdowns of "voting machines." Yet somehow, word on the street seems to be that we have never had any problems here. Is there any wonder where such confusion comes from?

Regardless, this report is both an antidote for collective amnesia, and a blueprint for community involvement needed to make our elections transparent, secure, and verifiably accurate. The VCC has developed a spreadsheet tool for creating labor, cost and time estimates for an all hand-counted election. Using the VCC spreadsheet tool, The Journal's Hank Sims "twiddled" with the numbers and found hand-counting "wouldn't be all that time-consuming or costly" ("Town Dandy," Aug. 2).

Publicly counting votes by hand involves the community in its democracy and makes elections a citizen-owned endeavor. The media witnessing and documenting the process would establish the credibility of the reported results.

The VCC tool and report are now available at www.VoterConfidenceCommittee.org. We encourage more public discussion about election conditions, and in particular, what creates a basis for voter confidence without relying on blind trust.

To get involved, e-mail: info@VoterConfidenceCommittee.org or look for our volunteers signing up people who want the county to know they are willing to hand-count paper ballots on election night.

Dave Berman is a founding member of the Voter Confidence Committee. He resides in Eureka. His blog is http://WeDoNotConsent.blogspot.com.

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