Monday, January 28, 2008

Municipal Civil Disobedience In Berkeley

We need to see more of this. From Saturday's Contra Costa Times:

City considers aiding marijuana patients
BERKELEY: Resolution would declare area a sanctuary for medical pot users and distributors

By Doug Oakley
Article Launched: 01/26/2008 02:59:19 AM PST

Berkeley is considering a plan to help get medical marijuana to patients if the Drug Enforcement Administration shuts down any of the city-permitted cannabis clubs.

The plan by City Councilmen Darryl Moore and Kriss Worthington already has drawn fire from the Berkeley police, the city manager's office and the DEA.

The resolution before the City Council on Tuesday night declares Berkeley a sanctuary for medical marijuana users and distributors, and says "the city itself shall ensure a continuum of access to medical marijuana" if the DEA moves in.

Whether that means the city selling marijuana itself or helping another distributor get started is up in the air at the moment, Moore said. He wants the police chief and city manager to come back with suggestions.

Three cheers for Berkeley, and boo hiss for the California Supreme Court, deciding last Thursday that employers can fire MMJ patients:

Medical pot use can get you fired
Thadeus Greenson The Times-Standard
Article Launched: 01/25/2008 01:27:41 AM PST

A California Supreme Court decision Thursday allowing employers to fire workers for using medical marijuana has some local attorneys disappointed and scratching their heads.

"To me, it's an absolute travesty that patients who receive doctors' recommendations to use medical cannabis are discriminated against in the workplace," said Greg Allen, a local attorney with experience handling marijuana cases. "I'm pretty appalled at this ruling."

The high court upheld a Sacramento telecommunications company's firing of Gary Ross, who flunked a company-ordered drug test but had a medical marijuana card authorizing him to legally use marijuana to treat a back injury sustained while serving in the Air Force.

The company, Ragingwire Inc., successfully argued it rightfully fired Ross because all marijuana is illegal under federal law, which does not recognize medical marijuana laws in California and 11 other states.

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VCC Plans Poll-Watching Operation

The Voter Confidence Committee today announced intentions to organize Humboldt County poll watching during next Tuesday's California Primary Election. Within mere minutes of e-mailing the press release (shown in full at the bottom of this post) I received voice mail from Thadeus Greenson at the Eureka Times-Standard and Terri Klemetson from KMUD radio news.

I called back a short while later and had perhaps a 15 or 20 minute discussion with Greenson. His December 24 article was the subject of my most recently published opinion piece. We did swap one e-mail each at that time, but did not fully engage. Last week Greenson exchanged words with the VCC's Bob Olofson, who published this letter in Friday's T-S.

So with all this recent history, I was very pleased that Greenson had so many questions for me today, demonstrating curiosity about the most recent framing efforts by the VCC. Namely, let's talk about tangible numbers for a hand-count so the community can objectively judge the viability of this option, without regard for unsubstantiated opinions from elections officials.

I will even give Greenson a bonus point for asking about the
December 12 letter hand delivered by Aryay Kalaki of the VCC to Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich requesting various public data. To this day, the request has not been met and no media have backed up our call for the information or mentioned the Registrar's unwillingness to comply. While I'm on the subject, I'm sorry to have to report that new Election Manager Kelly Sanders has also failed to meet a VCC request for information submitted first by voice mail last Thursday and then via e-mail on Friday. We are seeking information to help us plan the poll watching operation.

Meanwhile, when I called back KMUD's Klemetson I think it was our first conversation. She asked me for an appointment to speak by phone tomorrow to record an interview for tomorrow night's news. I really should have pushed to have her interview me then to appear on tonight's news so that discussion of the VCC poll-watching planning meeting could possibly bring out some people. But no, we'll talk at 9am tomorrow.

On thing not mentioned in the press release below is that the VCC website now has a page with an outline of what a poll-watcher should watch for.

* * *


Contact: Dave Berman, 707-845-3749 or

Voter Confidence Committee Plans Primary Election Poll-Watching
Election Watchdog Group Seeks Community Volunteers

January 28, 2008 – Humboldt election watchdog group the Voter Confidence Committee (VCC) will be organizing community volunteers for a poll-watching operation on Tuesday, February 5, the day of California's Presidential Primary Election. Those willing to help monitor the election can attend a VCC planning and training session this Tuesday, January 29, starting at 6pm at Old Town Coffee & Chocolates, 211 F Street in Eureka.

"The Voter Confidence Committee has repeatedly and clearly stated our concerns about privatized and secret vote counting," said VCC co-founder Dave Berman. "To the extent that we are able to see how our elections work, we believe the community has a responsibility to carefully watch what happens on Election Day."

Volunteers need not attend the training to participate and can obtain a list of things to watch for at the VCC website, Even citizens not intending to participate are encouraged to contact the VCC with reports of anything unusual. A special Election Day hotline has been created at 707-633-4130, or via e-mail at

The VCC will be coordinating activities on Election Night from a temporary base of operations at 332 Grotto Street in Eureka's Henderson Center. Members of the public are welcome to drop in.
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Friday, January 25, 2008

Rabbi Les Scores Points For Voter Confidence Committee

Voter Confidence Committee member Rabbi Les Scharnberg scored big this week with an OpEd in the Arcata Eye, plus a great front page quote in Tuesday's Eureka-Times Standard's coverage of the NAACP event honoring MLK on Monday:

Rabbi Lester Scharnberg said the dream of the freedom to vote has become a nightmare, especially as voters are putting faith into vote-counting machines.

"Now the threats to individual freedoms are more subtle," he said. "We're being asked to put our trust into a machine. They no longer allow us to count the votes hand by hand. Look closely at the dream of those who died to have your vote counted."
Les's speech during the event had such great impact that he was invited to make a presentation to both the local NAACP board of directors, and also the Humboldt County Human Rights Commission. Way to go Les!

The VCC also got ink this week in this T-S letter to the editor by new VCC member Bob Olofson. An unrelated (and somewhat bizarre) LTTE by Donna-Lee Phillips also questions the use of electronic voting machines.

The VCC is putting finishing touches on a poll watching program for the Feb. 5 primary. I hope to have more details announced about that by the end of the day.

Meanwhile, one more media reference from this week, found in the North Coast Journal's lengthy report on Bill Clinton's recent visit to Eureka:
McKinleyville resident David Berman seemed to be in charge, conferring with the Secret Service agent and with Lauren Levinson, a young campaign worker from the Hillary for President Sacramento office sporting a bright green Team Hillary scarf. (Berman is not to be confused with the Eureka elections activist of the same name.)
In the first day or two after Clinton's visit, a few people asked me if I was at the event or involved in any way. I had no idea why I was being asked this, but now the Journal article makes it clear. Too bad for this other Berman because the article lays a bit of blame at his feet for the hundreds or more people who were left in the cold, unable get into the event or even find an available bathroom as they waited. Worse still for Berman, the Journal reports:
David Berman, who was running the show, declined to answer questions on the record after the event. (On the day of the event, he had told a reporter that it is considered extremely bad form for an advance man to appear in a story.)
Bad form indeed. Still, this was a compliment to me, as far as I can see, and the second such one in the Journal in recent weeks. Recall Marcy Burstiner's December 6 comment:
I like having the Eureka Reporter around. It gives jobs to my current and former students. And it prints any opinion out there. For those who see it as a bullhorn for Arkley, they ignore how it prints columns by Amy Goodman, Dave Berman and others.
That's two articles in two months that refer to me even though the articles had nothing to do with me and weren't quoting me. It is very flattering, really.


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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Humboldt Dems' Subcommittee Advances HCPB Resolution

The six-member Communication and Education Committee, actually a subcommittee of the Humboldt County Democratic Central Committee (HCDCC), tonight unanimously passed the hand-counted paper ballot resolution below. As with the Voter Confidence Resolution, this makes a fine template for groups anywhere so feel free to repurpose it. As it stands, this will now come before the full Central Committee on Feb. 13.

Whereas elections in Humboldt County rely on Diebold's (now Premier) precinct-based optical scanners, and Diebold's GEMS central tabulator program to combine all precinct results; and

Whereas computer security experts have repeatedly demonstrated and documented the ability to tamper with this equipment, changing election results without leaving behind a trace of evidence; and

Whereas academic studies have repeatedly demonstrated and documented that security flaws in this equipment exist by design, and cannot be remedied with "procedural mitigations," or new security methods; and

Whereas claims of "trade secrecy" prevent citizens, the media, and even elections officials from observing the inner workings of this equipment, denying everyone the right to see their vote counted as cast;

Whereas elections conducted under these conditions require blind trust, or faith, to accept unverifiable and inherently uncertain outcomes that provide no rational basis for confidence in the reported results; and

Whereas the County of Humboldt is free to choose not to use Diebold's equipment, and is likewise not prevented from choosing to hand-count paper ballots at poll sites on election night; and

Whereas hand-counting paper ballots provides transparency, security, and verifiable accuracy that creates a rational basis for confidence in reported results;

Therefore be it resolved, the Humboldt County Democratic Central Committee hereby calls for Humboldt County to discontinue use of Diebold equipment and to introduce hand-counting of all ballots no later than the June 2008 primary election; and

Therefore be it further resolved that the Humboldt County Democratic Central Committee will commit some of its resources to educating the community about the benefits of this change, and to recruit registered voters to serve as pollworkers and/or vote counters.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hints of Things To Come

New Voter Confidence Committee webmaster Paula Long and I met today with members of the board of the Redwood Chapter of the ACLU. This culminated a process that spanned the last four months as the group developed a statement on election integrity. I promised not to scoop their forthcoming press release but suffice to say I am grateful the VCC was given an opportunity to input on this, and I am immensely gratified at the end result.

Following up on last Wednesday's presentation to the Humboldt Democratic Central Committee, today Larry Hourany submitted to one of the Dems' subcommittees a resolution that I also can't fully disclose just yet. I wrote it, so if you have been reading my blog for any amount of time you can probably guess what it says.

Tonight I attended the Ron Paul Meet Up. There were about 25 people and it was fairly well organized and smoothly run. In the few minutes I spoke I addressed some questions raised by the previous speaker about the Feb. 5 CA primary, namely that Humboldt will be using eSlate machines for voters with disabilities (adding that ballots cast this way must be copied by elections department staff onto the regular paper ballots fed into the Diebold optical scanner); and that modems will no longer be used to send precinct results into HQ so we have to watch the chain of custody getting ballots and memory cards physically transported from precincts to HQ.

I suggested group members consider election day observing, and to connect back with me next week when the VCC can be prepared with a plan to coordinate reports from observers coming in and being posted to multiple places online. I have also forwarded them these two links provided by Dan Ashby of the Election Defense Alliance. Both are manuals for election day observers:
I also took a few moments to mention the VCC Report on Election Conditions in Humboldt County and how we are moving the community dialog into a discussion of the tangible components, such as how long it will really take to hand-count all the paper ballots, and how many people we'll really need to get it done. Seven more people signed onto this project tonight. If you are a registered Humboldt voter, you can sign-up too at

Finally, tomorrow afternoon I am scheduled to talk to Arcata Eye editor Kevin Hoover so I'm hopeful we'll soon see a news article that actually presents our framing, offering the community an opportunity to objectively judge the feasibility of hand-counting paper ballots in Humboldt County.


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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

KHUM Humboldt Review Review, EAC and Ron Paul Too

The .mp3 archive of last Thursday's KHUM Humboldt Review finally became available yesterday but I didn't have time to listen and thus no blog post. Having listened now, I can accurately quote the top highlight, by far, which was my introduction, now a permanent part of the WDNC blog template*:

"Dave, you're like the conscience of our electoral process."

--Kevin Hoover, Editor, Arcata Eye; Host KHUM Humboldt Review
I was on the show for two segments, the first starting about 20:34 into the .mp3 above. Hoover's great compliment is around 27:35. Click here and look for Arcata's 150th/Voter Information Day to see the rest of the guests. If you aren't here in Humboldt this may give you a few distinct flavors of our community, including celebrating the start of a year-long 150th anniversary for Arcata, and the hot button rail/trail issue. Hoover also interviewed Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich. It was so pedestrian that I don't have any other comment on it.

On the other hand, tonight the Registrar convened the monthly meeting of the Election Advisory Committee. The top story there was the announcement of Kelly Sanders as the new Election Manager, effective 1/1/08, filling the position vacated by Lindsey McWilliams last June. The Registrar said this promotion for Sanders, who has worked in the Humboldt Elections Department for years, most recently as Administrative Analyst, is known to other election administrators in the state, but not yet in the local media. A rare scoop here for WDNC.

With Supervisor Jimmy Smith present, the Registrar described two pieces of equipment she said she hoped she could buy from the County General Fund. First is a new DIMS server, which she said contains voter registration info. She also described the regular office scanner as being near death, slyly suggesting that perhaps its replacement would be suitable for the Transparency Project. Acknowledging it could be costly, the Registrar gave a maximum cost of $60,000. I think there was an audible gulp from Smith.

Also of note, I thought, was the approximate number 100 - absentee ballot requests per day. Early voting began on 1/7 with paper ballots and one eSlate available at election department HQ. There is a need for about 8-10 more pollworkers, and the Registrar recommended anyone interested use the application contained in their sample ballot and bring it to HQ.

Another budgetary matter that came up was the Governor's reneging on his promise to reimburse Humboldt County for this February's primary. This was held up as an example of an unfunded mandate. I jokingly suggested we refuse to hold the November election just to spite Arnold.

More seriously, the Registrar said she would be on a conference call tomorrow morning with other Registrars and Secretary of State Debra Bowen. One topic for that call is the "trusted build" program that Bowen implemented following the Top To Bottom Review. According to the Registrar, this involves wiping old memory cards and newly programming them with code supplied directly by Bowen.

The last thing I'll mention from the EAC meeting is the observation panel the Registrar said she wanted to form. If you are interested in this, I think you want to drop by HQ, perhaps Monday at 2pm when the Logic and Accuracy (aka Smoke and Mirrors) dog and pony show will be conducted.

Finally, right after I got home, David Kaftal, my Ron Paul contact, wrote to invite me to talk about election integrity at an "emergency meeting" the local Meet Up group has called for Thursday night at 6pm at the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District, 828 7th St., Eureka. More details at the link above.

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* Karen Renick, co-host of Vote Rescue Radio also just added a sweet new permanent testimonial to the WDNC left sidebar: "Ultimately, we MUST change the way our votes are being counted - or not counted - and Dave is one of those individuals who is making this a reality."


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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Ron Paul Supporter Does The VCC A Solid

As part of the Voter Confidence Committee outreach program, I went looking for the local group of Ron Paul supporters I knew existed from the lawn signs around town. I want to get myself invited to speak to their group about the VCC Humboldt hand-count campaign. I found them through Meet Up.

My first effort to contact them was frustrated by difficulties registering at the site. But in a synchronous stroke, the very next morning I received an e-mail from Karen Renick of Vote Rescue Radio. She had been contacted by David Kaftal, a Eureka Ron Paul supporter looking to get connected to others here working on election integrity.

We're still working on getting the speaking appearance together, but meanwhile, Kaftal did the VCC a real solid. He is a graphic designer at the Tri-City Weekly which lets him put a small ad in each issue for free. Thanks David!


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Friday, January 11, 2008

NH Chaos Represents Opportunity; Nancy Tobi Pleads For No "Recount"

Speculation represents the preponderance of verbiage about the New Hampshire primary. I can't say for certain what happened on Tuesday, or any other day in New Hampshire for that matter. But given where things stand, I would like to make the case that this chaotic time is an opportunity. Before I get to that, I will again site the BradBlog index of stories and the OpEdNews writer's campaign for detailed reporting. Meanwhile, the controversy has served as the latest shouting point dividing the blogosphere.

There is one voice that I want to offer this space to, and it is not because I necessarily agree with what she is saying. Nancy Tobi of Democracy For New Hampshire is a respected colleague who has been very generous with her time consulting the Voter Confidence Committee about hand-counting paper ballots. Nancy has posted at least two passionate statements urging that a "re-count" not be pursued. Here are excerpts, followed by my suggestions:

From: No Recount Please

"I am telling everyone who asks to beg Paul and others to NOT request a recount. I would beg you to urge everyone to STAND DOWN from this strategy. It is a trap. Use all your influence to inform the Paul and Kucinich campaigns, which are being targeted to carry this out, to please NOT pursue the recount this year. I can not stress enough how important it is they do NOT have a recount.

We have no control over the ballot chain of custody and we have learned the pain from the 2004 Nader recount, in which only 11 districts were counted, chosen by a highly questionable person, and then nothing showed up. Now all we hear is how the Nader recount validated the machines. A candidate asking for a recount may well be a tool used to "prove" everything was okay and then that candidate will be further discredited. This is high stakes, no bullshit."


"No. It is time to take control. We want accountability and change. We get this NOT from a recount, but from an investigation. We need questions asked and answered, and changes made so we have a clean election in NH in November."

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From: We need to eliminate secret vote counting, not a recount

"Now activists around the nation are calling for a recount. In New Hampshire the manual recount has always been held as justification for holding elections in which more than 80% of our ballots are counted in secret by private corporations.

Does this logic hold up? Will a recount rectify the problem before us?

I say no. The problem before us is that we have outsourced the most precious thing in our democracy: the counting of our votes. And in New Hampshire, we have outsourced more than 80% of our votes to a private corporation counting those votes in secret, and, as it turns out, that private corporation has a convicted drug trafficker on its executive team to boot. A recount does not solve this problem."


"New Hampshire already knows how to fix this problem. For the past four years, New Hampshire citizens have been asking the State to fix this problem, but the State has thus far refused. We don't need a recount now. What we need now is for the State to reconsider and implement procedural and legislative solutions to guarantee open and honest elections.

A recount won't provide any significant benefit to the cause of free and fair and open elections. Bringing back full citizen oversight and checks and balances to all New Hampshire elections is the only way to avoid having any more questionable election outcomes in the Granite State."


"It's pretty easy to see what happened in New Hampshire: We had an election in which 81% of our ballots were counted in secret by a private corporation, and this resulted in an outcome that is called into question.

That's what happened.

No recount is going to change this. What will change this is to get rid of corporate controlled secret vote counting in our elections."
I don't mean to contradict Nancy here, but rather to address a matter of framing. I've said many times that we are not having elections but rather events that closely resemble elections. Similarly, this isn't as much about whether or not to have a "re-count" as it is about "counting all the ballots."

I appreciate Nancy's point that a re-count can be self-affirming as a stamp of approval. But the really important thing to realize is that this is the very thing we should seek to take on, and in as many ways as possible. This idea that some modicum of public acceptance will settle in and endure to future elections is the very thing that we are now poised to prevent, the biggest framing opportunity this side of Busby/Bilbray.

The idea is inherent uncertainty. From before the polls even opened, we knew with certainty the outcome would be uncertain, indeterminate, unknowable, necessarily inconclusive. It is time for everyone to see this as an intentional component of the joint government/media effort to keep the public divided. There is no need for any further primary "elections" when we know now in advance of them all that they too will fail to produce unanimous acceptance of the reported results.

As I see it, it doesn't matter whether the "recount" plan goes forward or not. Either way it is just part of the same opportunity for us. Raise your hand if you've been reading Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine." The disorientation occurring right now, this instant, is precisely our window of opportunity to act with the ideas we have lying around. We The People are long overdue to withdraw our consent. Do not accept the results of this election. Take action to prevent local Registrars (or equivalents) from certifying results.

We can seize this moment and define the story being told. We should invoke again, if perhaps with a slight edit, the stance dozens of groups took in response to the CA-50 "election" in June 2006. From the California Election Protection Network's Voter's Resolution of No Confidence, written here at WDNC:
We, The People, DO NOT CONSENT to transferring power and authority to candidates claiming victory in this illegitimate election. We will do everything within our Constitutional and Human Rights to protect and preserve possession of this power that is inalienably Ours to be given but never taken away.
Public officials have been nakedly acting against the interest of the greater good for far too long and they are now cornered. Will we continue to let them take advantage of us, to assume they have our consent?

Ray Raphael is an historian here in Humboldt County and he's written many books. I read his "First American Revolution" and learned that by 1776, much of the Revolution had already taken place. Raphael describes a resistance tactic mirrored throughout the colonies where courts were shut down by citizens who forced judges to rule by locally written charters. The alternative for the judges who wanted to continue under King's Law was often public humiliation such as tar and feathering.

I'm not sure what the modern equivalent would be but it has to involve preventing legitimacy from being conferred upon faith-based results of secretly counted "elections." My advice to Nancy is to think more about now than the future.

"If we don't take action now, we settle for nothing later. We'll settle for nothing now, and we'll settle for nothing later." --Rage Against The Machine


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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Election Integrity Movement In High Gear

Well despite what I wrote last night about wanting to catch up on the latest news from the NH primary, I have still only read a fraction of what is being said and done in the living, breathing, thriving citizen movement for election integrity that is presently busting at the seams. I've got stories of my own from tonight so I'm going to tell you only that BradBlog is now reporting that Dennis Kucinich is calling for a "recount" in NH (actually a first count), and ask you to hang on if you're looking for more links about NH because I've got plenty of them at the end of this post.

For my part, I was on the KHUM Review this evening, an hour long public affairs show hosted by Arcata Eye editor Kevin Hoover. He paid me an outrageous compliment that will appear in the sidebar of WDNC as soon as the .mp3 is available to confirm the wording. As best I can recall, he said I was the conscience of Humboldt elections. The archive will be available for download on this page sometime soon.

I think I nearly fainted when he said that because I totally missed the question that followed. It turns out he was asking if I had any dirt about Iowa or New Hampshire. I said that people were looking into major discrepancies in NH related to Obama winning in hand-count towns and Clinton winning in Diebold secret count towns. Neither Hoover, nor any of the other guests seated for this round table discussion had heard anything about this.

The other guests were: Sharolyn Hutton, President of the League of Women Voters of Humboldt County; Melanie Johnson in charge of Citizen Education also for the League; and Judi Hedgpeth, Executive Director of the Humboldt Literacy Project. These two groups are teaming up to present Voter Information Day this Saturday from 11am - 3pm at the Eureka library. They'll have free cookies.

Together we were all on the air through two segments. In the second one I got to talk about hand-counting and the Voter Confidence Committee's campaign to gather names of voters willing to hand-count. We didn't have much cross-talk then, but after the show, I spoke with the women from the League and gave them some VCC materials. They seemed genuinely interested and we talked about including me in a future panel discussion. Perhaps I'll visit them Saturday.

I can't really think of other highlights of the show right now, partly because I talked to many other people tonight after the show aired, and partly because I haven't heard the .mp3 yet. There was also a segment of the show that was pre-recorded with Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich. Unfortunately I was not able to hear this at all because our broadcast ensemble was in the CA Welcome Center in Arcata with lots of people buzzing around. In the parking lot, a huge tent was set up for a big community party celebrating the beginning of Arcata's year-long series of 150th anniversary events.

Among the people with whom I was rubbing elbows, I was approached by Rick Levin, owner of Renaissance Computing in Arcata. He said he liked the My Word column I had in last Thursday's Eureka Times-Standard (archive). Levin mentioned that he would really like to see Humboldt go to hand-counting. Well, I just happened to have a sign up form half-way filled up with names collected last night at the Humboldt Democratic Central Committee. Levin signed it, then grabbed two other people and what do you know? I said Rick, would you like to have one of these sign up forms to get more people involved? Drop them off at my store, he said, and I'll put it up for people to see. Nice.

I had another memorable conversation with former Arcata Mayor Bob Ornelas. I talked to him for a long time, first because I wanted to verify the rumor he would run for John Woolley's seat on the Board of Supervisors. Ornelas is not yet committed, but thinking about it. He was helpful when I was first starting out with the GuvWurld blog and the earliest versions of the Voter Confidence Resolution. He is a real progressive and he doesn't hold back. He signed up to count. I hope he runs.

I was also glad to chat with Hoover off the air. I asked him if he would do an article that deals with the numbers and logistics of the VCC proposal for hand-counting. He said to drop him a quick e-mail and we'll connect about this soon. Consider that done.

Now I have this struggle to balance not just the election integrity work with the rest of my life, but more specifically, blogging the local activities I'm part of and the national movement I'm equally entrenched in. Last night's post at WDNC was main headlined today at That also happened to my commentary on the NYTimes epic from last Sunday's magazine. By the way, I submitted the following as a letter to the editor in response to that piece:

Dear New York Times:

The Declaration of Independence says the "just Power" of government derives from the Consent of the Governed. Electronic voting machines operate in secret, requiring blind trust to accept unverifiable results. The Consent of the Governed is not really sought, it is assumed and taken for granted. There is no rational basis for confidence in reported election results. It is time to say "we do not consent" to secret vote counting machines. Let us hand-count paper ballots at the poll sites on election night for transparency, security, and verifiably accuracy - and a basis for confidence in the reported results.

Dave Berman
I've never been published in the Times, and really don't expect to be. Fortunately, there's lots more happening at Rady Ananda's piece about inherent uncertainty is really blowing me away. I think this is because she and I have worked together for quite a while and I always thought she fully got the inherent uncertainty concept. I don't doubt that, and yet she's now writing to reinforce it as if it was washing over her anew. Look at the comments following her article. This is powerful. Also, this is how she quoted me:
Dave Berman describes this idea in two ways:
[W]e have the intentional creation and perpetuation of inherent uncertainty. It serves the power structure to keep the masses divided. Wedge issues are just the most superficial and obvious ways. More insidious and apparently not as easy to recognize is the rift in the perception of reality created by inherent uncertainty.
He explains further, in tonight's email to me:
I think inherent uncertainty is intentionally created through various means including sheer laziness and false balance, but also in situations where "truth" can never really be known - secret vote counting, for example. Whatever is published is presented as if it were a certain fact...

Leaving it to the media consumer to decide also facilitates a rift in the perception of reality. This is the linchpin of it all, since matters of fact are forcibly devolved into differences of opinion that can never be resolved (since we can never know the true outcome of any election counted in secret).
Ananda has also teamed up with OpEdNews executive editor and publisher, Rob Kall, and the site's voting integrity editor, Joan Brunwasser, to put together this extraordinary collection of articles about the NH primary (also see BradBlog's index of stories). In addition to the writer's campaign started to generate such intense focus, the collaborative effort also points to organizing efforts on behalf of hand-counting:
The only way we will have a reliable vote count is if we count the ballots ourselves. EDA [Election Defense Alliance] is taking the Humboldt County Voter Confidence Committee's idea and organizing a national list of willing hand counters. See the "I COUNT" article by Andi Novick and Sally Castleman to sign up.
Well isn't that lovely compliment too. Over at the EDA site tonight I found a few other links to share:That's all I can say for now. Must sleep...zzz...


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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Humboldt Dems May Consider HCPB Resolution

While everyone is talking about the improbable outcome of yesterday's NH primary, I've barely had a chance to read about it. Voter Confidence Committee work for hand-counting paper ballots has kept me very busy, including making a presentation earlier tonight to the Humboldt County Democratic Central Committee. I forgot to bring my voice recorder. But I was brief and it went more or less like this:

Thank you for inviting me here tonight. I know I have to be brief so I won't go into detail about things we all know about, like the successful hack tests and the academic reports that conclude no "procedural mitigations," or new security precautions, can completely secure the machines we use here in Humboldt. The VCC spent 8 months studying the local situation and we've put out a 20-page report as well as a flier, a fact sheet, a diagram and more. These things are being passed around the room.

Among the many recommendations we make, there is one that is clearly most important. We have to get rid of these secret counting machines and get the community together to count the ballots by hand. The big resistance to this comes from unfounded opinions that usually say it will take too long or require too many people.

Our Feb. 5 primary ballot has 8 contests. In NH, where they have a long history of hand-counting, they say it takes six seconds to count each contest on each ballot. That would mean 48 seconds per ballot for us in Feb. Let's figure as newbies we might be a little slower, say one minute per ballot. Our last federal election was November 2006 when we averaged 266 ballots cast per precinct. If it took one minute to count each of those ballots, it would take just under 4.5 hours to count all the ballots on election night in the precincts using teams of four people.

We had 109 poll sites in Nov. 2006. That means we'd need 436 counters. That is about one-half of one percent (0.5%) of all registered voters in Humboldt. That's not a high bar to reach. We've already collected over 200 names of willing hand-counters. The sign-up sheet is going around the room.

So I'm here to talk to you all as individuals who can choose to support this and of course if the group as a whole wants to get behind this I'll leave it to you all to determine what that would look like.
Milt Boyd, the Committee Chair, then told me of their subcommittee structure and I thanked everyone and sat down. I left before the end of the meeting.

Around 8:30pm, Larry Hourany, longtime member of both the Dems and the VCC, called to say it went very well. He was very helpful in figuring out the approach for tonight, which I stuck with exactly as planned. Hourany said that near the end of the meeting he attempted to make a motion but the Chair steered it to one of the subcommittees. That means that now we (Larry, me, VCC) are going to get to write a resolution that this subcommittee will consider and potentially send to the full group with a recommendation. I've been listening to a lot of Rage Against the Machine lately, so excuse me when I say this is fucking excellent.

Now, to this New Hampshire situation, where it appears Obama beat Clinton in towns with hand-counting but Clinton won the state on the strength of her victories in towns counted by Diebold optical scanners, identical to those used here in Humboldt. Because I haven't been able to fully read up on this yet, I'm going to give you the links of what I'm about to dig into. But first, I have to say one more thing and it really harkens back to the essay I wrote on the GuvWurld blog called Why Old Election Numbers No Longer Matter.

See, we don't really learn anything from holding the so-called election that we didn't know before. The votes will be/were counted in secret. The expected result and the actual result are inherently uncertain. Nobody should be trying to convince anybody that fraud did or did not happen on the basis of data from what passed for an election yesterday. Hand count all the ballots, then we can first have a serious conversation about an election that occurred.

Read Rady Ananda's piece at OpEdNews. She has picked up my inherent uncertainty frame and run with it. She's got good quotes from several people including me.

BradBlog has several stories, of course.

Black Box Voting has a thread I was referred to by Tom Courbat of SAV-R-VOTE in Riverside County. Hi Tom, thanks. This one has charts and graphs.

The great Bob Koehler has a column for Tribune News Services called Primary Concerns.

Feel free to post more links in the comments for this post. And a reminder that Thursday between 6-7pm PT you can tune into and I'll be on the air during the KHUM Review program.


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Monday, January 07, 2008

VCC Ramping Up Outreach For HCPB Campaign

Following last Thursday's My Word column I wrote in the Eureka Times-Standard, we've had several people hit the sign-up form on the Voter Confidence Committee (VCC) home page, letting us know they are willing to hand-count paper ballots on election night, and will help us get more people signed up. I was also asked to submit an essay for the Hope Coalition Newsletter. I chose Confidence in election counting?, which I wrote for the Eureka Reporter toward the end of November.

Larry Hourany has arranged for me to make a presentation to the Humboldt County Democratic Central Committee on Wednesday night. It is not clear whether he'll be able to make a motion or if any proposal would be referred to a committee first. Naturally I'll be asking people to declare their willingness to hand-count on election night, whether signed up as an individual or in fantasyland where the group as a whole endorses it and the entire campaign changes overnight.

I've previously mentioned my recent meetings with the Redwood chapter of the ACLU. That group has been circulating a draft of a position statement it may make on election issues. The group has solicited input from the VCC and we're excited about the common ground, and also the interesting challenge of building some bridges. The VCC will be finalizing our suggestions tomorrow and meeting with the RACLU on 1/17.

John Matthews called this afternoon, he of the KSLG morning show and also producer for the KHUM Review. I was previously a guest on this show on August 30, 2007. Apparently the Review is being broadcast this Thursday from the California Welcome Center in Arcata and I have been asked to be part of a discussion about elections. I'm a little unclear on the details so I'll be checking in with Matthews again tomorrow.

By the way, I posted my Saturday commentary on the NYTimes e-voting article at DU and It appears Nancy Tobi also posted it at the Democracy For New Hampshire website.

Tobi has a few new ones herself I'm trying to get to: Back to the Future: Democracy that Works, which is actually written for publication in Mark Crispin Miller's forthcoming book; and also NH: "First in the nation" (with corporate controlled secret vote counting), a side of the New Hampshire voting situation we hand-counted paper ballot admirers don't hear much of. They are fighting the good fight there against the same Diebold optical scanners used here in Humboldt. Tobi links to a newly posted You Tube video from Black Box Voting. It is the footage of the Hursti hack being done in Leon County, FL as well as footage of Hursti testifying to NH legislators. See it, and pass it on.


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Saturday, January 05, 2008

NYTimes: Can You Count On These Machines?

Sunday's New York Times Magazine has a 7800+ word feature story on electronic voting, "Can You Count On These Machines?" The column is already online, spanning ten pages on the NYT website. As I read it I excerpted many passages I thought I might want to comment on, collectively about 1/3 of the article. As I work through a second pass to lay it out for you here, I will try to limit that further. For starters I would say the article really doesn't provide much substantial new information and performs worse still as a matter of framing.

January 6, 2008
Can You Count On These Machines?

This article will appear in this Sunday's issue of the magazine.


For a while, it had looked as if things would go smoothly for the Board of Elections office in Cuyahoga County...Then at 10 p.m., the server suddenly froze up and stopped counting votes...No one could figure out what was wrong. So, like anyone faced with a misbehaving computer, they simply turned it off and on again. Voilà: It started working - until an hour later, when it crashed a second time. Again, they rebooted. By the wee hours, the server mystery still hadn't been solved.


Introduced after the 2000 hanging-chad debacle, the machines were originally intended to add clarity to election results. But in hundreds of instances, the result has been precisely the opposite: they fail unpredictably, and in extremely strange ways; voters report that their choices "flip" from one candidate to another before their eyes; machines crash or begin to count backward; votes simply vanish. (In the 80-person town of Waldenburg, Ark., touch-screen machines tallied zero votes for one mayoral candidate in 2006 - even though he's pretty sure he voted for himself.) Most famously, in the November 2006 Congressional election in Sarasota, Fla., touch-screen machines recorded an 18,000-person "undervote" for a race decided by fewer than 400 votes.
So opens the expose, providing a little background and clearly setting the stage for the no basis for confidence meme, which is never explicitly stated. In fact, for the appearance of balance, the article goes on to quote renowned electronic voting machine apologist Michael Shamos, who often gives the appearance of acknowledging real problems while simultaneously minimizing and discounting them with subtle reframing:
It's difficult to say how often votes have genuinely gone astray. Michael Shamos, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University who has examined voting-machine systems for more than 25 years, estimates that about 10 percent of the touch-screen machines "fail" in each election. "In general, those failures result in the loss of zero or one vote," he told me. "But they're very disturbing to the public."
The majority of this article shows Shamos' quote to be ridiculous on its face. With such limited auditing of the machines we can't really know what percentage of them fail nor can we know the true extent of known failures. What we know is that our elections are unverifiable so the outcomes are necessarily inconclusive. Such inherent uncertainty is fueled by paperless electronic voting machines that prohibit the possibility of a recount:
During this year's presidential primaries, roughly one-third of all votes will be cast on touch-screen machines. (New Hampshire voters are not in this group; they will vote on paper ballots, some of which are counted in optical scanners.) The same ratio is expected to hold when Americans choose their president in the fall. It is a very large chunk of the electorate. So what scares election observers is this: What happens if the next presidential election is extremely close and decided by a handful of votes cast on machines that crashed? Will voters accept a presidency decided by ballots that weren't backed up on paper and existed only on a computer drive? And what if they don't?
What if they don't? What if, huh? Have we learned anything in the past seven years? Certainly a lot of information not immediately available to us in the aftermath of the 2000 election has since emerged to enable our understanding of a completely and intentionally broken process. Last August, Dan Rather presented an investigative report on HDNet (thanks BradBlog for the archive) that revealed Palm Beach County's ballots were knowingly foisted upon them with flaws. I noted the Times' failure to mention this at what seemed an opportune spot in the article (though it is mentioned toward the end of the piece):
The 2000 election illustrated the cardinal rule of voting systems: if they produce ambiguous results, they are doomed to suspicion. The election is never settled in the mind of the public. To this date, many Gore supporters refuse to accept the legitimacy of George W. Bush's presidency; and by ultimately deciding the 2000 presidential election, the Supreme Court was pilloried for appearing overly partisan.

Many worried that another similar trauma would do irreparable harm to the electoral system. So in 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which gave incentives to replace punch-card machines and lever machines and authorized $3.9 billion for states to buy new technology, among other things. At the time, the four main vendors of voting machines - Diebold, ES&S, Sequoia and Hart - were aggressively marketing their new touch-screen machines. Computers seemed like the perfect answer to the hanging chad. Touch-screen machines would be clear and legible, unlike the nightmarishly unreadable "butterfly ballot." The results could be tabulated very quickly after the polls closed. And best of all, the vote totals would be conclusive, since the votes would be stored in crisp digital memory. (Touch-screen machines were also promoted as a way to allow the blind or paralyzed to vote, via audio prompts and puff tubes. This became a powerful incentive, because, at the behest of groups representing the disabled, HAVA required each poll station to have at least one "accessible" machine.)
What a completely bogus and false premise: electronic voting results are conclusive. How so? Corporate trade secrecy says otherwise. This is a gigantic example of how the media continues to shape perceptions of fundamentally flawed aspects of democracy. Even before the no basis for confidence meme had crystallized in my mind and pervaded my writing, I had the basic notion down as early as November 28, 2000, right in the middle of the prolonged recount battle between Bush, Gore, and the intellectually dishonest Supreme Court.

The Times' article next turns attention to Ohio, describing the use of Diebold TSx touch-screen machines, confusing paper trails with paper ballots and also wrongly concluding (with no evidence) it would take weeks to count:
Under Ohio law, the paper copy is the voter's vote. The digital version is not. That's because the voter can see the paper vote and verify that it's correct, which she cannot do with the digital one. The digital records are, in essence, merely handy additional copies that allow the county to rapidly tally potentially a million votes in a single evening, whereas counting the paper ballots would take weeks.


[Referring to the May 2006 primary in Cuyahoga County]...poll workers complained that 143 machines were broken; dozens of other machines had printer jams or mysteriously powered down. More than 200 voter-card encoders - which create the cards that let voters vote - went missing. When the machines weren't malfunctioning, they produced errors at a stunning rate: one audit of the election discovered that in 72.5 percent of the audited machines, the paper trail did not match the digital tally on the memory cards.


Still, the events of Election Day 2007 showed just how ingrained the problems with the touch-screens were. The printed paper trails caused serious headaches all day long: at one polling place, printers on most of the machines weren't functioning the night before the polls opened. Fortunately, one of the Election Day technicians was James Diener, a gray-haired former computer-and-mechanical engineer who opened up the printers, discovered that metal parts were bent out of shape and managed to repair them. The problem, he declared cheerfully, was that the printers were simply "cheap quality" (a complaint I heard from many election critics). "I'm an old computer nerd," Diener said. "I can do anything with computers. Nothing's wrong with computers. But this is the worst way to run an election."

He also pointed out several other problems with the machines, including the fact that the majority of voters he observed did not check the paper trail to see whether their votes were recorded correctly - even though that paper record is their legal ballot. (I noticed this myself, and many other poll workers told me the same thing.) Possibly they're simply lazy, or the poll workers forget to tell them to; or perhaps they're older and couldn't see the printer's tiny type anyway. And even if voters do check the paper trail, Diener pointed out, how do they know the machine is recording it for sure? "The whole printing thing is a farce," he said.


The Nov. 6 [2007] vote in Cuyahoga County offered a sobering lesson. Having watched Platten's staff and the elections board in action, I could see they were a model of professionalism. Yet they still couldn't get their high-tech system to work as intended. For all their diligence and hard work, they were forced, in the end, to discard much of their paper and simply trust that the machines had recorded the votes accurately in digital memory.

THE QUESTION, OF COURSE, is whether the machines should be trusted to record votes accurately...One might expect computer scientists to be fans of computer-based vote-counting devices, but it turns out that the more you know about computers, the more likely you are to be terrified that they're running elections.
The article mentions that Diebold voting systems are built on notoriously buggy Windows platforms on which unanticipated voter behaviors have caused system crashes. And the REAL QUESTION, (OF COURSE), is not whether any specific machine is worthy of trust but rather whether it is appropriate for election results to require our trust, as opposed to providing verifiable outcomes reflecting an actual rational basis for voter confidence in the reported results.
In the infrequent situations where computer scientists have gained access to the guts of a voting machine, they've found alarming design flaws. In 2003, Diebold employees accidentally posted the AccuVote's source code on the Internet; scientists who analyzed it found that, among other things, a hacker could program a voter card to let him cast as many votes as he liked. Ed Felten's [Princeton University] lab, while analyzing an anonymously donated AccuVote-TS (a different model from the one used in Cuyahoga County) in 2006, discovered that the machine did not "authenticate" software: it will run any code a hacker might surreptitiously install on an easily insertable flash-memory card.
That graf sent up a red flag for me because I remember the report of Felton's hack, and recall that BradBlog was the supposedly anonymous machine donor. Sure enough, in his own coverage of the Times story, Brad Friedman calls out Felton for continuously depriving him of due credit.

Like I said, this is a long article. Toward the end, the Times gets around to talking about the secrecy of electronic voting systems:
But the truth is that it's hard for computer scientists to figure out just how well or poorly the machines are made, because the vendors who make them keep the details of their manufacture tightly held. Like most software firms, they regard their "source code" - the computer programs that run on their machines - as a trade secret. The public is not allowed to see the code, so computer experts who wish to assess it for flaws and reliability can't get access to it. Felten and voter rights groups argue that this "black box" culture of secrecy is the biggest single problem with voting machines. Because the machines are not transparent, their reliability cannot be trusted.
Secrecy is indeed at the heart of the issue, but not because the lack of transparency makes the machines untrustworthy. Again, it is because trust is not an appropriate part of the equation. This is the most basic element of the election integrity message.
If the machines are tested and officials are able to examine the source code, you might wonder why machines with so many flaws and bugs have gotten through. It is, critics insist, because the testing is nowhere near dilligent enough, and the federal regulators are too sympathetic and cozy with the vendors. The 2002 federal guidelines, the latest under which machines currently in use were qualified, were vague about how much security testing the labs ought to do. The labs were also not required to test any machine's underlying operating system, like Windows, for weaknesses.

Vendors paid for the tests themselves, and the results were considered proprietary, so the public couldn't find out how they were conducted. The nation's largest tester of voting machines, Ciber Inc., was temporarily suspended after federal officials found that the company could not properly document the tests it claimed to have performed.
Testing, like trust, is a red herring. A test on one machine is not indicative of the performance of any other machine, even if they are the same make and model. Further, testing of any given machine is not proof of how that same machine will perform in an actual election. Yet more context:
The upshot is a regulatory environment in which, effectively, no one assumes final responsibility for whether the machines function reliably. The vendors point to the federal and state governments, the federal agency points to the states, the states rely on the federal testing lab and the local officials are frequently hapless.

This has created an environment, critics maintain, in which the people who make and sell machines are now central to running elections. Elections officials simply do not know enough about how the machines work to maintain or fix them. When a machine crashes or behaves erratically on Election Day, many county elections officials must rely on the vendors - accepting their assurances that the problem is fixed and, crucially, that no votes were altered.

In essence, elections now face a similar outsourcing issue to that seen in the Iraq war, where the government has ceded so many core military responsibilities to firms like Halliburton and Blackwater that Washington can no longer fire the contractor. Vendors do not merely sell machines to elections departments. In many cases, they are also paid to train poll workers, design ballots and repair broken machines, for years on end.

"This is a crazy world," complained Ion Sancho, the elections supervisor of Leon County in Florida. "The process is so under control by the vendor. The primary source of information comes only from the vendor, and the vendor has a conflict of interest in telling you the truth. The vendor isn't going to tell me that his buggy software is why I can't get the right time on my audit logs."
The Times article makes further Florida reference, finally connecting the dots between Dan Rather's HDNet report, known problems with ES&S voting machines reported by the vendor but ignored by election administrators, and the 18,000 undervotes in the November 2006 Jennings/Buchanan election for Florida's 13th district Congressional seat. Smoothly segueing to Pennsylvania...
But what's notable about Centre County is that it uses the iVotronic - the very same star-crossed machine from Sarasota [County, FL]. Given the concerns about the lack of a paper trail on the iVotronics, why didn't Centre County instead buy a machine that produces a paper record? Because Pennsylvania state law will not permit any machine that would theoretically make it possible to figure out how someone voted. And if a Diebold AccuVote-TSX, for instance, were used in a precinct where only, say, a dozen people voted - a not-uncommon occurrence in small towns - then an election worker could conceivably watch who votes, in what order, and unspool the tape to figure out how they voted. (And there are no alternatives; all touch-screen machines with paper trails use spools.) As a result, nearly 40 percent of Pennsylvania's counties bought iVotronics.
Unverifiable conditions in any location leave no basis for confidence in federal election results, which therefore justify protest and rejection of results in every location. Finally bringing the article to a close, optical scanners are mentioned with barely a perfunctory caution for their known flaws.
GIVEN THAT THERE IS NO perfect voting system, is there at least an optimal one? Critics of touch-screen machines say that the best choice is "optical scan" technology. With this system, the voter pencils in her vote on a paper ballot, filling in bubbles to indicate which candidates she prefers. The vote is immediately tangible to the voters; they see it with their own eyes, because they personally record it. The tallying is done rapidly, because the ballots are fed into a computerized scanner. And if there's a recount, the elections officials can simply take out the paper ballots and do it by hand.


Still, optical scanning is hardly a flawless system. If someone doesn't mark a ballot clearly, a recount can wind up back in the morass of arguing over "voter intent." The machines also need to be carefully calibrated so they don't miscount ballots. Blind people may need an extra device installed to help them vote. Poorly trained poll workers could simply lose ballots. And the machines do, in fact, run software that can be hacked: Sancho himself has used computer scientists to hack his machines. It's also possible that any complex software isn't well suited for running elections. Most software firms deal with the inevitable bugs in their product by patching them; Microsoft still patches its seven-year-old Windows XP several times a month. But vendors of electronic voting machines do not have this luxury, because any update must be federally tested for months.
That may be the letter of the law, but there may be no such vendor compliance. In 2004, a CA Secretary of State investigation of Diebold revealed the company had illegally installed uncertified software in all 17 CA counties using its machines.
There are also serious logistical problems for the states that are switching to optical scan machines this election cycle. Experts estimate that it takes at least two years to retrain poll workers and employees on a new system; Cuyahoga County is planning to do it only three months. Even the local activists who fought to bring in optical scanning say this shift is recklessly fast - and likely to cause problems worse than the touch-screen machines would. Indeed, this whipsawing from one voting system to the next is another danger in our modern electoral wars. Public crises of confidence in voting machines used to come along rarely, every few decades. But now every single election cycle seems to provoke a crisis, a thirst for a new technological fix. The troubles of voting machines may subside as optical scanning comes in, but they're unlikely to ever go away.
This just plainly leaves a false impression. Optical scanners have been proven every bit as vulnerable to tampering as touch-screen machines and operate in just as much secrecy. Further, no mention is made of touch-screen opponents who also reject optical scanners and prefer instead to count paper ballots by hand.

As I mentioned last night, this lengthy article, while offering some reasonable context for newbies to election integrity issues, serves only to reinforce the inherent uncertainty of election results produced under current election conditions. We have no reason to expect anything different from a newspaper that lead the cheerleading for war in Iraq, suppressed its own reports of criminal activity in the White House, and continues daily to treat the horse race of political theater as a legitimate campaign for votes that can never be tallied with certainty. Perhaps the final nail in the coffin of credibility for the Times was the recent announcement that neocon spokesliar Bill Kristol has been hired as an opinion columnist. Backlash commentary is widespread.


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Friday, January 04, 2008

From Around The World, Inherent Uncertainty Comes Home To Roost

In his Town Dandy column this week, North Coast Journal editor Hank Sims does an excellent job of tracing the origin of a widely held misconception related to the now famous confrontation a few months ago between Rob Arkley, Eureka's wealthiest businessman, and Larry Glass, a member of the Eureka City Council. The matter has been referred to the state Attorney General. Meanwhile, Glass has taken umbrage at Sims' suggestion that at some point Glass "changed his mind about pressing charges." Glass alleges the confusion stems from erroneous reporting in the Eureka Times-Standard. Sims writes:

It seemed to me that Glass' objection called for a bit of research. I'm certain that I'm not the only one who remembered that Glass seemed to originally signal that he was inclined to let the whole Arkley matter fade from memory as quickly as possible, and that he then seemed to have changed his mind. Was that understanding in error? Does it matter? I'm rather inclined to think it doesn't matter: People should be allowed to change their minds without penalty. But it mattered to Glass, and I stood accused of perpetuating a myth. So I figured I owed it to everyone to figure out the truth of the matter.

I was unsuccessful. But here's what I found.
I say bully for Sims for taking this on. I leave it you, WDNC readers, to go back and follow Sims' trail. Of course it comes as no surprise that Sims' investigation led to the following conclusion:
So if I had to guess, I'd guess that this small little bit of uncertainty will join all the other, larger, stranger bits of uncertainty attached to that night that Rob Arkley got aggro on Larry Glass, shoving him or not shoving him, threatening to destroy him (or not), all in front of a roomful of society people who carefully and fastidiously failed to witness any of it.
Three sides to every story, right? It amuses me that Sims goes to such great length, doing really responsible journalism, only to reach a conclusion often described here at WDNC as inherent uncertainty. I have discussed this subject with Sims in the past, and he was either unwilling, unable, or incapable of acknowledging that unverifiable elections guarantee inconclusive outcomes, or inherent uncertainty. We see this elsewhere too, such as the "official story" of 9/11, which contains contradictions and scientific impossibilities; and more recently with varied explanations for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Now it turns out that from beyond the grave, Bhutto has opened a whole new case file in the realm of inherent uncertainty. Interviewed by Sir David Frost less than two months prior to her slaying, Bhutto claims that Osama bin Laden was murdered. Frost does not pick up on this comment during the interview though in the past ten days or so this has been widely discussed.

Len Hart, blogging as the Existential Cowboy, has excavated some gems from the memory hole, citing first a Fox News story from 12/26/01 and then a New York Times column from 7/11/02, both reporting the death of bin Laden. Now of course both of these so-called news sources have subsequently published articles about new video or audio tapes supposedly from bin Laden. And certainly no corporate media have called the bluff of the "war on terror."

No, instead we have the intentional creation and perpetuation of inherent uncertainty. It serves the power structure to keep the masses divided. Wedge issues are just the most superficial and obvious ways. More insidious and apparently not as easy to recognize is the rift in the perception of reality created by inherent uncertainty. See Blueprint For Peaceful Revolution for more on this.

Americans have been turned against each other. I have previously described the Manchurian Nation, the support structure for society that has been indoctrinated to demonize dissent and conflate activism with terrorism. At OpEdNews.comtoday, Kathryn Smith raises awareness of one such example, a declassified FBI memo obtained by the ACLU. Under the heading "International Terrorism Matters," the Pittsburgh Division Joint Terrorism Task Force reports on groups planning peaceful protests. Of course this should surprise no one either, assuming you've familiarized yourself with the typical signs of fascism taking over your country.

* * *

A couple of other quick notes...following up on the series of posts I did on the DOJ case compelling NY state to comply with HAVA:

Jan 4, 7:42 PM EST

NY Sets Voting-Machine Upgrade Schedule

Associated Press Writer

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- The New York Board of Elections on Friday gave a federal judge a timetable under which it plans to replace all of the state's lever-action voting machines by September 2009.


The Help America Vote Act requires New York to replace the mechanical pull-lever machines that were introduced in the state more than a century ago with high-tech machines. It also requires the state to provide at least one machine accessible to the disabled at each polling place.

State election officials have said part of the problem is that state requirements for voting machines are stricter than federal ones.

The plan submitted Friday doesn't say what kind of machines New York would use to comply with HAVA, but [election board spokesman, Lee] Daghlian said none of the touch-screen machines currently on the market meet state standards.

(similar AP story in Newsday)
Also, today, Editor and Publisher (by way of BradBlog) gives a head's up for a "massive" article in this Sunday's New York Times about the problems with electronic voting. Put in perspective, this is not going to be a mea culpa for the Times being years behind the facts, and will instead be yet another way to (justifiably) increase the already (understandably) enormous doubts about election results. In other words, the Times is about to contribute greatly to creating more inherent uncertainty.


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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Eureka Times-Standard OpEd: Hand-counting ballots can work

As promised last night, below is the My Word opinion column I wrote, published in today's Eureka Times-Standard, though oddly not yet on the paper's website (I picked up a hard copy and found the piece on page A4, including a picture of me from at least three years ago).

UPDATE: 1/3/08 12:20pm -- The T-S website now has my column. It occurred to me over the past few hours that the headline it was given, while certainly a positive statement, doesn't really reflect what this essay is about. I've been saying hand-counting can work for years now. This piece says the T-S is abdicating its responsibility to foster community dialog about whether hand-counting is superior to Diebold opscans, even as the Voter Confidence Committee creates the very means by which the community can make objective comparisons. A more apt headline would have been: "Election Watchdogs Dog Newspaper For More Detailed Dialog on Election Conditions."

* * *

Hand-counting ballots can work
My Word, by Dave Berman

Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich said hand-counting paper ballots is "not a practical solution" ("As primary fast approaches, election offices are in turmoil," 12/24/07) and she's not convinced it would be more reliable than continuing to use secret vote counting machines repeatedly discredited in actual elections and academic studies, including CA Secretary of State Debra Bowen's Top To Bottom Review.

It is certainly reasonable for the Times-Standard to publish the Registrar's opinion. But did the T-S ever ask her for data comparing counting methods for accuracy, cost or any other measure? The Voter Confidence Committee (VCC) has requested such information, repeatedly, and the Registrar has not only confessed to having no such information, she has failed to deliver on her promise to obtain it and make it available.

Setting the Registrar's unsubstantiated opinion aside, the bigger issue is false balance, which the T-S created by pairing the Registrar's view with superficial mention of the VCC report recommending hand-counting, noting also that we're documenting community support for the idea.

Not mentioned is the VCC hand-count forecast tool (a spreadsheet), used to create projections and plan for the requirements of hand-counting in precincts on election night. This allows the public to objectively judge whether hand-counting is indeed preferable.

In fact, this was our contribution to the federal lawsuit mentioned in the "turmoil" article, and it was previously described in the T-S on August 16.

When this becomes part of the story, an unsubstantiated opinion no longer stands in true balance, instead reflecting false balance. "He-said/she-said" can not truly balance all news articles. The community can and should discuss the relative merits of hand-counting in tangible terms, made possible by the VCC but shunned by the T-S.

Yes, shunned.

Readers should know the T-S editorial board met with VCC members on August 14. Not only was the forecast tool presented at that time, the VCC also reiterated concerns stated in our report about the Registrar's so-called "Transparency Project."

Our critique has appeared elsewhere in local media, but its absence from the "turmoil" article falsely suggested universal support for the project.

Worse still, the article cited Bev Harris as a Project supporter. In response, Harris posted a statement online saying she was misquoted and does not support the Project: "The concept of providing ballot images to the public after running them through an intermediary program developed by David Dill (or anyone else!) is absurd and misses the point entirely. What is it about these guys that they just cannot RESIST inserting "An Expert" in between "The People" and "Our Ballots"?"

To be clear, VCC objections to the Transparency Project are as follows:Going from ridiculous to sublime, another expert was cited as a Project supporter, Harri Hursti, "who famously hacked into Diebold voting machines." Not just Diebold machines, but the exact equipment used here in Humboldt (as well as other models).

The T-S might have mentioned that while bending over backwards to once again congratulate the Registrar for a decision made nearly four years ago. Forgoing touch screen machines in favor of optical scanners was a false alternative. Both types of machines have been repeatedly discredited, and both types count in secret, requiring the public's blind trust without providing any rational basis for confidence in reported results. The Registrar's devotion to casting paper ballots is hollow if counting accuracy is not verifiable.

Please visit for links to recent media coverage of election integrity issues as well as our report on local election conditions, the forecast tool, and the sign-up form that will allow us to demonstrate there are enough local voters willing to hand-count to get the job done on election night.

Dave Berman is a founding member of the Voter Confidence Committee of Humboldt County. His blog is He resides in Eureka.

Opinions expressed in My Word pieces do not necessarily reflect the editorial viewpoint of the Times-Standard
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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Bob Koehler on Pseudo-Reporting

I don't say enough good things about the writing of Robert C. Koehler, syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. Visit for an archive of his work on topics including, but not limited to, and in no particular order: PTSD, depleted uranium, homelessness, war and more importantly peace, Divine Strake, and many other lesser covered topics including election conditions in America.

I receive Koehler's columns via e-mail and today read his latest, "Pseudo-Reporting." Check his site (or countless newspapers, no doubt) sometime Thursday for Koehler's full commentary on the coverage of Benazir Bhutto's assassination. An excerpt:

While there was some good, or at least restrained, reporting by U.S. media as the tragedy unfolded, the main sources of news for most Americans maintain what I can only call a cocked trigger of jingoism, which often goes off before the screams subside and the blood and debris are hosed into the gutter.

"Weird, isn't it, how swiftly the narrative is laid down for us," Robert Fisk observed in the U.K's Independent. Yeah, I'd say so. I'd add: insulting, infuriating, dangerous - this media readiness to act as the propaganda arm of the party in power, to simplify evil as the sole domain of the enemy du jour, to "unite" the country in self-righteousness and hatred of that enemy.

Without such shamelessly bad reporting - perhaps a better term is "pseudo-reporting" - we couldn't have gone to war with Iraq in 2003 or, for that matter, Spain in 1898. Pseudo-reporting has, alas, a long tradition. It appeals to a docile, uninformed populace and demands the scrutiny of citizens capable of complex thought. Outing such reporting when it fizzles - when too much counter-evidence keeps it from gaining momentum and creating policy - is particularly useful. It's easier to sharpen our awareness of the forms of deception when the deception is not actively doing harm.
DAMN STRAIGHT! Read Bob Koehler everybody.

After reading this column in my e-mail today I wrote to Koehler. It was maybe the third or fourth time I had ever done that so it is not like we are in any kind of regular two-way contact. I told him I really appreciate columns like "Pseudo-Reporting" where he takes apart the performance of the media. I mentioned the false balance issue I've been raising here at WDNC, and I shared with him the as yet unpublished My Word opinion column I recently submitted to the Eureka Times-Standard. Koehler's response:
Thanks, Dave! Great article -- I applaud you for pushing the paper as hard as possible to do it's job and hope they have the guts, or sense of fairness, to publish it. Keep me posted.

Happy new year,
You're all posted now - not three hours later Times-Standard editor Rich Sommerville wrote me, tersely:
Dave: Your My Word column is to be published Thursday.
(sig file)
The piece is a response to the December 24 article "As primary fast approaches, election offices are in turmoil." I'll post it in full here at WDNC tomorrow morning once it is on the T-S website.


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As shown on
Dave's new blog,
Manifest Positivity

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.

Back Page Quotes

"Give a damn about the world you live in? Give a damn about what you and I both know is one of the most shameful and destructive periods in American history? If so, do something about it. You can start by reading We Do Not Consent."

— Brad Friedman, Creator/Editor,; Co-Founder,

"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."

— Paul Lehto, Attorney at Law, Everett, WA

"Dave Berman has been candid and confrontational in challenging all of us to be "ruthlessly honest" in answering his question, "What would be better?" He encourages us to build consensus definitions of "better," and to match our words with actions every day, even if we do only "the least we can do." Cumulatively and collectively, our actions will bring truth to light."

— Nezzie Wade, Sociology Professor, Humboldt State University and College of the Redwoods

"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."

— Michael Collins covers the election fraud beat for "Scoop" Independent Media

"What's special about this book (and it fits because there's nothing more fundamental to Democracy than our vote) is the raising of consciousness. Someone recognizing they have no basis for trusting elections may well ask what else is being taken for granted."

— Eddie Ajamian, Los Angeles, CA

"I urge everyone to read "We Do Not Consent", and distribute it as widely as possible."

— B Robert Franza MD, author of We the People ... Have No Clothes: A Pamphlet for every American