Democracy, Corrupted

Voter record tapes recovered from trash bins in Tennesee In Tennessee, ten candidates file suit after discovering widespread voter disenfranchisement in the August 5th primary. In Houston, 10,000 voting machines and associated data spontaneously

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In Tennessee, ten candidates file suit after discovering widespread voter disenfranchisement in the August 5th primary.

In Houston, 10,000 voting machines and associated data spontaneously combusts, incinerating the machines and tapes, and leaving a right-wing Republican's allegations of voter fraud standing with nothing to prove or disprove them.

In South Carolina, ES&S voting machines are used to nominate an unknown and non-viable Democratic candidate to run against Jim DeMint.

In Alaska, tea party candidate Joe Miller alleges vote tampering by the Murkowski campaign.

These are only a few of the stories we're not seeing about voting machines and their role in shaping government and politics, particularly in areas with heavy Latino and African-American populations. It could almost be called a pattern -- one that threatens to undermine the fundamental pillar of our democracy: one person, one vote.

Tennessee's Phantom Precinct

The Tennessee lawsuit has a list of the usual e-voting improprieties-- tapes thrown out before they're reconciled to votes, more votes than voters, machines that mysteriously malfunction when voters came for early voting before work, but start working properly at 8:30 am, election officials taking computers with voter information home with them, and more -- but there's a new twist that is especially sinister on this one.

According to the lawsuit filed, there is a "ghost precinct" in the database tables:

According to the MDB and GEMS tables, there are a total of 105 races. However, only 104 races are visible to the public, with one race existing but hidden from view. In the MDB tables, this “Ghost Race” is designated Race 105, with GEMS export ID number 440. This “Ghost Race” was created on June 11 and remained in the system until after the August election. It is coded so as to be hidden on both touch screen (early voting and at the polls) ballots and absentee ballots. It does not appear to be designed to capture votes entered by voters – it can be used to transfer, delete or temporarily store votes. The race contains no candidate and is marked “nocount” which will cause any votes in this race to be omitted from vote count reports.

The existence of a “Ghost Race” is similar to a dummy bank account or a second set of log books. It allows votes to be moved around without reflecting transactions in the audit data. The most troubling aspect is that it only appeared on ballot styles 2, 10, and 80 – which encompasses 54 precincts.

Here's what you need to know about Tennessee: In 2008, a battle was mounted and won to require paper ballots. After Republicans took over the state legislature in 2008, the GOP Secretary of State and legislature sued to fight the use of paper ballots in future elections.

Late last year, both the new Republican Secretary of State Tre Hargett and the Republican legislature went to court to fight against the statutory move to paper ballots which was supposed to be in place by 2010 according to the law. And with the continuing court challenges and delays, the voters of the "The Volunteer State" find themselves still forced to vote on the oft-failed, never-verifiable Diebold/Dominion electronic voting system again this year.

Thousands of voters in Shelby County and the ten candidates who filed suit this week are currently paying the price for the GOP's legal obstructionism, as they will again this fall during November's mid-terms.

The math here is pretty simple. Paper ballots are verifiable. They reflect the true outcome of elections, They leave an audit trail. The GOP opposes their use, and why not? They win when they use Diebold unverifiable voting machines, and it's not the first time there have been voting machine problems.

Shelby County, by the way, covers the Memphis voting precincts -- where the population is heavily African-American.

Houston's lost machines: Boon or Bust?

On August 27, 2010, all of Harris County's voting machines were destroyed in a suspicious early-morning warehouse fire. One would suppose that such a fire might be of benefit to Harris County voters, who are routinely accused of voter fraud without much in the way of credible evidence.

But this is a voting machine story with a weird twist. Some believe the destruction of Harris County's voting machines 51 days before early voting starts really benefits Republicans more than Democrats.

Whether or not early voting machines are re-used on election day, a shortage of machines will be an issue. Polling places might go from having six machines to one, potentially creating huge lines and delays. Another option would be to abandon the polling place model and use a limited number of election centers, as in early voting. This would eliminate the need to wipe machines but wouldn't negate the potential effect of long lines.

On the other hand, the machines that burned were made by Hart InterCivic, and are possibly less reliable than Diebold machines. The obvious solution would be to simply use and count paper ballots, but Republicans object to paper ballots on the grounds that they are more unreliable than electronic voting.

In a counterpoint, however, Glenn W. Smith argues that the loss of the voting machines disenfranchises Harris County voters as part of a larger effort. He points to Republican astroturf organization "True the Vote" as evidence of the effort to systematically disenfranchise voters to guarantee Republican wins.

His ideas aren't just the stuff of conspiracy theorists. One of the little-discussed issues around these midterm elections is redistricting -- a specialty of Dick Armey's ten years back. Jerrymandered districts make Republican majorities that much stronger, and these elections will determine the players in the redistricting battles looming next year. Republicans desperately want to control the process and the outcome.

True the Vote is a well-funded group, clearly the product of Tea Party Republicans. It is the brainchild of the King Street Patriots, led by Catherine Albrecht, a well-connected Texas Republican and manufacturing company owner. Immigration reform and voter fraud seem to be Albrecht's pet projects, and she has the attention of the Liberty Institute as a result. Her highly-produced "sound the alarm" video calls patriots to action with this exhortation:

If we lose Houston, we lose Texas. And guess what? If we lose Texas we lose the country.

Could the lost voting machines mean voters are disenfranchised in Harris County? Well, yes, if Republican election officials decide to reduce the number of precincts or borrow flawed voting machines from neighboring counties. On the other hand, if election officials opt for paper ballots, it would be simple enough to move ahead with early voting and all precincts open at once. Will they? Probably not. They make the argument that Minnesota's paper ballot recount where Norm Coleman lost to Al Franken proves that paper ballots are bad.

One thing is sure: the chaos only benefits Republicans, not Democrats.

Alaska: Joe Miller alleges tampering

What's fair for one should be fair for all, and Joe Miller's campaign is alleging voting irregularities with the Diebold machines in use in Alaska. This is an interesting twist, given that Miller is the insurgent candidate and I would guess irregularities would go to his benefit, not against. However, the complaints are the same as with other Diebold machines:

But there is also another aspect of Mike's use of the state's election computer. As you know, Alaska uses electronic voting. The Diebold software contains vulnerabilities that may allow someone to install malicious software to miscount votes. In an election security report to the Lt. Governor submitted in 2007, it was noted that someone could "alter [] election results" by installing software. Further, software installed into the election management system could lead, according to the report, to "large scale election fraud..."(full complaint here - PDF)

Enough should be enough. There is no question that these machines are anti-democratic and corrupt. If this country cannot manage to have free and fair elections without suppressing minority voters and creating chaotic voting conditions, why are we promoting democracy around the world? And more importantly, when is it time to stand up against the erosion of our fundamental right to vote by demanding an end to these machines?

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