Tag Archive | "voting"

Circle Game

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We don’t know about you, but we really miss our old lever voting machines.

The thought occurred to several us as we were standing in our respective voting stations on Tuesday, handling an oversized sheet of paper with a whole slew of candidates names on it. We dutifully filled out our ballots with a silly black marker, which was well on its way to drying out and attached to the so called “booth” by a string.

We call it this because the actual contraption behind which we now vote is a flimsy looking table with little walls on three sides. It kind of reminds us of a urinal — even those of us who are female. Then there’s the guy standing by the optical reader waiting for us to feed our completed ballot sheet into the machine (Face up? Face down? Makes no difference, they say, but face up, and the poll worker has just caught sight of everyone you voted for – and, depending on his political leanings, may use it against you next time he’s driving down Main Street and spots you in the crosswalk).

They call this progress? It strikes us as archaic — filling out little dots like we’re back in grade school taking a standardized test. Not only is it kind of demeaning, but the whole thing seems shockingly public and hardly gives one a sense of privacy.

This abandonment of our beloved lever machines came about thanks to the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (“HAVA”). The law was ostensibly devised to improve the voting process for Americans with disabilities, but there are many who feel its origins were really designed to computerize an analog process by sending votes out into the ether where they could theoretically be tampered with by someone in an undisclosed corporate office who has a different outcome in mind.

Which is why many counties in New York State, the last to conform to HAVA, largely opted for the optical readers we see in use today. Votes are tabulated in place rather than on a computer linked to God knows where, and for that, we should be thankful.

But still, is this method of voting truly easier for people with disabilities? Particularly those with shaky hands and failing eyesight? The rule posted in the urinals…er, … booths, was very specific. “Fill in the round dot completely and neatly.” We can assume that errant marks, X’s and holes chewed in the ballot will result in the failure of a vote to register.

It’s all kind of nerve wracking actually. Sort of like retaking those S.A.T.s.

Which is why we advocate taking a school age child along while voting. Not only is it a terrific lesson in civics, they’re also really good at filling in those little circles.

Art Will Be Visible on Voting Day

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In light of recent public outcry over art at local polling places, the Sag Harbor School district has announced an alteration in plans to separate the voting area at the high school and the student art exhibition. Residents voting in the Pierson gym on May 19 for board candidates and the school budget will notice the voting area is smaller, giving the exhibition more display space. Previously, the board was planning to completely separate the two areas using connected room dividers. School superintendent Dr. John Gratto said the room dividers will now be staggered, making the art clearly visible from the voting space.

“Our reasoning was to answer some complaints and initially keep all parties happy,” said school board president Walter Wilcoxen at the board of education meeting on Monday, May 11. “It was brought to our attention that [the exhibition] was the culmination of the students art program for the year. It is part of their educational requirement, but there wasn’t enough space for the art.”

Pierson senior and art student Emma DeVito presented the board with a petition signed by 285 local residents asking for the art exhibition and the voting area to remain the same as last year.

“This isn’t propaganda. There is no secret evil agenda,” said DeVito. “This is real work by real students. It’s a reflection of students’ accomplishments.”

Gratto responded to DeVito’s claims by saying the board believed putting art on one side of the room would calm people’s criticism that the exhibition was a form of electioneering and favorably influenced voters to pass the budget.

“Sometimes decisions have unintended consequences. Every board member supports the art students,” said Gratto. “And I doubt people’s opinions will be changed or influenced by the art.”

He added that in reviewing the configuration of the voting and art areas, the board also sought to remedy the positioning of the poll watchers. Previously, poll watchers were stationed in the hallway leading to the voting booths. This year, the school will set-up tables on the side of the voting area to accommodate poll watchers.

Before the school announced their intentions to tweak the separation of the art and voting area, the four school board candidates were asked to weigh in on the issue during Friday’s debate.

Elena Loreto stated she was neutral on the subject, but favored placing the voting area in the front of the gym to accommodate handicapped residents.

Ed Drohan mentioned the possibility that the art was electioneering on behalf of his constituents at a previous school board meeting, but maintained that it wasn’t his personal opinion.

“Should we put curtains up over the sports trophy case or the banners hanging over the gym? Where does it stop?” asked Gregg Schiavoni, reiterating his belief that the art isn’t influential to the vote.

At the debate, candidate Walter Wilcoxen (currently the school board president) wanted to clarify that the art exhibition wasn’t banned, but merely separated from the voting area to satisfy all concerned parties.

By staggering the room dividers, the board believes the new voting area and art show configuration will accommodate both the students and the voters.

On Wednesday afternoon, Pierson students milled around the school’s art studio in preparation for the exhibition. Art instructor Peter Solow estimated that each student produced 20 to 25 solid pieces this year. He added that 10 to 15 percent of the graduating class will go on to study art in college. The show in the gym, said Solow, would give the public only a taste of the students’ body of work.

New York’s Bad Voting Machines

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By Julie Penny

Tens of millions have been spent — a hundred million — to go on a pig in a poke.

This summer, with a gun held to its head by the Feds, New York State was forced into buying new voting machines. Counties selected their choice from a short-list provided by the state. They are not ready for prime time. In fact, they are the usual junk that vendors have been passing off on the rest of the country for all these years.

Upon delivery, Nassau found a high failure rate amongst them, as did many other counties throughout New York State. Suffolk machines fared better, so I was told by Anita Katz, one of the two Commissioners at Suffolk’s Board of Elections. You would think that since the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was passed in 2002 that by now these companies would have improved their wares, or, at least, seek to impress its latest customer—New York—with a decent, even superior product. But, no!

Luckily, we’ll be voting on the levers for ’08, but, along with them, each polling place will be sporting one of the new voting systems for use by disabled voters, or, by anyone who so wishes to do so. Ralph DiSpigna, a poll worker for Noyac, warns: “Don’t even bother with them, they take 20 minutes to use—Go with the levers.”  As our counterparts across the nation have been experiencing for years: be prepared, in the future, to wait in long lines for hours on end to vote on error-prone machines that lack security, and take too much time to vote on. That’s if poll workers can even get them to turn on. (Another frequent cause of delay.)

An article in “Scientific American,” that came out in February stated: “Whereas certain technology—such as pacemakers and other medical devices—are heavily regulated and must adhere to strict design and construction standards, voting machines are still mostly unregulated. ‘There’s no validation of how the software for these systems is designed and built…surprising given the importance of voting machines to our national infrastructure.’” 

Additionally, Long Island’s new Sequoia-Dominion Voting systems that comes with a ballot marking device (BMD) where you mark your choices and feed your ballot into an optical scanner also comes additionally equipped with a “convenient slotted hole that allows anyone to stuff ballots directly into the locked ballot box.” I watched a video by an activist attorney on how easily it was done. She was able to stuff several ballots at a time directly into the locked ballot box without having to pass the ballots through the scanner first. This ballot stuffing feature would foil any manual audits because a discrepancy would then exist between the paper ballot count and the tally on the optical scanner’s memory card. If the machine says 300 people voted and poll workers find—when thy open the locked box at the end of the night, 315 ballots—How will they know which are the “real” ballots?  While vendors have lessened the slotted gap, or sealed it, it is unclear at this time just how many of the new machines, in actuality, have had this problem rectified. NYS election workers still have qualms.

These new machines also come equipped with USB ports that illegally facilitate network, internet and wireless access. New York law calls for “no connectivity.”

Although hundreds of discrepancies with these machines have already been documented which would prevent their full certification for counting the 2009 votes, and, although the lab approved to certify these voting systems is being investigated for shoddy methodology and collusion with vendors, the Feds want New York to lower its own certification standards to accommodate these substandard, security-compromised voting systems. New York better fight the Feds tooth and nail.

It’s only recently that the media has reported on the flaws of our electronic voting machines, noting that dozens of states have dumped their touchscreen systems and are embroiled in lawsuits against vendors. Yes, CBS News, CNN, the Associated Press, the NY Times have finally come out against electronic voting. But, it’s too little, too late. For years election integrity activists have been documenting, collecting, cataloging, analyzing, data and trying to get elected officials and the mainstream media to do their job of investigating the mind-numbing voting disasters and anomalies that have riddled every election and primary since 2000. This August The Washington Post reported that the Premier (formerly “Diebold”) system contained “a critical programming error that can cause votes to be dropped while being electronically transferred from memory cards to a central tallying point.” This problem has been part of the software for the last 10 years! The system is used in 34 states. The flaw exists in both Premier’s touch screens and optical scanners. But problems like these are endemic to all other brands of these systems as well.

The whole structure of elections in the U.S. has changed. Once reliant on local representatives accountable to the public, we have now become completely dependent on large corporations which are not accountable to the public. “Most local officials charged with running elections are now unable to administer elections without the equipment, services, and trade-secret software of a small number of corporations” like ES&S, Premier (Diebod), Hart Intervic, Sequoia. They run the show and we’re hostage. Since HAVA was instituted in 2002, they’ve gouged the taxpayer for billions. That’s one part of the equation. The other part is voter disenfranchisement that has been ramped up to unprecedented proportions for the 2008 election. The same vendors who control voting machines have also been given lucrative contracts to generate electronic poll books. It’s created an opportunity for sizeable voter disenfranchisement. I reported on this problem in this column two years ago referring to an in-depth study by NYU’s School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice. Eligible voters, by and large, Democrats, some of whom had have lived in the same place and voted continuously at the same precinct for years are being thrown off the voting rolls because of typographical errors made by clerks. And now, because they lack new ID requirements. This spring, 12 elderly nuns in Indiana were turned away from their polling place across the street from their convent because they didn’t have federal or state ID with a photograph, like a driver’s license. (None of the nuns drove.) I have elderly relatives who fall into this category. The poor, people of color, and Latinos, who tend to be Democrats are particularly targeted.  The latest targets of disenfranchisement are those whose home have been “foreclosed” upon. 

A few years ago, whistleblowers, at great personal risk, started coming forward. Brave folks that were either ignored, maligned, or both. The mainstream media ignored them, but concerned citizens and the netroots followed up on their claims in great detail. By 2006 so many cracks had appeared in our ship of liberty that even the reluctant media started noticing it was splintering apart—A turning point moment, I think, was when the team from Princeton University proved how easy it was to hack these systems and change results without any detection.

The continuing voting train wrecks that appear with every primary and election as reported upon by voters, election officials and local newspapers around the U.S., and, with a new Secretary of State in California who ordered a top to bottom review of electronic voting machines and found them unworthy of certification, all goes to verify what we’ve been saying for years — along with the lawsuits and criminal prosecutions.

Over the last two-and-a-half years the body of evidence has grown to such proportions that the media could no longer ignore the problem. The voting hazards we face are best epitomized in the documentaries—“Hacking Democracy,” (nominated for an Emmy in 2007); “Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections,” and Dan Rather’s “The Trouble with Touchscreens.” They are damning.

The latest whistleblower to step forward is Stephen Spoonamore—one of our nation’s top cyber experts. He is dead set against electronic voting, asserting it’s a “national security” issue. (Interviews with Spoonamore can be seen on “YouTube.”) Among his clients are credit card companies like MasterCard and American Express. He’s consulted for the FBI, Pentagon and other government agencies on electronic data security and commerce.

In July, a motion was filed by two Ohio attorneys to have a “stay” lifted on a lawsuit having to do with election fraud in Ohio during the 2004 presidential election. Mr. Spoonamore has volunteered to be one of their expert witnesses. The judge granted the lawsuit proceed and ordered depositions be taken. However, a subpoena to the information technology person most knowledgeable in the Ohio matter, Michael Connell, is now stonewalling and fighting the subpoena. Sound familiar?