THE BLOG
07/25/2006 05:41 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Lawless Elections: Sleepovers, Voter Vault and San Diego

On June 6, the first federal election regulated by HAVA - the Help America Vote Act - was held in San Diego, CA between Francine Busby (D) and Brian Bilbray(R) to decide which would take convicted Randy "Duke" Cunningham's (R) House seat in CA-50. The election drew nationwide scrutiny as a "bellwether" for the November hopes of both parties. Diebold counted the vote - opti-scanning paper ballots and recording directly on touch-screen machines with a paper trail. Both types of machine use memory cards to transfer their totals to a central tabulator. The memory cards can contain code that can manipulate votes if so programmed and are small enough to pocket. Because both types of machine had been hacked in highly-publicized tests, federal and state regulators issued emergency security procedures to protect them from tampering. San Diego Registrar Mikel Haas defied those regulations by sending home hundreds of the machines with volunteer pollworkers for unsecured 'sleepovers' days and weeks before the election. This speech was given to activists gathering to prepare legal action at an Emergency Town Hall in Oceanside, CA (San Diego County.)

Brad Friedman told me to stress the bi-partisan nature of this gathering by saying I'm waiting for the Progressive Republicans of America to show up.

A lot of Republicans did show up in San Diego county the weekend before the election, according to the LA Times Opinion section last Sunday. They 'poured in' to CA-50, wrote authors Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten - but I don't think those were progressives. However, Lou Dobbs is doing stories on machine fraud capacity - so there's hope.

The LA Times article is one of many burbling up in the mainstream media lately about voting machines - Newsweek, USA Today. The Washington Post's headline tells the problem: "ONE PERSON CAN SWING AN ELECTION."

The Op-Ed piece began: "Four days before the election, Republican strategists in Washington were worried."

Who were these 'strategists?' It didn't give their names. In fact, the whole article stated things that were unsourced.

Here was the strategists' worry: more Democrat absentee ballots had come into the Registrar's office in San Diego than Republican ones. That's when "strategists" send "activists" to "pour in" to San Diego County. And in three days, Republican absentee ballots outnumbered Democratic ones by 10,000 ballots!

Now, I know, from a friend on Capitol Hill, that Republican staffers were dispatched to San Diego before the election. Shades of that rowdy demonstration that stopped the Florida recount, all staffers organized from Tom DeLay's office.

I don't know how you get, on a Friday afternoon (assuming the GOP strategists' meeting was literally four days before the election) enough plane reservations arranged on enough empty flights to get enough activists to 'pour into' San Diego to" that they can contact 3000 new absentee voters PER DAY over a weekend and a Monday and successfully get their ballots to the Registrar.

You can't get 3000 people a day to answer their DOORS in Southern California on a weekend, much less drop everything, know exactly where their Absentee ballot is, get it and fill it out and hand it to you on the spot!

The article attributed the feat to the Republicans' 'high-tech edge' delivered by a reputedly mind-bogglingly-detailed database called the 'Voter Vault'. 'Voter-Vault!' How comic book-sounding is that? Karl Rove and Dick Cheney in the Fortress of Solitude, poring over their Voter Vault! Is it possible that when I thought I was signing up for a discount card at my mall or supermarket, I was being sucked into...Voter Vault?!

3000 absentee ballots a day produced. Well, maybe Voter Vault has cell-phone numbers! But people would still have to get to the post office on a weekend to make sure their mailing arrived in time Or activists would have to do home-visits to pick them up? A high-tech edge - one's imagination does not have to wander far to think that perhaps the high-tech capacity goes beyond extensive, intrusive database help for getting out the vote. Couldn't the high-tech edge extend to knowing the trade secrets of their friendly supporters' voting machine companies? And what to do with that?

But the LA Times wants you to believe that GOP activism trumped the Democratic grassroots activism, by printing this claptrap just when the San Diego Registrar's defiance of emergency security regulations for Diebold machines has put the election of a Republican into the House of Representatives in doubt.

I don't know what the Republican activists did or didn't do, but I know what the Registrar did. He failed to follow emergency regulations put in place by the National Association of State Elections Directors to mitigate the well-publicized security hole in both the Diebold Opti-scanners and TSx touch screens that were used in the election. That's the issue here - not fraud, trust, or Republican Party super-activism.

Let me share some good news for Democratic activists: the DNC, thanks to Greg Moore, who headed up the NAACP Voting Rights Institute and now does the job for the DNC, with Howard Dean, is responding to the looming problems of election fraud, including by machine, with a half-million dollar commitment to nationwide election protection teams of lawyers and pollwatchers. That's good.

But all the poll-watching in the world can't see fraud that is taking place inside a trade-secret programmed computer!

And all the lawyers in the world can't help election integrity if they're blocked by a precedent that says Registrars don't have to comply with regulations they find inconvenient or "impossible" to follow!

And all the activists can't camp out in pollworkers homes beside the machines, keeping 24 hour watch in shifts and logging in and out anyone who enters that 'secure place.' Yet that's why NASED required log-in access; because one memory card can change an election.

Our counties are strapped for cash. Of course Registrars can't pay for the necessary level of security. We're in debt for a continuing, trillion-dollar war!

And why should Registrars struggle to comply when their bosses - judges, supervisors, election officials --don't understand the need for compliance, thinking computer security is a matter of trust, not science? And when there's so much pressure from monied interests who don't want elections officials to be strict enforcers!

I'm old enough to remember when "Law and Order" was once the Republican campaign slogan.

Of course, it was Nixon's slogan - and ironically, his disregard for the law, believing he was above it, brought him down.

And it was code for racism, which is also ironic, because no-one knows better than African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans that there's no more law and order at the polls. The majority party that uses its "high-tech edge" to stay in power fought hard against renewing the Voting Rights Act of1965.

Election fraud is why Latino and African American kids go to war instead of college. Florida 2000 brought the war on and Ohio 2004 perpetuates it. It's why we don't have health care. It's why we've had six more years of global warming without mitigation than we should have. It's why we have a Congress trying to make Hispanic names join African-American ones on the felony purge lists because, you know, they might be illegal.

It's why we're silent and confused in our communities. That's what makes me maddest. At the supermarket, church, school, we talk to our neighbors. There seems to be a growing consensus that is sane and rational, despite our differences - but suddenly, at the polls, everything turns out as a surprise. We question our judgment. We wonder who are neighbors are.

We wonder if we're not just extras in a patriotic pageant called Election Day. Well, I won't put up with it. As fellow-actor Sean Penn has said, "At least when we're acting we know we're lying." Democracy is not theater, it determines life and death!

Brian Bilbray's swearing in was theater. It was an unofficial, photo-op ceremony conducted by Republican House members while more votes than his margin of victory remained to be counted! Maybe they figured, since, gosh, 10,000 of the last-minute absentees were going to go their way, what was the point of waiting?

Here's the point: tens of thousands of voters were left feeling, once again, superfluous. And that's killing democracy. Both major parties wonder why more of their voters don't vote. Why bother with all that trouble - getting the kids ready, having dinner late, paying a babysitter, being late to work, changing carpool - when outcomes are always announced as definitive before thousands of votes are counted? It's apparent that all those votes are just a costly bureaucratic burden for hard-working elections officials, and nice people don't like to be a burden. So, increasingly, nice people don't vote. Voter Vault can do that work, with less effort and more predictability.

I heard a well-meaning woman on the radio the other day commenting on a screw-up with military absentee ballots. Outraged, she said, "If anyone deserves the vote, it's our troops - they deserve it more than anyone else!"

I understood and agreed with her emotion, but the underlying assumption is lethal: voting is a reward for the deserving, not a right for citizens.

If you're not "deserving" - if, for instance, you vote while black, or speaking Spanish, or protest the war --your vote can be taken away without much fuss. Obstacles are created. Your polling place is changed, your pollworkers aren't well-trained, your absentee ballot wasn't mailed, your machines aren't delivered. And if there's no other way to keep you from voting, maybe your vote just won't be counted. Maybe it will be shifted. In a nation at war, unity is required-- by any means necessary. Diebold's slogan supports this view: "The highest motive is the common good." If you have that motive, who can fault your actions?

But there are laws. And we've caught a Registrar violating laws that govern his election procedure. Whatever his reason, if we don't stop this now, I don't know how we'll change the situation we're in.

The violation is not in question. Here is the regulation:

Programmed memory cards shall be stored securely at all times with logged accesses and transfers.

The machines were not stored securely with logged access. The penalty is clear from the National Association of State Elections Directors:

"Failure to comply with this addendum negates the voting system's status as a NASED-qualified voting system."

The insecurity of the machines is not in question. One person can swing an election with a memory card. The non-partisan Brennan Institute's report cited 120 such security vulnerabilities in the computer voting machines that now control 80 percent of the nation's vote, thanks to HAVA.

That's a story yet to be told: how lobbyists working with HAVA co-author Bob Ney walked away with 3.8 billion dollars for a handful of Republican-friendly voting machine companies, two of them owned by brothers. States and counties were left in the lurch to deal with the software's insecurity. There is no money appropriated for solutions. The ownership society wins again: private owners got the contract, we the people got the machines and now we're on our own.

Your stories wait to be told. Anyone who had difficulty in an election this year must write the story down while your memory is fresh. If you had someone with you, let them sign it as a witness. Maybe have it notarized.

Progressive Democrats of America made Election Integrity our second founding issue because of its connection to the war. Dishonesty brought us the killing. And peace will show at the polls only when the ballot box is honest.

So if Karl and Dick are in the Fortress of Solitude with the Voter Vault, thinking they're invincible, San Diego has a message for them: let the Rule of Law be their Kryptonite.