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Is The GOP "Shock-The-Vote Gang" Planning to Heist California?

02/21/2006 02:14 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The usual suspects are slipping into the Golden State. Political season is looming, there's a February chill in the Pacific breeze, and the GOP political 'family' is hard at work. California's appointed (as opposed to elected) Republican Secretary of State has recertified Diebold's voting machines, despite a damning report. Schwarzenegger is hiring a "steely" Karl Rove insider turned Dick Cheney capo, along with other national GOP campaign pols, to run his re-election campaign.

The "shock-the-vote" gang is ready to roll into the Golden State with their patented blend of dishonest spin, old-fashioned dirty tricks - and easy-to-rig voting machines that are being manufactured by Republicans and purchased by other Republicans.

You gotta problem with that?

As reported on BradBlog and elsewhere, California SoS Bruce McPherson has suddenly and unexpectly recertified Diebold's voting technology. McPherson had previously rejected the flawed machines with fine sounding words about how they were "not good enough for California voters and not good enough for me." For reasons that are not altogether clear, however, they're suddenly good enough for him now.

Why the about-face? "After rigorous scrutiny, I have determined that these Diebold systems can be used for the 2006 elections," McPherson says. But that explanation only adds to the confusion. The "rigorous scrutiny" turns out to be a damning report that, as Brad Friedman reports, includes the following language:

... the implementation of cryptographic protection is flawed: There is a serious flaw in the key management of the crypto code ... This key is hard-coded into the source code ... which is poor security practice because, among other things, it means the same key is used in every such machine in the U.S. Worse, the particular default key in question was openly published two and a half years ago (italics are RJE's).

To justify his recertification McPherson cites the "strict standards" (warning: pdf file) that he insists will be enforced, but many of these are manual workarounds to Diebold's systematic flaws. Therefore, like any human process, they're highly subject to error. Here's an example:

"On Election Day, prior to any ballots being cast on any unit, the integrity of the tamper-evident seal must be verified by the precinct officer before opening the compartment containing the memory card and unit power switch. The serial number of the seal must also be verified against the log provided the Precinct Inspector. This procedure must be witnessed by at least one other precinct officer or staff of the registrar of voters. If it is detected that the seal has been broken prior to the unlocking of the compartment, or if there is a discrepancy between the log and the serial number, the discrepancy must be confirmed by one or more of the remaining members of the precinct board, documented, and immediately reported to the county elections official for the jurisdiction."

Does that make you feel like your democratic process is secure? (Hey, you know what worked really well at preventing large-scale fraud? The old way of voting.) Nor does this "provisional certification" address the screen freezes, printer jams, and other documented problems with Diebold's machines.

I'm not ready to join Down With Tyranny in suggesting impeachment for McPherson, but this sudden about-face certainly raises questions that warrant further probing. He has a reputation for being conservative yet bipartisan in his approach, but this national GOP crowd tends to lean on 'bipartisan' types until they see the error of their ways. So what's the story here: is Mr. McPherson just extraordinarily easy to please?

The answer may lie in the fact that the Rove/Cheney machine has now sent its own inside guy to oversee the Schwarzenegger re-election campaign. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in a signal that he'll mount an aggressive 2006 re-election campaign, has hired one of the White House's top political operatives to run his campaign -- a former California GOP strategist who has been described by Newsweek as a political "artillery shell" for his hard-charging tactics.

So Steve Schmidt comes straight from the inner circle of the White House - where, if he's an "artillery shell," he's the closest thing to military weaponry any of the leadership there has ever seen.

Schmidt's most recent assignment was to provide political direction for the Alito nomination, which means he's very good at what he does. The appointment of a potentially extremist right-wing ideologue turned out to hinge on whether his wife cried for the cameras. Schmidt's GOP machine was also able to get a puff piece from the New York Times that was embarrassing even by the usual MSM standards. (My crying foul over it raised the ire of the irrepressible Howard Kurtz.)

Says the Chronicle:

On the national scene, Schmidt earned his reputation as a steely political strategist who ran the Bush 2004 war room and became a member of the exclusive Breakfast Club, the small group of top operatives who planned the campaign during regular meetings at the home of White House political strategist Karl Rove.
In a recent New York Times profile, Schmidt was described as "one of those people most Americans have never heard of who is at the center of the big brawls in Washington."

Schmidt, noted for his take-no-prisoners style, supervised the "rapid-response" operation that monitored Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry's every utterance and disseminated rebuttals within minutes.

Now, I have no objection to a political operative being good at what he does (the Democrats could use some of that) but, even in an election noted for widespread prevarication, Schmidt's "rapid response" team was notable for playing fast and loose with the truth.

Arnold is also hiring pollster/strategist Matthew Dowd, who is surprisingly (and, I think, inadvertently) candid about how to skew polling results in this NPR interview. In it, he describes how to mischaracterize repeated and conscious violations of the FISA law, which the Administration has acknowledged, as an "accidental" failure to "dot the I's and cross the T's" in every instance where wiretapping was urgently needed. Dowd explains how, by asking the question this way, you can get favorable poll results for a very unpopular policy (although he doesn't phrase it exactly that way).

So what does this all mean? It suggests that California, with its treasure trove of congressional seats and 2008 electoral votes, is the next battleground. Yes, Gov. Schwarzenegger is wildly unpopular now. But, as the GOP proved in the 2004 Presidential race, unpopularity need not be a barrier to re-election - especially when Diebold machines are counting the votes.

All the 'heavy hitters' are coming into town, their shiny cars pulling up to the curb. You've seen the movie. You know what happens next. If you live in California, my friend and blog-comrade skippy has a suggestion for how you can help.

A Night Light