Monday, November 19, 2012

Of Flawed Elections and Red Herrings


by Bev Harris

My e-mail seems to have two recurring themes lately, each from the opposite side 
of the political spectrum. It goes like this: 

"Hey, have you seen this? Anonymous claims to have hacked Karl Rove's intended 
election manipulation." 

And this: 

"Are you doing anything about the rampant voter fraud that put Obama in office?" 

1. The alleged "hack" by Anonymous may or may not have been real, but if it was, 
a careful reading indicates that it was not a hack of voting machines, but more 
akin to the odious phone-jamming scheme used by a Republican operative in New 
Hampshire some years back. Whether you wear a blue or red political shirt, this 
kind of attack is nothing to brag about. It involves interfering with get out 
the vote efforts, and regardless of which side is working on get out the vote, 
obstructing such efforts is uncool. 

There is no credible proof that this Anonymous hack even happened. If it did, it 
violated the principle of encouraging political participation. We have to be 
careful about stories such as this, because they can divert important work on 
election transparency into chasing phantoms. 

2. The "rampant voter fraud" claim diverts attention from where wholesale 
tampering actually takes place. If you plan to rig an election, you do it as an 
inside job, not with alleged busloads of people casting multiple votes, and not 
with herds of voter impersonators fooling election judges. 

You do it with absentees, you do it by manipulating who can vote, you do it by 
altering the voting machine counts, you do it by thwarting chain of custody. In 
other words, it's not the outsiders -- the voters -- where the focus needs to 
be. Let's keep our eye on the ball. Who handled the ballots? Who watched? Who 
programmed the machines? Was the list loaded into electronic pollbooks the real 
one? Was the count interrupted for some reason? Did any ballots disappear? Were 
people prevented from voting? How do we know that the ballots said to have been 
mailed in are the same ones that were counted, and how do we know they were put 
into the pool by real voters rather than an elections worker? 

We need to step away from our favorite political candidates to deal with the 
underlying structural problem. Until we fix transparency problems, actual 
tampering -- considerably more damaging than anything Anonymous claimed to have 
done -- will happen over and over. 

The real problem that we have to wrap our heads around, educate others about, 
and solve, is public right to see and authenticate the count. 

Germany ruled that the public must be able to see and authenticate every 
essential step of the election, without need for special expertise, and that no 
after the fact procedure can be substituted for the right to authenticate the 
original count. 

That is exactly the model we here in the USA need to work towards, but first, we 
have to help the public understand that public controls over our own elections 
are the very essence of self-government, and self-government is the basis for 
all democratic systems. 

There are four things the public must be able to see and authenticate: 
1) Who can vote (voter list) 
2) Who did vote (poll list) 
3) Counting of the vote 
4) Chain of custody 

These are the fundamental issues, and we will restore these to the American 
public, once we properly identify them and demand these things, with no 
compromise and no wasting time on side issues, half-measures, or capitulation. 

You may ask what you can do to help. I love that question. It's so much better 
than the passive "what is being done?" 

Each major civil rights movement has several stages. We are now moving from the 
focus group stage, where we have been learning to craft the most accurate 
description of the problem to be solved, in the most persuasive terms, and into 
the distribution stage, where we are passing the message -- quite literally -- 
from person to person to build momentum to help tip the scales in legal and 
legislative efforts. 

So that's what you can do: Learn to discuss election transparency in terms of 
basic right to self-govern, which is the principle that is the foundation for 
all democratic systems. To have self-governance, you have to have real, 
tangible, meaningful transparency. 

Specifically, "The public must be able to see and authenticate each essential 
step of the election, without need for special expertise, and no after-the-fact 
procedure can be substituted for the right to authenticate the original.

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