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California voting summit shuts out voting reform advocates; Panels appear stacked with electronic voting proponents

Miriam Raftery

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A California summit on voting equipment, where many of the speakers had apparent conflicts of interests, barred entry to consumer groups calling for election reform, RAW STORY has discovered.

A nonpartisan coalition representing 25 California election integrity groups held a press conference Monday outside the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Sacramento, where the "Voting Systems Testing Summit" was convened by Republican California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson.

The State appears to have skewed presentations in favor of electronic voting, with advocates far outnumbering critics. Some panels contain exclusively vendors of electronic voting equipment and representatives of testing labs chosen by these vendors.

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"This smacks of Dick Cheney meeting with the energy companies and locking out opposing interests of environmental groups," Sherry Healy, a member of the California Election Protection Network steering committee, told RAW STORY. "Diebold and other vendors selling electronic voting equipment have been invited to attend, along with all 400 members of the California Association of Election Officials," she said. "It costs one hundred and seventy five dollars a ticket and will be picked up by the state."

PANELS STACKED IN FAVOR OF E-VOTING

Some of the conference's other panels are also weighted in favor of e-voting advocates. A presentation of state election officials titled "What Happens Now" includes Paul Craft, Nick Handy, Dr. Brit Williams, and Connie Schmidt.

Craft, an officer in the Florida Secretary of State's office, previously headed Florida's Bureau of Voting Systems Certification and was responsible for ensuring accuracy of new voting machines during the 2000 presidential election debacle.

Craft resigned from the state's Division of Elections to start his own consulting company, which advises other states on purchase of election equipment. He has also served on a Technology Guidance Committee appointed by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), where he solicited testimony from vendor engineers resulting in a vote to delete new standards.

Williams has been an outspoken defender of electronic voting. As an NIST participant, he stated that "adding a paper 'receipt' could have an adverse effect." He also served as a state evaluator of Diebold machines in Georgia, where he allowed installation of a patch not certified by testing labs. BBV later revealed a "rob-georgia" file which contained "3,700 files of instructions to replace files that were on the machines." Williams later admitted, "Some of the things we did, we probably compromised security a little bit."

Handy represents Washington state's Republican Secretary of State, Sam Reed. In 2004, Voters Unite issued the following alert:

"State Director of Elections Nick Handy, King County Director of Elections Dean Logan, Pierce County Auditor Pat McCarthy, Kitsap County Auditor Karen Flynn ... are putting the integrity of our elections at risk by installing last-minute patches to the electronic voting systems, bypassing state certification laws, and then conducting nothing more than miniscule manual recounts if the party observers request them."

Schmidt, as Election Commissioner of Johnson County, Kansas, stated that 99% of voters were pleased with Diebold machines in an August 2002 primary election.

"They've been extremely reliable, and we've received tremendous feedback from voters," she said.

This comment came after an April 2002 election in which Schmidt found Diebold touch-screen machines had under- and over-reported hundreds of votes, prompting Schmidt to direct the Board of Canvassers to order a hand recount. In some cases, vote totals changed dramatically.

A panel titled "Best State Practices" includes Doug Chapin, director of electiononline.org and research director for the Carter-Baker Commission. Election reform activists criticized the commission for excluding testimony by key election reform representatives and for its co-chair, former Secretary of State James Baker, who represented Bush in Bush v. Gore.

Another panelist, chair of the California Voting Systems Technical Assessment and Advisory Board Dr. David Jefferson, has been a critic of electronic voting procedures, pointing out serious security flaws and urging that Internet voting for the military be scrapped.

A panel on federal issues including HAVA, voting systems and accessibility featured Donetta Davidson, Paul DeGregorio, Brian Hancock and Sandy Steinbach.

Davidson is a commissioner on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC). As Secretary of State in Colorado, she faced embarrassment over her leadership in the Elections Center, a nonpartisan state office that accepted donations from e-voting companies at the same time that it touted their machinery. She also supported a partisan redrawing of congressional districts which was shot down in state court.

DeGregorio was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC). Previously, as Executive Vice President of the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES), he led a team supplying technical advice in Florida and Missouri during the November 2002 elections.

Hancock is secretariat of the EAC's Independent Testing Authorities Committee. He formerly served as an elections research specialist the Federal Elections Commission during George W. Bush's administration, where he stated that no federal agency had the power to regulate the elections industry.

Some balance on other panels

A panel titled "Securitiy/Paper Trails/Accountability" appeared more balanced.

Kim Alexander is president and founder of California Voter Foundation, a nonpartisan group dedicated to advancing "responsible use of technology in the democratic process," and has been an advocate of paper trails for voting machines.

Dr. Aviel (Avi) Rubin, professor of computer science and technical director of the Information Security Institute at Johns Hopkin University, co-authored a paper identifying security flaws in Diebold equipment and has authored articles calling for voter-verifiable paper ballots.

Professor Henry Brady, director of the Survey Research Center (SRC) at the University of California, Berkeley, has teamed up with Alan Dechert to promote development of open-source software voting systems.

Michael Shamos, Co-Director of the Institute for e-Commerce and Director of the Center for Privacy Technology at Carnegie Mellon University, however, has downplayed concerns over e-voting security, claiming that "there has not been a single verified incident of tampering or exploitation of a security weakness" in the 25 years since e-voting was introduced. A former evaluator of voting systems for Texas and Pennsylvania, he dismisses concerns over hacking as "hypothetical rather than a real threat to the electoral process."

Activists shut out

When several members of CEPN applied for admission, they were denied - despite the fact that the event was not yet full. Correspondence from the Secretary of State's office denying the request has been posted at the CEPN website.

"We offered to pay a fee," Healy said of the invitation-only event. "They assured us that our views are being represented."

But after reviewing a list of attendees, CEPN found no activists and only three computer experts with views compatible with CEPN's election reform goals. "Panels are stacked so as to be heavily pro-Diebold," Healy noted. "Our side is heavily outnumbered."

Actress Mimi Kennedy, head of Progressive Democrats of America and a member of CEPN's steering committee, expressed outrage that the public has been excluded from an event paid for by taxpayers.

"Among California citizens are some of the best computer scientists in the world," she said. "This is the home of the computer chip. Our concerned citizens know more about computer software and its fraud capacity in voting machines than do our election officials - and they must be let in to challenge the vendors."

CEPN maintains that the public has a right to know what goes on behind closed doors. A letter hand-delivered to McPherson noted that "members of CEPN have demonstrated knowledge and leadership in this important cause, yet to date all of our requests to attend the Summit have been refused."

Barring activists from the Summit comes on the heels of a hearing last week on whether or not to recertify Diebold TSX machines in California. The TSX system was de-certified by former Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, a Democrat, after Diebold was found to have installed uncertified software.

A new California law requires paper trails on all voting machines. Earlier tests of TSX machines retrofitted with printers to produce paper trails had a combined failure rate of 30%, including printer jams and software crashes. But a recent new test, conducted without public scrutiny by California officials using a machine selected by Diebold, showed only a 3% error rate, Healy said.

Activists expressed concern prior to last week's hearing upon learning that McPherson had dissolved the Voting Systems Panel (VS), which had been charged with hearing public testimony and advising the Secretary of State regarding certification. At the hearing November 21st, only members of McPherson's staff showed up.

"We thought it was a charade," said Healy. "They are political appointees, and one attorney." Only one computer consultant, Steve Freeman, appeared at that hearing to hear public testimony.

CEPN lists seven reasons not to certify Diebold, including known security holes that the vendor has failed to address, demonstrations by Black Box Voting proving the ease of hacking into Diebold systems, criminal records of a Diebold programmer, and warnings by the Secretary of State's own technical advisors of serious defects in Diebold machines.

In an interview Monday with RAW STORY, Diebold spokesman David Bear revealed, California's "recommendation is to certify the equipment as reviewed." Bear said McPherson's staff made a recommendation to recertify the Diebold TSX system before hearing public testimony, based on a review of the new test results.

McPherson's office could not be reached for comment.

BBV seeks other changes in protocol. "We want the media there," said March. The state's proposed protocol would bar the public and the media. "We would not be able to bring in a lawyer or court reporter," March noted. "We could not tape record or videotape anything, or take notes - and we had to give them anything we write about for them to include if they see fit in the final report." The State's proposal also required BBV to identify its planned attack method ahead of time.

BBV believes it's important to videotape the attempted hack, as it did in Leon County, Florida, where Harri Hursti penetrated a Diebold system in less than a minute, altering contents of a memory card.

Kennedy says California officials need to take such concerns seriously.

"The State seems to be treating the buying of voting machines the same way they'd treat buying toilet paper for the statehouse," she urged. "Don't give private companies control of our vote."

One goal of McPherson's goals is to ultimately standardize election protocols nationwide who views California as ground zero for election integrity.

"This is a critical moment where technology can install fraud capacity in our votes nationwide," Kennedy said. "Citizens being shut out is dishonest."

Originally published on Thursday December 1, 2005

 


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