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Exclusive: Citizens Request Recount in San Diego Mayoral Race

Miriam Raftery

"Enron by the Sea" shows strange electoral anomalies - a 4 percent shift - ODDS OF SUCH A DISCREPANCY OCCURRING BY CHANCE ALONE ARE LESS THAN 7/100 OF 1%, STATISTICIANS REVEAL.

San Diego Democratic mayoral candidate, Donna Frye, may have been robbed of her mayoral seat in the July 26 local election as citizens' audit parallel election vote shows shift of 4 percent, Raw Story has learned.

Frye, who served three years as a council woman in San Diego, California, previously ran as a write-in candidate in November 2004, but was deprived of San Diego's top seat due to the city's Registrar of Voters, Sally McPherson, blocking the count of 5,547 ballots on which voters had written Frye's name, yet failed to also fill in bubbles. The disputed ballots would have given Frye a victory by 3,439 votes.

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Enron by the Sea

Republican Dick Murphy assumed the mayoral office as a result of the uncounted ballots, only to resign amid multiple scandals that have engulfed San Diego's City Council.

His successor, Acting Mayor Michael Zucchet, a Democrat, held office for less than a day before being convicted of conspiracy, extortion and wire fraud related to accepting payments from a Las Vegas strip club operator in exchange for relaxing the City's "no touch" policy.

The mayoral musical chairs, coupled with the indictments of several city council members on charges of bribery, as well as a city deficit running close to $2 billion, has earned the city the infamous nickname of "Enron by the Sea."

Following Zucchet's indictment a special election was held on July 25 of this year to name a successor. The official count showed that Frye had captured over 45 percent of the vote - double the amount of any other candidate. San Diego law, however, requires a run-off election between the two top vote-getters if no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote. The run-off race is set for November of this year. The election, however, was scheduled to replace Murphy regardless of the outcome of Zucchet's trial.

Diebold's Un-Accu-Vote

Now, a nonpartisan citizens' group that conducted a parallel election has requested a recount of 11 precincts. This time, the issue isn't unmarked bubbles, but the accuracy of Diebold Accu-Vote optical scan voting machines and the Diebold GEMS central tabulator used to count votes.

The Citizens Audit Parallel Election (CAPE) asked voters exiting polls to vote again and sign a log book attesting to the accuracy of their second vote. Sealed parallel election ballots were counted at KGTV's studio with a TV camera crew filming the counting process.

Nearly 50 percent of all voters participated in the parallel election, which included five polling places representing 11 precincts. The sample included more conservative than liberal precincts, with participation as high among Republicans as among Democrats. The tandem election results showed what most feel to be startling results.

"There is a shift of four percent of the vote, consistently," Joe Prizzi, (engineer and physicist,) reported at a press conference held by CAPE in front of City Hall. Frye received 50.2 percent of the votes cast in the parallel election - enough for an outright victory if those results reflect the outcome citywide. CAPE also found that the official count added approximately 2 percent to each of Frye's two Republican opponents, Jerry Sanders and Steve Francis.

In addition, CAPE examined the only other ballot measure, a proposition over a war memorial cross on public land. The proposition's vote total also appeared to have been padded by 4 percent in the official election tally, which was certified Friday August 19 by San Diego County's newly appointed Registrar of Voters, Republican Mikel Haas.

Math is non-partisan

A team of statisticians from California State University- Northridge - have analyzed the data from CAPE, concluding that the probability of luck or chance as the cause of the observed four percent deviation is less than one in 1,300 - or .000678.

Activists suspect fraud. "I am troubled by the prospect that we are losing our democracy very quickly. We've been voting on machines that were never intended to be tools of democracy," said Brina-Rae Schuchman, media spokesperson for CAPE, noting that Diebold machines utilize "secret software."

CLICK HERE TO SEE CHART

Delivering the election - not just in Ohio

The nation's first parallel election was conceived by Ellen Brodsky, an election official in Coconut Creek, Florida. Held at a single precinct during a May 2005 special election on a gambling initiative, the Florida parallel election drew a 67 percent participation rate and revealed significant discrepancies, leading to revelations of programming issues with touch-screen voting machines.

San Diego's far broader parallel election was the brainchild of Judy Alter, an emeritus professor in the department of world arts and culture at UCLA who participated in the New Mexico recount after the 2004 presidential election. In Santa Fe, Alter detected a shift of third-party candidate votes into the Bush/Cheney column.

"That pattern has now been identified in eight states," Alter told Raw Story in an exclusive interview, adding that numerous other indications of electronic fraud have been found. "This is why I'm leading Study California Ballots, because we have to actually count," Added Alter.

CAPE filed a request with the Registrar on August 16 to recount the 11 precincts included in San Diego's parallel election. The request was filed by Schuchman on behalf of Donna Frye, although the Frye campaign was not consulted.

The San Diego Registrar has seven days to call a meeting of all candidates and other interested parties to devise procedures for the recount. "If any discrepancies are found, California law requires that a citywide recount of all precincts be conducted," Alter said.

Asked about CAPE's recount request, Registrar Mikel Haas, responded, "They have every right to do this. We're going to run this by the book." He declined, however, to state how much the partial recount would cost, although noting that cost would depend upon procedures agreed on in the upcoming meeting.

Alter is less confident that Haas will play it by the book, stating that "I believe he is overcharging us." She also believes CAPE should only be assessed $400 ($200 for each of the four election employees) per day. "Now he's going to charge us $2,500--and he's telling us that he's charging us for electricity and the room for the meeting he is going to call, and for all the expenses to staff it," Alter contends.

Citizen Arrested for enacting his rights

CAPE isn't the only group to accuse Haas of withholding public information. Jim March of Black Box Voting and a Republican maintains that the Registrar refused his request during the election to obtain audit logs, which would show whether records were kept of each user who accessed the Diebold GEMS central tabulator.

In an interview with the East County Californian before the election, Haas stated that he would allow citizens to observe the central tabulator counting votes. But on election night, March found the tabulator screen had been placed eight feet away, behind glass and readable only through binoculars, literally. According to March, an activist who was with him brought binoculars and was able to clearly make out the screen. March's request to have the screen moved closer was refused, so he entered the secured tabulating room.

March was arrested and charged with a felony count of obstructing an election official. The charge was later dropped. "This was a violation of my civil rights," said March, who plans to sue County election officials for violating his right under California law to observe an election and his right to access public records.

Computer experts hired by Black Box Voting to penetrate voting systems in Leon County, Florida (with permission of an election official) demonstrated the ease of reprogramming Diebold optical scan voting machines and changing votes through the Diebold central tabulator - the same voting systems used in San Diego during the recent election.

Informed of these facts, Haas nonetheless allowed hundreds of San Diego poll workers to keep voting machines at home overnight - including programmable memory cards protected only by seals that could easily be removed with pliers and resealed.

March and other observers contend that San Diego's central tabulator was hooked up to the Internet on election night. An Internet connection would violate Diebold's own procedures manual, which states: "The GEMS server should not be connected to any network that has an external Internet connection." State certification required that manual procedures be followed.

"If that manual isn't followed, it's an illegal installation," says March. "They ran a completely illegal election."

Caught with tabulater plugged in

Asked by this reporter if the central tabulator was hooked up to the Internet, Haas replied, "Yes. That's so we can get our results out to the Internet, so people can see. It's firewall protected."

But after being informed that hooking the tabulator up to the Internet would potentially render the election illegal, Haas backpedaled and said he may have been mistaken about the tabulator's Internet connection. "I'm not that technical," he noted, then suggested that perhaps the machine was transmitting results to a secondary unit.

Activists plan to monitor the recount, but the potential for problems remain. "We are very worried about tampering," Alter admitted. "That's why we want the count videotaped."

Those fears evoke comparisons to Clermont County, Ohio, where Raw Story reported that a recount of the 2004 presidential election revealed that stickers were placed over the Kerry/Edwards oval on opti-scan ballots. Those ballots were then fed into machines after the hand recount. Witnesses have stated that beneath the stickers, the Kerry/Edwards oval was selected.

Subtler forms of tampering might include substituting entire batches of ballots, described Alter, who plans to monitor the recount.

Soon, San Diego's Registrar hopes to eliminate the opti-scan system entirely and retrofit warehoused TSx touchscreen machines with paper trails--if the new Republican Secretary of State, Bruce McPherson, opts to recertify the TSx system previously decertified by Democratic Secretary of State Kevin Shelley.

McPherson is lobbying Republican Governor Schwarzenegger to veto SB 370, which would make paper trails the official votes of record. SB 370 has already passed the State Senate and is now about to pass the Assembly. Sources close to the McPherson confirm that he is still lobbying the governor to veto.

Alter, meanwhile, is organizing citizen volunteers to hold parallel elections statewide for the fall special election called by Governor Schwarzenegger.

"I'm not stopping," the election reform advocate concludes. "This is just a moving train."

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Mr. Prizzi as currently affiliated with an academic institution. Prizzi, an engineer and physicist, is not.

Originally published on Thursday August 18, 2005.

 


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