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Sunday, August 22, 2004

Squelching the Franchise 

Bob Herbert in the New York Times:
Meanwhile, the sending of state troopers into the homes of elderly black voters in Orlando was said by officials to be a response to allegations of voter fraud in last March's mayoral election. But the investigation went forward despite findings in the spring that appeared to show that the allegations were unfounded.

Why go forward anyway? Well, consider that the prolonged investigation dovetails exquisitely with that crucial but unspoken mission of the G.O.P. in Florida: to keep black voter turnout as low as possible. The interrogation of elderly black men and women in their homes has already frightened many voters and intimidated elderly get-out-the-vote volunteers.

The use of state troopers to zero in on voter turnout efforts is highly unusual, if not unprecedented, in Florida. But the head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Guy Tunnell, who was also handpicked by Governor Bush, has been unfazed by the mounting criticism of this use of the state police. His spokesmen have said a "person of interest" in the investigation is Ezzie Thomas, a 73-year-old black man who just happens to have done very well in turning out the African-American vote.

From the G.O.P. perspective, it doesn't really matter whether anyone is arrested in the Orlando investigation, or even if a crime was committed. The idea, in Orange County and elsewhere, is to send a chill through the democratic process, suppressing opposing votes by whatever means are available.
That about covers the low-tech end of the election-gaming spectrum. And the high-tech end? Lambert at Corrente links to an AP article about three companies that are giving a whole new meaning to the term "secret ballot":
The three companies that certify the nation's voting technologies operate in secrecy, and refuse to discuss flaws in the ATM-like machines to be used by nearly one in three voters in November.

Despite concerns over whether the so-called touchscreen machines can be trusted, the testing companies won't say publicly if they have encountered shoddy workmanship.

They say they are committed to secrecy in their contracts with the voting machines' makers - even though tax money ultimately buys or leases the machines.

"I find it grotesque that an organization charged with such a heavy responsibility feels no obligation to explain to anyone what it is doing," Michael Shamos, a Carnegie Mellon computer scientist and electronic voting expert, told lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

The system for "testing and certifying voting equipment in this country is not only broken, but is virtually nonexistent," Shamos added.

Although up to 50 million Americans are expected to vote on touchscreen machines on Nov. 2, federal regulators have virtually no oversight over testing of the technology. The certification process, in part because the voting machine companies pay for it, is described as obsolete by those charged with overseeing it . . . .

In Huntsville, the window blinds were closed when a reporter visited the office suite where CIBER Inc. employees test voting machine software. A woman who unlocked the door said no one inside could answer questions about testing.

Shawn Southworth, a voting equipment tester at the laboratory, said in a telephone interview that he wouldn't publicly discuss the company's work. He referred questions to a spokeswoman at CIBER headquarters in Greenwood Village, Colo., who never returned telephone messages . . . .

"Suppose you had a situation where ballots were handed to a private company that counted them behind a closed door and burned the results," said [Prof. David] Dill, founder of VerifiedVoting.org. "Nobody but an idiot would accept a system like that. We've got something that is almost as bad with electronic voting."
For further information about CIBER Inc., let's check in with the always-formidable Suburban Guerrilla:
A Colorado company under contract to ensure that the nation's touch-screen voting machines are accurate has been a substantial contributor to Republican candidates and groups.

The donations linked to CIBER Inc. are by no means against the law, but have raised some eyebrows with the approach of a hotly contested 2004 presidential election and the recent discovery of flaws in the ATM-like machines that will be used by millions of voters.

At Greenwood Village-based CIBER, employees and some spouses have donated more than $72,000 to GOP candidates and groups during the 2001-2002 and 2003-2004 election cycles, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group.

Democratic donations linked to the firm were $3,000 during that time.

Such donations from CIBER are "perfectly legitimate," said Rebecca Mercuri, a computer security expert with Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study.
Which brings us to our favorite graf in the article, a future classic in the annals of utterly irrelevant corporate talking points parroted by hopelessly overmatched reporters who, though innocent of the most basic analytical skills, are unfailingly keen to provide "balance":
CIBER's donations are far less than the hundreds of thousands of dollars given to the GOP or Democrats by companies such as brokerage firm Goldman-Sachs or retail giant Wal-Mart.

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