Friday, October 22, 2004

But Who's Counting? 

Voter News Service (VNS) conducted exit polls and tallied raw vote totals for the network news organizations until the midterm elections of 2002, when system-wide breakdowns led to the dismantling of the company. USA Today reports that the networks have since hired two new exit-pollers, but the task of counting the actual votes will fall to a single source: "Four years ago, the networks relied on VNS for its count of the actual votes and used the AP's vote-counting as a backup. Now, the AP will go it alone."

With close to a third of all voters casting their presidential ballots on touchscreen machines, the vast majority of which leave no paper trail, journalist Lynn Landes wondered exactly how the AP plans to collect its data:
The Associated Press (AP) will be the sole source of raw vote totals for the major news broadcasters on Election Night. However, AP spokesmen Jack Stokes and John Jones refused to explain to this journalist how the AP will receive that information. They refused to confirm or deny that the AP will receive direct feed from voting machines and central vote tabulating computers across the country. But circumstantial evidence suggests that is exactly what will happen.

And what can be downloaded can also be uploaded. Computer experts say that signals can travel both to and from computerized voting machines through wireless technology, modems, and even simple electricity. Computer scientists have long warned that computer voting is an invitation to vote fraud and system failure. An examination of Diebold election software by several computer scientists, including Dr. Avi Rubin and his staff, proved that secret backdoors can be built into computer programs that allow votes to be easily manipulated without detection . . . .

But, can't the AP be trusted? Isn't it an objective non-partisan news organization? . . . .

Burl Osborne, chairman of the AP board of directors, is also publisher emeritus of the conservative The Dallas Morning News, a newspaper that endorsed George W. Bush in the last election. Kathleen Carroll, senior vice president and executive editor of AP, was a reporter at The Dallas Morning News before joining AP. Carroll is also on the Associated Press Managing Editors (APME)'s 7-member executive committee. The APME "works in partnership with AP to improve the wire service's performance," according to their website. APME vice president Deanna Sands is managing editor of the ultra conservative Omaha World Herald newspaper, whose parent company owns the largest voting machine company in the nation, Election Systems and Software (ES&S).
Nothing in the above paragraph is especially damning (or, for that matter, surprising) -- but the following anecdote may give you a slight frisson:
And on WBAY-TV in Green Bay, Wisconsin ran an AP article reporting that Bush has won the election, weeks before the election is to take place. The AP reported, "At this hour, President Bush has won re-election as president by a 47 percent to 43 percent margin in the popular vote nationwide. Ralph Nader has 1 percent of the vote nationwide. That's with 51 percent of the precincts reporting." According to reports, the AP is now saying the article was a "test article," a never-heard-before journalistic practice.

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