Originally Published: 8/6/2008
VOTING IN THE 2008 ELECTION
By The Issue Wonk
The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 was supposed to make voting easier and provide more accurate ballot counting. It replaced punch card voting systems, created the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), and established minimum election administration standards. It also mandated that all states and localities upgrade their election procedures, including their voting machines, registration processes, and poll worker training. But how beneficial has HAVA been? How accurate and democratic can we expect the 2008 election to be? It doesn’t look good. There are several problems that can be expected: limiting voters, purging voters, manipulation of the electronic voting machines, and various other problems.
The EAC is said to have fostered the misrepresentation that there is a problem with voter fraud.1 According to EAC’s own consultants’ report, there is little voter fraud. However, EAC reported that the amount of voter fraud is unclear.2 Tova Wang, one of the 2 consultants who wrote the report, wrote a detailed account about how their research had been disregarded or altered by the EAC. She said EAC “completely stood our work on its head.” She said the changes played up the voter fraud issue and omitted references to charges of voter intimidation lodged by Democrats as well as removing all criticisms of the Justice Department.3
Nonethless, many states passed voter identification laws in an effort to reduce voter fraud. A lawsuit challenging Indiana’s stringent law went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that states can require voters to produce photo ID without violating their constitutional rights.4 As a result, voter identification laws are now being implemented in most states.5
Injured veterans are also being denied the right to register to vote. Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Peake said that his department “will not help injured veterans at VA facilities to register to vote before the 2008 election.” He said, “VA remains opposed to becoming a voter registration agency pursuant to the National Voter Registration Act, as this designation would divert substantial resources from our primary mission.” He was referring to the 1993 federal law that allows government agencies to host voter registration efforts.6
In Florida, the Secretary of State is refusing to accept about 85,000 new registrations from voter drives – overwhelmingly Black voters.7 The truly sad thing about incidents like these is that these voters believe they have registered to vote and they will show up at the polls on election day and be turned away.
Purging the existing voter rolls is going on all over the U.S. Here are some examples:
Alabama. Most states restrict the rights of felons to vote. In Alabama only felons convicted of crimes of “moral turpitude” cannot vote. “Moral turpitude” was defined in 2003 by the state legislature as crimes of murder, rape, sodomy, sexual abuse, incest, sexual torture, and other crimes involving pornography and abuses against children. However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) contends that Alabama is rejecting felons convicted of offenses like income tax evasion and forgery. It is suing Alabama for its “overly expansive policy disenfranchising felons.”8
Colorado. According to Greg Palast, the Colorado Secretary of State has “conducted the biggest purge of voters in history, dumping one-fifth of all registrations.” Palast adds: “Guess their color.”7
Louisiana. Project Vote has notified the state of Louisiana of alleged election law violations. It claims that Louisiana has violated federal law by dropping voters who have registered in other states. Apparently Louisiana’s Secretary of State, Jay Dardenne, has been cross-checking voters’ names with those in other states and dropping them if their names and ages match. The National Voter Registration Rights Act does not permit cancellation based on a match alone. Estelle Rogers, the attorney for Project Vote, said that, “using only [a] full name and date of birth . . . causes many false matches, particularly when the name is a common one.”9
New Mexico. Half of the Democrats in Mora County, an overwhelmingly Hispanic county, “found their registrations disappeared this year, courtesy of a Republican voting contractor.”7
Election officials in Kansas, Michigan, and Louisiana “appear to be ignoring the federal law dictating the way registered voters may be purged from voter rolls.” They’re purging what “appears” to be duplicate registrations, but, as noted above, the National Voter Registration Rights Act “does not permit cancellation based on a match alone”10
And don’t forget the people who have lost their homes to foreclosures. With vote caging, these people will probably be knocked off the voting rolls.
Electronic Voting Machines
We’ve all heard the stories about direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines. Jones summarized the problem with these machines:
Unlike any system resting on paper ballots, none of the information stored inside a direct-recording electronic voting machine can be said to have the status of a legal instrument. Instead, the record is created by the software within the voting machine in response to the voter’s actions, and the record is only as trustworthy as the software itself. It is far from easy to test and inspect software to assure that it functions as advertised, and it is far from easy to assure that the software resident in a machine today is the same software that was authorized for use in that machine months or years ago.11
Jones made this statement in his testimony before U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Science in 2001. Obviously no one paid any attention because now DREs are in use in virtually every state. Indeed, there is now evidence of Georgia’s 2002 election being manipulated.
Stephen Spoonamore, “one of the most prominent cyber-security experts in the country,” investigated a computer patch that was applied to Diebold Election Systems voting machines in Georgia just before the 2002 election. Spoonamore received the Diebold patch from a whistleblower close to the office of Cathy Cox, Georgia’s then-Secretary of State. “The computer patch was installed in person by Diebold CEO Bob Urosevich, who flew in from Texas and applied it in just 2 counties, DeKalb and Fulton, both Democratic strongholds.” The patch was supposed to fix a problem with the computer clock but, after Urosevich installed the patch, the problem wasn't fixed, sending up a red flag to the whistleblower. Cathy Cox didn't know about the “fix” until after the election was over. “Spoonamore confirmed that the patch included nothing to repair a clock problem. Instead, he identified 2 parallel programs, both having the full software code and even the same audio instructions for the deaf. Spoonamore said he could not understand the need for a second copy of the exact same program – and without access to the machine for which the patch was designed, he could not learn more. Instead, he said he took the evidence to the Cyber-Security Division of the Department of Justice and reported the series of events to authorities. The Justice Department has not yet acted on his report.”12
In Alabama’s 2002 governor’s election, former Democratic governor Don Siegelman went to bed thinking he had won. But, “in the dark of the night,” Republican-heavy Baldwin County said that there was a glitch in the computation of the votes and that Siegelman had been given an additional 6,000 votes. Baldwin County uses paper ballots read by an optical scan machine. Officials subtracted 6,000 votes from his tally and awarded the election to Republican Bob Riley, who won by about 3,000 votes. But Auburn University professor James Gundlach crunched the numbers and concluded that Siegelman lost because of “electronic ballot stuffing.” He believed that, “in the dark of the night,” an “operative” accessed the computers and “edited” the results. Siegelman requested and received permission to do a recount of the paper ballots by hand but the state’s attorney general threatened to arrest anyone who did it. No recount was ever done.13
During the 2004 election, there were numerous reports of voters’ reviewing their choices before finalizing them and finding the machine had indicated they voted for a different candidate.13,14 Supporters of these machines say that any problem is purely coincidental, but it’s very suspicious that all problems identified to date have occurred in favor of the Republican candidates.
A study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law says that confusing ballots will continue to be a problem in the up-coming elections. A lack of attention to design could lead to lots of confusion at the polls, particularly if the predicted influx of new voters materializes.15
At least 11 states will use new voting equipment in November and election officials are so worried about possible malfunctions that several states are planning to order lots of backup paper ballots just in case. While more poll workers could help alleviate the problems and confusion, several states say they simply don't have the money to hire everyone they need.16
The bottom line? Make sure you’re registered. Project Vote has a nice summary of the requirements in various states. You can also check your registration at your Secretary of State’s office, most of which are available online. Take your voter registration card with you on election day. Plan on long lines. If your state’s voting equipment allows it, check your vote before finalizing it. And, if you see anything funny, tell someone. You can probably report strange occurrences to your Secretary of State. Political parties will also probably again set up hotlines to report problems.
1 There’s a difference between voter fraud and election fraud. Election fraud refers to doing something to effect the outcome of the election. Voter fraud refers to an individual who is not qualified to vote doing something illegal to cast a vote.
2 Fessler, Pam. Federal Panel on Voter Fraud Scrutinized. National Public Radio, September 10, 2007.
3 Wang, Tova Andrea. A Rigged Report on U.S. Voting? Washington Post, August 30, 2007.
4 Sherman, Mark. Supreme Court Upholds Photo ID Law for Voters in Indiana. Associated Press, April 28, 2008.
5 National Conference of State Legislatures. Requirements for Voter Identification. Updated June 18, 2008.
6 Rosenfeld, Steven. Veterans Department Creates Roadblocks to Voter Registration for Injured Vets. Alternet, April 10, 2008.
7 Palast, Greg. Obama Doesn’t Sweat. He Should. GregPalast.com.
8 Nossiter, Adam. A.C.L.U. Sues Alabama on Ballot Access. The New York Times, July 22, 2008.
9 Anderson, Ed. Voter-Rights Group Cries Foul in State. The Times-Picayune, July 26, 2008.
10 Rosenfeld, Steven. Three States Accused of Illegally Purging Voter Lists. Alternet, July 25, 2008.
11 Jones, Douglas W., Associate Professor of Computer Science, University of Iowa. Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Science, May 22, 2001.
12 Alexandrovna, Larisa & Kane, Muriel. GOP Cyber-Security Expert Suggests Diebold Tampered with 2002 Election. Raw Story, July 18, 2008.
13 Cohen, Adam. A Tale of Three (Electronic Voting) Elections. The New York Times, July 31, 2008.
14 Gross, Grant. More E-Voting Problems Reported: Some Voters Say Machines Indicated They Had Voted For a Different Candidate. IDG News Service, PC World, November 3, 2004.
15 Wolf, Richard. Study: Poor Ballot Designs Still Affect U.S. Elections. USA Today, July 21, 2008.
16 Urbina, Ian. Influx of Voters Expected to Test New Technology. The New York Times, July 21, 2008.
© The Issue Wonk, 2008