Dean, Democrats Debate E-Voting Security
BOSTON -- Former Vermont governor and Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean joined prominent Democrats this week to call attention to the need for election machines that are accurate, secure, and can be audited to ensure the accuracy of vote tallies.
Dean joined U.S. Representative Rush Holt of New Jersey at a press conference with the Campaign for America's Future and Rock the Vote to call attention to a plank in the Democratic party's 2004 platform that calls for voting systems to be "accessible, independently auditable, accurate, and secure," and to excoriate Republicans in Congress and the states who have blocked legislation mandating a paper trail for votes cast using electronic voting machines.
"We can spend millions on security, surely we can do just as much to safeguard the central piece of representative government--the voting process," Holt said. He spoke in a Cambridge, Massachusetts, hotel, just across the Charles River from the FleetCenter, where Democratic Party delegates and luminaries from across the country are meeting to nominate presidential and vice presidential candidates.
Holt was joined briefly by Dean, who said that he initially heard of the now-notorious security problems of prominent electronic voting machines while running for the Democratic nomination and dismissed the complaints as coming from "conspiracy whackos." A closer look convinced Dean of the seriousness of the issues, which he said threatened to undermine democracy in the U.S. if left unaddressed.
"If people don't think votes count, the first thing they'll do is stop voting. And when people stop voting, elected officials will stop caring about [them]," he said.
U.S. Representative Lacy Clay, a Missouri Democrat, talked at the press conference about how the Missouri Secretary of State had suspended the use of electronic voting machines pending further security assessments. California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley also attended. Shelley has issued a directive requiring so-called "touch screen" electronic voting machines to meet minimum security standards and produce a paper trail that can be verified by voters.
Shelley, Dean, and others called on the federal government to institute standards for the security of voting machines and to require that all voting machines can be audited to verify the accuracy of vote tallies.
"The American public wants one thing--and it's not a partisan issue--they want their votes to count in a legitimate election to elect a legitimate president," Shelley said.
Perhaps the most impassioned presentation was by U.S. Representative Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat from Ohio, who railed against resistance within Ohio's Republican-dominated state government and at the federal level to address the issue of voting security. The Bush administration has underfunded or ignored key elements of the Help Americans Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), which set aside almost $4 billion in funding for states to replace outdated voting machines, she said.
In addition, many state voting officials misunderstood the provisions of that law and rushed to purchase expensive electronic voting machines being pushed by vendors such as Diebold before concerns about the security of such machines could be verified. Also, George W. Bush's administration took a full year to establish a commission to establish uniform technical standards that voting machines had to adhere to, and still has not adequately funded its operations, she alleged.
"The [HAVA] Commission couldn't develop [security] standards, because the Commission didn't exist," she said.
Mercer County, New Jersey, Executive Brian Hughes seconded many of Kaptur's claims, saying that his county faced tremendous pressure from electronic voting vendor Sequoia Voting Systems of Oakland, California, to purchase systems by the end of 2003, and still has not received updates to the systems to produce voter verifiable paper receipts, which the county agreed to pay for.
"I think [Sequoia] was driving the train. They had local lobbyists working for them and they were offering us hundreds of thousands of dollars in discounts to close by the end of 2003," he said.
To confront vote tallying problems on Election Day, which many at the press conference believe are inevitable, Kaptur said that Democrats in Ohio are preparing teams of legal and technology experts to act as "circuit riders" on Election Day in November, who will monitor voting and document reports of problems with voting or electronic voting machines.
A number of participants marveled at the speed with which complaints about e-voting security went from an obscure technical concern to a plank in the Democrat's 2004 platform, and warned of dire consequences should there be widespread problems with vote counting on Election Day.
Hans Reimer, Washington political director of Los Angeles, California-based Rock the Vote, said that his youth-oriented nonprofit group has seen a tremendous increase in enthusiasm among younger voters, but cautioned that those same voters could be turned off of the political process if they came to believe that their votes were not counted properly.
"This is a bedrock issue. We're talking voting rights here," said Representative Clay. "If we dona??t get it right this election . . . if we don't get verification of every vote count, we could be responsible for destroying this democracy."