Who Really Won?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Battle for Pennasota: Even (Some) Republicans Are Concerned

To determine what it would take to hack a U.S. election, a team of cybersecurity experts turned to a fictional battleground state called Pennasota and a fictional gubernatorial race between Tom Jefferson and Johnny Adams. It's the year 2007, and the state uses electronic voting machines.

Jefferson was forecast to win the race by about 80,000 votes, or 2.3 percent of the vote. Adams's conspirators thought, "How easily can we manipulate the election results?"

The experts thought about all the ways to do it. And they concluded in a report issued yesterday that it would take only one person, with a sophisticated technical knowledge and timely access to the software that runs the voting machines, to change the outcome.

The report, which was unveiled at a Capitol Hill news conference by New York University's Brennan Center for Justice and billed as the most authoritative to date, tackles some of the most contentious questions about the security of electronic voting.

The report concluded that the three major electronic voting systems in use have significant security and reliability vulnerabilities. But it added that most of these vulnerabilities can be overcome by auditing printed voting records to spot irregularities. And while 26 states require paper records of votes, fewer than half of those require regular audits.

"With electronic voting systems, there are certain attacks that can reach enough voting machines . . . that you could affect the outcome of the statewide election," said Lawrence D. Norden, associate counsel of the Brennan Center.

Entire article here, including the news that a couple of Republicans can sense a problem:

Republican Reps. Tom Cole (Okla.) and Thomas M. Davis III (Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, joined Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.) in calling for a law that would set strict requirements for electronic voting machines. Howard Schmidt, former chief of security at Microsoft and President Bush's former cybersecurity adviser, also endorsed the Brennan report.

"It's not a question of 'if,' it's a question of 'when,' " Davis said of an attempt to manipulate election results.

And even the easiest possible fixes aren't being done:

The most widely used electronic-voting systems all have flaws that can be addressed relatively easily, but few states and counties have actually implemented recommended security measures, researchers concluded Tuesday.

Even the printing of paper records — widely seen as a countermeasure to hacking and other attacks on ATM-like touchscreen machines — does little good if audits aren't routinely and automatically performed, researchers said. Their report said that fewer than half of the 26 states requiring paper records also require regular audits.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


A bipartisan bill to extend the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a crown jewel of the U.S. civil rights era, was unexpectedly and indefinitely delayed on Wednesday due to objections by some southern Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The controversy centered on extra scrutiny faced by nine states in the U.S. South with a legacy of civil rights violations, and on requirements that some districts supply bilingual ballots to voters whose English is poor.

House Republican leaders, who had expected a straightforward vote with support from both Republicans and Democrats on Wednesday afternoon, instead indefinitely put off consideration of the bill after a furor in a routine weekly party meeting in the morning.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Georgia Out Of Mind

Georgia's July 18 primary elections are less than a month away and still the state's voter ID cards haven't been issued.

The state Board of Elections on Monday is expected to approve final rules governing the state's new photo voter IDs. The rules must still be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice but state Elections Board Chairman Tex McIver said that will be little more than a formality and could come as soon as Monday afternoon. The Justice Department has already approved the state's new voter ID law.

McIver said that barring intervention by the courts, officials could probably begin issuing the voter ID cards by the end of the month.

"I think we are going to be ready for the primary," McIver said. "It's just down to a ministerial function now."

The rules the board will consider Monday involve who gets the photo ID cards, what hours the issuing sites must be open, and what documents can be used to obtain the cards.

Only voters without a driver's license, passport or other valid government-issued photo ID will need the new ID cards.

The wild card is whether the courts will step in. Emmet Bondurant, the lawyer for the a coalition of groups who oppose Georgia's voter ID law, has said he will ask U.S. District Court Judge Harold Murphy for an injunction once federal officials sign off.

Last year, Murphy blocked enforcement of Georgia's first voter ID law, saying it amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax. He also raised questions about whether the IDs would be readily available in remote parts of the state. The law makes Georgia one of just seven states to require that voters show a photo ID to vote.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Fact Checking the Fact Checking

Salon posted an article that 'fact checked' the Rolling Stone article questioning the 2004 election. Now they've printed a response.

A close look at the Ohio results proves this. The official count in the 2004 Ohio election credited Kerry with 48.7 percent of the vote. The 10.9 percentage point disparity between the official count and the exit poll results in those same precincts indicates that Bush's exit poll results was 5.45 percentage points lower than his official numbers and that Kerry's exit poll result was 5.45 percentage points higher, or 54.2 percent. A layman's intuition may tell you that the difference between 48.7 percent and 54.2 percent is not large and you might be tempted to write it off "to chance."

But bell-curve mathematics tells us that the expected range, the polling margin of error, should have been within 47.1 percent to 50.3 percent; 95 percent of the area under the bell curve -- 95 percent of the possible results -- is within this range. And 99 percent of the time the result would fall between 46.6 percent and 50.8 percent. If, in fact, 48.7 percent of the voters in the surveyed Ohio precincts had cast their ballots for Kerry, there should be an even probability of his receiving 48.7 percent or less in the exit poll survey.

Yet the exit poll result falls at the 54.2 percent mark. This is well outside the area where all the probability is located. In fact there is virtually no chance that such a survey would produce a result higher than around 51.9 percent. And this is just one state. All told, 26 states had similar anomalous results. The odds are astronomical that the exit poll results could have been so far off in the same direction in so many states.

In New Mexico, there was a 7.8 percentage point disparity; and in Ohio, 10.9 percentage point disparity. Given respective official victory margins of 2.6, 0.8, and 2.1 percentage points in these states, we can say with a very high degree of certainty that exit poll results indicate a Kerry victory. Had Kerry won these states (or even just Ohio), he would have won the presidency.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Corporate Media Says We Blew It (Again)



The blogosphere has been abuzz. But in the days since Rolling Stone magazine published a long piece that accused Republicans of widespread and intentional cheating that affected the outcome of the last presidential election, the silence in America's establishment media has been deafening.

In terms of bad news judgment, this could turn out to be the 2006 equivalent of the infamous "Downing Street memo," the London Times story that was initially greeted by the U.S. media with a collective yawn.

Robert Kennedy Jr.'s Rolling Stone mega-essay is titled "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?" It focuses on widespread voting irregularities, questionable tallies and disenfranchising practices, particularly in Ohio, which President Bush won by more than 100,000 votes.

Singling out Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell for much of the blame, Kennedy writes persuasively that enough was awry in that state alone to raise serious questions as to whether Bush really defeated John Kerry in 2004. Blackwell, now a Republican candidate for governor, headed Bush's state re-election campaign at the same time he was constitutionally in charge of the state's voting machinery.

While Kennedy's article perhaps gives far too much weight to suspicious discrepancies between exit polls and the final election outcome, it meticulously asserts and documents questionable methods of purging voter rolls, intentionally created long lines at Democratic polling places, court-defying practices regarding registrations and provisional ballots, a phony terrorist alert on Election Day and final tallies in some counties and precincts that, to Kennedy's way of seeing it, simply don't make sense. Already, it notes, three Cleveland-area election officials have been indicted for illegally rigging the recount.

But if you were looking in the five or six days afterward for follow-up stories, investigations or even a mention in the P-I, its cross-town competitor or just about any other major U.S. newspaper, you were almost certainly disappointed.

To his credit, CNN's Wolf Blitzer aired a brief and not-very-illuminating interview with Kennedy late the next day after the Rolling Stone issue hit the newsstands. There was a brief mention on the Lou Dobbs report later that same evening and MSNBC got around to mentioning the article's assertions several days later.

But for the most part, national and regional newspapers, the major networks and news services have behaved as if the article was never published, that it broke no new ground and there was nothing of interest or significance in it.

Understandably, some readers are asking why. One Whidbey Island resident e-mailed the news editors of the P-I and The Seattle Times simultaneously, asking "Which one of you has the honesty and guts to investigate and report about the charges that Robert Kennedy Jr. has written about in regards to stolen 2004 presidential election?

"That someone could claim that our American electoral process was criminally thwarted should be BIG news."

Despite the critical tone in his note to Aegerter and his Times counterpart, our reader, and others who have similarly complained, are right.

It is news. It certainly deserves mention, at the very least in stories about the story, reaction to it or even ones debunking it. Any of those choices would be better judgment than simply ignoring it.

Those of us in what bloggers and Internet journalists derisively call "mainstream media" should have learned that lesson last year, when Internet-fueled curiosity about the "Downing Street memo" made us pay attention to a story we were too quick to dismiss as old news. Badly undervaluing the significance and the public's interest in the new disclosures, we thought former Bush administration officials, including ex-Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and White House counterterrorism aide Richard Clarke, had told us a year earlier that the administration had a predisposition for war with Iraq long before the attack, and long before diplomatic pressures had been exhausted. On hindsight, some of us realize now we should have recognized the newsworthiness of the secret memo and the 2002 meeting it chronicled, even if the report only provided corroboration of something we'd already heard.

The P-I's editorial pages noted the secret British memo in columns before news of it was finally published on the news pages of ours and most other U.S. newspapers. But even so, that was nearly two weeks after Times of London's initial report.

The parallels to the Kennedy article are hard to escape.

Like most newspapers our size, the P-I relies on news services for most of its national and international news. Managing Editor David McCumber did what good editors at regional and midsized newspapers often do. He called The Associated Press and asked if a report would be forthcoming. He got back the predictable and disappointing response that the news cooperative's Washington and national editors had looked at Kennedy's report and determined there was "nothing new."

It is true that there have been reports about voting problems in Ohio since election night. But Kennedy's article is not just old news rehashed. Its 11,000 words, not counting the 208 footnotes, most of which contain Web addresses for links to source information, are certainly overreaching at times. For those with mistrust or partisan fervor against Bush, Kennedy's reporting will sound like evidence of fraud and election tampering that rivals the shenanigans of the worst Third World dictators.

For those who read it with a more balanced view, there is plenty to fuel outrage about imperfections and potential for manipulation of the electoral system.

It's too early to tell whether it will become big news in the same delayed manner the British intelligence memo did. But the titans of the news industry still have things to learn about how news becomes news in the present-day media landscape. Editors will always have responsibility for filtering, and helping readers understand the importance and credibility of news reports.

But nowadays, the American discourse is rightfully in hands other than ours.

© 1998-2006 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Blackwell Gets to Set Rules for his Own Election

Democrats and representatives of voter-registration groups accused Secretary of State Ken Blackwell on Monday of trying to rig this November's election by publishing draconian new rules governing the activities of people who register voters.

Testifying at a hearing chaired by Judy Grady, Blackwell's director of elections, lawyers for ACORN, Common Cause, the Ohio Democratic Party and other groups said training documents drafted by Blackwell's office are so vague that they subject registrars to felony penalties for even inadvertent violations.

As a result, ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, has drastically cut back its voter-registration efforts while its lawyers review the new rules, Katy Gall, Ohio ACORN's head organizer, said in an interview.

Gall said ACORN has registered 35,000 voters in six Ohio cities since February. Its goal is 130,000.

Samuel Gresham, an attorney for Common Cause, charged that the rules are "part of a consistent pattern, intentionally so," by Blackwell to disenfranchise black, low-income and Democratic voters.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


Poorly titled, but essential reading at Rolling Stone by Robert Kennedy:

But what is most anomalous about the irregularities in 2004 was their decidedly partisan bent: Almost without exception they hurt John Kerry and benefited George Bush. After carefully examining the evidence, I've become convinced that the president's party mounted a massive, coordinated campaign to subvert the will of the people in 2004.

Yep, still defies belief. And yes, still no explanation for those exit polls:

What's more, Freeman found, the greatest disparities between exit polls and the official vote count came in Republican strongholds. In precincts where Bush received at least eighty percent of the vote, the exit polls were off by an average of ten percent. By contrast, in precincts where Kerry dominated by eighty percent or more, the exit polls were accurate to within three tenths of one percent -- a pattern that suggests Republican election officials stuffed the ballot box in Bush country.

"When you look at the numbers, there is a tremendous amount of data that supports the supposition of election fraud," concludes Freeman. "The discrepancies are higher in battleground states, higher where there were Republican governors, higher in states with greater proportions of African-American communities and higher in states where there were the most Election Day complaints. All these are strong indicators of fraud -- and yet this supposition has been utterly ignored by the press and, oddly, by the Democratic Party."

Too much to quote, go read it already...