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Judge Michael Miller, in a carefully reasoned and balanced opinion, today ordered the release of the final Diebold GEMS tabulator database files from the contested 2006 Regional Transport Authority (RTA) election 2006 primary and general elections . The judge denied, without prejudice, full public access to every MDB and GBF database file for the 2006 elections in the possession of Pima County until and unless the plaintiffs can address remaining security concerns which might arise from that larger release.
[CORRECTION: Several correspondents point out correctly that the databases for the 2006 Primary and General elections have been released, but not those of the RTA election, which was a mid-year election. Sources near the case speculate that perhaps the judge believed that the RTA election may have been tampered with and did not want further controversy around the results of that election.]
The BRAD BLOG has been following this case closely because unsecured tabulation systems like GEMS are widely used in American elections and completely open to insider manipulation. For background and detailed commentary about the case see my 12/8/07 wrap-up post on the trial.
The immediate goal of the Democratic party --- to be able to look closer at the final election databases for the 2006 election --- is fully satisfied by the ruling. But the broader goal of being able to look at a time series of backups for discrepancies or discontinuities that could indicate manipulation, as Arizona Election Integrity advocates have feared, is stymied for the moment...
The final day of testimony over the Pima County Democratic Party's public records request featured the remainder of the county's witnesses for the defense, a surprise call on an adverse witness, and pugnacious closing arguments. The matter now rests with Judge Michael Miller, who says he will decide the case within the next two weeks.
In brief, the Pima County (Tucson) Democratic Party is demanding Pima County release the Diebold GEMS tabulator databases containing voting data from the 2006 election, and those from all future elections, arguing that they are public records. The GEMS software is highly insecure, allowing anyone with access to the computer it runs on to manipulate the outcome of elections at will and likely cover their tracks. Elections are thus highly succeptable to manipulation by elections insiders, and there is no way to detect or deter them without access to the databases for forensic analysis. Pima County's position is that we should trust them to take care of that risk through internal checks and balances, and that releasing the databases simply creates more security risks by outsiders seeking to hack an election.
Both experts sought to convince the judge of the many security threats posed by release of the GEMS databases, and in my view, failed to sustain that position under the cross examination of the Democrats' attorney Bill Risner. Risner poked holes in all the threat scenarios the experts presented, showing them to be impracticable, absurd, or simply undefined.
The trial is heading into overtime. What was to be the third and final day of the trial ended with the Democratic Party having rested their case at the afternoon break and the County just getting into their witness list. Judge Miller called to reconvene at 8:30 a.m. Friday morning with a determination to finish the trial.
In brief, the Pima County (Tucson) Democratic Party is challenging Pima County to release the Diebold GEMS tabulator databases containing voting data from the 2006 election, and those from all future elections, on the presumption that they should be public records. There is a belief that the databases, if obtained by the party, may show fraud or other malfeasance by county election officials. The county maintains that releasing such information will make tampering in future elections easier, even though those same county officials and insiders have all the means and opportunity to manipulate elections.
Crane didn't do the county any favors. He undermined his own credibility, developed a great fondness for the expression "I can't recall," and, upon questioning by Judge Miller, revealed that the security threats the County claims are posed by the release of the GEMS database following an election are illusory or highly implausible.
Once the Democratic Party rested their case, the county moved for a judgment as a matter of law, which asks the judge to decide the case in their favor on just the plaintiff's testimony. It is largely a pro forma motion, but it provided an opportunity for counsels to frame the case thus far. Democrats' attorney Bill Risner took the opportunity to test a few of the themes that will likely figure in his closing arguments.
That footage of Risner making his case, is about 10 minutes long and is presented at the end of this post, hot off our press pool camera, in a BRAD BLOG exclusive. The judge took only a few minutes to decide that the plaintiffs had presented a sufficient case that the County must proceed with their side of the case.
The County put on their first witness, the elections director of Gila County, Arizona, another jurisdiction using an identical GEMS tabulation system. The choice backfired significantly. Her testimony revealed that she was completely ignorant of any security issues with the Diebold system her county uses, presumably because she relies on the Arizona Secretary of State and the Diebold corporation for security information. Her county contracts out their election preparation to a private company based in Glendale, Arizona, rather than do it in-house like in Pima County. The private company she contracts with just sends them back a prepared database, which the county then uses in their elections, never having checked the contents of the database.
Except for logic and accuracy testing (running a few sample ballots), the integrity of Gila County's elections rests entirely on the honesty of that private contractor.
The county then put on Merle King, the director of Georgia's Kennesaw College Center for Election Systems. The Democrats' legal team calls him 'The Man from Diebold.' He is a professional expert witness in voting systems who never saw a Diebold system he didn't love. The county made quite a production of eliciting the information that Mr. King had been paid the handsome sum of $10 to appear. I guess it was meant to illustrate how independent he is, but his expenses are being underwritten by someone: my money is on Diebold. His testimony and more will be available tomorrow.
In the meantime, enjoy the Democratic Party's champion Bill Risner presenting his motion for judgment, direct from the courtroom yesterday...
It was a day packed with testimony Wednesday in Tucson as the plaintiffs' attorney, Bill Risner, continued to crank through his witness list. The day ended with the last witness that will be called by the Democratic Party, Bryan Crane, whom Pima County Attorneys have repeatedly labeled "much maligned," just preparing for a rehabilitating friendly cross-examination by Pima County attorneys. Crane's testimony is pivotal to the case, and will be posted in its entirety tomorrow after cross and re-direct are complete.
To get up to speed with details on what this trial about, please see my introductory post, and if you missed yesterday's action, you may want to take a look at my summary of day one. In general, the Pima County (Tucson) Democratic Party, is challenging Pima County to release the Diebold GEMS tabulator databases containing voting data from the 2006 election on the presumption that it should be of public record. There is a belief that the databases, if obtained by the party, may show fraud and other malfeasance by county election officials. The county maintains that releasing such information will make tampering in future elections more feasible, even though those same county officials and insiders, currently have the easiest route to tampering with such elections, since they already have all the access they need to such information.
The witnesses on Wednesday included a slate of employees from the Pima County elections department. The summaries of the testimony of Isabel Araiza, Robert Evans, Chester Crowley, Romi Romero, and Mary Martinson are posted together on BlogForArizona.
These employees' testimony was sought by the plaintiffs to try to establish a pattern of negligent oversight and security procedures at the elections department, including the actions of head programmer, Bryan Crane (deposition video footage of Crane at bottom of this article), taking backups of election data home and illegally printing summaries that included current vote totals in the midst of elections and then sharing that data with persons not part of the election department.
The prime witnesses of the day, however, were Brad Nelson, the director of the elections department, Crane, the "much maligned" head programmer, and the man with responsibility for the entire bureaucracy, Chuck Huckleberry, the County Administrator...
It was an eventful day in the courtroom in Pima County yesterday, with opening statements and the first two plaintiff's witnesses' testimony. Already, the general shape of the controversy is becoming more clear and many of the media access issues have been favorably resolved. The Election Integrity press pool is providing video to local news and other interested parties on a non-exclusive basis and there is a ground-swell of support and interest in the trial and use of the resultant footage among journalists and documentarians.
See our initial backgrounder/intro to this trial, as posted yesterday, right here.
The position of the Democratic Party, argued in the courtroom yesterday, is that the statutory role of the political parties in Arizona, and in America historically, has been to oversee and participate deeply in our elections. The elections belong to the people, not the government. The database the party seeks access to on behalf of all political parties is the only computer record of the election that can provide the information needed to ensure that elections insiders cannot, and have not, manipulated the election. Absent a clear statement by the legislature, the parties should not be denied access to this crucial information to carry out their traditional role of ensuring the public's political rights. Certainly no tortured interpretation of outdated language regarding computer technology from a statute written in the 1980s should be allowed to deny the people access to their election data, only a clear and unambiguous expression from the legislature should be able to do that.
The position of Pima County, however, is that the database requested must remain confidential.
They argue that providing the database to the political parties would violate the standards promulgated by the Arizona Secretary of State because the files contain procedural information and code that is used to program elections machines, and could reveal information that might compromise future elections. The county agrees that the Diebold GEMS software used to tabulate votes has serious security flaws, but that is all the more reason to not allow the information in the database into the public domain...
I am Michael Bryan, an attorney and blogger whose home is Tucson, Arizona. Starting today and continuing through Thursday, at BlogForArizona.com (my blog) and The BRAD BLOG, I will be covering the trial of Pima County Democratic Party v. Pima County. The proceedings will be live-blogged at BlogForArizona every day, with a daily summary posted each evening of the trial here at The BRAD BLOG.
The trial concerns the Pima County Democratic Party's demand for access to public records. Specifically, they seek access to database files that contain the raw tabulator vote data from a past local bond election. They seek to establish the public's right to inspect and analyze those records to search for any irregularities or manipulation by elections department insiders. Ideally, the Democrats want the judge to declare that all such files must be given to all political parties in Pima County in all future elections, so that public scrutiny can help ensure that the vote is honestly counted.
Why the concern that public officials, whose job it is to count the vote, may be instead manipulating the vote? Because the software Pima County (and many, many other jurisdictions around the country) is using to tabulate the vote is "fundamentally flawed" as to security according to an independent audit [PDF] commissioned by the Arizona Attorney General.
The "fundamentally flawed" software is made by Diebold and is called Global Election Management Software, or GEMS. Election integrity activists and researchers have long known that vote totals can be easily manipulated by insiders with access to the computers on which GEMS runs. The software is so fundamentally insecure that vote data can be changed by simply using the common database software Microsoft Access --- and the fraud can potentially be completely untraceable. With security conditions like that, it becomes imperative that the public have oversight of that data, just as the public has (or should have) oversight over the rest of the elections process.
If you would like to just listen to a discussion of the issues in the trial, please take a few minutes to listen to my recent interview with Action Point host Cynthia Black on Phoenix' Air America station...
For additional context here, I'll point you to a video (at right) of one of the men at the center of this controversy, Pima County's Election Director Brad Nelson. BRAD BLOG readers may remember this remarkable video referred to as "Election Director Gone Wild" as Nelson breaks into a tirade after being questioned by Pima County Election Integrity activist, John Brakey, about the Diebold DRE voting systems that Nelson was preparing, back then, in February of 2006, to bring into the county.
Please check my blog, BlogForArizona.com, for regular updates on the trial as it unfolds, and here at The BRAD BLOG for updates at the end of the days proceedings today through Thursday. Please use the comments on either blog to ask questions or make suggestions, we'll have someone monitoring the comments during the trial and will do our best to respond.