Who is PRI? Are They the Latest Incarnation of the ACVR? And Just Who Do They Think They're Messing with by Attacking the Pro-Democracy Movement with Easily Discredited Info-ganda?
By Brad Friedman on 1/13/2006, 12:46pm PT  

It looks like the Rightwing may have found a replacement for the American Center for Voting Rights (ACVR), the GOP front group set up to smokescreen against true election reform and transparent democracy. The ACVR has been mighty quiet of late, which we might like to attribute to their having been thoroughly discredited and rendered mostly impotent due to some longterm, airtight, crack reporting here by The BRAD BLOG about their attempted democracy-hating scam.

But now, a West Coast "non-partisan" conservative think-tank called Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy (PRI) may be stepping in to fill at least part of the void in the person of TechNews World columnist and PRI Director of Technology Studies, Sonia Arrison. Arrison has been op/ed'ing and releasing "white papers" lately rallying against voter-verified paper ballots for electronic voting machines. Her reasons for being against transparent democracy are both bizarre and seem freshly pulled out of her hind quarters (or out of those of Diebold's).

We'll look at some of her already-discredited charges in a moment, but let's take a look at this PRI group. Their staff seems to be a who's-who of Canadians, staffers of former-California Governor Pete Wilson, former staffers of Tom DeLay ally Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA), and other "conservative" "thinkers".

PRI seems to be little more than yet another dirty dot in the massive now-metastasized matrix of "conservative" think-tanks, phony trade-associations, lobbying firms, consultants, columnists, politicians, "reporters" and other media pimps who are part of a wickedly tentacled network of people and organizations meant to prop up wingnut causes in the press while firing up the unquestioning, lockstep "grass-roots" believers...

You can take a gander at just part of the intricate, interlocking network of connections in this map created by RAW STORY's Larisa Alexandrovna compiled as she was covering the ACVR and their relationship to the phony Baker-Carter "Election Reform" commission.

According to ExxonSecrets, PRI was the recipient of $275,000, between 1998 and 2004, from ExxonMobile because of their work against the Kyoto Treaty.

As well, Vicki Perry reports that PRI "has links to the Cato Institute, American Enteprise Institute and is funded by --- among others --- big tobacco." Perry concludes that Arrison's "world view" (she has been lauded on-air by Limbaugh), now seems to be that we "need surveillance cameras on all the time and don't need paper ballots."

So who might now be paying the PRI bill for their latest crusade against verifiable transparent elections? We don't yet know, but we can take a few guesses from amongst the usual suspects. The PRI website says they are "a non-partisan, non-profit educational charity...Its contributors consist primarily of foundations and individuals, with some corporate support." Sounds all too familiar.

In "Paper trail law for e-voting has fans, foes" John Wildermuth of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that PRI's Arrison, believes the call for voter-verified paper ballots and mandatory audits to count them is one of "California's Top Ten Policy Blunders of 2005." The reason? It will make voting "increasingly difficult and negate the original virtues of e-voting: speed, cost-savings and efficiency."

In other words it doesn't matter if the machines count the votes accurately, as long as they are cheap to operate and fast. Of course, Arrison and PRI ignore all of the studies that prove touch-screen voting machines are much more expensive to purchase and operate than verifiable optical-scan voting systems and other balloting methods.

In her recent "White Paper" on voting technology, Arrison attempts to sell the fallacious premise by suggesting that, "Passing sweeping laws ... to require voter-verified paper trails for touch-screen machines, though well-intentioned, could bankrupt cash-strapped counties and may erode the efficiency of electronic voting managementů"

We may be able to reach an agreement with Arrison here, except instead of getting rid of the "voter-verified paper trail," let's go a little further and save a lot more money by getting rid of the touch-screen machines all together! Other, more reliable and less-expensive systems will do very well, thank you.

(On a side note, did Arrison rally nearly as hard against the budget-busting, privacy-invading "sweeping law" requiring Real ID across the nation as tacked onto a recent Iraq War funding bill by Wisconsin's Rep. James Sensenbrenner? See this AP article for information on the unfunded Federal mandate that has states now in a panic about the law which really could bankrupt many of them!)

Arrison has even gone to battle with transparent election champion, California State Senator, Debra Bowen in the pages of TechNews where she said:

In California and other states, the march to make e-voting machines perfect using legislative dictates is in vogue. For instance, even after California passed a law to force all e-voting machines to have a voter-verified paper audit trail, state Senator Debra Bowen introduced yet more legislation for paper. At this rate, one might expect to find a paper-covered computer in the voting booth.

Bowen's legislation increased the state's commitment to slow, old and inefficient paper voting methods by specifying that "manual recounts of votes" requires that "the paper record copies or the voter verified paper audit trail of the electronically recorded vote are counted manually." In a press release on this issue, she echoed worn out anti-property rhetoric that will ring strange to freedom-loving Californians considering her run for Secretary of State.

Bowen argues that California shouldn't rely on proprietary software to count ballots. "If we want to ensure we have voting systems that are reliable and secure --- and that voters have confidence in --- we need to be moving toward an open source software structure," she says. This argument is a red herring, probably designed to distance her from current Secretary of State Bruce McPherson.

In response to freedom-hating Arrinson's worn out anti-democratic rhetoric, Bowen issued a reply recently in a press release which responds to PRI's propaganda:

"It takes the term Ĺtone deaf' to a whole new level,ö said Senator Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach), the chairwoman of the Senate Elections, Reapportionment & Constitutional Amendments Committee. ôGiven the scandals involving electronic voting machines and the rising number of California voters who are losing faith in the system, how anyone can come out and say with a straight face, ĹLet's trust the voting machine vendors, they know what they're doing' is beyond me."

For her part, Bowen is holding hearings next week in Sacramento on California's implementation of HAVA so far (public invited!). As well, she's announced hearings later in February or March on "Open Source" voting issues.

No doubt, we can expect more pre-paid propaganda in the future out of the Tower of Babble from which the likes of Arrison and her ilk slither. These guys are not likely to give up their fight easily as those of us who actually do give a damn about transparent democracy make more and more headway. Their playing field grows increasingly diminished in direct correlation to the American public becoming ever more educated about what's really at stake. The "bad guys" don't care for that, and will, of course, keep releasing misinformation out of their paid-for-play phony institutions in the bargain wherever they can.

Unfortunately, their side keeps the money flowing freely to prop up their nonsense, while our side is comprised mostly of true grass-roots citizens in the fight simply because it's the right thing to do. We've learned, sadly, there's not a lot of money in that particular market. So for now, to paraphrase someone we recently spoke with who had their tongue only partly in cheek, we'll have to take comfort in the idea that "Democracy itself will have to be its own reward."

Additional Research for this Article by John Gideon of VotersUnite.org