Princeton Professor Listed as Team Member Reveals He Is Not on State Convened Panel
Yet More Reason to Doubt Credibility of Partisan, Interest-Conflicted Group of Scientists Said to be Investigating Failed U.S. House Race in Sarasota...
By Brad Friedman on 2/5/2007, 1:17pm PT  

Blogged by Brad Friedman from Phoenix, AZ...

While Florida's new Republican Governor Charlie Crist deserves credit, perhaps even a rarely-bestowed BRAD BLOG "Intellectually Honest Conservative" Award --- for his recent announcement alongside Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) that he would propose some $32 million to replace the Sunshine State's failed touch-screen voting machines with paper-based optical scan systems, it seems that the old state guard is still lying and covering up for their failed e-voting systems which undermined democracy last November.

An article on the Crist/Wexler initiative from last Friday's New York Times offered this refreshing quote from the Florida Republican on concerns about the cost of tossing the state's recently purchased touch-screen systems: "The price of freedom is not cheap. The importance of a democratic system of voting that we can trust, that we can have confidence in, is incredibly important."

To that, we say, right on. But apparently the folks in Crist's Department of State (DOS) have yet to get the memo that it's time to stop covering up the massive electoral system failures in Florida.

In a blog item today by Princeton University's computer science Professor Ed Felten, he reveals that the state's "independent audit" of the contested 13th Congressional District election between Democrat Christine Jennings and Republican Vern Buchanan --- in which some 18,000 votes disappeared on Sarasota County's paperless touch-screen machines in a race decided by just 369 votes --- is built on more lies than previously realized.

The Princeton University professor who led the team that revealed Diebold touch-screen systems could be hacked in less than 60 seconds and implanted with a vote-stealing virus which could undetectedly flip an entire election has exposed yet another lie from the state-convened team of scientists supposedly investigating the FL-13 incident.

The audit team, convened by state officials at the FL Department of State, has been appropriately criticized for its partisan make-up, lack of transparency, and apparent conflicts of interest in demonstrating that they were not to blame for having certified the very voting systems they have charged themselves with "investigating."

Felten, however, has revealed the case is even worse than that. Apparently they have lied about who is actually on the team, listing Felten in official documents as one of the team members despite his early refusal to take part in the state-run investigation...

According to a report [PDF] on the DOS website, Felten is listed as one of "the initial team of the principal investigators":

The following members shall comprise the initial team of the principal investigators:

Alec Yasinsac, Associate Professor, Computer Science Department, Florida State University
Mike Burmester, Professor, Computer Science Department, Florida State University
Breno de Medeiros, Assistant Professor, Computer Science Department, Florida State University
Ed Felten, Professor, Computer Science Department, Princeton University
Michael Shamos, Professor Computer Science Department, Carnegie-Mellon University
David Wagner, Associate Professor, Computer Science Division, University of California-Berkley
Matt Bishop, Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of California-Davis

...And yet, in his blog item today, critical for the most part of the state-run audit, Felten directly contradicts the published DOS report:

Oddly, I am listed in the official Statement of Work (SOW) as a principal investigator on the study team, even though I am not a member of the team. Many people have asked how this happened. The short answer is that I discussed with representatives of DOS the possibility of participating, but eventually it became clear that the study they wanted to commission was far from the complete, independent study I had initially thought they wanted.

The biggest limitation on the study is that DOS is withholding information and resources needed for a complete study. Most notably, they are not providing access to voting machines. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that if you want to understand the behavior of voting machines, it helps to have a voting machine to examine. DOS could have provided or facilitated access to a machine, but it apparently chose not to do so.

So the state is relying on an investigation which does not have access to the actual voting machines they are supposed to be investigating and has lied about who is actually participating in the investigation. As we're on the road, we're unable to follow up with the other listed team members to find out if they are actually working on the team, but we'd welcome anyone who wishes to follow up to report back to us, or fill out that detail in comments below.

One other point from Felten's blog is worth noting here. Colleagues of the Republican partisan Prof. Alec Yasinsac have previously defended the state's choice of naming him to lead the "investigative" team, claiming that although he might be partisan --- he was famously seen on the Florida Supreme Court stairs in 2000, proudly sporting a "BUSH WON" button --- he'd never sacrifice his scientific ethics in favor of a fellow Republican candidate.

According to Felten today:

The good news is that the team doing the study is very strong technically, so there is some hope of a useful result despite the limited scope of the inquiry. There have been some accusations of political bias against team members, but knowing several members of the team I am confident that these charges are misguided and the team won’t be swayed by partisan politics. The limits on the study aren’t coming from the team itself.

As we've pointed out previously in response to similar Yasinsac defenders, such as Livermore National Labratories' David Jefferson and Johns-Hopkins' Avi Rubin, the scientists here, including Felten, whom we respect for their computer/security skills, seem to be somewhat politically naive.

What they don't acknowledge in their defense of Yasinsac is that even the appearance of conflict of interest potentially compromises the integrity of any report on FL-13 as released by the state.

If, as the scientists aver, Yasinsac will assiduously report any problems discovered in the hardware or software of the systems he is supposedly analyzing, that's great. If, however, the state fails to find any problems in the system, as they have so far indicated, the report itself will be seen as compromised. Thus, concerns about what happened in FL-13 won't go away.

Yasinsac may indeed be a very fine fellow. We'll take the word of Jefferson, Rubin and Felten on that. But this investigation is not about Yasinsac's credibility, it is about finding out what happened to the ballots of 18,000 voters in Florida who seem to have been effectively disenfranchised, and the many more thousands who may have had democracy and legitimate representative government taken from them.

Those voters deserve credible answers about what went on during that election. Partisan investigators with documented conflicts of interest are unlikely to provide the definitive peace of mind that Sarasota voters deserve.

But this is the Banana Republic of Florida after all. So it may take quite awhile --- even for someone with the apparent intellectual honesty of their new governor --- to wind back the clock on the systemic corruption of the democracy-haters in the Sunshine State who have undermined the most basic American value, the right to vote and to have one's vote counted and counted accurately, during the unholy reign of the former governor Jeb Bush.

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