By Brad Friedman on 5/17/2010, 7:13pm PT  

Tuesday's election are being called "Super Tuesday" by some in the media hoping to hype the four-state Election Day as a bellwether for the "anti-incumbency fever" predicted by the same media for this November.

But beyond the marquee races in each of the states holding elections tomorrow --- Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, Oregon (and Hawaii is currently holding an all-mail special election which ends on Saturday) --- as usual, we'll be keeping our eyes on whether voters are actually able to cast their votes, and whether or not those votes are actually counted and counted accurately.

The mix of states holding elections tomorrow also offer a mix of electoral systems --- from a majority of voters using 100% unverifiable touch-screen machines in use in KY and PA, to a compilation of touch-screen and paper ballot systems run by a company with a disastrous reliability record in AR, to the black hole of all mail-in voting in OR (and in HI).

Remember, whatever happens or gets reported (or doesn't) on Tuesday, it's often the case that concerns about failures in the system don't necessarily become immediately apparent on Election Day itself. Sometimes problems in the system and in the tallies do not begin to emerge until days, weeks, and sometimes even months after Election Day. So whatever we see in the surface reports tomorrow, for good or bad (and, as usual, you can count on various reports of "glitches," "hiccups," "snags," and "snafus" which use those words to marginalize problems, instead of the correct word: "failures") may just be the tip of any electoral icebergs beneath the surface. As usual, eternal vigilance by the citizenry is the hallmark of the ongoing fight for electoral integrity and transparency in these United States.

Here then is a general BRAD BLOG backgrounder on each state heading to the polls, its marquee race or races, the electoral systems used in each, and what you can do to help keep an eye out for any election integrity issues as they could emerge...


Marquee Race: Dr. Rand Paul, son of the former Libertarian and Republican Presidential candidate, Congressman Ron Paul of TX, holds a double-digit lead over "establishment candidate" Trey Grayson for the GOP U.S. Senate nomination to replace retiring Sen. Jim Bunning. Grayson, the state's Secretary of State, held a double-digit lead over Paul a year ago, but the trend has completely reversed and Paul, endorsed by Sarah Palin and Bunning and frequently referred to in the media as the "Tea Party candidate" is now the favorite over Grayson who was endorsed by Dick Cheney and Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell.

The "Tea Party," however, may be in for a surprise should Paul win tomorrow and then in November, as he is an actual conservative candidate --- now otherwise known as a libertarian --- meaning he, like his father, calls for removing government entirely from all but those functions called for directly in the Constitution. For example, he supports an immediate pull out of U.S. troops from both Iraq and Afghanistan, an idea that, in truth, is largely anathema to the bulk of the grossly disinformed "Tea Baggers"/GOP base (versus the true "Tea Partiers" who first emerged in 2006 in support of Ron Paul, against George W. Bush, and who were consequently marginalized as wackos back then by the bulk of the GOP and its Bush-lovin' base.)

Election System/Concerns: As Sec. of State, Grayson will oversee his own contest on Tuesday, in a state rife with decades of electoral system gaming, recent federal convictions for election fraud by top election officials and 100% unverifiable electronic voting machines. In all, KY has all the ingredients for a perfect electoral disaster, but one that, should it happen, may or may not be visible or even provable after polls close, given the e-voting systems in use in the state.

A great number of KY voters will cast their votes on Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, often touch-screen) voting systems. There is absolutely no way to know after the election whether any vote cast on a such a machine has actually been recorded as per any voter's intent. It is, in short, 100% faith-based voting. Whatever the machines report, no matter how much the results may or may not make sense, there is little if anything that can be done by citizens or candidates to confirm their veracity.

That is, of course, disturbing for any state, but particularly so in the Bluegrass State this year, given that Grayson is overseeing his own election in a state with a history of electoral gaming, most frequently demonstrated by the federal convictions for election fraud earlier this year by 6 top election officials --- including the County Clerk, District Judge and School Superintendent --- in Clay County, where prosecutors charged, and a jury found, that the cabal had been gaming elections for decades.

Included in the charges was that Republican conspirators had changed party affiliations to serve as "Democratic" poll judges and, perhaps most disturbingly, had actually changed the votes of voters on the ES&S touch-screen voting machines in 2006 after voters had cast their votes and left the "booths." Prior to the Clay County arrests, e-voting proponents (both officials and vendors) had long-argued that though such machines could be tampered with during elections, there was no proof that anyone actually had, so there was nothing to worry about.

The same machines on which votes were flipped by election officials in 2006 in Clay County will still be in use across the state in many counties on Tuesday. The good news is that some 90 counties are finally switching to paper ballot voting for this election. That's good news, because a paper ballot can actually be counted, if anybody chooses to do so (they usually don't, opting to trust in optical-scanners instead), but new systems can also lead to problems, the first few times they are used in particular.

We've twice invited Paul to discuss the serious e-voting concerns over the past several weeks when we were guest hosting the nationally syndicated Mike Malloy Show. In both cases, his scheduler expressed what seemed to be positive interest, only to eventually decline, citing scheduling conflicts, after we'd made clear that we wanted to ask what Paul and his supporters were doing to ensure election integrity issues for the election, given that any means to effectively defend against such gaming, giving the system in use, would need to take place in advance of the election, rather than on the day of or in the days after.

County-by-county map of e-voting systems in KY... [NOTE: The linked database shows 2008 systems, and has not yet been updated to reflect the counties moving to paper ballots systems yet.]


Marquee Race(s): Congressman Joe Sestak is challenging Sen. Arlen Specter for the Democratic Primary nomination for U.S. Senate after Specter's recent switch from R to D in the face of the likelihood that he'd be defeated for the GOP nomination by former Congressman Pat Toomey on the Republican side. Specter has been backed by President Obama and the state's Democratic Party apparatchik, but the NetRoots-supported Sestak has closed the gap against Specter and the race could be a very close one.

Another contest, a special election to fill the seat of the deceased Rep. John Murtha (D) in PA's 12th Congressional district, is believe to be, according to the latest pre-election polls, a "dead heat" [PDF] between right-leaning Democratic candidate Mark Critz and his Republican opponent Tim Burns.

Election System/Concerns: Like KY, the Keystone State uses largely 100% unverifiable DRE/touch-screen systems. Whatever they tell us at the end of the day will be almost impossible to verify as accurate one way or the other.

PA faced a litany of voting systems failures in their 2008 primary when systems simply failed to boot up in Philadelphia and in Pittsburgh, and thus, voters were often left with long wait times and/or unable to cast a vote at all.

In 2008, prior to the general election, voting rights activists had to go to court to challenge the Democratic Sec. of the Commonwealth Pedro Cortes, who had refused to order the distribution of emergency paper ballots unless all voting machines in the polling place had failed. The activists were successful in getting a court to order that distribution of paper ballots would happen in the event of half of the machines failing at any given polling place.

The heavily gerrymandered 12th District special election stretches across 9 different counties, each with its own election system, most of which are either ES&S or Diebold touch-screen systems. The former purchased the latter's election division last year, only to eventually be forced by the DoJ to sell off the assets in a settlement to an anti-trust suit filed against the mega-merger. ES&S has yet to announce a buyer, and still largely controls most of those Diebold assets. So it'll be largely an ES&S election there, run on the same machines which were used to steal votes in Clay County, KY, in 2006, and which simply lost 18,000 votes all together in a special election for the U.S. House in Sarasota in that same year. The same machines have also notoriously flipped on-screen votes from one candidate to another in election after election over the last several cycles.

County-by-county map of e-voting systems in PA...


Marquee Race: Extremely Right-leaning Democratic U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln is facing a primary challenge by the state's slightly-less-Right-leaning Lt. Governor Bill Halter, who has been supported by unions and some in the NetRoots. Lincoln has a sizable enough lead over Halter in recent pre-election polls, but state election law requires she receive 50% + 1 to avoid a runoff election on June 8th. She's currently polling less than 50% as she faces both Halter and a guy named D.C. Morrison, who claims to be a life-long Dem, but who seems, according to a recent debate we watched a couple of weeks ago, to have positions identical to the farthest Right of Republicans. His candidacy seems to have all the hallmarks of a dirty trickster who may help to throw the election into a run-off, for whatever that may be worth.

On the Republican side, there are 8 candidates vying for the GOP Senatorial nod. That race is very likely to result in a June 8th run-off between Tuesday's top two vote-getters as well.

Election System/Concerns: Arkansas' 75 counties use a mix of DRE systems and paper ballot systems, the bulk of which are made and supported by ES&S. They also have a storied history of failure with the company and with their machines used across much of the state.

In 2008 election workers failed to "zero out" machines after pre-election tests; local primary election results were overturned and reversed after problems which "should not have been possible," according to officials, were discovered on touch-screens in a number of counties; and a series of other fiasco's plagued state elections, including disparities of thousands of votes, faulty memory cards and much more.

In 2006, there were reports of vote-flipping on the ES&S iVotronics as well as on the Diebold machines; meltdowns that included more votes cast than voters who lived in the town, inexplicably high undervote rates in other places, and in one town, a mayoral candidate found that he received ZERO votes, although both he and his wife, at least, tried to cast votes for him.

There were many more problems in AR in 2006, see here, here and here for just a few more. Many of those problems had to do with ES&S simply failing to properly serve the state's needs, to test machines properly, to print ballots in time and to program electronic systems correctly so that tabulators malfunctioned and a number of counties canceled use of electronic voting systems all together. It was an utter mess.

That is, of course, what comes of relying on private companies to handle public functions like elections, all of which continues to imperil democracy year after year across the country. This year is no exception. Let's hope all goes more smoothly for Arkansan voters on Tuesday.

County-by-county map of e-voting systems in AR...


Marquee Race: Most notable is probably the open-seat gubernatorial primary contests on both the R and D sides. The D side includes former OR Sec. of State Bill Bradbury vying against former Gov. John Kitzhaber.

Election System/Concerns: Oregon has entirely Vote-by-Mail (VBM) elections, which lots of Beaver Staters think is terrific, even though many of them don't seem to realize that their votes are still counted by electronic, computerized tabulators. Please spare us the email from Oregonians about how wonderful this system is, as we appreciate that you like it, even though we don't. Though problems don't seem to crop up with Oregon elections, much of that may have to do with procedures put in place by their former, excellent Sec. of State Bradbury. But beyond that, Vote-by-Mail problems are particularly difficult to notice at all, since so much of the system takes place outside of the vision of voters. Here is a short 2008 rundown of six reasons why we find VBM elections to be a terrible and even dangerous idea.

In any case, should any questionable results be reported in OR tomorrow, the good news is that there will be a hand-marked paper ballot for every vote cast. Whether the chain-of-custody for those mailed-in ballots can be relied upon is a different story. But at least there remains a fighting chance for election integrity should anything go mysteriously awry in the state's results.

County-by-county map of e-voting systems in OR...


Marquee Race: A special election for U.S. House ends on Saturday with voting already underway, to fill the 1st Congressional seat of Democratic Rep. Neal Abercrombie who resigned in February to run for Governor. The special election is believed likely to go to the Republican candidate Charles Djou, as two Democrats, former Congressman Ed Case and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, are currently splitting the D vote in an ugly internecine battle. The Dems may pick up 60% of the vote cast yet still lose the seat to the Republican. Dems believe that no matter how things go tomorrow, they'll take the seat back in the general election in November, by which time they hope to have their own internal politics sorted out.

Election System/Concerns Hawaii is holding this election as an all Vote-by-Mail contest. It's the first one they've ever held state-wide. See Oregon above, but without the years of experience in VBM procedures that they've had.

County-by-county map of e-voting systems in HI...

Remember, problems often crop up in contests which are not the "marquee races" and are equally important to bother voters and the candidates affected. We'll do our best to keep up with any problems in any of them, and hope you'll feel free to leave comments here and/or send email when you see or hear about problems being reported or anything you may find suspect. As previously noted, media reports which marginalize Election Day failures as "glitches," "hiccups," "snafus," and "snags" are often indicative of much more serious problems than either media or election officials like to make them out to be.

Remember also that screenshots taken throughout the day and night of results on official websites can also be useful later on if there are late evening changes in vote counts, to help figure out what may have happened. So as you're browsing official results on Tuesday, please feel free to take screenshots and date-stamp their filenames throughout the day...just in case...

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