Vic Rawl says inexplicable Democratic primary contest casts 'cloud' over state election; Notes 'irregularities', problem reports from voters, poll workers, vows 'electoral reform', calls for 'full and unblinking investigation of overall integrity' of state's ES&S voting system...
UPDATE: 'Burden of proof' on Rawls. Good luck with that.
By Brad Friedman on 6/14/2010, 12:32pm PT  

[UPDATED at end of article.]

A formal challenge to the announced results of South Carolina's Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate has now been filed by Judge Vic Rawl, the candidate who wasn't announced the winner by the state's oft-failed, easily-manipulated, 100% unverifiable ES&S e-voting system.

Rawl released an official statement on his website today, in conjunction with the filing and a press conference he held in Charleston this afternoon.

The statement points generally to a number of findings being made by the campaign as independent experts have analyzed the results, voting patterns and problems being reported by poll workers and voters on Election Day where the unknown, unemployed candidate Alvin Greene defeated Rawl on the unverifiable ES&S iVotronic touch-screen voting systems, performing 11 points better on those machines than he did in the paper-based absentee results. The oft-failed, easily-manipulated ES&S election results reporting system gave Greene a 59% to 41% "victory" over Rawl.

Greene did no campaigning, had no name recognition, had no campaign website, faces felony obscenity charges and managed, somehow, according to the electronic results, to best Rawl, a four-term state legislator to win the nomination to face incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint in this November's general election.

We've covered details and analysis of this bizarre matter in two previous articles since last Tuesday's election:

As you'll see below, Rawl's official statement today reads as an indictment of the state's electronic voting system and, frankly, as a summary of years of The BRAD BLOG's oft-ignored reporting (and warnings) about the ES&S e-voting system's disastrously failed record...

From Rawl's statement [emphasis added]:

We have filed this protest not for my personal or political gain, but on behalf of the people of South Carolina.

There is a cloud over Tuesday’s election. There is a cloud over South Carolina, that affects all of our people, Democrats and Republicans, white and African-American alike.

At this point, the people of our state do not have the basic confidence that their vote will be counted.

The strange circumstances surrounding Tuesday’s vote require a thorough investigation. For better or worse, this protest process is the only platform currently available for that investigation.

And let me be clear: regardless of the outcome of this protest, a full and unblinking investigation of this election and the overall integrity of South Carolina’s election system must go forward. Whether our protest is upheld or not, I intend to bring my full energies to electoral reform well into the future.

I want to speak briefly about the bases for our protest.

First is ongoing analysis of the election returns themselves, which indicate irregularities.

Second are the many voters and poll workers who continue to contact us with their stories of extremely unusual incidents while trying to vote and administer this election.

These range from voters who repeatedly pressed the screen for me only to have the other candidate’s name appear, to poll workers who had to change program cards multiple times, to at least one voter in the Republican primary who had the Democratic U.S. Senate race appear on her ballot.

For those who experienced problems voting, I urge you to go to our website, and use the form there to report them. You can also call our Election Integrity Hotline at 843-278-0510.

Third is the well-documented unreliability and unverifiability of the voting machines used in South Carolina.

It is worth noting that these machines were purchased surplus from Louisiana after that state outlawed them.

The full details of our protest will be presented on Thursday.

For the people of South Carolina, getting to the bottom of Tuesday’s results will build confidence, either way.

I also hope that a full and frank discussion of our voting system will result in substantial reform.

At the risk of repetition, this protest is not about me, or my personal political fortunes. Indeed, if the protest is upheld and a new election ordered, I have not decided whether to run in it.

But, either way, I am not done with the issue of fixing our elections.

We'll briefly hit several of those points one at a time:

"At this point, the people of our state do not have the basic confidence that their vote will be counted."

Rawl is correct. There is no basis for confidence in the results of the election, or any held on 100% unverifiable Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, usually touch-screen) voting machines. There exists no proof that Greene won this election. Period.

We have asked readers --- and, more importantly, election officials, elected officials, and voting machine vendors --- for years to offer any evidence that any vote ever cast on an DRE during any election has ever been recorded as per any voter's intent. No such evidence has been profferred, because no such evidence exists. These are 100% faith-based voting systems, and we persist in using them in dozens of states across the country for reasons we are still unable to fathom.

Whether the results are actually accurate or not is beside the point. It is strictly impossible for any citizen to know if they are or aren't. Period.

"[O]ngoing analysis of the election returns themselves, which indicate irregularities."

In each of our previous posts on this election (here and here), we detailed findings from independent academic experts examining the results.

Among those findings, the brightest red-flag would be the 11-point disparity between paper-based absentee results and Election Day touch-screen results. According to a statement released by Rawl's campaign last last week, "This difference is a clear contrast to the other races." Politico reported, for example, "In Lancaster County, Rawl won absentee ballots over Greene by a staggering 84 percent to 16 percent margin; but Greene easily led among Election Day voters by 17 percentage points."

Two articles from the political statistics website (first here, the here) examined a number of independent statistical analyses of results, finding that neither mischievous Republican crossover voters, nor racial preferences (Rawl is white and Greene is African-American, though most voters didn't know that about either candidate) are able to fully explain the results.

Writing at FiveThirtyEight, Tom Schaller ultimately narrowed the existing possibilities for explaining the explaining the results to just two. Scenario A: A combination of African-American voters possibly recognizing the name "Greene", spelled with an "e" at the end, as an African-American surname and his ballot position as the first candidate in the race, combined with a low number of voters who knew of, but disapproved of Rawl. Or Scenario B: "Somebody with access to software and machines engineered a very devious manipulation of the vote returns."

We added "Scenario B.1" to Schaller's possibilities: Out-and-out machine failure, given the documented history of such failures on these precise voting machines. Rawl's second listed reason for his challenge underscore that point...

"[V]oters and poll workers [report] extremely unusual incidents while trying to vote..."

Rawl's statement notes "voters who repeatedly pressed the screen for me only to have the other candidate’s name appear" and (extremely disturbing) "poll workers who had to change program cards multiple times", as well as "at least one voter in the Republican primary who had the Democratic U.S. Senate race appear on her ballot."

Every single one of the incidents mentioned above has occurred time and again across the United States over the last several election cycles and has generally been ignored by both election officials and candidates.

The most well-known example is the 2006 U.S. House special election in Florida's 13th Congressional district, where some 18,000 votes disappeared entirely on ES&S iVotronic touch-screen machines in Democratic candidate Christine Jennings stronghold county of Sarasota. Despite the extraordinary and still-unexplained undervote rate, Republican Vern Buchanan was announced the winner by just 369 votes.

In that race, scores of voters and poll workers had come forward, on Election Day, to report votes flipping from one candidate to another, as well as the inability to select Jennings at all. Even the wife of Buchanan had reported difficulties in selecting her husband on the touch-screen "ballot".

Though neither a state-sponsored investigation nor an investigation by the U.S. GAO was able to find a certain explanation for what happened, Democrats in the U.S. House ultimately dismissed Jennings challenge to the race under the Federal Contested Elections Act.

Nonetheless, FL's then incoming Republican Gov. Charlie Crist and FL's Democratic Rep. Robert Wexler worked together after the incident to pass a bill in the state legislature which largely outlawed the use of touch-screen voting systems entirely in the Sunshine State.

That, and other states, such as Ohio and Colorado, who also commissioned reports which found the ES&S systems to be highly error-prone and easily manipulated, did not dissuade their use in South Carolina. Nor did a county-wide failure of the machines in SC's 2008 Republican primary. Nor even the federal conviction of 6 high-ranking election officials --- including the County Clerk, an Circuit Court Judge and the County Superintendent --- earlier this year, in March, after it had been found that they had actually changed the votes of voters on the ES&S touch-screen systems themselves after voters left the booth in 2006.

As to Rawl's statement concerning "poll workers who had to change program cards multiple times," The BRAD BLOG has reported time and again over the years about this insane and disturbing practice. We even contributed a full chapter to Sonoma State University's book Censored 2010: The Top 25 Censored Stories of 2008-09 detailing the instances in which votes were reported as flipping on ES&S voting systems in 2008 and election officials who accessed the sensitive memory cards during the election in order to attempt to "recalibrate" them.

That problem has occurred now, year after year --- even as recently as Arkansas' May 18th Arkansas general primary, as we reported at the time, as testified to in affidavit by a Circuit Court Judge and one of his clerks.

When these systems are in "election mode", they are extremely vulnerable to tampering and there is no reason that any official, or voting machine company employee should ever be able to access those cards at that time. The proper solution would be to pull such problem machines from use, so they can be examined later. That very rarely happens, however, since the precincts which rely on these machines rarely have enough paper ballots available to make up for the difference, or proper procedures in place to assure the secure chain-of-custody of such ballots.

"At least one voter in the Republican primary who had the Democratic U.S. Senate race appear on her ballot."

Electronic voting systems are notorious for presenting the wrong ballots to voters. Often, the voter has no idea.

This has now happened twice, even to us, on ES&S electronic voting systems. In 2008's statewide primary in CA, the system in use in Los Angeles County --- which, unlike the one used in SC, actually prints out an inked-in paper ballot representing voter preferences --- mis-printed 4 out of 12 of our own votes. Happily, we noticed the failure before officially casting the ballot.

Last week, in the CA's primary, the same system again failed, as two different machines were unable to offer us the correct ballot to vote on. The system repeated offered a ballot for a precinct, and then a party, that we shouldn't have been voting in. Once again, following the ES&S voting machine failure, we were allowed to vote on a paper ballot, which is a right for California voters.

"[W]ell-documented unreliability and unverifiability of the voting machines used in South Carolina."

The points detailed above underscore Rawl's point here, but his quote is worth noting again --- particularly the part about the machines "unverifiability".

We have opined, year after year after year, that, in the end, it doesn't actually matter whether these systems report accurate results or not. The bottom line is that there is no way for voters to know that they did. That alone is a grave threat to democracy, and one of the reasons why we continue to hear of more and more such questions about results, in each and every election.

At this hour, we do not know whether the SC Democratic primary election for the U.S. Senate was gamed or whether machine malfunction might explain the results. We also do not know that it was legitimately counted as per the voters' intent. We are seeking proof, not speculation, to support either possibility.

As Rawl correctly notes, "There is a cloud over South Carolina, that affects all of our people, Democrats and Republicans, white and African-American alike." That applies to the cloud over virtually every election held in the United States on machines made by private companies, which use concealed voting counting to report the results of elections. The same applies even to paper-based elections when the same easily-manipulated, oft-failed electronic tabulators are used to tally them.

We applaud Rawl for his courageous --- and patriotic --- position, vowing "a full and unblinking investigation" and his stated intent to bring his "full energies to electoral reform well into the future."

To that end, (an organization co-founded by The BRAD BLOG, in part, to demand electoral reform following years of our reportage on these matters) has hosted a campaign, in support of candidates of any party who vow not to concede their election until all votes are counted, and counted both accurately and transparently. More recently, VR has launched a campaign, seeking to urge Congress to pass substantive election reform.

Unfortunately, there are currently no bills pending in Congress that would outlaw concealed voting counting, or even the use of proprietary "trade secret" software made by private companies in our public elections, which have now been completely outsourced to such un-overseeable private vendors.

Over the weekend we attempted to contact the Rawl campaign with a number of questions about their current investigation, and to offer whatever advice and consultation we could. They have yet to return our calls or email.

In his statement today, Rawl promised that "the full details of our protest will be presented on Thursday."

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UPDATE 4:13pm PT: Garance Franke-Ruta's Washington Post blog coverage today explains the next steps in the process for the formal complaint, as filed today by Rawl, and highlights one absolute absurdity in this entire fine mess...

Primary elections in South Carolina are administered by the political parties, not the state.

The complaint now goes to the 92-member South Carolina Democratic Party executive committee, which will consider the protest at a public hearing Thursday in Columbia at which Rawl's attorney, F. Truett Nettles II of Charleston, will present the campaign's case. Greene or a representative for him may also attend and present evidence, though he is under no obligation to do so.

It is unclear how many members of the executive body will attend and vote on whether to dismiss Rawl's case, overturn the election or call for a new one, and there is no quorum number the body must reach before proceeding.

The burden of proof at the hearing will be on Rawl.

That last point, of course, underscores the absurdity of the bulk of U.S. elections.

The proof will be on Rawl to show that the election, held on unverifiable voting machines (unverifiable either way!), was inaccurate.

In the meantime, as we've said previously, we are open to anybody's PROOF that the election results, as reported, actually are accurate --- any hard evidence that Greene actually won and Rawl lost. Yet, as election officials and supporters of electronic voting certainly know, there is no such proof.

Why the burden should be on Rawl to prove a negative, rather than for election officials to prove that their system reported voter's intentions accurately, is just one of the continuing absurdities in the woeful, off-the-rails electoral systems we now use in this country.

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