Without full transparency and citizen oversight, there is almost no way to root out (election) fraud, as hopefully Daily Kos' Markos Moulitsas now understands...
By Brad Friedman on 6/29/2010, 4:11pm PT  

"...[W]ithout full transparency of results, this fraud would not have been uncovered." - Markos Moulitsas, Daily Kos founder, 6/29/10

There's an interesting bit of news today --- ironically enough, from Daily Kos --- which underscores the importance of citizen access to, and transparency of, election data, at least if anyone ever hopes to be able to root out and/or discover fraud, be it in elections or virtually anything else.

I say "ironically enough," because Daily Kos --- including both its founder Markos Moulitsas and a number of its front-page writers --- have, for years at their site, poo-pooed concerns about election fraud and e-voting by disinforming their readers about the very serious concerns presented by the disastrous election system used in most of the U.S. By marginalizing such concerns as little more than "conspiracy theory," they have continued to ill-serve both their readers' and their own self-interest (that of electing Democrats to office) in the bargain.

More, in a moment, on today's news from Kos himself, accidentally underscoring the long disservice his site has offered to readers on the e-voting front. But first, a personal incident involving hamburgers yesterday also serves to underscore, yet again, a related issue, and why hand-marked paper ballots --- and actually bothering to count them --- is an absolute imperative for Election Integrity...

There is some unintended irony in the burger part of this story as well, given the name of the restaurant is "The Counter." While the name is obviously meant to refer to "a restaurant counter," rather than "someone that counts," a moment during dinner there last night was very instructive, if likely to be ignored by Kos and the denialists out there who still hold trust in our "faith-based" e-voting systems.

The Counter
is a new (and highly recommended, btw) burger joint out here in Los Angeles, where you fill out your own customized burger order, with a pencil, in your own hand, by checking various boxes on a slip of paper which is then collected by the waiter or waitress and delivered to the kitchen. (See the photo of the menu below).

As Desi and I received our orders yesterday, she found that hers was correct, but for the inclusion of cranberries, rather than pickles on her burger as she thought she had ordered!

Desi wasn't sure if it was her mistake or not (she had pondered a turkey burger, with cranberries on it, instead of beef with pickles), so we called the waitress over to let her know of the problem. Was it Desi's mistake? Or did the kitchen somehow screw up?

The answer to the mystery came quickly and in no uncertain terms. The waitress pulled out the paper with Desi's order, marked in her own hand, and sure enough, she had selected cranberries instead of pickles! Had the waitress taken our order, rather than Des having written it up herself, there might still have been a question of whether Desi ordered it wrong, or if the server had written it wrong. But, in this case, there was no doubt: Desi had ordered cranberries!

(For the record, the server was happy to give her a side of pickles anyway.)

When it comes to elections, the ability (and need) for everyone to determine voter intent is not much different than determining the intent of the orderer of cranberries or pickles at The Counter.

Nothing makes that intent clearer and more transparent --- whether it's between cranberries and pickles at The Counter, Alvin Greene and Vic Rawl in SC, or Al Franken and Norm Coleman in MN --- than hand-marked ballots, at least when they are counted immediately at the precinct upon closing the polls, while the secure chain of custody is still without question. That, is Democracy's Gold Standard, and the citizens of this country, or any democracy, deserve no less.

I was happy, for a moment, to see two published editorials yesterday relating to these issues (of elections, if not pickles) --- one from Barbara Zia, the President of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina, and the other from Democratic consultant and pundit Donna Brazile. Both opined on the failure of the 100% unverifiable e-voting system used on June 8th in the Palmetto State resulting in the purported election victory of unknown, unemployed mystery-candidate Alvin Greene for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate.

Where both were right to decry the 100% unverifiable and highly dubious results reported by the oft-failed and easily manipulated ES&S iVotronic touch-screen voting machines, both seem to offer the wrong solution to the very serious problem.

In Zia's case, since the League of Women Voters had been such strong advocates years ago for the very type of electronic voting which undermined SC's election earlier this month, it was nice to see her whistling a new tune. Too bad it was, again, the wrong tune. She called for "Voter-verifiable Paper Audit Trails" (VVPAT) or so-called "auditable paper records" of how voters voted as the solution.

As we've detailed for years, a computer-printed record of the voter's supposed vote is as 100% unverifiable as the "paperless" system used in SC. If you have any doubt about that, see the CalTech/MIT study finding that some 80% of voters don't bother to verify their computer-printed "paper trails" before casting their ballots on touch-screen systems, along with the Rice University study finding that, of those very few who do check their summary at the end of voting, some two-thirds don't notice if/when votes have been flipped on them!

Further evidence of the dangers of computer-printed ballots or "paper records" can be seen in my own experience two years ago when the e-voting system here in Los Angeles misprinted 4 out of 12 of my own votes! And two years later, after the county had long-ago discovered what caused the '08 error and vowed to keep it from happening again, sure enough, it happened to me again, at the same polling place, on the same machine, on very same day that Alvin Greene would be 100% unverifiably "elected" as the Democratic nominee to the U.S. Senate in SC.

Zia would be wise to read up on years of coverage here at The BRAD BLOG and elsewhere before misguiding voters yet again as to "solutions" for South Carolina's woeful e-voting system.

In Brazile's case, she too pinpointed the problem in South Carolina, but found the solution to be in non-corporate, open source computer code.

While, of course, public elections should be run by the public, not private corporations as now shamefully occurs in almost every jurisdiction in the country, the notion of "open source" computer code on electronic voting and counting machines is a canard. It doesn't solve our problems either. When it comes to voting, "open source" computer code is still useless, as there is no way for citizens to know that the machine code checked for validity on Monday is actually the code in use on the machines on Tuesday.

Clearly, both women mean well. Their outspoken advocacy is much appreciated --- particularly in a world where e-voting malfeasance and malfunction seems to be unspeakable by so many in the mainstream media (see the embarrassing example from AP yesterday.) But let's not make the same horrific mistakes all over again that were made after the 2000 election, when the problems were grotesquely misdiagnosed to call for the unverifiable e-voting systems we're cursed with today.

Whether it's computer-printed ballots, Internet Voting (yes, insanely, that's next!), or "open source" computer code resulting in unverifiable elections and concealed vote counting, enough is enough. This is not rocket science. Hand-mark a paper ballot, put it in an transparent Lucite box on the table where we can watch it all day, open and count the ballots at the close of polls, in front of the citizenry and their video cameras, and post the results at the precinct before ballots are moved anywhere.

Yes, it's that simple, and it's also very difficult, if not impossible, to game such a system in any meaningful way, without easy detection.

Finally, Daily Kos' Markos Moulitsas, of all people, offered the clearest example to date of why citizen oversight and full transparency of all data is a must when it comes to elections.

Today he renounced all of the polling data that Daily Kos had published from Research 2000, a polling firm contracted by the site for the last year and a half to conduct weekly political surveys for his website.

The extraordinary incident comes after "three statistics wizards" examined Research 2000's raw data and determined that it was, in Kos' words, "likely bunk."

Here's how he explains the lesson he takes from the incident [emphasis added]:

[U]ltimately, this episode validates the reason why we released the internal numbers from Research 2000 --- and why every media outlet should do the same from their pollster; without full transparency of results, this fraud would not have been uncovered.

His point is as true in voting as it is in political polling. And yet, the private voting system companies have outrageously made it all but impossible for citizens to oversee data from their own elections by declaring the raw data on voting machine memory cards and audit logs from ballot tabulators to be proprietary, trade secrets. In South Carolina, Vic Rawl, the candidate who believes either fraud or failure on the state's ES&S e-voting systems cost him the election, was disallowed from viewing any of that material in the ten days he was allowed to mount a protest after the election.

Whether the Rawl/Greene election was legitimate or not --- and it certainly doesn't appear to be --- the voters will never know. That, on its own, presents a grave threat to democracy.

It can only be hoped that Kos takes his own experience with the Research 2000 data to heart, and now begins to finally understand what we have been warning about for years. "Without full transparency of results," as he wrote, fraud may never be discovered. We hope he and his front-page authors keep that in mind the next time they decide to simply "trust" unverifiable election results, no matter how bizarre or inexplicable they may be, as recorded and counted in secret by private companies like ES&S, Diebold, Sequoia, Hart InterCivic, Dominion, and all the rest.

Now pass the cranberries...I mean pickles.

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