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AUDIO/TRANSCRIPTS: Brad Friedman (BRAD BLOG) and Ralph Neas (PFAW) on 'Ring of Fire' w/ RFK Jr. & Mike Papantonio

Brad Friedman of The BRAD BLOG was featured on Air America's Ring of Fire with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Mike Papantonio on 3/10/07, discussing his call to amend Rep. Rush Holt's (D-NJ) Election Reform Bill (HR811) to include a ban on all Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, usually touch-screen) voting systems.

The interview, conducted by Papantonio, was pre-taped, and an edited-for-time version was aired. The complete, unedited audio and transcript of that interview is below.

The following week, on 3/17/07, Ralph Neas, the president of the powerful public-advocacy group, People for the American Way (PFAW) --- one of the groups supporting the Holt Bill as is, fighting against a ban on DRE voting systems and advocating for their continued use, was interviewed on the show by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. who asked him about Brad's concerns both about DREs and PFAW's support of same.

The audio and text transcript of that interview is also also below.

Brad's complete analysis of Neas' interview is posted here.

For much more information, action items, details and talking points on the Holt Election Bill, please see:

-- Brad Friedman/BRAD BLOG on Ring of Fire, 3/10/07
[MP3, appx. 15 minutes]
-- Ralph Neas/PFAW on Ring of Fire, 3/17/07
[MP3, appx. 8 minutes]


with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. & Mike Papantonio

GUEST: Brad Friedman of The BRAD BLOG
March 10, 2007


MIKE PAPANTONIO: We're back on Ring of Fire on Air America Radio. Mike Papantonio with Bobby Kennedy. Our first guest, Brad Friedman. He's a journalist and political commentator who's helped lead the charge for clean elections in this country. He's got a website called The BRAD BLOG. Brad, Rush Holt, he--Democrat, New Jersey--reintroduced the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act. But this time he has some changes that at least look positive. Things like paper ballots, requirements for audits, no secret source codes, ban on wireless devices, access for eligible voters. I'm wondering, you know, at least it seems like a step in the right direction but there's some critics, I think you're included, that say that there's a real hidden problem here.

BRAD FRIEDMAN: Yeah, there is a big hidden problem here.

PAP: What is it?

BRAD: Well, you referred to the paper ballots. We'll start right there. And first, let me say that I worked with Holt, with his office, throughout each iteration of his bill and I thank them for allowing me into that process and I was able to include a lot of improvements in the bill. There's a lot of good stuff in this bill.

PAP: Sounds like it.

BRAD: Which is why it's such a shame that it includes one disastrous loophole here. Which is that it allows for direct recording electronic, DRE touch-screen systems to still be used in American elections. One thing that we learned going back to the …

PAP: Well, okay. Let's back up. First of all, we know that DREs, direct recording electronic voting machines, for example, New Mexico they've done away with them. Florida, they're doing away with 'em. They're worried about something. What is it they're worried about?

BRAD: Well, there's a lot of things to worry about with these DRE machines, starting with the fact that when they breakdown, legally registered voters cannot vote. We saw thousands if not millions of American voters disenfranchised through the 2006 cycle because of these touch-screen machines.

PAP: Okay, let's explain how that works.

BRAD: Yeah.

PAP: First of all, even though you might have, let's say Rush Holt's legislation passes. You're then going to have a paper trail. At least the voter in the booth is going to have something that says does my touch-screen vote, does it match up with this paper trail? Well, that's fine, first of all, if he really checks. Second of all, it's fine only if the mechanisms inside the machine also have a paper trail. Isn't that kind of the problem here?

BRAD: Well, that's right. Because they don't. There is no mechanism inside the machine for a paper trail. It gives the voter a false sense of security because the fact of the matter is, those paper trails--and unfortunately they call them paper ballots in this, in the current Holt bill, HR 811--those paper ballots are never actually counted. They're never tabulated. This is incredibly misleading for folks.

PAP: Well, in other words, in other words, you think, "Okay, I'm getting the paper ballot. Here it is. I've got it in my hand. Yeah, I checked it off. It appears to be right," but inside the machine if there's ever a question, there's nothing, there's no mechanism, there's no failsafe inside the machine that says, "Yeah, we can go back and audit and count it." You're saying that's the problem.

BRAD: Well, that, that is the problem. Having a question, there needn't be a question. Look, we know these machines are hackable within 60 seconds. We've seen this time and again, shown by Princeton University and studies all over the place. So the fact of the matter is, these things can be tampered with, they can have errors, they use secret vote counting. And there needn't be a question. An election can be flipped and it can be flipped in such a way that it's large enough that you would never even question the results and we would all go forward and we would say, "Well, okay, people, that's what people wanted. People looked at their paper trail," and so forth. Those paper trails are never counted. We need to count the ballots.

PAP: In other words, you're saying it's fine to give that voter a paper trail that the voter, the voter can say, "This matches what I see on the screen," but what if there's really a test? What if somebody really wants to test it? It's not like you can call all these voters back and say, "Hey, bring us your paper," because you're saying there's no paper inside the machine that an auditor could really look at.

BRAD: Well, that's correct. And those papers, they don't go to the voters. In fact, they would stay inside the machine. The voter never actually gets to touch those paper trails in most cases. They simply go into a receptacle and then they are never counted. So having a paper trail in actuality is damn dangerous when you're not going to count it. A lot of folks, if you look down to the mess down there in Sarasota that's still ongoing…

PAP: Eighteen thousand votes.

BRAD: Eighteen thousand votes …

PAP: …at least that we know of.

BRAD: That's right. And now you've got a lot of these groups like Rush Holt and Common Cause and PFAW who are running around saying that, "Oh, if we only had paper trails down there in Sarasota, we wouldn't have the mess." Well, that is completely wrong and I would suggest somewhat disingenuous. Because the fact of the matter is, had we had paper trails on those machines the only thing different is that we wouldn't be in court challenging this election right now. Look, 18,000 voters failed to notice that there was no vote registered in the Jennings-Buchanan race when they saw it in front of their face on a computer screen, okay?

PAP: The computer said what to them, Brad?

BRAD: The computer said that there was no vote registered in that race. Now we know that a lot of folks tried to vote in that race and for whatever reason they got to the summary screen and no vote was registered and 18,000 voters failed to notice it or change it. Now there's …

PAP: Okay, tell us about this. Was their politi--is there a political edge to that or was it just a screw-up of machinery?

BRAD: Well, you know what? I only report what I know. So I can't report the reasons for why it happened but there was some problem with those voting systems and even the manufacturer of the voting system, their only expert witness that they put up on the stand in that current court case down there …

PAP: So he didn't know why?

BRAD: Well, that's right. He admitted that had there not been problems with those voting systems, Christine Jennings would have won the race. So when you've got these voters who saw it on the computer screen, failed to do anything about it, what makes anyone think that they then would have been able to do anything about it when they saw it on a tiny slip of paper? We know, MIT and other studies have shown that people don't check these paper trails. And in any event, even if they did, all it would have taken was 369 voters out of 18,000 to not notice that there was a missing vote in that race for us to have the same skewed results.

PAP: So Brad, I mean we all know the horror stories. We know that one in every four Democrats in Ohio who registered to vote Democrat showed up at the polls, they weren't even listed on the rolls. We know 80,000 votes were supposed to have gone to Kerry, they were instead flipped over to Bush. We know the stories of the Republican GOP thugs, the Texas Strike Force, that showed up basically everywhere to intimidate voters. we know all those stories.

BRAD: Yep.

PAP: And when you look at all of those stories, you add 'em up and you say, well, you know, there's got to be something that makes these machines thug-proof. Because the GOP, I've got to tell you, there's no question in my mind. Some people the votes are still out on whether or not there's any intent by GOP leadership to take these elections, I don't have any doubt in my mind, I can tell you, zero doubt. So what is it that makes these machines work in a way that we know we don't have to worry about GOP thuggery?

BRAD: Getting rid of the machines. Having a paper ballot for every vote cast so you can determine the intent of the voter. Look, you cannot make elections thug-proof. There are going to be thugs who want to game American elections. But if you have a paper ballot and then you actually tabulate that paper ballot you're getting a lot closer and if there's any question you can always go back to those paper ballots. You mentioned Florida. The new Republican governor down there in Florida has seen the writing on the wall. He says we need to get rid of these DRE machines, replace them with op-scan. I gotta tell you. It's a damn shame when a Republican from Florida gets ahead of the Democrats on this. They have gone right up to the line and then, sort of as with their Iraq issue, they are afraid to make the step that will make the difference, which is calling for a ban.

PAP: Well, let me tell you something. Knowing Charlie Crist personally, he is, you know, he is anything but a typical Republican. He shows leadership. But I don't think you're going to find that type of leadership coming out of any governor, much less Republican governors. I mean, you're not going to find it, so many Democratic governors have the chance to do this. They're sitting on their hands. They don't understand the issues. They're doing nothing. But Charlie, Charlie Crist is the exception. I mean, just like Bill Richardson in New Mexico is the exception. You're not going to find that in the run-of-the-mill governors. So the question is, why is it that you can't get to Representative Rush Holt, Democrat in New Jersey, and say, "Look, Rush, here's all I'm asking. If you really want to pull this off, here's how you do it." I can't imagine you finding much resistance from a guy like Rush Holt. His heart's in the right place.

BRAD: His heart is in the right place, and the resistance is unbelievable. Not just from Rush Holt but, as I said, from these various Democratic public advocacy groups. For whatever reason, and I'm trying to drill down to figure out why, but for whatever reason they simply will not put a ban in there for touch-screen voting systems. No matter what they know. Look, paper trails, such as they are, were a solu--were seen as a solution to the concerns about electronic voting. But after 2006, and we've learned how these machines really work, now we've learned that we can't rely on paper trails for a solution. I have made the case to them. I had worked with them, as I said, throughout the drafting of the bill. They know it, they know they need to do it and frankly privately they'll likely tell you that op-scans are far superior to DREs. So the question remains, why are they allowing these …

PAP: So at the end of the day we want something with marks on it. We want something that we can go back and look at it, it's got a mark on it, there's nothing equivocal. There's no type of hacking that can change it, you can't change it electronically, it's got a mark on it and that gives us the trail. That's what you're looking for.

BRAD: It's remarkable that we're having to fight for a paper ballot that is actually counted for every vote cast in American elections. And what I'm concerned about is that as we move forward, you know, this Holt bill is meant to amend the disastrous Help America Vote bill. I'm concerned that as we move forward we'll discover, as we did with that bill, with HAVA, that the devil is in the details here and this time the Democrats will not have the Republicans and Bob Ney, who wrote that original bill (he's in jail but we're still stuck with his crappy bill) [Pap laughs], they won't have those guys to blame for this mess.

PAP: Yeah. Well, we're all glad Bob Ney's in jail but unfortunately there's so many of them out there that should be in jail that aren't. One thing, I don't know if you followed this story in Texas where you had this elderly woman, she was trying to vote for a Democrat. She tried three times to register that Democrat vote. Every time she tried it came up Republican. Well, the poll-watchers have this new concept called "the chubby finger syndrome" …

BRAD: Yes.

PAP: Where they blame it on the victims, just like they blamed it on--they blame the voters in Miami.

BRAD: Yep.

PAP: It's always their stupidity. Now the argument is the chubby finger syndrome where the fingers are too big and they're such idiots that they can't do the right thing. That's what the Republicans want to say about what's happening here.

BRAD: The fingers are too big, they're too tall, it's the voter's fault, it's the pollworker's fault, it's everyone's fault except the voting machine companies and the elections officials who allowed them to use this failed technology. It's nobody's fault but the people who allow them to use this technology that we know does not work.

PAP: Okay, answer, answer this if you can. I still haven't heard the answer. Why would well-meaning voter advocacy groups not see what you're talking about here? Are you wrong, [are] they wrong, what is it we're missing?

BRAD: They see what I'm talking about. You'll get them to admit to it privately and maybe even publicly that DRE, I'm sorry, that op-scan is a better technology than DRE and it's far safer for elections. However, they're using all sorts of means to suggest, to say that DREs need to be allowed. Amongst them, the most troubling, that language minority voters are somehow better served with touch-screen than they are with DRE. It's nonsense. There's no scientific evidence to back up that case. In fact, just the opposite. We saw in New Mexico this week a report came out showing that when that state moved from touch-screen to paper-based optical scan their undervote rates plummeted in minority areas, 85%.

PAP: Brad, would you do me a favor?

BRAD: Yeah.

PAP: I have followed your career and I've followed you on these issues from day one almost. I am involved in litigation, as you know. If I'm betting on anybody to be right, it's you.

BRAD: Thanks.

PAP: Now, what I want you to do is let your people know that. Somehow. Your blog is incredible. I think it's the most incredible blog out there on this issue. Let 'em know, the people that are actually involved in the litigation, that we think you're right. We think you're right. There is no way, it is meaningless to create a paper trail if the paper trail can't be recovered inside the machine, inside the mechanism and we can't see something that's left a mark. If it has not left a mark in that machine, forget it. It's GOP thuggery politics as usual. Brad, I want to thank you for joining us, as usual. Every time I talk to you, you have the information. My bet is on you on this one. Thanks a lot.

BRAD: Thank you, brother. I'll quote you on the blog.

PAP: All right. Appreciate it. To keep up the push for clean elections, the place to go is Brad Friedman's website,

with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. & Mike Papantonio

GUEST: Ralph Neas of People for the American Way
March 17, 2007


ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR: Joining us now is another great American, Ralph Neas, President of People for the American Way, which is at the forefront of the fight for election reform. Ralph, thanks so much for joining us on Ring of Fire.

RALPH NEAS: It's a wonderful opportunity to be back with you, Bobby. Thank you so much.

RFK: You know, People for the American Way is supporting a bill that's been introduced by New Jersey Representative Rush Holt that would require paper ballots by 2008. Last week we had Brad Friedman of The BRAD BLOG who, as you know, is one of the Paul Reveres of this issue. And he says that there's a serious problem with that bill and that your group should not be supporting it. But before we go into Brad's objections, lets--give us some background about why we need this bill and reform in general.

NEAS: I think that's a good way to start because Bobby Kennedy, Jr., Brad Friedman and Ralph Neas all agree on this part: comprehensive election reform is the top legislative priority facing the country right now. Thanks to your groundbreaking article in Rolling Stone a year or two ago plus all the work that People for the American Way Foundation did as part of our election protection activities, which go back to 2001, we have found out that hundreds of thousands of people have been disenfranchised. I think MIT and CalTech did a study of the 2000 election, four million Americans were disenfranchised. Bobby, I've read your article …

RFK: Including over a million Black voters, which is …

NEAS: Yes, exactly. And the voter suppression takes so many forms. It's voter intimidation and deceptive practices. It's machines that are not secure or accessible. It's the provisional ballot problem, the purging problem, the challenges, the inequitable distribution of resources--especially machines. The Secretary of States like Blackwell who in a very sophisticated way, in a very effective way, disenfranchised just in Ohio in 2004 probably a couple hundred thousand votes. I think we send about $270 million a day to Iraq. Certainly we can take five or six days of that kind of money and make sure that we have a secure and accessible voting system in this country, no matter what kind of machine we use or we don't use machines …

RFK: Okay, so what does Rush Holt's bill do?

NEAS: That's exactly what Rush Holt's bill does. It provides for paper ballots, it provides for random audits, depending on how close the race is. It very importantly makes sure that you don't have the secret source codes. So we want to make sure it's accessible, but very, very importantly we want to make sure that it's secure. And Bobby, we can do both. And the nation deserves nothing less.

RFK: Ralph, can you stay with us and talk a little more after the break?

NEAS: Absolutely.

RFK: We'll be right back with Ralph Neas, President of People for the American Way. Also after the break, this week's Pap Attack. Stay with us, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Mike Papantonio on Ring of Fire on Air America Radio. [musical break/commercial break]

RFK: We're back on Ring of Fire, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. with Mike Papantonio. Right now we're back with Ralph Neas, who is President of People for the American Way. People for the American Way is supporting a bill introduced by New Jersey Representative Rush Holt that would require paper ballots by 2008. Brad Friedman of The BRAD BLOG says that there's a serious problem with that bill. Summarize his best arguments against the new bill.

NEAS: Bobby, very importantly, I'm a fan of Brad Friedman. I think he's a patriotic American. I think he really is committed to providing accessible, secure voting systems. And we've talked to him for hours, Bobby. And they're always good conversations. But he would argue that paper trails are different than paper ballots and this bill doesn't truly require paper ballots. This is really not accurate …

RFK: …explain the difference. If it's a paper ballot, you go in and you actually are given a pencil and you mark the ballot. And it's the old-fashioned …

NEAS: You get an optical scanner, an optical scanner or paper ballot. You do mark something up. But with either optical scans or the DREs--those are what Brad is trying to ban--either way, they're treated exactly the same way under the Holt bill. Both opti-scan and the DREs would have to have a paper ballot.

RFK: What are the DREs? For our listeners, because most people aren't familiar with this nomenclature.

NEAS: That's a good point. That is a direct recording electronic device. Which are basically touch-screens, Bobby. And the opti-scan, you definitely mark it with a pen or pencil and then it's fed into a computer. Under either the DREs or the opti-scans, they both produce paper ballots, they are both fed into the software. Under the Holt bill the voter has the opportunity to verify it, number one. And number two, if there's an audit then the audit has to look at the paper ballot. So it is verifiable and auditable.

RFK: Brad doesn't want touch-screens at all.

NEAS: Exactly. He wants to ban them. We work, obviously, with the scores of disability organizations and all the language minority groups like the Asian American Justice Committee, the National Council of La Raza, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, all of them favor touch-screen, the DREs, because they're more accessible. And you can do an independent, private vote.

RFK: And Brad doesn't want touch-screens, whereas all of these groups, the voting rights groups, for disability groups and for language groups, they like the DREs.

NEAS: The language minority groups …

RFK: And what does a DRE look like when you go into the voting booth?

NEAS: The DREs that we had out in Montgomery County, you basically have a card that you insert into the machine. But if you happen to be blind or a language minority, you can get translations electronically. You can put on a headset or you can read within the machine itself the various translations of a particular language. For example, in Los Angeles there are probably six, seven, eight different languages that are part of the DRE systems in Los Angeles. And we do have computer security experts like Avi Rubin and David Dill who, while they don't like DREs and in fact they would like to ban them, are supporting the Holt bill. But the people on the ground who've been for maybe decades on the ground working with these machines prefer the DREs if they represent the disability organizations or the language minority organizations. So we're trying to get everybody working together to go in the same direction and not make the perfect the enemy of the good. What we like about Holt is it has got this consensus and it's moving forward. It will change the status quo. And we believe, in companion with the Hillary Clinton bill and the Barack Obama bill and others, we will protect the integrity and the fairness of the 2008 elections.

RFK: What is the outlook of this in Congress? Because do you have a Republican who's supporting it as well?

NEAS: I'm happy to report, Bobby, that when People For did the press conference with Rush Holt, Tom Petri, who's a conservative Republican from Wisconsin, was there, and he's already brought on 16 or 17 Republicans. There are about 195 cosponsors altogether. It looks like Nancy Pelosi and the House leadership are on a fast track. My only fear, our fiercest opponent is time. Can we get this out of the House of Representatives by early summer, get it out of the Senate by the end of the summer at the latest so that the state and county governments can actually implement the reforms?

RFK: Ralph, thanks so much for joining us on Ring of Fire. Ralph Neas is President of People for the American Way. You can go to their website at Thanks, Ralph!

NEAS: Bobby, let's stay in touch.

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