Rob Lafferty

"Something very strange happened on election night to Deborah Tannenbaum, a Democratic Party official in Volusia County. At 10 p.m., she called the county elections department and learned that Al Gore was leading George W. Bush 83,000 votes to 62,000. But when she checked the county's website for an update half an hour later, she found a startling development: Gore's count had dropped by 16,000 votes, while an obscure Socialist candidate had picked up 10,000 – all because of a single precinct with only 600 voters." -- Washington Post, Nov. 12, 2000

When a person shows up at a polling booth on voting day, an obligation exists for each state government to have a process in place that allows every eligible voter to exercise their most fundamental right. A state cannot require voters to prove their identity with special documents; the state must satisfy itself of any voter’s identity using ordinary means of identification.

Recently Rep. John Lewis from Georgia was quoted saying that attempts to deny eligible voters the opportunity to vote make him “…want to just cry, after people gave a little blood, after some people were beaten, shot and murdered trying to help people become registered voters.”

“States throughout the nation have come along with tactics to make it hard, to make it difficult for people to participate,” said Lewis, who has been active since the 1960s in the effort to ensure voting rights for all Americans. “We should be making it easy and simple and open up the political process and let all of the people come in.”

An Associated Press report earlier this year stated that recent elections in Indiana, Georgia and Tennessee where photo ID laws are in place, "…legitimate votes rejected by the laws are far more numerous than are the cases of fraud that advocates of the rules say they are trying to prevent."

Even the defenders of photo ID laws for voters admit that there isn’t an identifiable problem. During a court case challenging new laws in Pennsylvania earlier this year, it was stipulated that “The parties are not aware of any incidents of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania and do not have direct personal knowledge of in person voter fraud elsewhere; respondents will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania or elsewhere. Respondents will not offer any evidence or argument that in person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absence of the Photo ID law.”

A Missouri Supreme Court case over an attempt to install photo ID laws brought to light that not one single case of in-person voter impersonation had occurred in the state in three elections held between 2002 and 2006.

Jim Hightower reported recently on a Houston group known as True the Vote and its claim that ineligible voters “…are swarming America's polling places to vote illegally.” But True the Vote hasn’t tried to identify any actual cases of fraud, including one that happened in Sugarland, Texas, home of True the Vote's founder, Catherine Engelbrecht.

According to Hightower, Bruce Fleming, a candidate for county commissioner, voted in person in Sugar Land in 2006, 2008, and 2010. In those same years, he also voted by mail in Yardley, Pa., where he and his wife Nancy also own a home. In 2010, she also voted in both Texas and Pennsylvania.

Fleming was named the county's Republican precinct chairman of the year in 2010. He doesn’t deny that he is also guilty of committing three voter fraud felonies, and his wife of committing one.

"The less said the better," Fleming said about his fraud. "Until we can determine the situation, I can't really comment."

The Bush administration had some success chasing down voter ID fraud. Over a five-year span between 2002 and 2007, 86 convictions were obtained against cheaters, which averages out to less than one case per state per election.

Genuine cases of voting fraud do occur, but in today’s world they mostly happen inside electronic voting machines. It’s fairly easy to do, and we know it’s been done in the past, but the full scope of electronic vote fraud is certainly larger than anyone knows.

Of particular concern are machines that don’t provide a paper printout to confirm your choices. According to computer scientist Richard Kemmerer at UC Santa Barbara, "If there's no paper trail, you can have corrupted software display on the voting-machine screen whatever you want to display – and then after the voter leaves, record something completely different inside."

In 2007 a team of computer wizards from the University of Pennsylvania looked at touch-screen machines that several states, including Ohio and California, will use this year. The Penn group reported that in the machines they worked with, “…virtually every important software security mechanism is vulnerable."

It just takes a few minutes to install a virus or other type of malware that can corrupt the results from a Diebold Accuvote machine. A Dept. of Energy security assessment team called it a national security issue when someone with a high school education, $30 in electronic parts and a key bought at an office supply store can tamper with election results.

Most precincts are doing a little better this year at providing a secure chain of custody for the machines they will use, but they have no guarantees that those machines aren’t already compromised. There also is the reality of remote access as an undetectable way of tampering, and that reality is simply not being addressed.

When electronic vote anomalies are discovered, as they did in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004, they are always publicly blamed on software glitches or bad memory cards. The pros know otherwise, and they know it to be especially true in the odd case cited at the top of this article, where the contents of a mysterious second memory card were uploaded before that card vanished without a trace. An internal memo within the Diebold Corp., maker of the machines used in 2000 in Volusia County, states the truth clearly:

“There is always the possibility that the 'second memory card' or 'second upload' came from an unauthorized source.”

How can we solve this problem? How do we ensure an honest vote count? Three simple things – go back to making a mark on a paper ballot, count all votes by hand, and convince 85 percent of the eligible voters to actually participate in democracy.

The first two can be achieved easily and immediately. We should do those things at the very least, because raising the level of participation above its historic rate of between 45-65 percent may not be possible in what remains of the American experiment in democracy.

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