Tuesday, July 18, 2006

"Dean, activists target evoting honesty in California"

“We need honesty and openness back in American government …and that means we do not need election workers taking voting machines home,” Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean said at the 3rd annual DemocracyFest at San Diego State University on Saturday, July 15th.

His remarks were met by applause and cheers from the crowd in San Diego State University’s open air theater. “I am tired of electronic voting machines we can’t trust,” added Dean, who also called for equal distribution of voting equipment in African-American districts and other improvements to protect citizens’ voting rights. “All I’m asking the Republicans to do is count every vote!”

San Diego has become a national focal point for election reform following controversy over Registrar Mikel Haas’ decision to allow pollworkers to take home electronic voting machines with programmable memory cards inside for up to two weeks before the election. Hack tests on identical optical scan systems have demonstrated that cards can be rigged in less than a minute; when a hacked card is later placed in a central tabulator, it can change votes for a large geographic area and actually flip the outcome of an entire Congressional district.

The Democratic National Committee’s Voting Rights Institute has now called for a complete hand count of all 150,000 ballots cast in California’s 50th Congressional District. The DNC has joined with numerous citizens’ and activist groups that have declared “no confidence” in machine-counted results of the hotly contested June election to replace convicted former Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham.

According to the machine count, Republican Brian Bilbray narrowly beat Democrat Francine Busby in the first Congressional race of 2006. Bilbray has been sworn in to fill the seat (unless a hand count or legal challenge should alter the outcome) until November, when the term expires and Busby-Bilbray will face off in yet another election contest.

CA-50, a citizens’ group of election reform advocates, held a press conference outside the gates of San Diego State University’s open air theater shortly before Dean’s speech. Local citizens were joined by national representatives, including Progressive Democrats of America president Mimi Kennedy and Brad Friedman, founder of Bradblog.com and cofounder of Velvet Revolution, a national election reform movement.

“We are all thrilled and delighted by the DNC’s call for a hand-count,” said Friedman. “San Diego is now ground zero for federal integrity in elections,” he said, noting that Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), Democracy for America (DFA), and the California Election Protection Network (CEPN) have all “joined in this cry with citizen patriots in calling for a full hand count of all 150,000 ballots in the Busby-Bilbray race.”

Friedman called on the DNC to provide funding to support the local efforts to fight for accountability in the election, and by San Diego County Registrar Mikel Haas: “We need help now,” he implored.

A fund to pay for a recount and possible legal action in the 50th Congressional race has been set up. Donations will be accepted at NOsleepovers or VelvetRevolution.us.

San Diego’s registrar has informed a citizen who requested a hand count that his office will charge a dollar a vote ($150,000) for a full hand-count. By contrast, neighboring Orange County charges just 14 cents per vote to hand count ballots, Friedman noted. He also criticized the Registrar for failing to make public the results of a mandatory 1% audit of the election.

“On behalf of these citizen patriots here who are holding off a tsunami, we call on California Attorney General Bill Lockyer to start investigating and hold someone accountable,” said Friedman, who has reported in articles at BradBlog that sending voting machines home with pollworkers for days or weeks at a time violates security provisions required by California law, decertifying the machines.

“Our Constitution is not built on trust. It is built on checks and balances,” added Friedman, who noted that a registrar in Monterey, California was arrested last week on 43 criminal charges.

The California 50th District race was counted primarily on Diebold optical scanners, with a limited number of Diebold touchscreen machines also used. Speaking at an election reform panel earlier in the day at DemocracyFest, Debra Bowen, Chair of the California Senate Elections Committee and Democratic candidate for Secretary of State, noted that Republican Secretary of State Bruce McPherson “didn’t ask the Legislature if it was okay to certify Diebold, even though it runs interpretive codes and runs 16 programs with security holes."

In Iowa, hand counts overturned results in seven races where Diebold optical scanners identical to those in San Diego were used, said Friedman. In two of those races, popular Republicans who lost according to the voting machine counts were discovered to have won -- in one case, moving from tenth place to first.

“We have a crisis of democracy,” Bowen told attendees at the DemocracyFest panel.

Friedman agreed. “This vote has never been verified,” he said, adding that San Diego voters may need to take to the streets “like Mexico or the Ukraine” to urge that votes be counted accurately. “It is kismet that this event [DemocracyFest] was held here in San Diego.”

Dean pledged a nationwide precinct walk July 29 to mobilize support for Democrats to take back control of Congress. Summing up “things to do to win” in November, he concluded, “Count the votes is the first one. Next is to get out and talk to people.”

Activists are also mobilizing forces to attend a July 18 meeting of the San Diego Supervisors to urge that the Board hold the Registrar accountable, investigate the June election in the 50th Congressional district, and take steps to improve voting security before November. The League of Women Voters of San Diego County also plans to speak to Supervisors about concerns over electronic voting machines, RAW STORY has learned.

Dean did not comment on election reform advocates’ request for DNC funding to pay for a hand count. The DNC leader did, however, criticize Bilbray for voting in favor of offshore oil drilling along San Diego’s coast and for voting against an increase in the minimum wage.

“I think the third time’s the charm for Francine Busby,” he concluded, joining with Busby onstage. ‘Francine Busby’s district was a Republican district - but no more in November.”

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