Saturday, February 8, 2003

Vote fraud, conspiracies, and real solutions to the elections problem

It has taken a long time but it looks like political progressives have finally started grasping the issue of vote fraud and the rigging of American elections. But like many other issues in the political spectrum, both political parties can be faulted for vote fraud and deserve blame for the problem. And unfortunately, these progressive accusers are making wild claims devoid of any real evidence and are weaving conspiracy theories that only Republicans are engaging in the process of stealing elections to gain political power.

 Take Bev Harris’ upcoming book “Black Box Voting: Ballot-Tampering in the 21st Century.”
While the book is not published yet, information released from the book in advance of publication has already caused a small firestorm. Harris claims that Election Systems & Software [ES&S], manufacturer of the Optech Eagle vote scanning machines, is programming their computer software so that conservatives can win elections.
Her proof?
Republican Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, who was chairman and CEO of a company which was bought by ES&S and still owns some stock, has been able to beat Democrats in both his elections. Author Thom Hartmann, who recently penned a piece about Harris’ claims for [“If You Want To Win An Election, Just Control The Voting Machines,” Friday, Jan. 31], connects some of the dots of the claims – but ignores a whole slew of election history and evidence in Nebraska that proves that Hagel probably won his elections fair and square.

Nebraska is a Republican state
According to the Nebraska Secretary of State’s Web site, of the 1,085,217 voters in the state, 49.5 percent of registered Republicans with 36.2 percent being Democrats. Another 14 percent are “nonpartisan” or independents, who trend more conservative than liberal, with independents often swinging elections into the hands of more conservative candidates all across the nation. [The Democratic Party has seen this happening and it is one of the reasons why it has swung rightward since 1994 even though by doing so, it suppresses much of the party’s grassroots, liberal support.]
Nebraska has numerous other Republican officials including a governor, auditor, secretary of state, and three representatives in Congress. Sen. Ben Nelson, a former governor, is the only statewide Democrat representing the state. But he is a very conservative, Democratic Leadership Council [DLC] Dem.
Nelson voted with the banking and credit card industry on tightening bankruptcy laws, voted to loosen wiretapping on cell phones, voted to liberalize trade with North Vietnam, and approved of Bush nominee Gale Norton as secretary of the interior – all pro-business, anti-progressive stances. He also voted for Bush’s $1.35 trillion tax cut plan and against the Democratically-backed McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill [all information provided by, a liberal Web site run by a former aide of Robert Reich].
So, even though Nelson is a “Democrat” he acts – and votes – like a Republican. No wonder Nebraskan voters love the guy!
But back to Hagel: Last year, he received 391,648 votes against Democratic candidate Charlie Matulka, who received 68,657, a big victory for the Republican incumbent. Two other candidates received 12,228 votes. In the election, more than 490,000 votes were cast, which means more than 18,000 or about 3.7 percent of the vote, were write-ins, over votes, blanks, none of the above, etc., a fairly standard amount for most elections and nowhere near enough to change the outcome of the election.
But Harris, Hartmann, and Matulka use this victory to suggest that somehow the fix was in since 80 percent of the voting machines in the state were built by Hagel’s former company. The machines must have been programmed for Hagel to win.
Hogwash. Here is why:
* Turnout: About 45 percent – pretty standard results for non-presidential election year in which left-of-center voters are notorious for not participating. While there is no data available on the turnout, there is a long history of analysis by Noam Chomsky and others, that liberal voters ignore mid-term elections.
* Money: According to, Hagel spent almost $2 million on his campaign. According to the Federal Elections Committee Web site, Matulka has no paperwork on file, meaning he spent less than $5,000 on his campaign or spent more but did not file, a violation of the law [The FEC does list one recorded contribution to Matulka, a $500 check from the US Immigration Reform Political Action Committee]. So, one candidate spends $2 million and another spends less than $5,000 and people question the guy with the millions winning? Let’s get real here: No money, no ads, no campaign, eh – no win. In Hartmann’s article, Matulka claims, "If you want to win the election, just control the machines." Sorry Charlie, money buys elections and if you have no money, you are never going to win no matter who or what controls the voting machines in your state.
* Other election results: In 2000, 707,223 voters [65 percent] in the state cast ballots with George W. Bush winning the state with 63 percent of the vote. Al Gore received 33 percent of the vote with the rest being split between Ralph Nader and other candidates.
Looking at the statewide registration and doing some mathematical analysis, it is easy to figure out that anywhere from 12 to 32 percent of non-Republican voters – Dems, indies, whatever – voted for Bush. So, why would these voters not cast ballots for Hagel two years later?
In that same election year, a statewide initiative banning same-sex marriage passed by more than 261,000 votes, better results than even Bush or Hagel received!
In a second race for an open senate seat, Democrat Nelson squeaked by Republican Don Stenberg by 12,000 votes, a slim margin. But again, Nelson isn’t really a Democrat in the true sense and he outspent his opponent by over $1 million.
Go back further ... In 1998, Republican Mike Johann easily beat Democrat Bill Hoppner by 42,000 votes, or 8 percent of the vote. In 1996, Hagel beat Nelson for the open Senate seat 54 percent to 46 percent. That year, Bill Clinton only received 35 percent of the vote.
As my algebra teacher Mr. Jaxn used to say, “QED, problem solved.”
Low liberal turnout, a Democrat who is broke, overwhelming Republican/conservative voter registration, and past election results with Republican victories, prove that Hagel’s ties to ES&S are irrelevant. Hagel did not “steal” the election.

But what about the suggestion that electronic voting machines like the ones built by ES&S are programmed to help Republicans win? Could it be possible for ES&S to electronically add votes for Republicans all across the country via modem from some super computer in Arizona?
Harris charges that the software systems cannot be trusted because ES&S was originally financed by “the radical Christian Reconstructionist Ahmanson family” and they want to fix elections so only rightwing Christians will win elections.
What is so unfortunate about this insidiously claim is that neither Harris – nor Hartmann – provide any hard evidence showing that the machines can be skewered.
Did they purchase a machine and run ballots through it to see if there were any problems? No.
Did they borrow a machine from a friendly or liberal Election’s official who might let them run some experiments? No.
Hagel and the Ahmanson family are conservatives and therefore are automatically guilty of fixing elections in the eyes of the progressives. This kind of nastiness – a literal political assassination – is so obnoxious, so offensive, that is it any wonder that these people are taking seriously at all? It is these kinds of insane allegations that make the Democrats look like a laughing stock to the voters of America and test the credibility of progressives everywhere. Haven’t they learned anything from their disastrous and negative advertising and strategy from 2002? However, to counter their arguments, let us look at some hard facts about how these machines work.

Voting machines accurately count votes
Currently – with the exception of major cities like Boston – optical scanning machines [Optech Eagle and Accuvote] are being used by most cities and towns in Massachusetts and the new machines have actually curbed vote fraud in this state. The optical scanning technology is easy and simple to use and provides a quick tabulation of the end results of the elections – in addition to providing paper ballots in case the need for a recount. The process of optical scan voting is similar to that used in aptitude tests. Voters receive paper ballots, then, they either fill in a circle or draw a line between two points, to cast a vote for a specific candidate.
During the last few years, there have been some very close elections here in Massachusetts and hand recounts of ballots scanned by machines have yielded amazingly accurate vote counts.
In the November 1999 Somerville Alderman at-Large race, incumbent alderman Bill White, a liberal Republican, beat out Bruce Desmond, a conservative Democrat, by just one vote. Desmond petitioned for a hand-recount and got it – and White ended up winning by two votes.
The optical scanning machine count had proved accurate to the hand-recount in a major city within a single vote.
The next year, during a Democratic primary for the open Middlesex County Register of Probate seat, another recount occurred, this one covering numerous cities and towns in the eastern part of the state.
In this race, former Newton mayor Thomas Concannon had a 35 machine count vote lead over Somerville alderman John Buonomo in a nine candidate field. Buonomo petitioned to recount 125 of the 473 precincts he did best in and gained 51 more votes, mostly from over votes and other irregularities. With 58,000 votes cast, the machine counts were off by less than 1/1000 of a percent.
In the October 2001 preliminary [primary] election for mayor of the city of Woburn, similar accuracy was found.
Four candidates ran for two positions with two candidates essentially tying for second place: John Curran, finishing the night with 2,544 votes, and Bryan Melanson finishing with 2,537 votes. There were five write-in votes and 20 blanks. But after a hand-recount, the numbers shifted slightly, with Curran gaining three votes and Melanson losing four. Election officials later awarded Curran with two more votes that were rejected by the machines raising his total to 2,549. Again, the electronic voting machines showed amazing accuracy when compared with the hand-recounts.
Harris rightly worries that laws are being changed in Nebraska to outlaw hand-recounts of ballot tabulation. But these problems have nothing to do with the politics of the builders of the voting machines and can easily be solved by changing the laws in the state legislature: By passing a law allowing for recounts when requested by citizens or candidates.
In Boston, a recount can be performed by anyone requesting one. The requirement is to collect 50 signatures of registered voters within 10 days of the election in question in whatever ward the challengers would like to be counted. If the people of Nebraska are worried about their ability to be able to recount the machines, they should lobby for changes in the law to guarantee their constitutional protections.

Worry about the new paperless machines
The larger fear by activists and people worried about vote fraud should not be the politics of corporate financiers but instead the paperless voting process.
Of late, “direct recording electronic devices” or DREs, are being proposed to some communities as a solution to updating lever machine and punch-card ballot processes. These machines work like ATM bank machines, with a touch-tone screen, which are extremely easy to use.
But like the aging lever machines, there are no paper ballots involved, so recounts by hand will not exist. According to manufacturers, the DRE machines “remember” each individual vote that is cast on a computer hard drive, which can be printed out later in the case of recounts. But why bother with this process when the optical scanner offers both the quick count and a paper trail? At least with the ES&S machines, there is a paper trail: The ballots themselves!
Enter Palm Beach County, the Democratically-controlled land of the notorious “butterfly ballot.”
After the debacle involving the punch card ballots which eliminated thousands of ballots in the 2000 election because of non votes and double votes, $14 million was spent on new these new touch-screen voting machines.
However, from the start, there have been problems with these machines. During municipal elections in March 2002, many of the machines didn’t work and poll workers had no idea how to work the software in the machines. According to media reports, some of the machines froze or did not respond to touch, leading voters to believe that their votes were not cast. Some machines were not even plugged in. Some of the new machines were supposed to print out a report summarizing each vote recorded but election officials were not using this procedure because it would “compromise ballot security and privacy.” A month later, during more municipal elections, there were more problems, with more malfunctions, with no paper trail, and more angry voters and candidates.
Clearly, even from this early evidence, the touch-tone machines are not an adequate vote counting process and activists should be adamant about stopping their cities and towns from purchasing these machines.

Double voting vote fraud
Although progressives and Democrats are now crying foul about vote fraud they can blame the actions of their own for encouraging the process of fraud.
Take “double voting” and the Motor Voter Bill of 1993.
Double voting has become a more frequent occurrence since the passage of the bill, promoted by Clinton and the Democratically-controlled House and Senate. The bill federalized and loosened the voter registration process, making it easier for people to register to vote. Gone are the days of showing a birth certificate or proof of citizenship to access the right to vote. Just fill out the little form, and bingo, you are registered. The laws are so lax now that people have been registering their cats and children, just to show how ridiculously easy the process is.
In October 1998, WHDH-TV Boston’s local NBC affiliate and later, The Boston Phoenix, the liberal arts weekly, did exposés on how people were registered multiple times on the voter’s lists in some of Massachusetts’ metropolitan areas.
According to research done by Hank Phillipi Ryan of WHDH, local election offices are required to enter voter registrations into a central state computer. That computer is supposed to weed out potential fraud, but her investigation revealed that the computer did not work. Ryan took the lists from six cities: Boston, Cambridge, Framingham, Lowell, Revere, and New Bedford, and had them analyzed by a California software company which found thousands of people registered more than once. She hypothesized that in a very tight election, if these people voted twice, the double votes could mean the difference between winning and losing. Even more embarrassing for local election departments was the fact that Ryan found people registered to vote illegally at mailbox drops (110 at one location) and even the Statler Building, a state office building where no one lives!
Think double voting doesn’t exist? Think again.
A sidebar to the 2000 election was that more than 174 students attending Marquette University in Wisconsin admitted to voting more than once, just to see if they could get away with it. At least one student claimed to have voted four times at the same polling location, but when told of the serious criminal action that could be taken against him, he later recanted the story. A California man was given three years probation earlier last spring after admitting that he double voted in different counties during two different statewide elections.
Recent “reforms” such as mail-in voting in Oregon and Texas and Internet voting in Arizona have also raised fears of double voting fraud.
The double voting problem also doesn’t take into account the thousands of “inactive” voters that are left on the voter rolls, a blatant invitation for vote fraud. More often than not, from their own annual census, local election departments often know that the inactive voters no longer live at the addresses.
According to the Motor Voter Law, these voters must be left on the rolls for at least two federal election cycles, after that, they can be removed.
Despite claims that Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Katherine Harris – both Republicans – purged voter rolls to keep blacks and felons from voting, it is actually the responsibility of Florida county election officials – many of them Democrats – to implement this law. Many officials did purge the voter rolls even though it may have accidentally – albeit legally – removed thousands for voters from the voter’s lists in that state who wanted to vote in the 2000 election.
Some election departments leave inactive voters on the rolls even though the voters may no longer live at the addresses – skirting the law for the sake of convenience. But, the lack of removal of inactive voter’s from the rolls is inviting fraud. And anyone with knowledge of database accounting could easily coordinate a group of people to use the names of inactive voters to cast illegal votes.
Think about it this way: Even if only 10 people cast one extra vote in every precinct in a major city like Boston, more than 2,500 illegal votes would be cast. That is the difference between third and fifth place in a city council race. If 100 people cast one extra vote in each precinct, 25,000 illegal votes could be cast. That is the difference between winning and losing a senate or gubernatorial election.
Since the poll workers do not request identification at the polling booth, there is no way of knowing who the person really is, and no way of knowing whether thousands of people cast double votes.

Absentee ballot vote fraud
Because so many people have busy lives and are often out of town on Election Day, election departments allow voters to file absentee ballots and vote in advance of the election. While this is a nice convenience for voters, in recent years, more and more fraud cases have arisen from the absentee ballot option.
A quick search of the Internet on revealed literally thousands of absentee ballot voter fraud stories from California to Florida, Illinois to Maine, with actually prosecutions, fines, and jail time issued.
In 1998, Xavier Suarez, then the Republican mayor of Miami, had a judge overturn his election results, after it was found that his supporters had been found guilty of falsifying absentee ballots. A former representative from Pennsylvania was indicted in 1999 for absentee ballot fraud when he and his wife reportedly assisted about 70 elderly people at a nursing home in filling out their ballot forms. Last year, in Winston, Alabama, two judges and a sheriff were caught trading absentee ballots to other candidates for liquor and money during a Republican primary and were subsequently kicked out of office and brought up on charges. And in Atlantic City, numerous residents complained when they were told that they had already voted by absentee ballots, even though the signatures didn’t match and the voters claimed they hadn’t voted.
Since campaigns are legally allowed to assist in getting their supporters to use absentee ballots, more abuse of the process will occur. Sometimes the absentee ballot stuffing comes from within the election departments themselves.
But because smart campaigns know how to utilize past election returns to create lists of people who do and do not vote, they also have the ability to find a handful of needed absentee ballots in a tight race – especially if the campaign thinks they are about to lose an election.
Some election departments have begun to regulate more closely how absentee ballots are accessed. But like double voting and registration problems, fraudulent absentee ballots will continue to be a problem.

There is vote fraud in America and the solutions are pretty simple. But in order to fix them, the country must move beyond partisan politics and emotional rhetoric and stick to what is accurate and what is factual. Only then will the correct resolution be implemented and then a free and open process will prevail.

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