The E-Vote Factor: Kerry Conceded But Did He Really Lose?

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Serious questions are being raised about the use of electronic voting machines in the 2004 presidential election. In an Ohio county, Bush mistakenly received some 3,900 extra votes. We speak Johns Hopkins University professor Aviel Rubin and investigative reporter Bev Harris. [includes rush transcript]

President Bush arrives back in Washington today after spending a 3-day weekend at Camp David. Since John Kerry conceded to Bush last Wednesday, the president and his advisers have talked extensively about what they call Bush’s strong mandate to govern following the November 2 election. But as the rumor mill swirls about a reshuffling of Bush’s cabinet and John Kerry returns to the Senate, there are many people who are not willing to simply move on from last Tuesday’s election.

Many of John Kerry’s supporters were stunned last Wednesday when their candidate conceded the presidency to Bush. Just hours earlier, his running mate John Edwards told a rally of their supporters in Boston that they would not stop until every vote was counted, a reference to the hundreds of thousands of provisional ballots in the key state of Ohio that some Democrats believed could have tipped the balance. But it’s not just the provisional ballots.

Even though Kerry has stopped fighting for the presidency, serious questions abound about the use of electronic voting machines. Take this story: In a voting precinct in Ohio’s Franklin County, records show that 638 people cast ballots. Yet, George W Bush got 4,258 votes to John Kerry’s 260. In reality, Bush only received 365 votes. That means Bush got nearly 3,900 extra votes. And that’s just in one small precinct. This in a state that Bush officially won by only 136,000 votes. Elections officials blamed electronic voting for the extra Bush votes.

Meanwhile, a number of Congresspeople are asking the General Accounting Office to investigate electronic voting and the 2004 election and the nonprofit group Blackbox Voting has begun the process of filing the largest Freedom of Information Act request in history.

  • Bev Harris, investigative reporter and author of the book “Black Box Voting.” She has announced plans to file the largest FOIA action in history by seeking the internal logs from voting machines from every county that used electronic voting machines.
  • Aviel Rubin, professor at Johns Hopkins University and co-author of the report “Analysis of an Electronic Voting System” the initial study of security flaws in voting machine software. He served as an election judge in Baltimore County on November 2nd.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the woman behind that process, investigative reporter, Bev Harris. She is the author of the book, Black Box Voting. We also are joined by Professor Aviel Rubin who teaches at Johns Hopkins University and is co-author of the report, “Analysis of an Electronic Voting System,” the initial study of security flaws in voting machine software. He served as an election judge in Baltimore county on November 2. Bev Harris, let’s begin with you. What exactly — what kind of information are you looking for now?

BEV HARRIS: Well, first, we’re seeking internal audit logs of the machines, which are public record. There’s nothing proprietary about this. It’s interesting so far. We have been getting responses, but the officials who run the machines, the county officials, are really so clueless. They don’t know what their machines’ records are, or how to print them out. So we find ourselves guiding them through the menus on their own software to show them how to print this information out which is a bit scary. But we also sought documentation on all of the troubled slips in all of the documentation of any problems that they had. Right now, we’re following up, you know, we have all of the anomalies such as the viewer mentioning, and we’re following up with specific public records requests, for example, give me the internal log of machine number such and such of that precinct, or depending on the type of anomaly they’re reporting, we are seeking the specific types of records that will shed more light on that.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to a break and then come back to this discussion of the counting of the votes last Tuesday. This is Democracy Now!. We’ll be back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue on the issue of the electronic voting machines and the overall count in the election. Our guest are Bev Harris, author of the book, Black Box Voting, has plans to file the largest Freedom of Information Act Request in history, by seeking the internal logs from voting machines of every county that used electronic voting machines, and Aviel Rubin, professor at Johns Hopkins University, who served as an elections judge in Baltimore county on November 2 and is co-author of the report, “Analysis of the Electronic Voting System.” Professor Rubin, your assessment of what happened Tuesday.

AVIEL RUBIN: Well, I think that we have a problem now, which is that we have dug ourselves a big hole by running an election using systems that — there’s really no way to tell what’s going on inside the voting machines. So, when — I’d like to separate out all of the talk about the glitches and things not working from the idea that somebody, you know, security — somebody may have rigged the machines or tampered with them. And I think the fact that we’re using systems where it’s impossible to tell is very scary. So, Bev talked about these problems that they’re trying to uncover, and we have seen the news stories about problems, but what I worry about are the ones that may have happened that are totally undetectable. For example, it doesn’t make bug news if a voting machine switches 5% of the votes from one candidate to another, because nobody ever knows it because we have a secret ballot in this country. I think it’s very important that we move away from systems where nobody can really see what’s going on inside at the time of the election. And there’s no capability of doing a recount towards more verifiable, auditable systems, for example, if you had a voter verified paper ballot.

AMY GOODMAN: Why the opposition? You had the Election Monitoring Group, that the State Department brought in itself from the OSCE, the Organization of Security and Cooperation Europe. Some of their election monitors were saying that this is worse than the situation in Serbia, another one referring to the Venezuelan elections and saying, their electronic voting machines, people were given a ticket that they dropped in a box and randomly around the country, they can compare the paper trail in the boxes to the voting machines. Why is there such fierce opposition to having any paper trail, which means zero possibility of recount?

AVIEL RUBIN: I have always been very surprised that the people running elections are not jumping at the chance of having a way to recount the election. I think that, you know, the best thing would be to get one of those people on the show and ask them that question, because it doesn’t make any sense it me. From the vendor’s perspective, they would sell a more expensive, more feature-rich product if they could add photograph verifiable printout. I have been completely confused about why they’re — everybody is not embracing this concept.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you convinced, Professor Rubin, that President Bush won this election?

AVIEL RUBIN: I don’t know. I think that as long as we use systems where you cannot really tell what’s going on inside the machine — you know, when I was an election judge, I watched people walk into the precinct, walk up to Diebold machines, vote, and walk out. And at the end of the day we printed results. And I was thinking if I had written that program that’s running on those machines, I could have made any outcome that I wanted come out. So, you know, do I believe that Bush really won? Well, I don’t know.

AMY GOODMAN: What about this letter, Bev Harris, that has been signed by three Congress members, including Florida Congress member Robert Wexler, John Conyers, and Gerald Nadler. Can you talk about it? We have hardly seen any reference to it.

BEV HARRIS: Well, you know, the concern I have is, we have got to go after this from all fronts. I haven’t seen any reference to it in the media. I have also been told from sources that I have inside the media that are fairly high up that particularly in TV, there’s been — there is now a lockdown on this story. It is officially and from an executive producer level, let’s move on time. And I am very concerned about that, because it looks like we’re going to have to go to places like BBC, to get the real story out. I find it amazing that we went ahead with an election without even auditing it. You are never going to find the problems with the machines that you can quantify until you at least do the basic canvassing that’s in the current election procedures, such as, comparing how many people showed up to vote with how many signatures are in this poll book with how many votes show up in the machines. They haven’t even done that. And to make it even worse, Ohio, they don’t even know how many provisional ballots there are. They don’t know if there’s 150,000 or 500,000. They don’t seem to be able to tell us what records they have. This is amazing, and I knew this was going to happen. They set up this thing. They said we’re going to have provisional ballots nationwide. They didn’t set up any auditing for them. And so, in case after case, we’re not able to account for those ballots. We ought to know, because they’re cast at the precinct. We ought to know how many provision ballots we have on election night. Why wouldn’t we if we have proper book keeping?

AMY GOODMAN: There’s been serious questions raised about New Mexico, but does it hurt trying to find out the ultimate counts that John Kerry and John Edwards so immediately conceded, despite the fact that Edwards had said as they promised during the campaigns, making references to Al Gore squelching protests four years ago, that they would make sure that the votes were counted?

BEV HARRIS: Oh yes, they conceded very prematurely. As I was saying in Ohio, they don’t even know if they won or lost in Ohio, really. They are basing this on, I think, a verbal okay from someone in the Secretary of State’s office that said, that they were being assured there was only 150,000 provisional ballots. Well I said, where is the source data on that? What auditing do they have on those? They couldn’t tell me. You see, I don’t understand how you would concede anyway without even beginning the canvassing, because with these voting machines, we don’t have adequate auditing in place, but we have some. The full auditing we have does — it does find some anomalies that are quite big and sometimes they flip elections. So, you know, why not just wait a couple of days. The other thing I’m seeing is that in some parts the media gave a huge push to hurry, hurry, hurry, certify. This was happening in New Mexico. They’re saying — they’re putting tremendous pressure on Governor Bill Richardson to hurry and certify the election. Well why? You have x-number of days to certify the election. One would think you would want it to be right, and you’d think would you want to go through and you want to check out the information. And understand, a lot of this is already election procedures. We keep saying that election procedures are what really save us from the insecure and mysterious machines, and that the election procedures would catch anomalies. Understand, that they have not done the election procedures yet in most cases. They have chosen to go ahead and call elections without doing the very procedures that they say protect the system.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us, Bev Harris, who is filing the largest Freedom of Information Act request in the history of the act, and Professor Avi Rubin of Johns Hopkins University.

AVIEL RUBIN: Thanks a lot.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you.

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