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On Eve of Election Day, Is the Nation’s Voting System Ready? Reports of Irregularities Pour in from Across US in Record Early Voting

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Election Day is one day away. Tomorrow, tens of millions of Americans will head to the polls. Is the nation’s voting system ready for the unprecedented turnout? In record early voting, more votes have been cast before Election Day than ever before. Already, reports of voting irregularities, long lines, malfunctioning machines and badly managed polling stations are pouring in from across the country. We speak to NYU professor Mark Crispin Miller, author of Loser Take All: Election Fraud and the Subversion of Democracy. [includes rush transcript]

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StoryOct 22, 2008Early Voting Sees Reports of Voter Intimidation, Machine Malfunctions
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Election Day is one day away. Tomorrow, tens of millions of Americans will head to the polls. Is the nation’s voting system ready for the unprecedented turnout?

Already, more votes have been cast before Election Day than ever before. As of Saturday night, there were some 27 million absentee and early votes in thirty states, according to the Associated Press. But already, reports of voting irregularities, long lines, malfunctioning machines and badly managed polling stations are pouring in from across the country.

Despite documented irregularities, about a quarter of all voters will use electronic machines that offer no paper record to verify their choice was accurately recorded. Voting rights groups have filed lawsuits against election officials in Pennsylvania and Virginia, saying they have not stocked enough paper ballots to prepare for the expected turnout.

In Colorado, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia, voters have reported using touch-screen machines that have flipped their votes to the wrong candidate or party. Meanwhile, Florida has switched to its third ballot system in the past three election cycles, and glitches associated with the transition have caused confusion at early voting sites.

This all comes in the wake of voter suppression tactics that have seen tens of thousands of voters potentially lose their right to vote. In the battleground state of Colorado, voter rights activists recently won a major victory after state officials agreed to reinstate tens of thousands of people whose names had been removed from the voter rolls.

Mark Crispin Miller is a professor of media culture and communication at New York University. He is the author of several books, most recently Loser Take All: Election Fraud and the Subversion of Democracy, 2000–2008. His previous book, Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They’ll Steal the Next One Too.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Thanks for having me back, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s start where I haven’t seen much mention, and that is this man, Mike Connell, in Ohio, testifying. Who is he? What is his relevance to the big day, to Election Day tomorrow?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Yeah, this event in a courtroom in Columbus may be one of the most important things to happen in this whole election and may be one of the most important things to happen in American history. I mean, this sounds hyperbolic, I know, but it is true.

Mike Connell is — has been named as Karl Rove’s computer guru since 2000. The lawyers in the case refer to Connell as a high-IQ Forrest Gump, because he’s been on the scene of every dubious election we’ve had over the last eight years, starting with Florida 2000.

Now, he has been named by a man named Stephen Spoonamore, S-P-O-O-N-A-M-O-R-E, who’s a very unusual and particularly unimpeachable kind of whistleblower. He’s a conservative Republican; he’s a former McCain supporter. But above all, he is a renowned and highly successful expert at the detection of computer fraud. He works for big banks. He works for foreign governments, the Secret Service. His job is to figure out how computers are used to steal money or information or votes. Well, he’s named a lot of people in the Bush-Cheney election subversion conspiracy. He has worked with them. He knows them personally. And months ago, he named Mike Connell and his company GovTech Solutions as having played a crucial role in the — basically the electronic subversion of the vote in Ohio in 2004. And Spoonamore has actually described the computer architecture that was used to do this.

Now, on the strength of this testimony, the lawyers in the case had the judge issue a subpoena to Mike Connell last week. Connell defied the subpoena; he was in contempt. Late last week, the lawyers filed a motion to compel compliance, and to everyone’s surprise and delight, the judge ordered Connell to appear today and to be deposed for two hours about his role in this longstanding electronic plot, basically, to flip votes towards the Republicans.

Some of this deposition will be sealed, and I have to tell you the part that’ll be sealed. Apparently, Rove has threatened Connell. He told him that if Connell did not take the fall for this whole thing, the Department of Justice would start investigating Connell’s wife Heather for improper lobbying practices. Now, that part of the deposition we’re not going to know the answers to. But what’s astonishing to me —-

AMY GOODMAN: Who does she lobby for?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Various politicians and so on. Whether she’s guilty or innocent is beside the point, because, as we know, the Department of Justice is a cudgel in the collective hands of the Bush administration. This would be more selective prosecution.

But what’s really astonishing here is that Karl Rove could make that threat with such impunity. This shut Connell up, and he was, you know, earlier inclined to talk about what was going on. Then he got himself three very expensive Republican attorneys who promised that they would make sure he could not be deposed before Election Day. Well, hallelujah, he’s being deposed before Election Day. And the reason why -—


MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Today. The reason why this is so important and the strategy behind the early part of this case all along has been that if we can shine a spotlight on the perpetrators of this kind of fraud before Election Day, make them nervous, make them pull in their horns, distract them, there’s a good chance that they might not try to do what they’re clearly ready to do, because, let me just add, Connell is on the McCain payroll. He’s working for McCain right now, and he specializes in a particular kind of computer architecture whose only purpose, Spoonamore says, is to steal votes.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to two issues. One, how do you know Karl Rove made these threats? That’s a very strong allegation.

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, it is a very strong allegation that comes from the lawyers that the lawyers were evidently told by Connell or someone close to him. But this stuff has been on the website of Velvet Revolution. Raw Story has reported it. The media, however, has remained over-focused, of course, on ACORN, which is a nothing story. But let me make clear that the brouhaha over ACORN, right, this orchestrated propaganda drive about ACORN, has many distracting purposes, and one of them, I promise you, is to distract us from this case. This case is an Ohio RICO case. Well, lately, the Republicans filed an Ohio RICO case against ACORN. And I think the purpose —-

AMY GOODMAN: RICO, meaning racketeering?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: It’s a racketeering case. Ohio has the strongest racketeering statute in the country. This is one of the reasons why the lawyers decided to go there and do this.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean he specializes in the computer architecture, the internet architecture, that can steal elections?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, it’s a system -— if people go to the website for Velvet Revolution, particularly, they’ll find the documents that Spoonamore has filed describing the setup that’s known as “Man in the Middle.” This happened in Ohio in 2004.

It involves shunting the data that comes from the website for the Secretary of State — I mean, the election returns — taking those election returns as they come to the website in real-time and shunting them to a computer somewhere else. What happened in 2004 was the election returns from Ken Blackwell’s website were shunted to a computer in a basement in Chattanooga, Tennessee, under the control of a very partisan private company to which Connell was connected. The data was shunted to this strange computer in Chattanooga and then directed back to the Secretary of State’s website. As Connell — I mean, sorry, as Spoonamore has said, the only purpose of doing this Man in the Middle thing is to commit crime.

Bev Harris of Black Box Voting has lately reported that there are similar Man in the Middle setups in Colorado, Illinois and Kentucky. So it’s very important that tomorrow, when we’re out there engaging in election protection and working to make the turnout as large as it possibly can be, because the larger the turnout, the harder the theft, people have to be paying very close attention to the numbers. They have to be watching the traffic at different precincts, and so on.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the issue of voting all over the country. What have — you’re following it very closely. You’re going to be with us Tuesday night for our five-hour broadcast, to be monitoring what’s happening in all the states, especially the key swing battleground states. What have you learned? It’s estimated about a quarter of people have already voted.

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Yes, an astonishing number of people have voted. And I take that as very good news, not because that necessarily ensures their votes will be safe; I take it as good news because it indicates to me that an awful lot of Americans understand that the voting apparatus that we have out there is untrustworthy, and they’re taking, you know, special steps to see to it that their votes count.

But what we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks is basically a replay, on steroids, if you will, of what we saw in 2004 — vote flipping by machines in West Virginia, Texas, Tennessee and Missouri, that we know of. And let me make something clear, Amy. All the flips go in one direction. It’s all from Obama either to McCain or to Cynthia McKinney, as it happens.

We did hear of three people who claimed that their votes were flipped from McCain to Obama in Tennessee. But they’re all related to a Republican official. Their numbers are unlisted. And they told the local newspaper and not the election commission, so I have my doubts about those three cases.

But there have also been, as usual, very long lines in Democratic precincts only. We’re talking about a calculated kind of shortage that magically does not afflict Republican precincts, only Democratic ones.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, now, in these pre-voting, in these long early lines, not all precincts are open, right?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Right, not all precincts. This is something that’s happening in some parts of the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Thirty-one states.

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: And I want to make something clear here. Turnout on Election Day, massive turnout, unprecedented turnout, is all-important, because, again, the larger the turnout, the harder the theft. The more people show up at the polls, the better it is, which means that those people who vote early should also go out on Election Day and be physically present at the polls to help to build that national mass.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Crispin Miller, I want to put off our break for a minute, because I want to play for you a piece from Pennsylvania and then get your comment. Pennsylvania, of course, a key battleground state, many believe could propel either John McCain or Barack Obama into the White House. The American News Project went to Pennsylvania to cover potential voting problems on Election Day. They filed this report.

    REPORTER: Most polls suggest the presidential race in Pennsylvania is neck-and-neck, so the vote in Philly could easily determine whether the state goes red or blue. During the primary election on April 22nd, 2008, a strong warning sign of potential November 4th problems emerged when widespread machine breakdowns led to very long lines and lost votes. And with over 200,000 new voters in Philly, voter rights groups are worried that the city is unprepared for the upcoming surge in voting. And unfortunately for voters, the people in charge seem surprisingly unconcerned.

    FRED VOIGT, Philadelphia Deputy Commissioner: Forget a long line. A long line is not justification for anything except waiting.

    MARGE TARTAGLIONE (D), Chairwoman, Philadelphia Voting Commission: Anybody have anything to say now? Or forever hold their peace.

    REPORTER: Your deputy commissioner Fred Voigt told me that “a long line is not justification for anything except waiting.” I was wondering if the commission has any response to that comment.

    MARGE TARTAGLIONE: Did you see people waiting for baseball tickets all night long outside? Did you see the line that they wanted a new iPod? They all waited overnight and waited in line. Do you go to the supermarket? You see people waiting in line? They complain, they grumble, some of them. Some of them just talk. So what is the difference?

    REPORTER: I’m sorry. Are you comparing voters who possibly have to work during the day to people who are standing in line to get an iPod or a Phillies ticket?

    MARGE TARTAGLIONE: Yeah, it’s the same people. Same people. Same people. Come on! You’re mixing apples with — sit down!

    ANGEL COLEMAN: It’s a right for every single person. I always vote, ever since I turned eighteen, the first election that I could vote in. It’s very, very important to me to be able to vote.

    I got to the school. I noticed that there were a lot more cars than in the past when I’ve come to a vote, and I thought, great, you know, there’s more people out voting. But then, when I got to the door, I noticed a couple people walking out, and people were saying that they didn’t get a chance to vote. The line was too long; they couldn’t wait. When I got inside, I definitely saw longer lines of people wanting to vote. And unfortunately, it wasn’t just that there were more people voting; it was that two out of three machines were broken down.

    REPORTER: Single mother Angel Coleman has joined the NAACP and a coalition of groups called the Election Reform Network in suing the state of Pennsylvania. They hope to improve access to emergency paper ballots in case machines break down again. The groups argue that long lines amount to a form of voter disenfranchisement, and they note that the response of election officials to the impending crisis has been woefully inadequate.

    ANGEL COLEMAN: This is real. This is a real problem. You know, it happened to me, it happened to the people that I saw walking out, it happened to the other people that were testifying in court with me yesterday. So this is a for real problem. This is all happening in Philadelphia to those people, to me. And it is representative of thousands of other people around the country.

    MARGE TARTAGLIONE: I don’t want these stories going out there’s going to be long lines. These poor senior citizens are going to pick up the paper and say, “Oh, my god! Do I gotta wait two hours in line on my feet?” Never happened in Philadelphia. I’m tired of this propaganda that they put in, that they put in! Everybody wants a story. It’s going to be my story, the lines are going to be so long. Knock it off! Knock it off! Trying to run a smooth election. You can say what you want about me, I don’t care. Spell my name right.

    REPORTER: Just hours after this hearing ended, a federal judge ruled in favor of Angel Coleman and the voters of Pennsylvania, which means that paper ballots will be issued as a backup to faulty machines. Officials like Voigt and Tartaglione are the ones responsible for implementing the court order.

AMY GOODMAN: That report, by American News Project. We’ll be getting reports from them throughout Tuesday night for the five-hour broadcast and Wednesday morning for our expanded two-hour broadcast the morning after. That voice, especially for our radio listeners who didn’t see her identified on the TV broadcast, was that of Marge Tartaglione. She said make sure you “spell my name right.” T-A-R-T-A-G-L-I-O-N-E. She is the chairwoman of the Philadelphia Voting Commission. Mark Crispin Miller, the significance of what she said — people wait all night for baseball tickets, they wait all night to get an iPhone —- what’s the problem?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, that kind of contempt, that cavalier attitude towards people voting, and equating voting, which is like a crucial civic function, with waiting in line to get the latest toy, you know, demonstrates how weak a commitment these people have to democracy. I mean, she’s a Democrat, whoopee. All over the country, given how corrupt our political culture is, we have Democrats and Republicans essentially working together against the voters. The problem in Philadelphia with the long lines and so on, we’ve seen this elsewhere in the country. Just yesterday in Georgia, people were waiting over ten hours to vote. So this is something -—

AMY GOODMAN: And who this disadvantages? You might say, well, everyone waits on the line.

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: No, that’s just it. Here again, as with the vote flips, which go in one direction, the shortages afflict basically one side. They happen in the inner cities. They happen in Hispanic neighborhoods. They happen in college towns. You see? So these people give up; they have to go to work, and so on, and they can’t vote.

AMY GOODMAN: And even if the same — even if people from across the economic spectrum wait on the same line, the issue is, who can wait? If you’re a worker who’s got to get back to work, if you have to work that day, versus if you can take time off.

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, that’s absolutely true. I’ve yet to hear, though, of any long lines afflicting, you know, the polling places in the suburbs or small towns, you know, where there’s a lot of Republican voters.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Mark Crispin Miller, voter assemblies, what are they?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Yeah, crucial, very important. I mean, there’s a lot of things people can do and must do on Election Day to keep this thing from being stolen. They’ve got to make sure they’re registered. They have to know the hotlines: 1-866-OUR-VOTE and 1-866-MY-VOTE-1. If anything happens to you on Election Day, if you’re told you’re not registered when you know you are, when people tell you that, you know — when the machine flips your vote, for example, when you’re intimidated, if there’s a police presence at the polls, if you get disinformation telling you your election day is the next day, anything at all happens, let somebody know. Call those numbers. If there are people from the media there, tell them. If there are Election Protection people there, tell them. But make sure the story gets out, because this is the kind of evidence that has to be gathered and preserved, because on election night, sure as shooting, on the networks they’ll all say, “Well, things went really well today. There were nowhere near as many problems as we thought there were.”

But finally, and most important, in the event something untoward happens and John McCain is right and he wins late at night on Election Day, as he recently said he’s going to do, any kind of an upset like that, people should be prepared to attend voter assemblies. This is something that’s being run by Liberty Tree as part of their pledge for No More Stolen Elections! The website is, The aim here is to organize voter assemblies so that on November 5th people will turn out, nonviolently, convene, discuss what’s going on and press for the proper kinds of investigations.

AMY GOODMAN: And if you voted early, you think you should go back to the polls?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Not to vote, obviously. Even though I’m from Chicago, I don’t recommend that. I think people should go back to the polling places and be visible, be present, be out there. In other words, treat this Election Day not as your opportunity to make a political choice — of course it’s that or should be that; treat Election Day as a day for the assertion of your right to vote. That’s the all-important thing. And show this system that we’re not going to take our disenfranchisement lying down.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Crispin Miller, I’ll see you right here tomorrow night, Tuesday night, with your computer, monitoring voting around the country. Mark Crispin Miller, professor of media culture and communication at NYU, New York University. Most recent book, Loser Take All: Election Fraud and the Subversion of Democracy, 2000–2008.

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