There is something stunning taking place around the widely reported 18,000 undervotes saga continuing to unfold in Sarasota that has yet to be reported. This is the human story of the activists and the leaders who have worked 24/7 to bring our state out of the abyss that is unauditable, paperless touchscreen voting. They have fueled a movement of determination and selflessness: bold and courageous, yet unassuming. Smart and decisive; truly rare and noble. It is breathtaking to witness from a front row seat. It is gratifying to play a role. Ultimately, I have come to realize -- plain and simple-- that there are heroes in our midst. And together, we are making history.
Wednesday, November 8, 2006
It’s just a day after the November 7th general election in Sarasota County and, after watching news reports of the astounding undervotes in that election, I got a call today from a friend at Voter Action alerting me that Lowell Finley, Esq., Co-Director of Voter Action, a non-partisan, national election integrity group (www.VoterAction.org), was on his way to Florida. My friend said he was boarding a flight at that moment, NOT to take him home from a tiring fourteen-day trip on the road doing election day observation training that culminated in intensive election protection work in D.C., but rather to sunny South Florida. Bags packed with spent laundry and no idea when he might return home, this diversion took Lowell Finley straight into the eye of our "perfect storm." After watching successful non-partisan litigation by Lowell Finley and Voter Action in nine states over the past year, including a $2.6 million settlement for the State of California from Diebold, and knowing them to be a fantastic coalition partner through VoteTrustUSA, we that watch these things are quite excited to hear he is on the way to Florida.
In Sarasota County, where a recently successful citizens’ petition for voter-verified paper ballots won with 55% of the vote, the community is still reeling from the apparent loss of 18,000 undervotes in only one race on a 21-page ballot. Finley, tipped off by information gathered by Voter Action’s Watch The Vote program, knew right away that an investigation was warranted and, once he arrived, set to work immediately collecting evidence and interviewing voters, intent on finding out just what happened.
Grassroots election integrity leaders and concerned citizens from other counties in Florida are coming to Sarasota County on their own as well, to be here to lend a hand and to support the investigation. Every day we’re hearing of more people coming. One drove five hours from Volusia County, and is planting herself squarely in the heart of the recount, despite resistance from the Supervisor of Elections, quoting book and chapter of the Florida Statutes when necessary, to assert her right as a citizen to observe the recount in a way that is meaningful. Others are driving from Pinellas County, unasked, to watch over the comings and goings at the warehouse of the Sarasota County Elections Department where the voting machines are housed.
As for me, I find myself on endless conference calls in my kids’ carpool circle and in the grocery store, helping any way I can to run clearance with local activists and press and evidence collection. Ultimately, I find I must just jump in fully, and so packed up a ton of office supplies, granola bars and strong coffee for what are sure to be long days and nights of legal investigation, and driving an hour each way back and forth every day while my kids are in school to support the legal team.
At times like these, I always like to remind myself of that guy that saved the Sequoias "in his spare time." What is his name?
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Meanwhile, the stream of aggrieved voters flows relentlessly, day after day. There seems to be no end. Now, other Florida and national organizations are interested, and People For the American Way, ACLU Foundation of Florida, and Electronic Frontier Foundation have joined in this unprecedented investigation to get to the bottom of an election fiasco that left much of the county scratching their heads, wondering whether their own votes are one of the ones lost. Will they ever know?
Many voters noticed the machines weren’t functioning properly during early voting and there had been a significant number of complaints reported on the radio and in the press. So, by the time voters came to vote on Election Day, many were on high alert for problems after having heard the alarming stories. Many were shocked to hear their own identical voting problems recounted on the radio by other voters.
The stories flew like wildfire, and many of them went about like this: Voters who had tried to register their vote for Christine Jennings, a Democrat, in the Congressional District 13 race, had to repeat the process one or more times before it seemed "to take," but, perhaps most troubling of all, the machines were not properly alerting voters of their undervotes. Had they not checked closely, they would have missed that their vote had vanished. Most voters are adamant that there was something wrong with the machines.
The naysayers are lining up to blame voters. Kathy Dent blamed what she thought were disruptive voters who were attempting to falsely discredit the voting machines. Some say it’s was bad ballot design, or a nasty and contentious political campaign that caused voters to intentionally snub that race. Some even say it was a case of "sour grapes" on the part of Democrats. The latter two arguments don’t hold water at all, because the 13th District encompasses four other counties, none of which had this problem. Also, the paper ballots in Sarasota County only show a 2-3% undervote rate, whereas the paperless touchscreens show a shocking 16-17% undervote rate! To top it off, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports that 18% of the more than 300 voters who called to report problems were Republicans.
Today, November 15th, People For The American Way ("PFAW") held a press conference in front of the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections office announcing that they would join in the non-partisan investigation. They also announced that they would hold a forum tomorrow night, where voters can come and give their accounts. By this afternoon, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida ("ACLU") and Electronic Frontier Foundation ("EFF"), joined the effort as well. We also understand Common Cause is interested in supporting this effort.
Things are moving very quickly now.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
The voter’s forum this evening overflowed with people eager to tell their stories, and lasted a heartbreaking three and a half hours. Voter after voter told detailed and disturbing stories of what they had experienced and television cameras lined up against the back wall of the meeting room like racehorses waiting for a gun to go off. The panel assembled to hear the voters’ stories included Lowell Finley of Voter Action, Reggie Mitchell of People For the American Way, Becky Steele and Muslima Lewis of ACLU Foundation of Florida, Molly McCartney of Common Cause, and Susan Pynchon of Florida Fair Elections. There was a court reporter present.
Now, much of my time is spent talking to voters and taking their information and accounts over the phone. The race is on to have our complaint filed immediately after the election is certified on November 20th.
Friday, November 17, 2006
At this point the pressure is on to track down final numbers from the other counties in Congressional District 13, including, DeSoto, Manatee, Hardee and Charlotte Counties. It’s a painstaking and time-consuming process owing to the fact that the software the counties use for recording and posting recount results doesn’t interface properly with regular results reporting software. Consequently, these recount adjustments are being entered by hand in some of these counties and coming out very slowly. This also included retrieval of information from Lee and Sumter Counties where undervote anomalies in the attorney general race were even greater than CD-13 in Sarasota County, and in the neighborhood of 20%.
The Jennings’ camp was first to file their contest the same day of the election certification, on November 20th.
On the morning of Tuesday, November 21st, at a hearing in Judge William L. Gary’s courtroom in Tallahassee, Jennings’ counsel raised various issues. Lowell Finley of Voter Action and Reggie Mitchell of People for the American Way were there and were recognized by the court as representing the interests of the voters.
Lowell Finley, Reggie Mitchell, and Larry Spaulding of ACLU of Florida, were on hand at a press conference that same afternoon on the courthouse stepsto announce the filing of the complaint on behalf of the Sarasota voters and poll workers. Also, in attendance was one of the Co-Plaintiffs in the voters’ lawsuit, Barbara Klein, who is a Republican voter from Sarasota County. Immediately thereafter, the voters’ lawsuit was filed in the Leon County Courthouse.
After this marathon, all raced home to our respective families for Thanksgiving break.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Lowell Finley hops on a redeye from San Francisco to Tampa.
Time out here for a commercial break and an unabashed plea. (As much as I personally hate commercials, this just cannot go without mention.)
Here’s what you need to know about Voter Action:
Lowell Finley has been officially named lead counsel in the voters’ lawsuit. We are so very fortunate to have him here in Florida because he has over 20 years election law experience and is one of the few attorneys in the nation with specific expertise in litigating electronic voting issues. He was the first lawyer to challenge touchscreen voting systems when he sued Diebold on behalf of the State of California in a false claims lawsuit. Lowell Finley and/or Voter Action is currently or has been involved in litigation involving electronic voting systems in now ten states and has amassed a tremendous legal arsenal of testimony, pleadings and evidence specifically relative to electronic voting issues.
Voter Action is a relatively new, very small "action-oriented" organization. They are not possessed of the sophisticated online fundraising tools available to the big organizations collaborating in this effort.
Cut to the chase: If we care about getting Florida right (finally) in the electoral sense of the word, one of the best things we can do right now is to support the phenomenal work of Voter Action by donating and spreading the word. These wonderful people are knocking themselves out for us, and have done so in many other states as well. This is OUR chance to hit one out of the park for voters in Florida (and the nation) by supporting Voter Action.
Here’s the link to their fiscal sponsor: International Humanities Center
Go do it for Florida!!
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Testing by the State Division of Election resumed today in Sarasota County, with Finley present from 7:45am to 7:30pm. Reggie Mitchell also came to watch over the process.
This is where we go a bit technical on you. Hang in there.
The voting machines were set up vertically for the parallel testing today, hanging on office cubicle partitions, as they never are found in real elections. This affects a voters’ line-of-sight, fails to test for real-election physical set-up, and casts doubt on this whole procedure at the very least. But then so do many other aspects of this "audit."
The audit was not designed and conducted by independent experts. Rather, state personnel conducting the audit represent a deeply conflicted party. The Secretary of State is a named Defendant in the VoterAction-led suit filed on behalf of Sarasota County voters and pollworkers. (Read the complaint here: http://www.voteraction.org/... Further, the whole Division of Elections can be reasonably described as defending itself against possible shortcoming. Isn’t there something obviously flawed about allowing a defendant to conduct this investigation?
Though the clocks on the machines are set back to the date of the election during this test, generally, malicious software is capable of watching the clock, and knowing when the clock is reset. Since it knows the date and time, it is programmed not to misbehave if it's not during a live election. Therefore, it's possible for a malicious bug that was wide awake during the election to sleep right through this "audit."
Test voters vote over and over in the "audit." Real election voters don't enjoy the same opportunity to practice. They're voting cold after not having seen a machine for months or years. Practiced test voters can hone their skills at touching sensitive or even mis-calibrated touchscreens. Even with this, Lowell Finley and others observed test voters at today's audit having considerable difficulty registering their votes on the touchscreens. Some testers required two or three attempts to get a touch to register on the screen. Some appeared to have one in every three attempts to register a touch fail. So, even practiced test voters are having trouble with the touchscreens during the "audit." Not a good sign.
The "audit" used scripted voting. To make it sound scientific, the scripts came from actual votes cast during the election, then followed the actual times that some votes was cast-- not necessarily when that particular vote-- was cast. They could not repeat the keystrokes used by the voters because that information is not recorded, including problems voters might have had having to make multiple tries to have a touchscreen record their touch. While today's procedure may have tested for a narrow range of possibilities, it failed to test broadly for a wider range of possibilities that could have been revealed by more rigorous and thorough testing. It is valid and reasonable for testing to try to make a system fail. That's what thorough testing is supposed to do.
The tests today did indeed revealed discrepancies. At least three votes recorded as undervotes in the election changed to Jennings votes in today's "audit." That's comes out to an approximate 7% shift in a race decided by less than two-tenths of one percent. It will be quite interesting to see how the State Division of Elections explains this shift.
Besides the "audit" testing today, there were multiple conference calls to coordinate and plan for the Revote Rally which is happening on December 3rd in Sarasota (2pm at Bayfront "Island" Park, 2 Marine Plaza, Sarasota 34236, in case you care to come join us!). People from all over the state were on the call, including people from Common Cause, Voter Action, ACLU of Florida, Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections, Voting Integrity Alliance of Tampa Bay, and Broward Election Reform Coalition. We also learned today that the NAACP Sarasota Chapter is supporting this rally and the voters’ lawsuit. This is going to be one kick-ass rally! I can’t wait.
Oh, and I just got an early birthday present. It’s a Bluetooth headset and a data phone so I don’t get in trouble with the school for being on conference calls in the carpool circle. My hair covers the earpiece quite nicely.
Watch for more Sarasota Diaries in the near future by me and other activists close to the action here. We want and need all of you to come along for the ride.
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