Guests: Sean Greene, Director of Research at "electionline.org", Mark Crispin Miller, Professor of Culture and Communication at New York University & author of "Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They'll Steal the Next One Too," John Fund, Columnist for The Wall Street Journal & author of "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy," Avi Rubin, Professor of Computer Science at Johns Hopkins University & author of the recently-released "Brave New Ballot: The Battle to Safeguard Democracy in the Age of Electronic Voting," and Ian Inaba of videothevote.org.
WBUR Host Tom Ashbrook believes that with all the excitement and anticipation about the upcoming elections -- now only a week away -- there are also fears about the process. The Washington Post carried a report on the person who has exacerbated those fears through his cocky confidence that the Republican majority will be maintained in both Senate and House -- Karl Rove. Just how vulnerable is the election process? Ashbrook asks: "Are you confident that the country's electoral system is good, or good enough, to reflect the people's will?"
Tom Ashbrook: Joining me first -- from Washington -- is Sean Greene, Research Director at "electionline.org." It's billed as the nation's only non-partisan, non-advocacy website providing news and analysis on election reform. It came out with a big report last week looking at potential trouble spots in next Tuesday's midterm election... We'll get to what you found, but first just a response to your report of last week -- what's your assessment of the level of fear among Americans about the credibility -- the validity -- the security -- of the vote?
Sean Greene: I think there is a fairly strong concern out there. In fact, in the past week after our report, we even saw polls asking people about their confidence in the vote and the numbers, especially in certain demographic groups, aren't very good -- for the competence, accuracy, and validity of the vote.
Ashbrook: Who is most lacking in confidence? ...
Greene: When they compared Democrats to Republicans, Democrats had more concerns as did African Americans.
Ashbrook: Do those fears look justified to you? When you talk to American citizens, do you say "go with fear and trepidation into this process" or "fundamentally sound."
Greene: Not go with fear and trepidation, but try to be as prepared as possible in the sense of doublechecking your registration before the election, figure out where your polling place is, and educate yourself in the kind of voting technology that's in use in your polling place. I think what we've noticed in the states that we pointed out in our report that might have potential trouble spots, that have a combination of close Congressional races with fairly new technology and new requirements -- such as voter identification or registration requirements.
Ashbrook: Sean, 2000 was such a bell-ringer in terms of raising American concerns about how the vote works, it was so close, and we all saw what happened in Florida with so much controversy about that. 2004 had its own controversy, some pretty significant. Where are we in the American response to the concerns that, to say the least, were put on the table by those two elections? What's happened since then in terms of addressing? Responding?
Greene: Well, I'd say we're still actually in the beginning of the process of responding to those changes. The Help America Vote Act (HAVA), a federal law which was passed in 2002 in response to what happened to Florida in 2000, tried to address those issues. It focused on voting technology, voter registration, provisional ballots at the polls so no one would be turned away from the polls if they were not on the registration list. The problem we've seen is that while most people seem pleased we've moved away from punch cards, the move to new technology and new requirements led to a whole set of concerns which I think were unexpected for some people but not for all.
Ashbrook: What are the concerns that are arising now?
Greene: As we've discussed, the biggest concerns are the voting technologies and specifically electronic voting. Not only during this primary season, states that have rolled out their voting machines for the first time. There have been a number of problems having to do with the machines themselves, pollworkers' interactions with the machines. I think that's what's causing the biggest stir. But there are also new voter identification requirements in certain states that certain groups feel are too restrictive and might disenfranchise certain people at the polls.
Ashbrook: Give us an example. What's the most extreme requirement of voter ID being rolled out that voters will face in this voting day, next week?
Greene: Well, there are two states -- Indiana and Florida -- that now require photo ID at the polls and if you don't have a photo ID, you can then case a provisional ballot. Your registration status will then be checked later for its validity. There are two other states -- Georgia and Missouri -- that also have photo ID laws, but they were actually struck down by courts. So for now, in those states, they'll just ask all voters to show ID photo or non-photo ID.
Ashbrook: And the concern there is that people may not vote because they're afraid they won't have the right ID when they get to the polls?
Greene: Exactly. That people, if they don't have a correct ID, they might not go to the polls or they're scared they may be incorrectly turned away at the polls -- or that a provisional ballot is not a regular ballot, and how the provisional ballot is counted if that's what they have to have. It counts differently than a regular ballot. There's that concern as well.
Ashbrook: What's driven these moves in Indiana and Florida and elsewhere? Is there evidence that there was in fact people voting early and often? Was that the problem? Or non-citizens vote? Was there evidence of substantial abuse?
Greene: I think that's been the concern. This is certainly the most partisan issue in all of election reform, is that Republicans pretty much across the board support stricter and stronger identification rules, and Democrats tend to oppose them, saying they depress the vote. What's interesting, though, is both sides have presented a lot of anecdotal evidence but there have not been a lot of studies on either side, showing across the board numbers of the concerns that I mentioned. Certainly what we have seen in the past, and this is true -- that there are dead voters on the registration rolls and people worry that could lead to potentially someone not alive voting! But there haven't been a lot of cases of actually polling-place voter fraud that have been substantiated.
Ashbrook: What about new regulations surrounding registration -- tightening that up or making it easier? What are the trend there? Where are the areas of concern?
Greene: I think the trends have been towards tightening up in certain states. In Ohio and Florida for example they passed laws where third-party registration groups, where advocacy groups, League of Women Voters, would register voters and hand in registration forms that were invalid or incomplete or fraudulent. I think those states responded by saying, We're going to pass laws that impose more regulations on who can hand these in, what sort of training process you have to go through... that sort of thing. In both those states, those laws actually got struck down by courts as being too restrictive. But that's been the move. I think there's been a concern that some of these groups return fraudulent or poorly filled out registration forms.
Ashbrook: The concern on the other side is that tightening the regulations around registration make it harder to get more citizens to the polls. With those having been struck down by courts, are there any new, tighter regulations actually in effect for these 2006 midterms?
Greene: Well, when it comes to filling out your registration form, in Arizona, for example, they passed Proposition 200 which has actually gone back and forth with the courts. It required ID at the polls but it also required that when you hand in your registration form that you provide proof of citizenship. That has gone back and forth. That's still in effect and has been in effect in Arizona for all of 2006.
Ashbrook: Issues around ID. Issues around registration and maybe above all, in voters' minds, concern around lots of new technology being put out there particularly in this vote. We're joined right now from Baltimore by Avi Rubin, Professor of Computer Science at Johns Hopkins University, and author of the new book, "Brave New Ballot: The battle to safeguard Democracy in the age of electronic voting." Avi Rubin, so where is the hot edge of concern around electronic voting? How many more Americans will be doing it this year, and how confident can they be in the outcome of those touch-screen or other electronic votes?
Avi Rubin: Well, the number of people voting on electronic voting machines is unprecedented and it's very high right now. We have 39% of voters will vote on these touch-screen voting machines and I think there's a lot of cause for concern. In many places the electronic machines have no paper record of the votes and so you've got what amounts to a Windows machine in most cases, a self-contained computer with a voting application on it and voters will go up and make their selections and vote, and the votes will be tallied on a computer memory card. The problem is that there's no way to audit such a system. So if there's a bug in the software and the machines get the wrong answer we might never know it or we might get some ridiculous results and we'd know there was a problem but there would be no way to recover from it. And you can't perform any recounts on these systems. I think the potential for vote-rigging and vote-fraud is very high, especially when you consider that we can't tell for sure if it happened or not. And so certainly kinds of outcomes in the election could spark all kinds of theories about what happened and there would be nothing that we could [inaudible] the way we did in Florida 2000 which is an example of a very difficult election that [faulty transmission from WBUR archives, or Avi Rubin's cellphone, takes out several words here]... we were able to have a recount and observe the process.
Ashbrook: So potential for manipulation... You also say that there's potential for glitches. It's new software; some people just don't know how to use it. Or there are problems within the software. Which do you see as the greater concern, active manipulation or just computer glitches that we have all come to know and not love!
Rubin: My biggest concern is the collection of those. Collectively they result in an election where we can't know that we got the right answer. I don't know how likely it is that fraud will occur. I guess whoever loses is likely to have some claim and I think the claim will be a lot stronger where there's a system that's not auditable and which can't be recounted.
Ashbrook: Sean Greene, that's a very disconcerting view from Avi Rubin. Can we live with this level of uncertainty about the vote's outcome? George Will says today, C'mon, there are a lot of people in this country and a lot of votes... Get over it. It's not the margin of victory we're talking about here. We've got to have a little tolerance... Can we live with this? Do we still need some kind of major overhaul?
Greene: About what Avi was talking about, there are a number of states which have moved to paper trails and having the voter-verified paper audit trail on electronic voting machines to be the actual record for a recount. As Avi mentioned, I think there are 15 states plus the District of Columbia that use some touch-screen voting machines that are paperless. It's a big concern for a lot of people in those jurisdictions.
Ashbrook: Those are words we don't want to hear, going straight into voting day... On the electronic front, Avi, so many more people are going to be voting that way in 2006. What's your answer here? What are you proposing that will bolster confidence in the accuracy, honesty, security of the electronic vote?
Rubin: I've been studying this now for several years and I've seen all kinds of technologies. There are multiple ones. And the best one I think we could have would be paper ballots. We can use technology to augment the process quite a bit. We could use computer touch-screens to mark the paper ballots so you go up to a touch-screen machine and you make your selections and it prints out a filled-out paper ballot -- basically the same one you'd fill out with a pencil except the ovals will be filled in perfectly. You get a lot of advantages of the electronics there in terms of the interface the voter has which is the nice touch-screen, which the voters like, and which avoid all kinds of problems.
Ashbrook: Is such a system employed and ready to be used next Tuesday anywhere right now?
Rubin: I believe they are using it in several places. The most widely known system of this kind is called the Automark and I've only given you half of the equation because now I've described the way in which voters mark the ballot -- it's a paper ballot -- but then how you count it is very important as well. What I'd like to see would be precinct-level optical scanners. So you don't take these papers and try to transmit them before they've been counted to a central place, but you count them right in the precinct with an optical scanner machine. Obviously that's an electronic machine as well. The difference between that electronic machine and a touch-screen voting machine that counts votes is that you can audit it. You can feed it all kinds of ballots and then count the ballots by hand and compare them to the totals the optical scanner gets without knowledge in advance of which machines you're going to audit.
Ashbrook: So in a way you're saying, keep it local and, at some level, keep it simple!
Rubin: Keep it simple and keep it local. Think about how much software you're trusting in a system like this. If you're auditing these optical scanners and you're not trusting the software on them there's very little software to begin with. Whereas if you use the electronic voting machines, you've got -- in the case of the Diebold Accuvote which we use in Maryland -- 50,000 lines of code in the software on top of millions of lines of Windows. So I think, as a computer scientist, that I think it's a bad idea to trust the elections to software which can have bugs and which can be manipulated in a way which cannot be detected.
Ashbrook: A lot of people are not exactly trusting software just now but nevertheless likely to be using it next Tuesday. I want to invite another voice into our conversation. Joining us from New York is Mark Crispin Miller with us. He's a Professor of Communication at New York University, author of "Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election and Why They'll Steal the Next One Too Unless We Stop Them." ...Mark, you're right out there. You're not cutting any corners here in your description. You say the elections have been stolen already and they're going to be stolen again. How can you be so sure. Is the evidence so clear, looking forward?
Mark Crispin Miller: Well, it is quite clear, unfortunately. I want to make a crucial point here. This is really not a technical issue. Certainly, technical matters are all-important and I'm fully in agreement that the use of touch-screen machines is very dangerous and I think we should get rid of them. But this is not a technical issue. At heart, this is a civic issue. This is about our right to vote. So I don't think we should be concentrating on looking for the better mousetrap. We certainly need to discuss the simplest, safest, most transparent method of voting.
Ashbrook: Doesn't it boil down, Mark Crispin Miller, to -- at the end of the process -- how we punch the ballot and how it's counted. And on the way to that process, how people register, how they identify themselves. Aren't all of these steps what, in total, add up to confidence or lack of confidence?
Miller: Yes. What we need is process that's completely transparent. We actually need popular control and oversight of the election system. Elections per se are not the hallmark of democracy. Saddam Hussein had elections. We need a system that's not in the hands of the two political parties -- and I know that may sound utopian -- but the fact is that partisan control of the system has really, over the decades in this country, made for an extremely untrustworthy system which now, I argue, is being manipulated by one party while the other party sits by and does nothing. There are countless examples of all sorts of anomalies, improprieties and glitches -- some fo them technical, some of them not -- and in almost every case, they've only benefitted one party.
Ashbrook: Point to the sharpest evidence you've got of not just bumbling but manipulation.
Miller: In the 2004 elections, for example, there were thousands of reports from eleven states, not just Ohio, of machines systematically slipping votes, electronic votes, from Kerry to Bush. Now, I'm not a Democrat, Tom. I'm a Chicagoan! So I know too much to be a Democrat! So I looked very hard to find examples of votes slipping from Bush to Kerry...
Ashbrook:... Slipping votes? You're talking about software that would change a vote once it was in the bank?
Miller: I'm talking about people literally pressing the button for Kerry and having the Bush light go off. If people want to see first-hand accounts of this kind of thing, they should consult a very valuable archive of first-hand information called "The Election Incident Reporting System."
Ashbrook: Are you saying that Karl Rove or Ken Mehlman went out an jimmied with these machines?
Miller: Well, I'm not saying they personally went out and jimmied with them. What I'm telling is that if it were simply an innocent glitch then we would have seen roughly an equal number of examples on each side of the partisan divide. What I'm telling you is that in 2004 there were almost no examples of these machines benefitting the Democrats. If people go to my blog they'll find reports of early voting that's already taken place this time in Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri where there have been dozens of reports of the same thing -- people trying to vote for Democrats and the machine won't seem to respond. It seems to want them to vote Republican.
Ashbrook:... Sean Greene -- there you are, Research Director at electionline.org, you're hearing the charges of straight-up manipulation, you're hearing of the instances Mark Crispin Miller is pointing to, you've done a lot of research very recently -- are you nodding your head in agreement or is this beyond what you found?
Greene: It's not something we focused on in our report....
Ashbrook: ... Why not?! Whether or not there's manipulation, wouldn't you pay attention to that? Wouldn't that be fundamental?
Greene: That's true. But we would focus more on the process and the voting machines and the more technical aspects...
Ashbrook: So is the process corrupt? Or not? Mark Crispin Miller is saying straight-up that it's corrupt and it's manipulated. Did you find evidence to support that or not?
Greene: We did not find evidence to support that but I think his point about transparency is one of the big issues in election reform. One aspect of that, voting machines in the US are certified by certain companies and the companies that certify the machines... the certifiers are actually funded by the voting machine companies. I think a lot of people find that not a very transparent process and want that to change. So that's the sort of thing we found in our report.
Ashbrook: Mark Crispin Miller -- here's the Research Director at electionline.org. He says well, no, we did not find evidence to support the case for manipulation. You're saying you found abundant evidence. What do you make of that gap?
Miller: Well, I respect Sean's work and he did make clear that he didn't actually look into this particular aspect of the problem. Tom, I'm not making stuff up! In my book, "Fooled Again," and in several books that have come out over the last year and in a number of other studies, all of this stuff is very thoroughly documented. These aren't rumors!
Ashbrook: What should Americans think when they've got the Research Director on one side saying "we didn't find it," and you saying with perfect confidence on the other side, "we've got manipulation here."
Miller: I think they should look at both sides of the case and make up their own minds. They should certainly read my book, "Fooled Again." They should Steve Freeman's book, "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?" It came out in June. It's a very important study of the exit polls which there is no reason to believe were wrong. The idea that ten exit polls could all be wrong in the same way is frankly statistically impossible. We have accepted the claim that there was something wrong with the exit polls. But we have not actually studied whether they were accurate or not. Steve's book is a very good start for people wanting to look into this. There's a brand new book out by Bob Fitrakis called "What Happened in Ohio?" It's full of primary documents, Tom, demonstrating that Kerry probably won Ohio last time by as many as 350,000 votes.
Ashbrook: Professor Miller, where are you going to be focused next Tuesday? Where is your eagle eye going to be looking?
Miller: I'm going to be involved with the Election Defense Alliance which, in turn, is going to partner with other groups and we're gonig to try to have our "eagle eyes" all over the country! The fact is, it's crucial that people get out and vote. My belief is -- not because they can be confident that their choices will prevail but because it's not possible to be confident of that -- people should get out to vote as a protest on behalf of fair and free elections. The higher the turnout on election day, the harder it will be for the Republicans in this case to spin their victory as legitimate. I don't think they could possibly win in a fair election.
Ashbrook: We're glad for the call to vote in any case, and we hear the case you're making. Thank you very much for joining us... Avi Rubin, how about it? You've expressed your concerns. What about the charges that Americans have been manipulated already? Have you found evidence of that in the electronic realm?
Rubin: I have not. But I haven't been looking for evidence of that. I've been focusing my attention on the current technologies, finding problems with them, highlighting them and exposing them, and making recommendations for the best kind of technology we can use. I'm a computer scientist working with a lot of lawyers and political scientists. I know my limitations and when I'm asked about whether we need a constitutional amendment for this or that, I step aside and say I don't know the answer to that. But if you ask me about software, I can definitely comment on that!
Ashbrook: There's another big critique of process and it's around voter ID and who's voting and whether or not they're eligible and properly registered to vote. I want to turn now to New York and John Fund, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, author of "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy." Here's a critique from another angle. John Fund, you hear the range of concerns around voting and it's a sad thing to have this range at all. You bring another facet to the table that's got your attention -- voter ID and voter fraud. What are you most concerned about next week?
John Fund: First let me say that I think some of the concerns about electronic voting are valid. Diebold has a very spotty record as a company. They spend only 10% on electronic voting machines as they do making ATM machines.
Ashbrook: But they're the biggest provider at this point...
Fund: ...I agree there are some problems. We need oversight. We certainly need open-source software, audits, things like that. But I think the more extreme conspiracy theories have to be addressed. I don't ask people to believe me. I cite Joe Andrew, who was Bill Clinton's hand-picked chairman of the Democratic National Committee until 2001. He is the only national chairman who was involved in the internet. He's involved in several companies though nothing with voting machines. He gave a speech a little bit ago to the Maryland Association of Election Officials in which he said that when it comes to electronic voting most liberal conspiracy theorists are just plain old-fashioned nuts. He says there's no conspiracy trying to steal votes in America today. And he says it's unfortunate that we have this anti-electronic voting machine bandwagon being circulated because "It is not possible to move a constant fraction of votes from one party to another in each jurisdiction without it being obvious that something is going on. The internet activists who say this are bonkers."
Ashbrook: We've got that, and we hear the sort of balance that you make there. Alas, there's no way to solve that issue right here, right now.
Fund: We do need more money spent on this. We do need more auditing. We certainly should address each and every concern. I'm simply saying, I don't think people should make the leap from the technical difficulties to being sure there are computer programmers in a back room hacking. We've had optical scan voting machines and computers for 30 years. There has never been a documented case of those being hacked into and the results being changed.
Ashbrook: You said "watch out for toxic cynicism" and we hear that! Because it can keep voters away from the polls all by itself. I want to get you to come to the voter ID issue that you've been most focused on...
Fund: Voter ID is something which I don't think should be controversial. As Andrew Young, former UN ambassador and Atlanta mayor and civil rights leader has said, if there are poor people out there who don't have voter ID because they're elderly or they're completely out of the mainstream of society, let's bring them into the mainstream of society and make sure they get a free voter ID. You can't really do anything in American life today without such an idea. You can't cash a check, you can't travel, you can't check into a hotel.
Ashbrook: You can vote without it in most states, though. Is that really a problem?
Fund: That's the point. I believe that has created strong suspicions that there's the possibility for manipulation and misrepresentation at the polls. We have a lot of examples -- I can cite you examples from a dozen states -- of people who have shown up, claimed that they are somebody that they aren't, and turn out never to be found again. In Wisconsin, which has same-day voter registration, we had 12,000 people show up in Milwaukee, register and vote the same day, and when they sent out the registration card to the address listed, it came back "undeliverable." We don't know how many of those people weren't eligible, but it certainly should give ground for suspicion.
Ashbrook: So, Sean Greene, here's another example of manipulation. Do you see it in a scale sufficient to influence elections?
Greene: We haven't seen any huge studies across the nation that show statistically that, but anecdotal stories are everywhere. In fact, there was a story this weekend in a New York paper that studied the voter registration list in New York and found about 75,000 dead voters on the list and some of them had voted! Now, they weren't sure if those were clerical errors or not, but I think that's the concern that's out there. If there's not actual fraud going on, that the potential for fraud is there.
Ashbrook: So it may discourage some voters. It may clean up other aspects of this as your group comes down or not on whether a stricter voter ID is a good thing on balance...
Greene: Actually we have not. We're not an advocacy group... We just want to present the issues. We don't come down on one side or the other.
Ashbrook: John Fund, are you worried about America's attitude toward their own vote as we head into the midterms here, towards its "cleanliness"?
Fund: We see polls, both from Zogby and Rasmussen, that something like 15% of the American people don't believe their vote is counted properly. Or they think it's cancelled out by someone who shouldn't be voting. That is a level of toxic cynicism which helps explain our lower voter turn-out. And, as the New York Times has recently reported, this especially is a problem in the minority communities because they say, "Look, the man is going to somehow manipulate my vote. Therefore I don't have to vote." So I think this should bother and concern people across the political spectrum.
Ashbrook: John Fund, thanks for being with us today. ...
Caller "Robert": ...There's a couple of things that come to mind and one, of course, is the whole issue of voter suppression and making the vote available for the people who deserve it. But on the technical issue, it seems to me that there really is not a very complex technical problem for voting machines. When you go to an ATM, do you ever get the wrong amount of money? Is the amount of money charged to your account ever wrong when you get your bank statements? You're trusting the computers and the people who run them to make sure your savings are there.
Ashbrook: But we always have an idea of what our saving are and we can go back and check the balance. If you can't check that -- if you couldn't check in, you might look at it differently!
"Robert": That's right. What you need, and computers are very good at this as well, is providing audit trails. Does it have to be on paper? I'm not really so sure. How about open source systems? How about pieces of the puzzle that are done by different development teams? For instance, when you fly, there are maybe four or five different companies doing the flight control software because it's so very important...
Ashbrook: ... make it clear that way, electronically... Avi Rubin, how about it? Open source? Different teams working on this? Would there be a way without paper to come around and raise confidence?
Rubin: Well, I think open source is important in the sense of transparency. But I believe it's a distraction. I think we need voting systems that don't require you to trust the software. Elections are a very, very sensitive, heated area where you're going to get people who are going to claim that there was fraud and that there were problems. I think that independent electronic verification might be possible in theory. I think it would take about ten years of research to get to a point where we could have a system that we could trust. And even then I'm not certain it would be a good idea. But I also believe that, from the point of view of transparency, audit, and recovery -- which are the most important things -- electronic verification is not a good idea. I don't want to have voting systems that are susceptible to extended power outages, for example. I think the simple paper ballot system is so much easier to manage and audit, that moving to independent electronic verification is a bad idea.
Ashbrook: Sean Greene, with the problems we've heard around electronic voting..., are there moves afoot to really respond to this? Or is this technology rolling out across the country even as these potential problems are being cited? Is it what we're getting, even if it's not the best option?
Greene: It has been rolling out in the past few years. Certainly states have moved to these machines even though concerns have been voiced for the past three or four or five years from computer scientists...
Ashbrook: ...Why?! Why do we move ahead if these problems are serious and credible?
Greene: Well, I think some election officials are staunch defenders of the machines. In Maryland, for example, the election director thinks the machines work quite well and have advantages that other machines don't have.
Ashbrook: ...Didn't they read about big problems earlier this year in Maryland?
Greene: Yes, they did, in the September primary!
Ashbrook: What were those problems again?
Greene: A number of problems that Avi could probably speak to as well. Problems with poll workers not having the cards to start the machines up. Problems with the machines themselves. Screens freezing. Therefore delaying opening of the polls for an hour, or two hours. Then people were turned away and maybe didn't come back to vote. This is not the first time Maryland had been running an election on these machines. For this to pop up two to four years after they've been running elections on these machines I thought was probably a little surprising to the election officials themselves.
Ashbrook: Avi Rubin, do you see a move to pick up on these problems and address them. Or are we moving down a path that you're saying isn't a good one. And if so, why?!
Rubin: Well, there was an attempt in Maryland. In the House of Delegates, a bill was introduced that would have moved us to paper ballots with optical scan in Maryland. I have lot of stake in this. In addition to my concern with the issue is that I'm an election judge and I work at the polls. I understand why the elections director and others support these machines in the one sense that it's a lot easier to administer an election where everything is being done by computers than if we had the paper ballots. My work would have been a lot harder on election day. That Bill in the House was passed unanimously and our governor came out and said that he would sign it and support it. Unfortunately, when it went to the Senate, it died in committee and it never came out. But I've already been contacted by a Delegate asking me to help them proofread and help edit a revised version of this bill that they're going to introduce as soon as the election is over and try to move us to paper. So there are people who understand the issue. And then there are people who support the machines I think because it would be embarrassing for them to admit a $106 million mistake in Maryland.
Caller "Eileen": I'm actually going to go down to my registrar today and vote absentee ballot because this has really bothered me so much. But my question is, why can't we --every American citizen -- vote on our computers?
Ashbrook: You mean sit at home and just mail it in over the internet? Would that make you feel better, more secure about your vote? "Eileen": At least I would feel that my computer hadn't been tampered with.
Ashbrook: Hard to tamper with everyone's computer. Avi Rubin, what about it? A kind of "let's spread it out all over the place so no one can tamper with the whole system."
Rubin: Well, unfortunately, while I think that would be great for convenience, and I was the first to adopt every kind of internet system in internet shopping and banking as it came up, I think for voting it would be a big mistake. If you put a Windows machine on the internet, the average amount of time it takes before some virus or worm tries to infect it is 8 seconds. The internet right now -- especially running Windows machines -- is absolutely insecure. Everything from spyware that could be on your machine and see how you vote to malicious code that could change your vote. As much as I am opposed to precinct-based electronic voting, I think the problems of internet-based PC voting are hundreds of times worse and an absolute non-starter.
Ashbrook: Email here from Colorado Springs. John says he voted early in Colorado on a Diebold machine... Eleven electronic pages. Moving back and forth to figure it all out was so much trouble he wishes he hadn't done it. He wishes he had voted absentee as "Eileen" plans to do...
Caller "George": I really appreciate the fact that you're dealing with this topic because it's a can of worms! I've tried to raise it with major journalists, most recently Tom Edsel, and immediately, as John Fund did, you're called a "conspiracy theorist." We need to get beyond this. This is our vote. This is my vote.... They need to be counted honestly, accurately, and verifiably.
Ashbrook: George, do you think you'll be close enough for horseshoes next Tuesday?
"George": No, I don't. I've read some things that lead me to believe -- and I'd like to have confirmation of this -- that around 39% of the votes will be on electronic touch-screens. But up to 50% of the most closely watched districts are not going to be able to be recounted.
Ashbrook: It's disconcerting. Sean, how about it? You're talking about fear now that the margin of victory is within the margin of error. Which is the kind of fear "George" is expressing... We could have close races all over the place.
Greene: Yes. I think we also sometimes call it "within the margin of litigation." That's what we should call it now. You're going to have losing candidates who may lose a House race by several hundred votes. If there's any sort of concern over voting machines and their process -- an example in Ohio where I think there are at least one or two competitive House races and there's been a debate going on this past week over voter ID rules where judges have gone back and forth changing those rules. So that seems ripe for some sort of challenge right after the election if it's close.
Ashbrook: So, do you expect to have all kinds of litigation after? Then, if we do, there's no way to recount, so what happens?
Greene: Well, there are ways to recount. In Ohio, they do have a paper trail. In states that use electronic voting without a paper trail, basically you'd just be rerunning the computer again...
Ashbrook: You're not going back to the fundamental source materials. So how do court challenges get settled in that case?
Greene: A court challenge could be over a variety of things. We've see challenges over equal protection -- different machines used in different counties -- is that treating people differently? But I think there would be probably potential litigation over voter ID rules and absentee ballots. That's what we've been reading about recently in Ohio.
Ashbrook: Avi Rubin. Last word goes to you here. You can imagine voters listening to this and it's deeply disconcerting. At the same time, if you don't vote, there's no way your vote gets counted. What's your message to American citizens in this time of flux between the old ways of voting and the new? How should citizens think about this?
Rubin: Absolutely the wrong way to respond to this is to not vote. The only way to guarantee that your vote won't be counted is to not go cast it. I actually recommend that people get more involved in the process like I did. Become an election judge or a poll worker wherever you are. As far as the problems with the machines, that's a matter of awareness, and letting your legislators know how you support this. I've been contacted by federal legislators asking me to review some bills that are being introduced at the national level when 28 states have already adopted legislation requiring voter-verified paper records. So I think it should be in the form of advocacy. But not going to the polls because of this problem is a big mistake.
Ashbrook: The midterms are 8 days away now and if videothevote.org has its way, you might be caught on tape while heading in to cast your vote. Videothevote is recruiting citizen volunteers to videotape the polls on November 7, to document and make a record of election day. The Citizen Video Campaign is the inspiration of the Guerrilla News Network co-founder Ian Inaba. He's also director of the Sundance award-winning documentary, "American Blackout," about alleged African-American voter disenfranchisement in 2000 and 2004. He joins us now from Berkeley, CA. ... So what have you got afoot here for voting day next week?
Ian Inaba: In the process of making "American Blackout," I really found that there had been this evolution in citizen journalism around elections. What happened in Florida in 2000 with all the problems down there, there were only corporate journalists who covered those events. A lot of individual stories of personal voting rights were not captured. But as I continued to make the film and then Ohio 2004 happened, we saw this new wave of citizen journalists who actually went to the polls to document the problems particularly in states with African-American and working-class voters as they attempted to vote in 2004. And so we wanted to further this effort. This year what we're doing is coordinating with the Election Protection organization who receive a majority of the calls from voters at the polls, and we'll be working with them to then dispatch our volunteer videographers to capture irregularities on film.
Ashbrook: So what exactly are you asking videographers to do? Where do you want them do go? What do you want them to shoot? How close can they get to where people are actually voting? That's private, right?
Inaba: Yes, it is. There are some regulations in certain states where you do need to stay 100 feet from the polling location. Most of our videographers will be dispatched along with lawyers in response to calls into the legal teams at the Election Protection organization.
Ashbrook: What can you do 100 feet from the polling place? What can you capture on video that would be valuable during or after the vote?
Inaba: We can capture testimony from people who have had problems, either that they've been turned away from the polls, they've been maybe unfairly challenged at the polls, perhaps that their polling location has changed. A number of different tactics or problems that people have encountered over the past election cycles which have disenfranchised thousands of voters.
Ashbrook: So they'll be standing outside shooting all day long? or waiting for voters to come out with complaints? Is that the idea?
Inaba: Again, we're going to be primarily stationed within the Election Protection command centers which are being run in about 11 states right now. We are going to be working closely with them. As well, we will have some roving videographers who will be periodically checking in on some precincts that are expected to be problematic.
Ashbrook: Are there places where your participants can take the camera right in to the polling place?
Inaba: In some states, if you do get permission from the election officials, you can go and videotape inside a polling location. But that's only with permission and we also have very rigorous guidelines that we have the videographers go through during the training process and that they understand all of these stipulations.
Ashbrook: Is your point here that you don't trust what you call the corporate media to actually report the news, or that you need something like blanket coverage that only citizen-journalists could conceivable come up with to document what's actually gone on?
Inaba: I think it's a combination of both. It's not that we don't trust the corporate media to do it, it's that they're so concerned with calling the winners and losers on election day that they really lose sight of the individual voting experience. And so we want to really provide more of a blanket coverage, like you were saying, because there is a growing concern, whether it's people concerned about a disenfranchisement issue, or as your previous were, concern about electronic voting machines. There's a lot of problems expected to happen on election day and we just want to make sure that we cover them.
Ashbrook: So the day after -- or the week after -- the vote, you'll have a pile of videotape. How might that be used to improve or watchdog the system?
Inaba: It's actually even better than that! We're actually designing a system in which we're going to be uploading the videos the same day. We're going to be broadcasting these images on the web before the races are called.
Ashbrook: And if people want to participate? How do they do it?