Eternal vigilance: the fight to save our election system
David Earnhardt's Eternal Vigilance: The Fight to Save Our Election System
focuses on the National Election Reform Conference, held in April 2005 in
Nashville, which gathered several hundred concerned citizens from 30
states. Since it took place so close on the heels of the November 2004
election, it took on a sort of post-mortem feel. We survived, we're
grieving, we're together. Now, what are we going to do?
by Joan Brunwasser, Voting Integrity Editor, OpEdNews
November 3, 2006
Something interesting is happening. I keep thinking and writing "we" as
opposed to "they." Even though I heard about the conference only
afterward it happened, I feel like I was there. It's uncanny, this bond
that connects all of us patriots who feel so strongly about the absolute
need for fair elections.
Before writing this piece, I wanted to pick Bob Koehler's brain about what
went on in Nashville. He's out of reach now, visiting his daughter in
France. I do know the conference had a profound effect on him. He went on
to write shortly afterwards ÒThe Silent Scream of Numbers: The 2004
election was stolen — will someone please tell the media?
http://commonwonders.com/archives/col290.htm "It had the feel of 1775:
citizen patriots taking matters into their own hands to reclaim the
republic. This was the level of its urgency."
Since today is the second anniversary of the 2004 election, it's fitting
to write about this conference that brought together wounded souls reeling
in the aftermath of the 2004 election, looking for meaning, and trying to
figure out their next step. The Nashville conference participants shared
feelings of devastation, isolation, and powerlessness. They converged in a
House of Assembly to take comfort from like-minded people, and their
gathering laid the groundwork for more activism fanning out across the
country. The fact that the conference was held in a church with people
sitting in pews lent it an added spiritual dimension. Civic duty is part
of the sacred responsibility we owe to ourselves, our communities, and our
Nine film crews attended the conference, and a lot of energy was
generated. Several months later, there were more than 15,000 people
gathered in Atlanta for a rally to extend the Voting Rights Act, with many
of the Nashville conference attendees participating. The movement seemed
to be gathering steam. One man was there with his grandchildren, and
there were kids playing in marching bands – apt symbols of who we're
fighting this battle for. A clever sign read, "Voting is an act of
self-defense." So it is, or at least, it should be.
David Earnhardt sees the battle for voting rights within a historical
context, particularly that of the Civil Rights movement. There is
tremendous mindfulness of blacks' long, hard battle to get and keep the
right to vote, and the film features snippets from moving speeches on the
topic. Michael Grant of the NAACP states, "We can't afford to fail. It's
not an option," while his colleague Charles Kimbrough encourages, "Don't
get worried. Don't get weary." There is a lot to be done and it won't come
easy. His words and his message have the feel of an old gospel song. Cliff
Arnebeck, representing a group of Ohio voters, filed a lawsuit in Ohio
Supreme Court contesting the U.S. presidential election, which is known as
Moss v. Bush. He calls the stolen election the "biggest political crime"
in our history – "Watergate on steroids." But you certainly wouldn't know
it from the apathetic and distant corporate media.
Bruce O'Dell, an information technology consultant, rightly claims that
our elections are a key component of our national security. We don't allow
military intelligence the latitude of "plus or minus one ICBM heading
towards Washington DC," so why do we allow for such imprecision in our
elections? O'Dell writes systems for Fortune 500 companies in his day job,
but favors dumping the machines altogether for hand-counted paper ballots
because of what he knows about the flaws of EVM (electronic voting
Harvey Wasserman cites between 30 to 40 different ruses that kept voters
from exercising their right in Ohio alone. Since so many votes were needed
to swing Ohio for Bush, the Republicans mounted what Wasserman calls a
"full court press," using different methods in different situations.
"Every county had its own story". Earnhardt posts the long list that seems
to just go on and on – a highly effective visual.
Approximately 3,107,490 provisional ballots were cast nationwide in 2004,
an unprecedented number. Of those, more than 1,000,000 were rejected and
not counted. In New Mexico, early voting yielded less than 1% undervote
(where no vote was recorded in the Presidential race). Yet, on Election
Day in a number of largely Native American precincts, the undervote rate
was, incredibly, between 70-80%. What happened has never been determined,
at least partly because of the obstacles Democratic Governor Richardson
put before a recount.
Syndicated journalist Bob Koehler says that when Kerry conceded so
quickly, the people whose votes were compromised were left high and dry.
Kerry's concession also made an inhospitable climate where legitimate
issues couldn't be raised. While the media pointed to his decision as
their justification for leaving the matter alone, Koehler maintains that
they simply weren't doing their job. Brad "BradBlog" Friedman calls them
the "lazy media" and fears that without media reform, we will not be able
to accomplish election reform. Koehler echoes this, saying that the media
protects its own interests, which are corporate interests. They are not
looking for another president to step down, their only interest is in
"making the world safe for media mergers." Harsh words borne out by an
embarrassing abdication of responsibility. Friedman has said that because
the press isn't doing its job, we need to step in and actually "be the
media." We can accomplish this by spreading the word, talking to people,
using the Web, joining together, and making new alliances. The Nashville
conference was one example of this.
At the core of this film lie Athan Gibbs's life and death. He exemplifies
creative response, dashed hopes, and the challenge we are currently
facing. Gibbs was very upset that so many votes were not counted in the
2000 presidential election. He channeled his frustration into inventing
TruVote, an electronic voting machine unlike any on the market now. It
incorporated various security measures which are totally lacking at our
polling places. He urged Bob Fitrakis, an investigative journalist as
well as a PhD in political science, to look closely at his competitors.
"I've been an accountant, an auditor, for more than 30 years. Electronic
voting machines that don't supply a paper trail go against every principle
of accounting and auditing that's being taught in American business
schools," he insisted. "These machines are set up to provide paper trails.
No business in America would buy a machine that didn't provide a paper
trail to audit and verify its transaction. Now, they want the people to
purchase machines that you can't audit? It's absurd."
TruVote took off, catching the eye of Microsoft, and Fitrakis researched
and wrote an article called "Diebold, electronic voting and the vast
right-wing conspiracy." http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0225-05.htm
Within a week of its publication, Gibbs was dead of a car accident. "He
wanted every vote to matter" was the headline announcing his death. Gibbs
would be very disappointed that we haven't lived up to his dream, or the
American dream, for that matter. Eternal Vigilance is a step towards
realizing that dream.
Gibbs was a black man, mindful of the black American experience that has
been plagued by slavery, Jim Crow, and political disenfranchisement. His
untimely death put his TruVote system on hold, and allowed Diebold, ES&S,
HartCivic, and Sequoia to take over. Knowing what I now know about
electronic voting machinery, I would favor throwing it out altogether and
starting fresh with something simpler, less expensive, and with fewer
layers between the voter and his vote. Transparency is key. With so much
at stake, voters must have confidence that their votes will be counted
accurately. With electronic, "faith based" voting, there is simply no way
for that to happen. The votes are counted in secret inside the bowels of
the machinery. Once that is true, the system is wide open to fraud.
Questions raised simply can't be answered. And that is unacceptable and
antithetical to democratic principles.
Today is the second anniversary of the 2004 election, although I have no
intentions of celebrating. HBO chose this date to air "Hacking
Democracy", its documentary on electronic voting, which was three years in
the making. This morning, exactly two years after the 2004 debacle, the
headline on BradBlog screamed that "New Vulnerability Discovered on
Touch-Screen Systems Made by One of Country's Largest Voting Machine
Companies Will Affect Elections in Dozens of States!"
(http://www.bradblog.com/?p=3714) This revelation was made by California
voting rights activist, Tom Courbat.
"It seems there's a little yellow button on the back (of) every
touch-screen computer made by Sequoia Voting Systems that allows any
voter, or poll worker, or precinct inspector to set the system into
"Manual Mode" allowing them to cast as many votes as they want."
This information was sent to Secretary of State Bruce McPherson's office a
month ago, although he denies any knowledge of it. This is the same
Secretary of State who has proudly boasted of the security of his stateÕs
election system. The same state official who has repeatedly recertified
machines notable for numerous serious flaws and vulnerabilities. His own
task force, whose work he then disregarded, warned against using the
machines. And these machines will count the votes in his own hotly
Now that everyone is worried about the Venezuelan connection to Sequoia,
maybe McPherson will recommend dumping all of those machines and
purchasing Diebold instead. After all, they have a stellar record of
proving to be totally untrustworthy in every regard, and have flunked
every independent study ever done. While I distrust electronic voting,
however much it's been heralded as the answer to hanging chads, I do not
doubt that we would be better off had the TruVote system been the
electronic voting method in use now. Bob Fitrakis calls Athan Gibbs the
first martyr in the 21st century battle for voting integrity. I agree.
Whether we know it or not, we are all reeling from that loss.
At the conclusion of the Nashville conference, Bernie Ellis speaks
eloquently about the long and hard road ahead. His acknowledgment that "We
are the ones we've been waiting for" helps the conference participants
(and us) translate the despair after 2004 into working for change. Now is
the time to draw on our inner strength, to gird our loins, and to prepare
to fight to get back our democracy.
I'd like to conclude with an excerpt from Bob Koehler's article "The
In contrast to the deathly silence of the media is the silent scream of
the numbers. The more you ponder these numbers, and all the accompanying
data, the louder that scream grows. Did the people's choice get thwarted?
Were thousands disenfranchised by chaos in the precincts, spurious
challenges and uncounted provisional ballots? Were millions
disenfranchised by electronic voting fraud on insecure, easily hacked
computers? And who is authorized to act if this is so? Who is authorized
No one, except average Americans who want to be able to trust the voting
process again, and who want their country back. No one, except us.
For more information or to get a copy this film, go to: Eternal Vigilance
Originally published November 2.
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