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Georgia's “Faith-Based” Electronic Voting System: Something's Rotten in the State
Published on Thursday, February 12, 2004 by CommonDreams.org
Georgia's “Faith-Based” Electronic Voting System: Something's Rotten in the State
by Heather Gray
 

Questions regarding Georgia's 2002 election still plague many voters in the state. The electoral gifts to George Bush seemed strange. Georgia's Democratic Senator Max Cleland’s loss to Republican challenger Saxby Chambliss coupled with the defeat of Democratic Governor Roy Barnes to Republican Sonny Purdue, just didn't sit right with many.

Given the polls and given the observation of voting patterns in the state, something seemed inconsistent about these results. Then many started looking at the new electronic voting system and questioned its integrity. Just how vulnerable are Georgia's voters with their new voting system? Just how vulnerable are Georgia's voters with no opportunity for a paper trail audit of their vote? Was race a factor? Was the privatization of the process a factor? Something just doesn't seem right! In fact, something seems rotten in the State of Georgia.

In 2002, Georgia purchased electronic voting machines from the Diebold company in an attempt to improve its voting system. With this purchase, an erosion of the State’s electoral accountability became apparent. Georgia did not insist on a paper trail with the system. Further, not only did Georgia purchase the machines from this company, but it also agreed to protect the proprietary rights of Diebold’s voting software from the people of Georgia. In other words, it’s illegal for anyone other than a select few in the State of Georgia to review the software. Many in Georgia are wondering where “we the people” were in this deliberation. Who gave the State of Georgia the right to sell what belongs to the people. Who gave the State of Georgia the right to sell its most precious democratic entity - voting - to a private company?

On January 29 in Atlanta, WRFG-Atlanta (89.3 FM), People TV, the Independent Media Center and the National Center for Human Rights Education held a ‘standing room only’ Town Hall meeting on the controversial issue of electronic voting. Former Georgia Congresswomen Cynthia McKinney spoke along with computer experts and advocates. There were repeated attempts to invite Georgia's Democratic Secretary of State Cathy Cox, or a representative, to speak to speak at the forum. She declined the offer. As the one who oversees Georgia's election process and also a Gubernatorial hopeful, it was thought she would like to address Georgians on the issue over a live broadcast. Not so!

One of the speakers at the event was information technologist Richard Searcy who referred to Georgia’s elections as “faith based”. The State of Georgia, according to Searcy, thinks Georgians should accept the electronic system on faith without audit, without overview by the people of Georgia, and certainly without looking adequately at the system’s software. He also stunned the audience by showing them a Diebold brochure with Georgia’s Cathy Cox prominently featured.

Another panelist at the Town Hall meeting was computer expert Roxanne Jekot of Count the Vote.Org. Jekot said she “was proud of Georgia, even on election night, that the computerized system had been installed and that we were the first in the nation. Then I started to question the results. I kept saying, at first, that there were printers inside the machine and we can print it all out - there are safeguards...that there was some kind of printed verified vote that could confirm the elections results. But later on, I discovered, through all of my research, that we can’t get a recount on these machines ...ever. All we can do is get a reprint and no matter how many times we do this we’ll get the same results because there is no paper trail.”

In 2002, gubernatorial candidate Sonny Purdue campaigned to change the Georgia flag to the previous flag with the Confederate symbol. Speaking of the election results, Jekot notes that, “the response from Ralph Reed (the head of the Christian Coalition and the Republican Party in Georgia) was that angry white males went to the polls to support Sonny Purdue on the flag issue. But if you go to the Secretary of State’s website and you look at the numbers in the individual races you can’t make the numbers come up with angry white male (voters). And then there’s a February study done (at the University of Georgia) and released in April 2003 that said the only increase in voters in Georgia was Black females. Something just doesn’t add up here.”

The certification of Georgia’s voting machines is another matter. Jekot states that the machines are “supposed to be certified at the federal level, as well as by Georgia’s Secretary of State...For well over a year,” she said, “we have been requesting certification documents from Georgia. The response to that request came from Clifford Tatum of the Legal Department of the Secretary of State’s office, and he says, in a letter, that no such document exists in the Secretary of State’s office.”

But the situation gets worse. When the machines were first installed in Georgia, Jekot and Searcy refer to the multiple “patches” placed on them. A patch replaces or repairs a part of a computer program. Jekot has talked with Rob Baylor, hired by Diebold, to assemble and test the machines when they first came to Georgia. According to Baylor, most of machines didn’t work and required “patches” taken from the Diebold FTP site. Different patches were placed on various machines as directed by representatives at Diebold.

Searcy and Jekot say that if the computer software was not certified in the first place, the insertion of multiple uncertified patches further compounds the situation.

The inference above, of course, is the possibility that Georgia’s machines were manipulated prior to or during the 2002 elections. When asked whether the software could be manipulated from afar, Jekot said “they can be easily manipulated at multiple locations within the process, not just from afar”. Whether the machines were manipulated or not, however, the integrity of the process is in question.

It is possible to have a printer attached to each voting machine in Georgia to then provide a paper ballot of each vote so at the very least there can be a verifiable audit performed after the election. There are bills now introduced in the Georgia legislature demanding a paper trail of Georgia’s votes. Some advocates are suggesting that the count from the machines should be interim at best and not certified until there has been a count of the paper ballots.

As Searcy states, “Quite obviously, in Georgia, with our current system, we cannot depend on the process, testing, or certification to protect voters from fraud, machine failure, ‘Trojan Horse’ programming, or bugs and glitches in the system. Without a paper trail how can votes be audited? How can there be a recount? As the Nevada Secretary of State has said, ‘A paper trail is an intrinsic component of voter confidence’.”

Georgia’s Secretary of State is opposed to any change. One can only speculate as to why she supposes voters in the state should support her questionable leadership on this issue. According to Searcy, “The public trust is a sacred commodity that must be protected, but unfortunately, I do not believe that that trust is being protected or valued here in Georgia. We can and must insist on better leadership than what is offered us presently!”

Ralph Reed says that angry white males accounted for the change in the 2002 vote totals. He might have a point, though not in terms of the election demographics, but perhaps other factors should be considered.

The census data might be worth a look! According to the U.S. Census bureau whites in the state of Georgia are decreasing relative to an increase of people of color entering the state. The University of Georgia’s 1996 study on “Georgia’s Population Growth” by Edwin Jackson is revealing. “For a variety of reasons, Georgia continues to experience the highest population growth rate in the South-and one of the highest in the nation. Between July 1995 and July 1996, Georgia’s net population grew by 2.0 percent--the highest percentage growth in the 16-state (and District of Columbia) Southern region as designated by the Census Bureau. Moreover, Georgia’s growth rate more than doubled the national rate of 0.9 percent.”

Who is coming into Georgia? Jackson reports that “The number of people migrating to Georgia from other countries--particularly from Mexico and other Latin American countries--continues to grow....10 percent of Georgia’s total population growth was accounted for by international net migration....”

The U.S. Census Bureau’s "American Community Survey Change Profile 2001-2002" revealed that, compared to African Americans and the Hispanic population of Georgia, the population of whites is significantly decreasing (estimated at 1%) compared to a significant increase of African Americans (estimated at .3%) and Latinos (estimated at .6%). The population growth in the state by people of color is likely to result in a further decrease in white representation.

Georgia has never had a stellar record on protecting the voting rights of its citizens. Attempts at protecting white supremacy in the state have always been a priority, certainly when it comes to voting and virtually everything else. Could a decrease in the white voting power make whites feel threatened?

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has yet to take a firm stand on the electronic voting system, nevertheless Laughlin McDonald, Director of the Southeast ACLU, in his book “A Voting Rights Odyssey: Black Enfranchisement in Georgia” provides a telling depiction of Georgia’s history of violations of voting rights. “While Georgia was not an anomaly” he says, “no state was more systematic and thorough in its efforts to deny or limit voting and office holding by African Americans after the Civil War. It adopted virtually every one of the traditional ‘expedients’ to obstruct the exercise of the franchise by blacks, including literacy and understanding tests, the poll tax, felony disenfranchisement laws, onerous residency requirements, cumbersome registration procedures, voter challenges and purges....And where these technically legal measures failed to work or were thought insufficient, the state was more than willing to resort to fraud and violence in order to smother black political participation and safeguard white supremacy.”

McDonald continues by saying that after the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, “Georgia, once again, was in the forefront of the efforts to block the expansion of the franchise to blacks. It fought passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, and 1964....When the Voting Rights Act was passed, Georgia immediately joined a lawsuit brought by South Carolina and asked the Supreme Court to declare it unconstitutional.” Could it be that the electronic voting machines are yet another tactic by the State of Georgia to disenfranchise people of color and maintain white supremacy? Increasingly, many in the state would answer affirmatively to that question.

Finally, with Diebold now controlling Georgia’s voting system, the State appears to have entered head first into the destabilization resulting from privatization of public services which has infuriated people throughout the world. Many in Georgia are also outraged.

It is well known that the World Trade Organization, largely at the behest of its U.S. multinational corporations, has been encouraging corporations to purchase public services including education, transportation, water, health, and obviously even voting itself. It’s a new and tragic form of colonialism.

In response to the purchase of the Ganges River by a multinational company, the renowned Indian scientist and activist Vandana Shiva has stated that “Our mother Ganges is not for sale....Our world is not for sale!” Shiva says that many Indians are responding like Rosa Parks who, in Montgomery, Alabama, refused to leave her bus seat for a white passenger. Parks refused to comply with the city’s segregation policies requiring her to sit in the back of the bus. Like Parks, many Indians are defiant, says Shiva, fed up with the abuse of multinationals, are no longer accepting or acknowledging their dictates and are working to reverse the policies.

Will Georgians do the same with their electoral system? We’ll see.

For 12 years Ms. Gray has produced "Just Peace" on WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 FM covering local, regional, national and international news. She lives in Atlanta and can be reached at justpeacewrfg@aol.com.

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