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HBO film takes on electronic voting just days before election

Larisa Alexandrovna
Published: Thursday November 2, 2006

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A documentary set to air tonight will raise serious questions about the reliability of electronic voting just days before the US midterm elections. A copy of the film has been obtained by RAW STORY.

Hacking Democracy, scheduled to run on cable network HBO starting this evening, consists largely of a collection of videos taken by advocacy groups, interviews with experts, and documentation that suggests something could go very wrong on election night.

At the center of the film is advocacy group Black Box Voting, headed by voter activist Bev Harris, along with other Seattle natives. Among them was the late Andy Stephenson, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2005. At the time of his work with Harris, Stephenson had just failed in his bid to win the Washington State post of Secretary of State.

While the advance buzz about the documentary has focused almost entirely on Diebold, a leading vendors of voting machines, the film explores a wider range of issues, suggesting that something far more insidious than technology is at play, and could threaten our democratic process.

The Machines

The film presents Diebold, for all of its obvious partisan ties and questionable funding, as a tool for something much bigger, engulfing the national media and both parties: a bizarre "don't ask, don't tell" game that creates an illusion of fair and honest voting, despite mathematical realities and the documented criminal activities of partisan loyalists at the local and national levels.

It opens with disturbing numbers from the 2000 election: The Democratic presidential candidate, Vice President Al Gore, came up with negative 16,022 votes in Volusia County, Florida. The investigators looking into why the votes were subtracted by Diebold's election technology ruled out machine failure, because the subtractions only occurred in votes cast for President/Vice President. However, questions about the error remained unanswered, because Diebold’s software is a trade secret.

Bev Harris, incensed by these and other allegations of machine count irregularities, began digging and, by chance, unearthed paydirt in the form of Diebold’s online FTP site, left unsecured. Harris took the Diebold documents she had downloaded from the FTP server to Johns Hopkins University security expert, Dr. Avi Rubin, who concluded that the software was not secure, and open to tampering.

Joined by Stephenson, Cleveland election advocate Kathleen Wynn, and others, Harris began dumpster-diving from state to state to obtain information that should be readily available in a democracy and open to the public.

Who Benefits?

One example of what the team from Black Box Voting found during their digs through garbage was that an internal Diebold accounts receivable ledger showed money owed to the company from the Republican Party of Texas' 8th district. But for what? Harris et al do not know, and neither do voters.

We learn also from the documentary of an infamous fundraising letter sent in 2003 on behalf of the Republican National Committee by Walden O’Dell, then CEO of Diebold, promising to deliver Ohio to President Bush the next year.

While election fraud has always been a reality, with both parties taking part in vote theft and voter suppression, those activities have previously tended to happen only in small pockets and on the local level. It is only with electronic voting machines that there is now the potential for vote-rigging on a widescale basis.

The film presents one example from New Orleans, where a Republican candidate in Jefferson Parish, Susan Bernecker, found that when her name was selected, her Democratic opponent's name would instead appear in the result box.

But overall, the majority of glitches and technical anomalies appear to work in favor of the Republican Party. Never before has one party allegedly been so effective at manipulating the system across the nation, using corporate alliances in order to orchestrate an election coup.

Largely through implication, the filmmakers present a picture of an historically unprecedented, well-funded and well-organized national effort to rig elections since 2000 to favor one party: the Republican Party.

The system is broken

The most astonishing aspect of this story, however, is not that the Republican Party is so often favored by these glitches, or that a private company using proprietary software is also raising money for the Republican Party, but that the mainstream media does not question and the Democratic Party does not seem to challenge the outcome of election cycles since 2000.

In one telling scene in the film, Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH) is attacked by the Republican Party for demanding that Ohio voters be heard, after having watched her state disenfranchise black voters in large numbers and the recount be manipulated, and even though local election workers were indicted as a result.

Tubbs Jones, backed by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), issued a challenge to the official Ohio certification of the 2004 presidential election, asking that Congress review the results before certifying them. The challenge, the likes of which had not been seen for nearly a century, aimed merely to present her findings and explore the serious allegations.

Members of the Republican Party, including Tom Delay, the former Republican House Majority Leader who is now under indictment for money laundering, took to the floor, attacking Democrats. In the end, the election was certified by Congress despite widespread allegations of voter fraud, documented evidence of voter suppression, and eyewitness accounts of ballot tampering.

Other forms of fraud

The film sticks closely to issues relating to electronic voter fraud, and does not consider all claims of voter fraud in recent years, omitting the allegedly extensive voter suppression tactics used against African American voters by the Republican Party – including phony felon lists, false police inspection check points, and full-out scrub and caging lists – which essentially suppress a large segment of the Democratic voting demographic from ever casting a vote.

The documentary also does not address the massive money fraud engineered in states like Ohio, where it has come to be known as Coingate, or the conflicts of interest on the part of many election officials – for example Katherine Harris, who in 2000 was not only Florida’s Secretary of State, and thus in charge of elections, but also co-chair of the Bush-Cheney Florida campaign.

Hacking Democracy premiers tonight at 9 PM EST on HBO.