Sunday, December 19, 2004

Ohio Suspicions Continue

A third sighting of Triad representatives "adjusting" election machines before the Ohio recount has been documented. The following is the latest--an email from an election observer:

"I am in the process of collecting information from all the Wisconsin volunteers, but would like to share what I personally experienced in Mercer County. Mercer only had one table, so we designated two volunteers to be the actual witnesses for the G/Lib Parties and three more of us observed from outside the counting room. Mercer had the recount set up in the BOE office. When you enter the office there is a space approximately 6 X 10 ft. between the door and a high counter with a narrow opening in it. Behind this counter are the desks of the employees, and behind them is a door to a small back office. That's where the recount was to take place. One table was set with four chairs. We were told that the punch card ballots would be examined by one Democrat and one Republican, and that the results would be tabulated by another team consisting of a Democrat and a Republican. Only one problem: the Democratic tabulator had called in sick and there was no replacement for him. In addition, the county attorney (a Democrat) was present and a woman from Blackwell's office. She was seated on a stool inside the door. Everyone else was forced to stand up during the entire recount process, which seemed to be a needless inconvenience that could easily have been resolved.

"Observers outside the room included two men who stated that they were Republicans, two Wisconsin volunteers, a local woman who was our contact person, and an attorney who identified himself as representing the Republican Party. When the recount was about to begin, the Republican attorney was invited to stand in the doorway to take down all the names of those in attendance. I asked that one of us be allowed the same courtesy, and that's why I know how the room was laid out and who was in there. We had been kept waiting initially in a reception room until just after the appointed time, and all the personnel were already in place before we were admitted to the office.

"The Deputy Director of the Mercer County BOE was delegated the task of explaining the procedures to those of us who were observing outside the room. She came out to show us the header card and explain the rotation of candidates, and in the course of this she mentioned that because Nader had been disqualified, any votes for him were not counted. I remembered our discussion during the training about the need to get the tally of ballots for which no presidential votes were recorded, and started wondering how many of these were actually Nader votes. I asked our local contact person if Nader's name had been covered on the actual punch card units at the polls and she replied that they had not been and that this had been controversial.

"The county's attorney came out during the counting and I asked him about the Nader votes. I specifically asked him if it was possible for us to get a number on those, after we discussed the fact that Nader's name was not covered, which could have caused confusion among voters. He told me that signs had been posted in every poll, but that he would see if we could get a count. He returned to say that the only way we could get this number would be to request and pay for a complete hand recount because the company that provides the tabulating equipment and computer software had come in before the election and reprogrammed everything to simply ignore the Nader votes. I asked who the vendor was, and he replied Triad Systems. I then asked if they had been back to service the equipment at any time since November 2, 2004. He replied that, as a matter of fact, they had been at the Mercer County BOE the day prior to the recount. He further stated that he was told that there was some problem with the tabulator, and that the technician had replaced a switch. I asked him to clarify that the tabulator being used in the recount had been disassembled by this Triad technician, and altered in that process within the past day, and he reiterated that was the case. Then he pointed to the hallway outside the office and stated that the technician who had done the work was still on the premises, waiting in the hall should he be needed for any reason.

"I went outside and called our coordinator who requested that we get the name of the technician and any information he was willing to provide as to what he had done to the machine. One of our volunteers returned to the building and engaged him in a conversation. It turned out he had actually disassembled the tabulator at 7:30 that morning. He said he'd replaced a box containing a switch, and then made a remark to the effect that he didn't have anything to do with the software, that he's just a hardware technician. We have his name and more details on this conversation which will be sent along to our coordinator.

"I then had a conversation with our local contact person and she told me that the woman representing Blackwell had until recently been the Director of the Mercer County BOE. She still has her office in the county, but now works directly for Blackwell in some capacity which is unclear. Evidently she travels from county to county in the area doing, well, who knows what?

"Our group had prepared a checklist of items to be covered/information requested at the recount by the observers in the room. One item concerned whether any of the counting equipment had been serviced. I have only verbal confirmation so far that the question was asked, and that the officials denied that this had occurred. Apparently not all participants in Mercer County are reading off the same page in the playbook.

"It seems to us that the tampering with the vote counting equipment demands greater scrutiny of the Mercer County results. In addition to this activity, which is on its face suspicious, we were denied access to the poll registry and the 3% of ballots to be recounted were already selected in advance. To give an appearance of randomness, two precincts with vote totals closest to the 3% required were preselected, and then a coin was tossed to choose which one to recount. This was a meaningless sham of course.

"Unlike other counties at which the Wisconsin volunteers were present, our volunteers did not have the opportunity to see what happened when the data was transferred from the tabulator machine to the computer compiling the votes. The officials present did claim, however, that this computer is not networked to any other. I would not accept this on its face since they were not honest about the equipment being serviced the day of the recount. Surely they all knew this had occurred.

"As soon as everyone has had a chance to write up their notes on the details of the count, I will post the information and send it along with further details.

--Joanne Roush

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Ohio Focus

We scrapped our lighter stories this week to focus on the Ohio recount. As with so many stories of the last four years, the bright spot was the patriotic energy of the volunteers, who camped around the clock to guard buildings, drove through snow, and even suffered harassment--one volunteer was stalked by two identical SUV's that ran her into a ditch. Also like other stories of this era, the week was marred by officialdom's rudeness and disrespect for the law.

It is likely that the mainstream press will pronounce "Ohio Recount Fizzles," in that no warehouses full of miscounted votes were found. If they exist, however, not much was done this week to find them. As with the voter registration phase and election day itself, villainy along Democracy Road in our time doesn't express itself in a single shot from a high window, but in a deep roll of muffled puffs from every knoll.

We owe a special thanks this week to Karen Kilroy, our Ohio-based webmaster, who braved many a snowy night this week to get the story and to take some of the only video of the counting process itself.


Friday, December 10, 2004

Catching our breath: done.

We come to this new project after catching our breath following the 2004 election. Those associated with this project have come from many political campaigns. The question, "now what?" still hangs in the air, though it is time to stop asking and start answering. I was involved in the the Granny D campaign for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire. Here is the last post from that campaign, only a month ago, but seeming far away now:

OCT 28, 2004: The 2004 election is a few days away. I can feel this era breathing its last. I'm not sure what we're in for, but it will be substantial. A week from now will be a different era. We are moving toward violence in America.
That is in the background. Before my eyes: autumn leaves; volunteers making signs; Doris off to make a speech; Jim planning the final few days of travel; Blue gone to a far New Hampshire campus to round up young voters; Lauren calling--she'll be up from New Haven tomorrow with a gang of students; field report--someone is tearing down our signs as fast as we put them up; meeting to decide how much money for last minute television ads--newspaper ads; Marlo back from New York; Eisner up from Baltimore; MacNiece coming back from Asheville; Lynn coming back from New Jersey and Susy from New York; Eric still here from California and Maury from North Conway; the ladies of the Tuesday Academy rapidfiring the staple guns like so many Rosie the Rivetters. So many volunteers are flocking in for the big moment. Leaves swirling, too. It is dreamlike in its intensity. Sleep deprivation. But good meals up in Dublin each night. Good conversation. We will remember this time for as long as we live.
Doris was unbelievable today: finished her 230-mile walk to Portsmouth then went right into a killer speech as though she had been resting all day for it. The crowd went wild. Chili at her house tonight.