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October 2003
Helping America Vote?

By Matthew Pascarella



“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” —Sec. 1, 15th Amendment

Despite differences in background and ideology, we can agree that the most fundamental and essential aspect of the democratic process is one’s right to vote.

The 2000 Presidential election debacle brought to light massive problems with the way that Americans vote. Due to mechanical problems with voting machines, and partisan fighting, many voters were left completely disenfranchised from the electoral process. In response to public outcry, Congress adopted the “Help America Vote Act” (HAVA) in 2002. This act, originally designed to safeguard voter rights, in fact contains flaws so major that it has the opposite effect, thereby putting one of our most basic rights in peril.

Conflict of Interest
One of the first mandates in HAVA is that older, ‘punch card’ voting systems be replaced with computerized voting machines. These machines are manufactured by private companies, raising the potential for foul play due to partisan interests. It would seem appropriate for companies manufacturing voting machines to remain neutral and unbiased to the political process, but most voting machine companies are financially involved in political campaigns, and many active and former politicians are employed by these companies. Here are just a handful of examples:

• In 2000, five of the 12 directors of Diebold, a leading voting machine manufacturer, made donations totaling $94,750 to predominately Republican politicians.

• Former Florida Secretary of State Sandra Mortham (R) and Former State Election Supervisor of California Lou Dedier (R) both have ties to Election Systems and Software (ES&S), one of our nation’s leading voting machine manufacturers and tabulators. Sandra Mortham was a lobbyist for ES&S and the Florida Association of Counties during the same time period. The Florida Association of Counties made $300,000 in commissions from the sale of ES&S’s voting machines.

• In Georgia’s most recent election, William Wingate, a lobbyist for ES&S, contributed $7,000 to Gov. Roy Barnes (D), $1,000 to Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor (D), and $500 to Secretary of State Cathy Cox (D).

• Michael McCarthy is the Chairman of the McCarthy Group, of which ES&S is a subsidiary. According to Federal Elections Commission (FEC) filings, McCarthy is also the Primary Campaign Treasurer for Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, who (according to FEC filings) is also financially tied to the McCarthy Group by substantial investments (valued between one and five million dollars). According to officials at Nebraska’s Election Administration, ES&S machines tallied around 85 percent of votes cast in Hagel’s 1996 and 2002 senatorial races.

Occasionally, politicians have used their ties to voting machine companies for fraud and illegal activities:

• Former Louisiana State Elections Official Jerry Fowler (D), is currently serving five years in prison for charges related to taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks from voting machine scandals.

• Bill McCuen (D), former Arkansas Secretary of State, pled guilty to felony charges that he took bribes, evaded taxes, and accepted kickbacks. Part of the case involved Business Records Corp. (now merged with ES&S) for recording corporate and voter registration records.

Software Imperfections
Perhaps the biggest danger to the voter rights of Americans lies in the software used in voting machines, which is proprietary and cannot be tested by outside parties. A lack of unbiased testing allows the security flaws of the software to stand uncorrected, and potentially allows for manipulation of election outcomes. Computer scientists assessing the software of the leading voting machine manufacturer Diebold found that, “Anyone in the country—from a teenager on up—could produce these smart cards that could allow someone to vote as many times as they like” (New York Times, July 24, 2003).

Despite the software errors and other significant problems with computerized voting machines in the 2000 election, HAVA fails to provide any type of audit mechanism.

Many software professionals and voting experts have called for a provision for paper printouts of each ballot cast in order to verify the accuracy of voting machines, however, voting machine companies are reluctant to introduce such a measure. To ensure the legitimacy of the voting procedure, there is vital need for an audit trail: In Texas in 2002, Comal County’s election supervisor found that polling and election returns produced dramatically different results. It was discovered that a faulty chip in one machine’s optical reader had recorded votes incorrectly. The chip was replaced; a new electronic tabulation run and two recounts of paper printouts were performed. The election results had to be reversed.

Who is Managing the Voter Rolls?
The new HAVA requirements also fail to ensure fair elections by requiring that the task of managing voter rolls be centralized, and put under the control of notoriously partisan Secretaries of State.

While the mainstream media covered the 2000 Florida recount, they relaxed their investigative spirit (if such a spirit still exists in modern journalism) and tried to turn a complex story into something simple: ‘hanging chads’ and ‘stupid Floridians.’ Here is what they failed to tell you:

In 2000, the Florida Secretary of State was Katherine Harris (appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush), who was also the chairwoman of the “Bush for President” campaign in that state. In order to remove convicted felons (who are ineligible to vote in that state) from their voter rolls, Florida paid the private company Database Technologies (DBT/Choicepoint) $1 million for a list of names matching those of felons across the U.S. Even though there were many obvious flaws in the matching criteria (including conviction dates as far in the future as 2007, and names barely approximating those of actual felons), neither the state nor the private contractor attempted to verify the accuracy of the list. According to a study by Harvard University, 95 percent of the people denied their right to vote by the purge were innocent of felonies, and therefore legal voters. About 54 percent of those purged were African Americans (an overwhelmingly Democratic group in Florida). This led researchers to conclude that Al Gore lost at least 22,000 votes through the purge. The election in Florida was decided by a margin of 537.

What You Can Do
This system should not be spread nationwide as HAVA requires, unless critical loopholes in the legislation are closed by way of a stringent system of checks and balances.

In order to correct the inconsistencies in the Help America Vote Act, we urge you to join us in endorsing the following petition by Martin Luther King III, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and Greg Palast, BBC journalist and author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. Already, over 48,000 people have signed the petition.

Matthew Pascarella
is a student at Marymount Manhattan College in NYC and is a staff researcher for Greg Palast. This article was influenced by the work of investigative journalist Greg Palast and voting experts Bev Harris, Rebecca Mercuri, and Kim Alexander. And oh yeah—the 12th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.

The Petition

Stop the Florida-tion of the 2004 election

Computers threaten accountability of voting system

Join SCLC President Martin Luther King III and investigative reporter Greg Palast in opposing the “Florida-tion” of the 2004 Presidential election by signing this petition, which will be delivered to Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Dear Attorney General John Ashcroft,

Today, there is a new and real threat to voters, this time coming from touch-screen voting machines with no paper trails and the computerized purges of voter rolls.

In 2002, Congress passed the wrongly named “Help America Vote Act” which requires every state to computerize, centralize and purge voter rolls before the 2004 election. This is the very system that the state of Florida used to remove tens of thousands of eligible African American and Hispanic voters from voter registries before the Presidential election of 2000.

The Act also lays a minefield of other impediments to voters: an effective rollback of the easy voter registration methods of the Motor Voter Act; new identification requirements at polling stations; and perilous incentives for fault-prone and fraud-susceptible touch-screen voting machines.
We, the undersigned, demand security against the dangerous “Florida-tion” of our nation’s voting methods through computerization of voter rolls and ballots. Computers were part of the problem in Florida, not the cure. We, the undersigned, hereby demand that no voter be purged from centralized voter rolls without proof positive that the voter is ineligible. We also demand a halt to further computerization of balloting until such methods are made unsusceptible to political manipulation, fraud, and racial bias.

Martin Luther King III
President, Southern Christian Leadership Conference
Greg Palast
Author, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy

To sign the petition online go to You can read the Help America Vote Act in full (with special attention to Section 303) at For a short flash documentary on the 2000 Florida election, check out To request screenings of Counting On Democracy, a documentary film about what really happened in the 2000 Florida Presidential Election contact Matthew Pascarella at or (212) 505-8912.


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