23 November 2014

Ohio Republicans have blocked a proposal to test electronic voting machines prior to the 2008 presidential primary.

By a 4-3 vote, Republicans on Ohio’s State Controlling Board blocked Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner’s proposed $1.8 million unbid contract for voting machine testing.  Brunner had already set aside the $1.8 million for the test. Her specific request to the Controlling Board was a waiver for competitive bidding. Her office had hoped to complete all testing by November 30, 2007.

A former judge, Brunner is successor to the infamous J. Kenneth Blackwell, who helped engineer the theft of Ohio's electoral votes for George W. Bush in 2004.  Brunner won election as a reform candidate, vowing to guarantee the public access to the polls---and an accurate vote count---in 2008.

In California, Democratic Secretary of State Debra Bowen recently completed an extensive testing of that state's electronic voting machines.  She decertified many of them and is on course to rework how America's biggest state casts and counts its ballots.

Brunner has not been quite so aggressive.  When it was recently revealed that 56 of 88 Ohio counties illegally destroyed protected materials from the 2004 election, she showed little reaction.  She has also stated publicly doubts that the irregularities that defined the Ohio vote that year could have affected the outcome or that the illegal destruction of more than 2000 ballots could have been intentional. 

But in attempting to carry out her promise to test Ohio's electronic voting machines, Brunner has followed through on public demands that the ability of Ohio's electronic machines to deliver a fair and reliable vote count be proven.  Tests and studies conducted by the federal Government Accountability Office, Princeton University, Johns Hopkins, the Brennan Center, the Carter-Baker Election Commission, John Conyer's House Judiciary Committee and others have all shown clearly that electronic voting machines are unreliable and easily rigged. 

The New York Times has now joined that consensus, calling for an outright federal ban.   "Electronic voting has been an abysmal failure," the Times said.  "Computer experts have done study after study showing that electronic voting machines, which are often shoddily made, can easily be hacked. With little effort, vote totals can be changed and elections stolen."

Apparently, the Ohio GOP is not anxious to have a state study add to such conclusions.  At a Monday hearing, Republican State Representative Matthew Dolan attempted to table Brunner’s request before she was allowed to speak. Only the procedural intervention of Controlling Board President Joe Secrest afforded Brunner the courtesy of presenting her controversial proposal.

Brunner’s plan calls for contracts with testing companies that are preferred by the voting machine vendors like SysTest Labs and computer security experts from various universities to inspect the machines under the management of the Battelle Memorial Institute.

But Senator John Carey (R-Wellston) angrily reacted to Brunner's mention of the tests conducted in California, saying they were the work of “leftists and extremists.” Both Stivers and Carey questioned the independence and objectiveness of the academics from Cleveland State, Penn State, and the University of Pennsylvania listed in Brunner’s plan.

Cleveland State University Law Professor Candace Hoke, who witnessed the California tests of e-voting machines for hackability, told the Controlling Board that “Within ten seconds to two minutes . . . they found many different ways” to hack the machines.

Both Brunner and Hoke stressed the lack of security measures now used at Ohio’s polling places. The issues of so-called “sleepovers” used in some Ohio counties, like Hocking, were cited. This practice involves often untrained poll workers to take hackable voting machines home with them the weekend before an Election Day.

Brunner repeatedly emphasized the need to establish a “chain of custody” concerning both the access and memory cards used in voting machines, the latter serving as an electronic ballot box. In recent elections, memory cards have gone missing for hours on election nights in both Toledo and Dayton.

State Senator Ray Miller (D-Columbus) declared that election security is “the most important issue that’s come before the Controlling Board.” He said, “It’s way beyond the building of buildings. It goes to the core of our democracy.”

But the attack on Brunner’s testing contract was initiated by Ohio Speaker of the House Republican John Husted in the morning prior to the September 10 Controlling Board meeting. He sent a letter to Brunner demanding she remove the requested contract proposal from the Controlling Board agenda. “At the present time, too many outstanding questions remain regarding the scope of this request and the intent of the study," he wrote.

Brunner responded by saying "our testing process allows for parallel independent testing of Ohio’s voting systems by both corporate testing entities and some of the nation’s best computer security research scientists, allowing them to collaborate as needed.

“I regret I cannot accede to your request to delay," she added, "as I need information to prepare for the early March 4 primary election so that Ohio’s voters can trust that we have done all possible to ensure the safety, reliability and trustworthiness of our voting systems in Ohio.”

Early voting will begin here in late January.  But the GOP clearly intends to delay the testing in Ohio and conduct yet another election on eminently hackable electronic voting machines.

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Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA'S 2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008, which is available via www.freepress.org, where this article first appeared. Editor's note: Correction of sentence in paragraph 11 quote from - "they found many different ways" changed from "thirty different ways" and on 9/12/07 corrected the name of the person who tried to table Brunner's proposal to be Rep. Matthew Dolan from Sen. Steve Stivers.