For those of you who don't know him, Steve Heller became an election integrity activist after the 2000 election debacle in Florida. He became known as the "Diebold Whistleblower" when in January 2004, he stole and exposed legal documents providing smoking gun evidence about Diebold Election Systems' nefarious activities in the State of California. Partly as a result of Steve's actions, in April 2004, former California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley de-certified Diebold in California for what he called their "fraudulent," "despicable," and "deceitful behavior."*?

?For stealing and exposing legal documents, Steve was charged by the Los Angeles District Attorney with three felonies. In November 2006, he pleaded guilty to one felony count of unauthorized access to a computer. He is currently on felony probation.?

?Steve is an actor, writer, political progressive and election integrity activist. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, actor and writer Michele Gregory. He is also a personal hero of mine.?

?Q. Welcome to OpEdNews, Steve! I'm delighted that you have agreed to participate in this series of interviews and reflections on the state of our elections, viewed through the prism of Mark Crispin Miller's Fooled Again. Please tell us how you got involved in fighting for integrity in our elections.?

?A. I first became interested in election integrity after the 2000 election mess in Florida. Before the 2000 election, I had assumed, like most Americans, that in general elections in the United States were trustworthy and that those who took office had been selected by a majority of the voters. How wrong I was!?

?After the 2000 election, there was a veritable snowstorm of news stories about hanging chads, but nothing in the America press about electronic voting or the electronic voting machine companies. Electronic voting was something that at that point in time I knew nothing about. The corporate controlled media in the United States wasn't helping much; as is unfortunately so often the case these days, if you want real news about America, you need to go to the foreign press and to the blogs. So I did. In the foreign press I read about electronic voting and about the companies that make the machines, especially Diebold (as my grandmother used to say, "May their name be erased!").?

?In the foreign press I read about the problems with the voting machines, the lack of security, the lack of oversight, and I read about the personal, political, and most importantly the very extensive web of financial ties (follow the money, right?) between Diebold and one of the two major political parties in America. I'll give you one guess which political party it is.?

?Because of my research, I soon knew more about electronic voting and the voting machine companies than did most people in America. That's not bragging, because at that point in time almost no one in America knew anything about Diebold or electronic voting because the American press wouldn't cover it. The only reason I knew about it was because I'm a hardcore news junkie.?

?Q. What else did you read to bring yourself up to speed on this subject? ?

?A. Well, the most important thing I read was Bev Harris' book Black Box Voting. Frankly, that book scared the hell out of me, and it also got me angry. After reading Black Box Voting, I came to believe and I still believe that there is an on-going conspiracy to suppress the votes of minority and impoverished (read: Democratic) voters and pervert American elections. This conspiracy has been put into place and is being perpetuated by dishonorable people.?

?Years ago, if a person had said those words to me - an ongoing conspiracy to suppress votes and pervert America elections - I would have rolled my eyes and thought the person ought to just put on a tin-foil hat and get it over with. But no more. I've seen the evidence, I've seen the documents, I've seen the facts. And it's all too horribly true.?

?Our elections have been turned into lies, and lies must be challenged.?

?Q. Some examples, please. ?

?A. We've seenĀ  Bradley Schlozman, the recently resigned former U.S. Attorney for Kansas City and controversial deputy head at the Civil Rights Division, bring indictments of ACORN workers just five days before the November 2004 elections. He brought these indictments despite the policy of the Justice Department, which is to not bring election related indictments just before an election. And Schlozman's big investigation of voter fraud led the grand jury to indict four ACORN workers for forging a total of six, count 'em, six voter registration forms.

?We've seen the infamous Georgia voter ID law, which Department of Justice lawyers said was unconstitutional and would disenfranchise African-American and elderly voters, pushed through by higher ranking officials at the DOJ. And why? Because it was part of the ongoing conspiracy to suppress minority and impoverished voters. When U.S. District Judge Harold L. Murphy issued an injunction against the law, he likened it to a Jim Crow-era poll tax that required residents, most of them black, to pay back taxes before voting.

?We've seen the ReTHUGlican party ranting and raving about voter fraud, and how voter fraud is out of control. Yet the New York Times reported that the twice unelected "Bush administration's five-year crackdown on voter fraud has turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections. The Justice Department has charged only 120 people, most of them Democrats, and gained only 86 convictions, with many of those charged having mistakenly filled out registration forms or misunderstood eligibility rules." And according to the Times, "the push to prosecute voter fraud figured in removals of at least two United States attorneys whom Republican politicians or party officials criticized for failing to pursue cases. Within the Justice Department, career lawyers clashed with political appointees over protecting voters' rights, leading to the filing of some cases which baffled federal judges."

?Then of course we've learned from Greg Palast about the vote caging emails, and the effort spearheaded by Tim Griffin to strip as many Democratic voters from the rolls as possible. These illegal activities disenfranchised scores of thousands of voters, including men and women who are serving in the armed forces. Way to support the troops!

?We've learned about that tireless defender against voter fraud, Hans von Spakovsky, who, according to McClatchy News, "blocked career lawyers from filing at least three lawsuits charging local and county governments with violating the voting rights of African-Americans and other minorities."

?We've learned from Dan Rather Reports' "The Trouble with Touch Screens" that Election Systems and Software (ES&S) has been making shoddy, tenth rate voting machines under sweatshop conditions in the Philippines, and that these machines may have altered the outcome of multiple elections.

?And we've learned from Brad Friedman of BradBlog... well, we've learned so much from Brad. He's one of the very greatest citizen journalists working in America today. Just recently, we can add to the very long list of vital information Brad has exposed with the revelation that "ES&S is in trouble, again, in California. They appear to have sold uncertified AutoMark voting systems to counties and those systems were used in recent elections."

?Also from BradBlog, "on a recent Tuesday in August, several days after California Secretary of State Debra Bowen's pronouncement of decertification and then new, restrictive recertification of Diebold, Inc., voting systems, ten officers of the company simultaneously sold off some 10,379 shares of stock at a near 52-week high for the troubled company."

?And again from BradBlog, "two Ohio activists have discovered that e-voting machines made by Election Systems and Software and used across the country produce time-stamped paper trails that permit the reconstruction of an election's results--including allowing voter names to be matched to their actual votes." So much for the secret ballot, huh?

?These are things we've learned about more recently, in the past few months. And this information has confirmed the existence of the conspiracy that I've known about for years. And I saw that conspiracy in action in Columbus, Ohio, in November of 2004.

?Q. You're referring, of course, to the last Presidential election. What were you doing in Ohio?

?A. In October of 2004, a friend told me that he knew a guy who was planning to go to Ohio, rent a van and volunteer to drive people to the polls on election day. I was inspired by this and I thought I can do something like that. I had gone to college at Ohio State in Columbus, so I contacted the Ohio Democratic Party and volunteered to work in Columbus getting out the vote.

?I arrived on Saturday evening before the election. Sunday morning I went to the campaign headquarters and I was given a list of registered Democratic voters, and on Sunday afternoon and all day Monday I went door to door, making sure people knew that the election was in fact on Tuesday (it sounds basic, but there was a lot of disinformation out there; I saw a flyer saying "Republicans vote on Tuesday, Democrats vote on Wednesday"), made sure they knew where their polling place was, and arranged rides to and from the polls for anyone who needed it.

?On Election Day, I was assigned to "observation." I was given a city map and a list of 6 precincts they wanted me to visit, observe what was happening, and report back to Democratic headquarters.

?I went to the one suburban precinct on the list, a wealthy suburb, mostly Republican, and I saw 8 voting machines at the precinct, 2 of which were in use, and the other 6 standing open, ready and waiting. No lines, no crowd, no confusion and clear signs. Even for someone like me who hadn't been in Columbus for decades, it was very easy to find the polling place.

?Q. Then, what happened?

?A. I went to the five other precincts on the list - all poor, inner-city, heavily Democratic precincts, with mostly African American residents. None of those five inner-city Democratic precincts had more than 2 voting machines. Lines were hours long at each of these precincts. Lines went out the door - and it was a cold and rainy November day. People stood out in the cold and rain for hours waiting to vote - and most of the faces had brown skin.

?Confusion was everywhere. Rumors about whether or not you needed ID to vote, and what kind of ID was acceptable. Rumors that you would be arrested if you had outstanding parking tickets or outstanding child support payments and tried to vote.

?Two of the precincts had polling places in the same location, a high school gymnasium, without any clear signs identifying which side of the room was which precinct. Some people had waited in one line for hours only to be told, "oh you're in the wrong precinct, you need to be in that other line." Understandably, many people left in frustration.

?All of this is described and documented in Miller's book Fooled Again, and having seen it with my own eyes, reading his book last week reminded me how terrible it was, how intensely distressing it was to see this being done to our democracy.

?What I saw was, quite simply, Jim Crow. It made me feel physically ill. I wanted to cry at what I saw being done in my country. In the 60s in elementary school they taught me that Jim Crow was dead. Bullshit. Jim Crow is alive and well and under the control of the Republican Party. There is a difference between the old Jim Crow and the new version - Jim Crow used to be: "Let's keep the 'N-words' from voting." Now it's "Let's keep the Democrats from voting." Everyone knew the 2004 election would be very close, so disenfranchising a small percentage of Democratic voters could completely swing the outcome of the election.

?Of course impoverished people have very little political power. It's a lot easier to disenfranchise poor inner-city African-American Democrats than it is to disenfranchise Caucasian middle class Democrats. That's why they targeted black voters; historically African Americans tend to vote Democratic.

?Fooled Again also goes into details regarding the exit polls in Ohio. I was there to witness that, too. All day long the exit polls had been showing Kerry in the lead by two to three percent. And Between 6:00 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. the exit polls completely flipped. Within less than 45 minutes, suddenly Bush was in the lead. Allegedly. But Mr. Miller's book shows that to be a lie. Bush didn't win in Ohio in 2004 any more than he won in Florida in 2000.

?The fact is, the man serving his second term as president has yet to be elected! It's terrible, and it makes me so mad! I just can't understand why more Americans aren't outraged by this.

?In the 70's there would have been people in the streets over this kind of thing. Maybe too many of us have just become numb under the constant deluge.

?Q. So what's the answer to these problems?

?Sometimes I feel like I don't know what the answer is.

?But really, I do know the answer.

?It's us.

?I have always believed that American soldiers have a duty to defend our nation, but American citizens have a duty to defend our democracy.

?We all need to get busy and fulfill our duties as citizens. And just about the best place to start is with the Election Integrity (EI) movement.

?We ALL need to get busy in the EI movement. The very existence of our republic depends on it.

?For example, who owns our elections?

?To hear the voting machine officials, politicians and election officials at the federal, state and county levels tell it, they own our elections. Not the voters, not even the taxpayers, but the voting machine companies, the politicians and the election officials.


?We, the people, own our elections, and we the people own our votes.

?Q. So, what do we do? What can we do?

?A. It is imperative that we return elections to the people. The process of voting has to be opened up and made transparent. No secret machines! No secret software! No ballotless voting!

?And the process of counting the votes likewise needs to be something that we, the people can observe. I want citizens to be able to watch the votes being counted. Like I said, they're OUR votes, so we should be able to see them being counted.

?The only thing secret about our elections should be the secret ballot.

?How our ballots are processed and tabulated, and the machines used for such, must be open and transparent.

?Private corporations are running our elections for us in secret, using secret machines and secret software. That must not stand.

?Every vote in every election MUST have a paper ballot. Not a paper trail, but an actual, legal ballot printed on sturdy, heavy weight paper. And what should be counted is the paper ballots, not electronic bits and bytes that we can't see and hold in our hands, bits and bytes created on machines proven to be vulnerable to hacking, proven to be unreliable and poorly made, proven to have security features any computer savvy 14 year old could break through.

?Paper ballots are the ONLY thing that should be counted, either for the initial count or a recount.

?We also need to make it federal law that any hardware or software used in an election is subject to independent verification by computer hardware and software experts that have no affiliation with any voting machine company. No exceptions of any kind!

?Now, proprietary information laws are generally very good laws. If a company builds a better mousetrap, that company should have the legal right to protect the secret of what makes that mousetrap better, and then be able to exclusively exploit that better mouse trap technology and make a tidy profit.

?But not voting machines. Voting machines aren't like a carburetor or a photo copy machine or a mouse trap. Voting machines are what our democracy depends on. So I want to see exceptions to the proprietary information laws when it comes to all voting machine components.

?Q. I don't imagine that is going to be an easy sell.

?A. If the voting machine companies don't want to make their machines transparent, and if they don't want to make their software open source code, they can get the hell out of the election business. Elections are NOT about profit for the voting machine companies. Again, we own our elections and we own our ballots. So how our ballots are created and counted must not be kept secret from we, the people.

?I want the laws to have real penalties for those who violate election laws. Serious financial penalties, and for more egregious cases, state penitentiary time. Our elections are what our republic is based on. Those who would knowingly violate election laws or suppress voters need to suffer real consequences both as punishment and as a deterrent to other potential election criminals.

?Again, we own our elections, and we own our ballots. We have a right to watch our property - our elections and our ballots - being counted.

?If we encode these things into federal law, we'll have a good chance to returning accuracy and security to OUR elections. Democracy will be the stronger for it, and we'll all benefit.

?Q. Any last words to our readers?

?A. Keep fighting "The Man." Bite 'em right on the ass! The constitution can't defend itself. It needs citizens to actively protect it. Whether or not that will happen... I guess time will tell. I'll try to do my best to do my part to defend our democratic republic, along with millions of other Americans from all over the political spectrum. And I hope millions more will join us. Our liberty and our freedom depend on it.

?*Former CA SoS Shelley quotes are taken from this NYT article: click here

Joan Brunwasser of Citizens for Election Reform is a citizen activist working hard to restore and preserve free and fair elections. She started a lending library project to distribute the "Invisible Ballots" DVD in mid September 2005. In the following eighteen months, she loaned the DVD to almost 3,200 'borrowers' in 37 states, DC, Puerto Rico, Canada, Holland, England, Ireland and Japan. Since the DVD's release in spring 2004, there have been numerous studies and hacks, all of them critical of electronic voting. Her new focus is on raising public awareness about what's wrong with our elections and how to achieve a fair, secure and transparent election system. She welcomes your help in spreading the word. She has been the Voting Integrity Editor for Op Ed News since December 2005.