Democracy Is not a Spectator Sport

Originally published at



January 20, 2007

Democracy is Not A Spectator Sport and What "We The Patriots" Are Doing About That

By Joan Brunwasser

Democracy is Not A Spectator Sport and What We The Patriots Are Doing About That
By Joan Brunwasser, Voting Integrity Editor, January 18, 2007

All of the House co-sponsors of the bill formerly known as "HR 550" (the "Holt Bill") received a surprise package this week. This jumbo mailing contained almost two hundred copies of HACKED! High Tech Election Theft in America, a collection of chapters about electronic vote fraud authored by experts from around the country such as Bev Harris, Lynn Landes, Bob Fitrakis, Harvey Wasserman, Victoria Collier, and others. Included with the book was a letter, a "Request By Voters", outlining why HR 550 needs to be amended in order to ensure that our elections provide transparency, accountability and citizen oversight. The petition has been signed thus far by more than 1,500 individuals and groups. The link to sign this letter can be found at

The original collaborators behind this effort are Nancy Tobi, Chair of Democracy for New Hampshire, Bev Harris, founder of Black Box Voting, who was featured in the recent HBO documentary "Hacking Democracy," Vickie Karp, a board member for Black Box Voting, Chair of the Coalition for Visible Ballots, co-editor of the book HACKED! High Tech Election Theft in America; and Abbe Waldman DeLozier, Political and Media Strategist for the Coalition for Visible Ballots and co-editor of HACKED!, and Paul Lehto, Election Law Attorney. The purpose of their website,, is to "help citizens sign on to communicate formal, unified citizen requests to public officials."

After last November, it became clear that there was a public will to reform a voting system that is sadly out of whack. News of one election debacle after another seeped out and joined the reports already released about the many serious failings of the present system of electronic voting – the GAO Report of September 2005, the BlackBoxVoting/Harri Hursti authorized hack in Leon County, Florida (seen in the recent HBO documentary "Hacking Democracy"), the Carter-Baker Commission, the Brennan Center Report, the SAIC Report, the Princeton Center Report and the recent NIST recommendations. What happened in Florida's 13th congressional district, and the ongoing controversy surrounding it, is a prime example of high tech voting at its worst. (Read Paul Krugman's article "When Votes Disappear", New York Times, November 24, 2006: ).

While there is strong sentiment across all political lines that something needs to be done to shore up the understandably drooping confidence of voters across the country, there is no unanimity on what exactly that might be. The Holt Bill, once viewed as the 'gold standard' of election reform, was written prior to November 2004 and the many reports issued since then and listed above. The Holt Bill is presently under review and we are not privy to the specific changes and whether they will suffice for meaningful reform. Prior to the opening of the new session of Congress, the bill had over 220 co-sponsors and it has become clear that momentum and the Democratic agenda demand that the bill (in whatever form) will be introduced soon, coming up for a vote in the next several months. There is no time to waste.

The Holt Bill is alternately called "The Voter Confidence Bill". Yet, it is hard to reconcile this title with the bill itself which "enables the continued use of high risk voting equipment and further entrenches private corporate ownership of our elections" WeThePatriots contend that a commitment to democracy should trump "confidence" in the e-voting industry, which has fallen short by every conceivable measure. Their "Request By Voters" (RBV) letter prefers to use citizen oversight and freedom of access to election information as the standards for democratic elections. RBV focuses on four ways to amend the Holt Bill:
• RBV supports democratic standards over technology standards.
• RBV requires voter-marked paper ballots, not voter-verifiable paper ballots.
• RBV will insure that the counts are right on election night. It does not depend on post election audits.
• RBV requires citizen oversight and not industry oversight of the nation's elections.

This citizen action of supplying both information (HACKED!) and recommendations (the "Request By Voters") is based on the premise that many members of Congress are not aware of the intricacies of voting, and especially electronic voting. WeThePatriots have worked with the nation's elections officials to make common sense recommendations that support the practical realities of election administration and management. They believe that the high tech, high cost recommendations of legislation like the Holt Bill do not reflect the realities faced by the nation's election officials who are trying to run clean elections.

As a result, WeThePatriots contend that legislation such as the Holt Bill as written, will cause chaos and confusion in the nation's election systems, at a very high cost to American taxpayers.

The Holt Bill allows for electronic voting machines with "paper trails", but it has been proven that, through malicious viruses or malfunctioning, machines can record something totally at variance with the voters' wishes. A paper trail can, therefore, seemingly verify outright vote fraud, and there would be no evidence to contradict it. consists of dedicated voting activists who have been studying these issues for years. They want our elected officials in Congress to have the information at hand when it is time to make some decisions.

They highly recommend a GAO report accounting for the more than three billion tax dollars spent on HAVA, how the money was spent and what it achieved. Only with a greater understanding of the entire picture can wise decisions be made. HAVA was supposed to be a cure for Florida 2000. Sadly, it is a cure that is much worse than the original disease.

Vickie Karp says:
"Members of Congress, even those who co-sponsored HR 550 or some of the other proposed HAVA amendments, have not been able to study election problems 24/7 the way many of us in the election reform community do. We want to give these Congressional leaders some detailed information, information they likely have never seen before, which will give them the justification and the political will to turn the "paper trial" and "2% audit" ship around; to bring about paper ballot elections, hand-counted in public view with totals posted at precinct level."

Another purpose for this action is to put these members of Congress on notice: they now have the hard facts and if they proceed with bad decisions with further disastrous ramifications for our elections, they will be held accountable by the voting public. Too often lately, political leadership has shrugged off responsibility for its actions. This deep-seated lack of accountability is part of the problem facing us today. WeThePatriots feel that Congress is lagging behind the public in its desire and will for meaningful election reform to restore integrity and democracy to our elections.

Nancy Tobi contends:

"The integrity of our elections does not depend on the next exciting technological possibility. It does not depend on a computer programmed to inform the voter whether or not he has voted right or wrong according to technological standards. The integrity of our elections does not depend on outrageous expenditures into a profit-driven high tech industry that to this point has failed abysmally in delivering any kind of product or process that meets the standards of democracy.

We offer our Remedies and Recommendations in our RBV to Congress to amend the Holt Bill as a practical, feasible, affordable, and democratic means for achieving this worthy goal. Our solutions are not high tech, high cost, or profit-driven. Our Remedies and Recommendations, if incorporated into the Holt Bill and passed by Congress, will have a profound influence in restoring democratic elections to every jurisdiction in the nation."

It is hard to go back to 2000 and realize that simply cleaning out the troughs of the voting machines would have taken care of those infamous hanging chads. Instead we have been sold one of the biggest boondoggles in our history. Private corporations grabbed at the opportunity to sell a concept they weren't in a position to successfuly implement. HAVA enabled a great marketing strategy by the voting industry which combined the carrot and the stick: offering millions of tax dollars for high tech machinery that was neither reliable, affordable, secure nor open to voter scrutiny. We are still reeling from the aftershocks of that misstep.

HAVA purported to address issues raised by the disability rights advocates. WeThePatriots embrace the right of all Americans to vote privately and independently, but HAVA solutions did not protect those rights as promised. WeThePatriots believe that a common sense solution that really works can be found without disrupting the integrity of our nation's elections.
What does this group WeThePatriots propose? Parallel counts to verify the results on election night rather than post election audits; once an election is called, an audit is unlikely to trigger a reversal of the results. Putting the citizens back in charge, rather than leaving elections in the hands of the e-voting vendors. When their technicians come in, sometimes even in the midst of the voting, and tinker with machines, removing parts, exchanging parts, calibrating, adjusting, who can vouch for what they're doing? Who understands what they're doing? Where is citizen oversight and transparency?

Bev Harris personally authored the section in the "Request by Voters" to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as it relates to election records. She and other citizen election watchdogs have made FOIA requests for election records from counties across the country. Often, the very records needed for true citizen oversight are withheld from citizens and claimed to be "proprietary information" or "trade secret information", maintained by the vendors! How can citizens truly oversee election challenges when, as in recent cases on 2006, the ballots themselves (among other documents) were considered to be the property of the vendors? In other cases, exorbitant costs are charged for the records; or, the delay in providing them prohibits any possible election challenge until after the election results have been certified.
Other crucial issues? We have uncertified, uncertifiable software and hardware that has been proven continually to break down and operate erroneously, and is susceptible to tampering and failure. Grandfather clauses, which allow the machines to be used despite all their grave problems, are a slap in the face of the voters. What is at stake here? Nothing less than representational democracy: how do you determine the will of the people if the vote-counting process is suspect?

All in favor of greater transparency, accountability and citizen oversight in our elections, please step forward. Now is the time to translate your sentiments into action. Merely nodding complacently from the sidelines is far from enough. There is a tremendous array of groups which will oppose us: the vendors, of course, who have been the clear victors here, the members of Congress who are influenced by those vendors and their lobbyists or have an incomplete understanding of what's involved and what's at stake, the Boards of Elections who fear having to start all over with another new system ahead of the rapidly approaching Presidential elections, public apathy and feelings of hopelessness. Ironically, also working against the principles of democratic elections (transparency and citizen oversight) are large civil rights organizations going down the erroneous path that finds answers for all voting issues in high cost, high-tech e-voting equipment.

We acknowledge how difficult it is to get the powers-that-be to listen, let alone respond positively to citizens' overtures. Just look at our President. He admitted to receiving "a thumpin'" in November and has he adapted his Iraq policy to reflect that? I'm afraid not.
I'm currently reading The Devil in the White City about the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, which took place in Chicago, my hometown. It is an awe-inspiring tale of colossal challenges: the ambitiousness of the vision, the shortness of time to accomplish it, the vagaries of the Chicago soil, the harshness of the winter, labor disputes, fire, torrential downpours, delays, on-site injuries and deaths, countless committees which complicated matters rather than streamlining them, massive cost overruns and a quickly worsening national economy. The project suffered from practically every calamity you can think of. Yet, somehow, this miraculous feat was accomplished, despite all odds. France was the site of the 1889 World's Fair, the brand-new Eiffel Tower causing quite a stir. Burnham and his cohorts wanted to out-Paris Paris in flair as well as attendance - and, with the help of the deceptively fragile looking, forty-six and a half ton Ferris Wheel, they did! It's really quite amazing.

We citizen patriots should take heart from this massive collaborative effort. The impossible always starts as a mere thought, a germ of an idea. A visionary articulates something and it gains momentum as people jump aboard until it reaches that critical 'tipping point' where it becomes inevitable. Right now, the luxury of time is something we simply don't have. Our future, the future of our children and even those of the citizens beyond our borders, all depend on our success at bringing about meaningful election reform now. Elections that are secure, accurate, transparent, and reflect the people's will. Anything else is a threat to the foundations of our historical democracy. We must do everything in our power to achieve this goal. Our country may not survive another questionable election and its aftermath. So, we simply can't afford to fail.

Links and What You Can Do:


-Sign the "Request by Voters" petition now:
-Sign the Velvet Revolution petition for paper ballots now:

Links to articles to bring yourself up to speed:
-"Electronic Voting & Fair Vote Counts: Annotated Bibliography of 15 Expert Reports on Voting Systems and Fair Vote Counts" by Rady Ananda

-"Security Of Electronic Voting Is Condemned; Paper Systems Should Be Included, Agency Says" By Cameron W. Barr

-"When Votes Disappear" by Paul Krugman, the New York Times, (about what happened in Florida's 13th Congressional District)

-"E-vote systems certifier de-certified; We can't prove anything, so neither can the Feds" by Thomas C. Greene (about Ciber, Inc., the largest 'independent' e-voting machine testing lab)

-"Wrong Winner Chosen by Same Voting Machine Twice: Congress Seats Two Clear 'Losers'" by Michael Collins

I am now hearing rumblings that Rep. Holt and his advisors are moving away from transparency and citizen oversight in their revisions to his bill. This is very disturbing. While our country has become polarized to an unprecedented degree in the last several years, one thing we all seemingly agree on is that vote counting is heading in the wrong direction. In fact, 92% want the "right to view vote counting and obtain information about vote counting" according to the August 2006 Zogby poll commissioned by election law attorney Paul Lehto.

This raises an important question. If the rumblings prove correct and legislation steps away from meaningful election reform, what will we do? What are we prepared to do? While I hope and pray that legislators seize this propitious moment to get America back on track, we must be in standby mode if that proves not to be the case. Use this short window of time to think about strategies to let Congress know, in no uncertain terms, that walking away (or heading in the wrong direction) is simply unacceptable. The scuttlebutt is that the revised Holt Bill may be introduced as early as next week. Catch up on your sleep now. This is going to be a fight to the finish. If you've been hanging back waiting for the perfect moment to jump in, wait no longer!
We need every able-bodied citizen who cares about the principles our country was founded on: "government of the people, by the people, for the people."

This is a perfect opportunity to gaze backwards almost 150 years to another war and another America, also terribly fractured and divided. What came to be known as the Gettysburg Address was given by President Abraham Lincoln in the midst of the Civil War,which still had more than a year to run. His words were spoken at the dedication of a national cemetery at Gettysburg, the site of a huge battle several months before involving over 150,000 soldiers and resulting in an unprecedented number of dead and wounded. The task of collecting the wounded and burying the thousands of bodies was an overwhelming one for the 2500 residents of Gettysburg. The countryside was turned into a giant makeshift hospital and morgue for months. The ceremony that day in November, 1863, was to bring consolation to the many relatives of the dead and help the country bind its wounds. Lincoln's speech was one of five. One gifted speaker, Edward Everett, spoke for two hours. Lincoln's remarks consisted of less than three hundred words, took well under five minutes to deliver and still somehow captured the essence of that moment in time in a way that none of the other speeches did. While the Civil War was what brought them all there, Lincoln's words did not mention the battle, the two sides or the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet, with a few broad brushstrokes, he captured the essence of American democracy and the challenges that faced the American people at that moment in history.

"It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

This government that Lincoln spoke of put the people squarely in the center as its reason for being and its fulcrum. This is the essence of our democracy. And, that is what we, today, are fighting for, no less. It is up to us to complete the "unfinished work" of assuring free, fair, secure, transparent elections for our people. We have before us an historic opportunity to change course and return to what the Founding Fathers had in mind. It is a sacred task that we face. Are we up to the challenge? Very soon, one way or the other, we shall see.


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Authors Bio: Joan Brunwasser of Citizens for Election Reform is a citizen activist working hard to restore and preserve free and fair elections. Her main focus is distributing "Invisible Ballots" through her lending library project. Since mid September, she has loaned the DVD to 'borrowers' in 37 states, DC, Puerto Rico, Canada, Holland, England, Ireland and Japan. She has now enlisted 3,188 individuals and groups in her project and is always looking for new contacts. Her latest target is the local press, local elected officials and other community movers and shakers. She is the Voting Integrity Editor for Op Ed News.