Sunday, December 19, 2004

This just in: George Bush is a 'DumbFuck' --Chevy Chase

Just say no!

Wow. Sure looks the part doesn't he? Thought so.

At first I was shocked, but after a little thought I realized
Chevy has every right to say what he did. Clearly I am not alone in this. Afterall, both Bush and Cheney both have used their share of the seven dirty words. (Thanks George Carlin for enumerating them for us!) You can even get a Dick Cheney coffee cup with "Go Fuck Yourself." right there on the mug for all to see! I'll bet he secretly regrets that one, even though he says, "he felt better after having said it." -hehe at least the man was honest about it!

Bush was appointed in 2000 via the Supreme Court in one of its weaker moments. Technically, had we actually honored the will of the American People, particularly those who existed in Florida at the time, George Bush would not be running for anything this year. Well maybe a second bid at the white house, but that is doubtful at best.

Here we are in 2004 again wondering exactly why this guy gets another questionable term and we hear nothing on the subject! Meanwhile, in the Ukraine, people are taking it to the streets in a fine effort to actually have a fair election.

In the US? We worry about everything that does not actually matter (tm). Democracy? Failed war of choice? Record Deficits? Draconian attacks on our civil liberties ala Mcarthyism? According to our liberal press (cough, gasp --right!) none of this actually matters. We need to know who gets the death sentence, how democracy really works in the Ukraine, Oil for Food, and my personal favorite: It's all Clintons fault! God, they have gotten some milage out of the last two haven't they?

Chevy, you have my full and complete support. I've been putting off my own copy of Caddy Shack just a bit too long. Hope you get a cut because I am going to give one to myself this Xmas. That took a fairly substantial pair to do and I applaud you for it. Free speech indeed.

How about we just cut right to the chase (pun intended) and call out the whole damn administration as the Clusterfuck it really is and be done with it proper! Thank you, I just did and in the words of Dick Cheney: "I felt better after having said it!"

And before you comment, please know we still have free speech here in the USA. Truth is I really don't like this post either, but my point should be clear. These folks have no moral position to stand on let alone critique you and I. Know anyone of good character that would do what these two have done in public and to their own people? I don't. If we all spent a little less time judging one another and more time crafting solutions that let folks just get along the world would be a nicer place right now.

Do you think a President that actually has the support of those he is supposed to serve would be driven to strike the pose shown in this post? Not a chance! That should tell you something. If it doesn't, I'm sorry for you --really I am. Get help.

Anyway, if you happen to not agree, by all means, go and publish your own views. I welcome that far more than I do being told what my values should be by folks that have none to speak of. Send me a link and I assure you I will read what you have to say and give it my complete attention. If you actually have something constructive to say by all means use the comment link below, or e-mail. I am always interested.

The more voices we have on the issues, the closer we will be to getting our nation back on track.

...or "Go Fuck Yourself" --Dick Cheney It's all your choice really.

Our moral leaders in action! Isn't America grand?

(Minor edits to ending statements to make my position on this more clear)

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Dealing with Voting Machine Ignorance, One media person at a time

Dealing with Voting Machine Ignorance, One media person at a time


For the last couple of weeks I have been trying to get the message out about the danger non-voter-verified electronic voting machines present to the trust necessary for our democratic process. I have some results to share with all of you trying to do the same thing.
First the Rules
Rule #1: It has nothing to do with the election results
This is going to be decided in our high court anyway, if the recount efforts are not foiled first, so take that off of the table. Leaving it in only tags you and your message as just another sour-grapes liberal loser wanting to change things.
Rule #2: Fraud must not be part of the discussion
Sadly, proving fraud is going to take a while. Nobody in the media today is going to touch fraud by any measure. It is ok for the Ukraine, but not ok for us. That's the way it is for now. If we succeed in getting the trust message out there, this will naturally follow. Again in the courts.
Rule #3: You cannot broadcast this message and hope to get 'noticed'
That is preaching to the choir; namely, us! We all know this election is a problem, we all want it fixed now and going forward. We don't need to keep hearing the same message over and over again. We do need to hear what works, so others can begin doing it. That is what I am doing here.
Rule #4: Speak only when spoken to
This ties closely with Rule #3. The only response I have gotten after many e-mails to the press is in response to a story. When you challenge a story, they are going to read that challenge because their story could be a problem. That's the most effective time you have for citizen to media person advocacy.
So, how to go forward?
Pick a particular fact you know cold. Know what that fact means and how to back it up. If you want to refine your arguments, register at a nice right-leaning internet message board and roll your sleeves up for the beating you are going to take. Dig in and make your points. Those points taken fairly, should not be a part of your advocacy going forward. Of course, you must use your judgment, or try those points in a few places to see how they go.
I have done this and come away with this factoid that has some significant impact, regarding the election, our trust in it, and can easily be tied in to the events happening in the Ukraine. Feel free to join me, there are a lot of small stories being written and that have been written that you can challenge.
That fact is:
Roughly 30 percent of our national vote was cast on non-voter-verified voting machines. You can say this a number of ways for additional impact: 'about one third', '3 in 10', 'thirty out of one hundred', etc.. Feel free to be creative on this.
What does it mean?
It means we cannot trust the election because the number of unverifiable votes exceeds the winning percentages. It deflates the 'Mandate' easily enough while casting doubt on large areas of the country, currently busy printing feel good stories about their voting machine success.
Almost every person I have spoken this to says really and listens to what you say next. What you say next must fall in line with the rules I just gave. Maybe they are too harsh, but I would rather have more people getting a very basic message across to build on instead of giving the media even more ammo for the crack-pot blogger label they like to use. Wouldn't you? Thought so.
How does it work?
First, you find a story, such as: “Voting machines exceeded expectations in recent election” This story is great because you can put the following in your e-mail subject to the reporter of the story. How do you know those machines worked so well?
Trust me, they are going to read that, particularly if they see it right after a story is posted. They want time to make corrections before the masses get hold of it. Now you have your advocacy time, use it well and follow the rules, try to make a single point.
The one I choose is trust. I lead with: “They can't actually know if the machines honored the will of the people, because nobody bothered to keep a paper record of what exactly that will was.” and go from there. Note I did not say nobody knows if the machines did what they are supposed to, because those that programmed them clearly do. Get it? A media person, reporter journalist will pick up on this.
Example Facts you can use:
The 30 percent number has been cited in a number of sources. It is easy enough to google for that. Pick a couple and keep the links handy. Archive the story.
In my state, Oregon, we do everything on paper, until counting time, then we use the machines. We know absolutely our results are accurate because we can count them if we have to. This means we have a high degree of trust.
The State of Nevada is the only state that required the paper trail on their machines. I am not clear on wether or not it is voter-verified. New Hapmshire requires paper ballots be cast also.
On of the main messages we hear about the Ukraine is one of transparancy. Without it corruption and failed trust result. They are up in arms because the people there cannot trust their election results. They know that because their media reported that.
Back to the states. You cannot just say we cannot trust the election results. That will end your time. Better to ask a more direct question and play off the story challenge you started with. Something like: “If you cannot verify your own votes, don't you owe it to yourself and the people you serve, to let them know that?” Get them to feel bad about that story, maybe they might write a better one. Maybe they might just think a little. Either way we are better off.
Share the successes and failures
You can see one of mine right in my last OpEdNews column. It's a nice publication that only the loyal are going to read. This new approach I have just outlined has resulted in personal communication with some reporters who submit issues to producers. Take it for all it's worth. Watch your news, ask them hard questions right out of the gate, before they can even feel good about the story. It matters, I think it might work.
Remember though, a single point only, such as trust. Know that point cold, be ready to use your one shot at getting the other person to think about what they are doing. Don't get nasty, make sure you spell things right, and try to cultivate empathy.
Comments, suggestions, successes, additional facts? Mail me, or put 'em on my blog, or put 'em here for all to see. I don't care, just share them as I have here.

* This paper, originally published on, is reproduced here, with only a minor edit, for later reference.

I have since learned that people do read our preaching to the choir. My original essay on electronic voting has attracted a number of folks from around the country. After re-reading this piece, I realize it may come off poorly. This is about getting the media people to think about what they are doing while getting some advocacy in at the same time. We all need to keep writing, talking and anything else we can, of course. It all matters, IMHO it's all good!

How Electronic Voting Impacts the Trustworthiness of our Elections

How Electronic Voting Impacts the Trustworthiness of our Elections


It is becoming increasingly clear that this 2004 Presidential Election was not without a growing list of problems. Closed electronic voting technology has brought some significant changes to the democratic process. The subtle nature of these changes, often prove difficult for ordinary people to understand, particularly when the technology is closed to casual examination.
The purpose of this article is not to provide answers one way or another on the issue of the election results, or allegations of fraud. Those things are for the courts. However, the potential solutions for reform under discussion do require a solid understanding of how electronic information technology differs from physical information technology, if we are to achieve proper reform.

With these goals in mind, this essay aims to clarify the differences between Closed Technology and Open Technology as well as physical records and electronic records with the primary goal being to differentiate the impacts of both in a meaningful way.

Although much of the initial discussion deals with basic technology types and their differences, the reader will find the latter discussion easier to digest as a result of the former.

Open and Closed software and data are clarified and compared via Postal Mail and E-mail, with the goal being to introduce core terminology to be used in the final discussion of the changes technology brings to the democratic process and the impact those changes have on the trustworthiness of the the process.

Finally, brief recommendations and observations are brought together with an eye toward potential reform.

How are Closed Technology and Open Technology different?

Open Technology is technology that ordinary people can observe and learn from, with the goal of understanding how it works, without having to obtain special means and or methods in order to do so. In other words, the user of the technology does not have to obtain permission, from a controlling party in order to examine the technology.

How successful ordinary people are in actually learning is not important, the ability for them to engage the technology in this way is.

Closed Technology generally cannot be directly examined without special means or methods. Such means and methods are normally controlled in such a way as to limit general understanding of the inner workings of closed technology solutions.

Computer technology features two basic components, relevant to this discussion; namely, software and data. Additionally, computing technology, for the purpose of this essay, can be roughly divided into open and closed types. The differences between these two are at the heart of many of the election problems we face today. The nature of these differences and their real impact on the trustworthiness of our democratic process will be made clear later on.

Software is information that controls the function of the computer. Software defines what a computer does and how it does it.

Data is information that is manipulated by the computer, through software, to be eventually consumed by either other software, or ordinary people.

Both kinds of information can take on many different forms and structure. These forms can range from the human readable text you see on your screen to complex non readable elements, such as the program you are using to read this text with. It is important to note that both software and data are stored and manipulated electronically. Unlike physical information, such as paper records, electronic information cannot be directly observed by ordinary people, without the assistance of other electronic technology.

Email and Postal Mail serve as an easy means to compare and contrast contrast electronic information and physical information.

E-mail is an example of technology that embodies enough electronic concepts to clarify the definitions presented here. Postal mail can serve to differentiate the differences between manual information processing and computer assisted processing, in a way that has relevance to the election problems at hand.

When you use your computer to send e-mail, the part of the technology that you see embodied as the e-mail program is the software. This software dictates how you perform the task of sending and receiving e-mail.

The words you read or type into e-mail are the data. Anyone can read the contents of an e-mail, provided it is written in a language they understand. The virtual container for your words are the data format used to contain your e-mail, for transport by the software. It is important for e-mail to be contained in a way that everyone can access with their particular choice of e-mail software, otherwise, e-mail quickly becomes useless.

When you send your e-mail, you are actually giving the software your permission to move your data through many other bits of software running on many different computers, including your own, until it reaches your desired recipient. In this way, the data is consumed by both other software and people, as defined above.

Postal Mail
When you use the Postal Service to send regular mail, the people, and machines are roughly analogous to computer software, as is the pen. The pen is closely related to software in that it is very difficult to render words without something to write with.

The paper and envelope represent data, with the paper holding your words written by the pen and the envelope serving to contain your words for delivery by the Postal Service. It is also important that your words are contained and stored (written) in a way that everyone can open, or read, or Postal Services quickly become useless in the same way that e-mail would.

E-mail embodies your words in electronic form, to be handled by computer software. Ordinary people cannot directly observe their e-mail in transit, nor can they read e-mail directly; thus, words embodied in electronic form require other electronic technology to access and make use of those words.

Ordinary physical mail, can be directly observed at every stage of the process. While not practical, this subtle difference becomes very important where democracy is concerned. The words embodied in to physical form do not require any additional technology to access and make use of. This too is important in a democracy.

While it is obvious that Postal Mail is an Open Technology because of its physical nature, e-mail is more difficult to classify. The electronic nature of e-mail is closed to us, in that we cannot directly observe the actual means and methods that embody our words, but does that difference alone make the technology closed, or open?

While the above point may seem somewhat esoteric, where elections are concerned, the pervasive nature of computing combined with the productivity gains it brings, demands we move forward electronically. This, in turn, demands we understand clearly the difference between open electronic data, known as Open Standards, and closed data, known as Closed Standards, because these differences directly impact trust which lies at the core of democracy. The same is true for Open Software and Closed Software, or code as well.

An Open Standard is an electronic data format where all necessary electronic technology and software required to make use of it is Open Technology also. Put simply, Open Standards can be put to use, by anyone, without permission or royalty being required to do so. This does not mean that Closed Technology cannot be used to utilize data stored in Open Standards. It does mean that Closed Technology must not be a requirement to do so however.

Open Software is software that can be translated into a form ordinary people can read. Again, whether or not they choose to read it, or actually understand what they are reading does not matter, but the ability to do so does, in that they may choose at any time to exercise this ability.

The answer for e-mail then depends on the particular e-mail software technology being used. Most common e-mail software is closed in that those that create it demand a fee for use of the software, or deliver it in a form that cannot be translated for people to read. Open e-mail software exists too.

The actual e-mail data itself is open in that its format can be read by both open and closed e-mail software programs. Since we must use software, in almost all but very technical cases, to make use of data, the ability for data to be made use of by Open Software, having no fee attached to its use, then makes that data qualify as an Open Standard. In this sense e-mail is generally considered to be an Open Technology.

Having clarified basic technology forms, terminology and differences, it is time to consider all of these in the context of an election.

What constitutes a trustworthy democratic process?

A trustworthy democratic process is one that embodies four key ideals, namely:

transparency: the ability for the people to directly observe all elements of the democratic process, from votes cast to the final tally and certification of the election,

oversight: depends on transparency, where all elements of the process feature checks and balances designed to promote honesty and integrity and discourage fraud and manipulation,

freedom: to participate, or not without prejudice and finally,

anonymity: where a voter can cast a vote and be assured it will be added to the tally while being assured said vote is not linked to the voter in a personally identifiable way.

If any of these four ideals are missing or diminished, the trustworthiness of the democratic process becomes suspect because mutual trust depends on all four ideals to be realized.

Elections using Paper (Physical voting records, written processes)

Until very recently, the democratic process was a process for the people and by the people in that the voter directly recorded their vote cast onto physical media (paper), and that physical record was directly used to obtain the final tally. People were involved in all stages of the process, under the public eye; thus, maximizing the potential for trustworthy elections. All technology used in this process is open in the way described above, in that no special means or methods are required to make use of the record of the vote.

Pens, paper, ballots, counting and communication are all easily understood by ordinary people, using ordinary means to process the votes. The written rules of the election, combined with the physical record of the votes cast, work together to honor the four ideals thus:

Transparency is present in that we can see the votes cast and can directly read them. Additionally, moving the votes can be observed much as ordinary postal mail can. Though not practical, it is possible to follow a particular vote through to the final tally. Communication that happens via electronic means, such as a phone call, or e-mail of district sub-totals do violate the transparency ideal however, physical records combined with oversight mitigate this with records on both sides of the communication.

Oversight is very dependent upon transparency. We cannot easily oversee what cannot be seen. In this, democratic processes that use physical media to record the vote, combined with careful observation by multiple parties bring a high degree of trustworthiness to the process as a whole. Mutual participation and observation together bring a shared trust to an otherwise difficult to trust process.

Freedom and anonymity are largely served by the rule of law and administrative procedure, both documented in physical forms everyone can access and understand, while those performing their tasks can be observed as well.

Notably, anonymity is largely responsible for many of the difficult trust issues because it demands a voters vote be accounted for in the tally, while not being personally linked to the voter that cast it.

If we eliminate, electronic communication from the above, we have a process that can be fully understood by anyone while being observed by everyone, that fully embodies all four core ideals necessary for mutual trust in the process as a whole.

This process is time-tested and is as trustworthy as the people participating desire it to be.

Elections using Electrons! (Electronic records, encoded processes)

Electronic data moves in the form of electrons and magnetic waves and other such minute and obscure phenomena. We cannot see them, and when they change, they leave little or no practical trace. This is a stark difference from physical media. Changing a mark on a ballot, for example leaves a less than perfect mark in its place, where a changed electronic vote simply is different than it was before without any evidence of it ever being otherwise.

Electronic voting machines follow procedures that may not reflect the written rule of law. Voting machines, that operate using Closed Software are closed to everyone, but their creators. This is enforced by the obscure nature of software, and the written rule of law, such that even those that possess sufficient technology to interpret the software and verify its function and process, cannot legally do so.

People do a similar thing when counting the vote. If someone changes their mental count, it simply is changed. However, physical records, bring oversight to the problem in that the count can be challenged, or done by more than one person and records of the count can be maintained at both ends of a communication of the count, necessary to build the final tally.

When computers count, there is nobody to watch them. If they are counting electronic votes, the count cannot be challenged. Additionally, the record of the vote cannot be confirmed to be representative of the actual votes cast!

Electronic processes differ considerably from the physical ones in that ordinary people cannot observe the process in action and in their behavior where changes and communication are concerned. These differences together have significant impact on the electronic processes ability to honor the core ideals of transparency, oversight, anonymity, and freedom thus:

Transparency is sharply diminished when electronic machines are used to count paper votes and communicate them to build the final tally. This lack of transparency directly impacts oversight, in that other means, such as exit polls and paper recounts and audits are required to maintain an acceptable level of mutual trust in the process as a whole. Electronic machines counting electronic votes eliminate transparency entirely, making all but the most cursory oversight impossible. This lack of oversight prevents an acceptable level of trust from ever being reached.

Roughly 30 percent of the votes cast in this 2004 Presidential Election were cast electronically and counted electronically.

All but a small percentage of the remaining paper vote was counted electronically as well.

Oversight of electronic voting machines and the votes cast on them is limited in two key ways, namely, all but a very small percentage of electronic machines in use today, operate on Closed Software and also store the votes cast on electronic media, such as memory cards, in Closed data standards.

Practical oversight is impossible because the closed software cannot be analyzed without extraordinary means and the force of law prevents their use, unless permission is granted by the software author / owner. This oversight is further hampered by the inability for ordinary people to verify their vote cast is the vote recorded and counted. Finally, almost all electronic machines provide for the option to be equipped with a paper record. However, this record is not directly verified by the voter, making the value of said record questionable at best.

It should be noted that electronic voting machines that use Open Software are available. They are an improvement in that their software can be examined by anyone, however this facility is largely useless unless accurate and trustworthy paper records can be kept. These records must be voter-verified in order to have any value where trust is concerned.

Electronic voting machines, as we see them today, honor freedom in the same way manual voting methods do. Voters are free to vote or not and can, for the most part, choose another method, such as absentee, of voting. For a select few, the machines offer a freedom denied in that voters with disabilities can vote on their own, using audio prompts, for example.

Current touch screen voting machines honor anonymity as paper ballots do. Some proponents of electronic voting, want to extend the idea to the Internet. This will be hard to do without personal identification of the voter to the votes they cast. That is a problem limited to the military, for the time being however. Given the ready option of absentee voting, Internet voting remains a low priority problem.


Electronic voting machines that use Closed Software and electronic voting records violate the two strongest of the core ideals necessary for mutual trust in an election. These ideals of transparency and oversight are time tested and necessary. Without voter-verified paper record facilities attached, these machines are unacceptable for use in any election. Their use should be discontinued, until such facilities are properly equipped and functional.
Ideally, we should be considering the use of electronic voting machines built upon Open technologies and equipped with a voter-verified paper trail. These machines have additional economic advantages beyond the trust issues detailed here.

Hybrid physical vote, electronic count systems, such as Optical Scan, have clear advantages in that they utilize voter-verified paper records directly, which eliminate many of the trust issues inherent in pure electronic solutions. Problems with the count can be identified and rectified with manual counting if indicated. These systems, already in wide use, combined with standardized ballots, are a mature, cost effective solution that remains viable, provided audits are properly performed to oversee the count.

Electronic information is vastly different from physical information. These differences, though obscure, have tremendous impact on our democratic process. The mounting problem reports we continue to see from this last Presidential Election reflect that reality directly.

The volume of incidents already reported, clearly indicate the need for reform. Those directly involved in the reform process must consider the differences between electronic voting and manual voting and act accordingly to avoid future election problems. Additionally, the American people are strongly urged to consider the information presented here and make their voice heard until proper reform is achieved.

This paper, originally published on OpEdNews, is reproduced here for commentary or future reference.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004


What? Yeah, that's exactly what I thought too. Noah Diamond's blog is a great read each evening to catch up on the issue.

Issue? Yeah, didn't you hear? THE ELECTION WAS STOLEN (again).

Doubt me? Well, sink your teeth into this one. It's a 15 page letter, signed by twelve of the 15 Democratic members of the House Judicary Committee. This letter poses 34 questions to Blackwell in a no nonsense way. Why the fuck isn't this a story?

If our own elected officials can ask these questions why can't the press?

Hate to keep harping on this issue, but folks we are very close to both redefining what America is, and losing our democracy in the process. Just say no to electronic voting.

Highly recommended evening reading.