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Starting today, BlogForArizona will be given over to live blog coverage of the lawsuit by the Pima County Democratic Party against Pima County, Arizona, seeking to force the county to respond to a public records request for the databases containing the actual vote totals from recent elections, and to continue to provide copies of that data to all political parties in future elections.
12/4, 7:01am: It is still undetermined whether the judge will be allowing video and audio recording, or live blogging in the courtroom. My request for media pool access is still being considered pending input by the parties at this mornings initial hearings at 8:30am. My first updates will likely be about media access to the trial. LinkTV, Robert Greenwald, are confirmed for the press pool, with Dan Rather's HDNet show also being interested. In addition several local media outlets and a number of internet outlets are interested in covering the trial. Hopefully that broad interest will help convince the judge that media access is warranted.
I discussed the trial with Cynthia Black of Air America's Action Point show on Sunday: Download CynthiaBlack_MichaelBryan_1207.mp3
If you are local and would like to observe the trial, here's the info:
Scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday
Starts December 4th, 2007 at 8:30 a.m.
Superior Court, 6th Floor
110 West Congress
Judge Michael Miller
I wrote a summary of the issues up to now, and the attorney for the Pima County Democratic Party in this case, Bill Risner, gives a great preview of the case in the following interview with Tucson's own John C. Scott: Download bill_risner_on_john_c_scott_show.wmv
Or see the slideshow version:
Tune in next week, or sign up for email or RSS delivery of posts to keep abreast of the trial as it happens next week. I will be cross-posting daily coverage of the trial on Brad Friedman's election-integrity-focused BradBlog, as well.
Though this lawsuit has obvious import for the security of our votes all across Arizona, it also has a national importance. I've been informed by election integrity activists that almost every state in the nation has electoral districts using this same fundamentally flawed software, GEMS, to count their citizens' votes. If you think hanging chads were bad, that was nothing in comparison to millions of Americans votes being vulnerable to manipulation and outright theft by unscrupulous and unaccountable elections insiders, who often as not have a political ax to grid. This lawsuit may awaken voters and activists around the nation to the danger to our democracy posed by election tabulation software with less security built in than the browser or email program with which you are reading this post.
The fundamental issue at stake in this lawsuit applies to every electoral district in this country: does the public have the right to verify the result of our elections, or must we simply trust that bureaucrats are doing their jobs competently and honestly?
I strongly feel that the public has the right expect the same degree of openness and accountability regarding the computer systems that count our votes that we have always enjoyed over every other step of the election process. The American tradition is that when it comes to elections we follow Ronald Reagan's famous paraphrasing of Russian folk wisdom: trust, but verify. The more eyes that are on the ball, the less chance there is for anyone to cheat.
Elections officials, either because of the natural tendency for bureaucracies to want to hide information to limit accountability, or through sheer incompetence to make wise decisions regarding the security of the computer systems they purchase and employ, or simply due to arrogance, have been systematically trying to close the electronic processes at the heart of our modern elections to public scrutiny. We would never tolerate such secrecy regarding the handling of ballots, or the oversight of a polling place, yet we seem willing to tolerate it regarding the computers and programs that actually tell us what the vote totals are.
In hundreds of counties around the nation, there are administrators like Chuck Huckelberry crossing their fingers, hoping that what is happening in Pima County doesn't spread to their county. If Pima County sets a precedent that the public can't be denied access to the very data that determines the outcome of our elections, such wise policy will spread, and any systems that cannot provide both security and transparency, must rightfully fall into disuse.
GEMS is just such a system; it is not secure, and cannot be made secure. Pima County will maintain in this lawsuit that the only way to keep GEMS secure is to keep it secret; that is a lie. Even keeping GEMS data secret and locked away can only hope to secure against outside manipulation; our voting data still remains fundamentally vulnerable to manipulation and corruption by those inside the elections process.
How can we hold insiders accountable without the oversight that Pima County claims will destroy the security of GEMS? We can't. And that's the problem with GEMS. It cannot provide both security and transparency. We can have the illusion of security through secrecy and a profound vulnerability to insider corruption due to lack of oversight, or we can have transparency and a general awareness that our elections computer systems are fundamentally flawed as to security. Pima County desperately wants to avoid the latter, because that realization by the public will almost certainly come with a demand for accountability for such a poor outcome. Accountability is last thing any bureaucracy wants.
The only way to reconcile security and transparency is to replace the GEMS software, which Pima County is now making noises about doing after the 2008 election, due in large part, I suspect, to this lawsuit. Is that soon enough for you? Do you want Presidential contests across the nation tabulated on systems that allow insiders to manipulate counting with no way of detecting such manipulation? The scale of the problem make hanging chads, caging lists, and unauditable DRE machines (which few jurisdictions use more than a handful of because of their cost) look positively Lilliputian.
This trial should prove edifying. I hope you'll tune in to find out if the public's interest in oversight of our elections wins over the bureaucracy's right to keep secret the very life-blood of our democracy - our votes.