California became the first state requiring all electronic voting machines to produce a voter-verifiable paper receipt Nov. 21 when Secretary of State Kevin Shelley announced that all e-vote systems already in use as well as those currently being purchased must be retrofitted with printers to produce a receipt by 2006. Voters will verify their ballots, which will be stored at voting precincts and used for a recount if any voting irregularities arise. Wired.com noted that machines currently in use by four counties in the state will have to be fitted with new printers to meet the requirement while three other counties are buying e-vote machines.
Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation and a member of a task force Shelley named to look into concerns about the security of e-vote machines, predicted other states would follow California's lead. "I suspect there are many election officials across the country who have been watching this debate this year and waiting to see how things shake out," she told Wired.com. "Shelley's actions will give them more room to stand up for what they believe in, and what I think most people believe in, which is the need for more transparent voting systems."
According to the California Voter Foundation, 21% of ballots cast nationwide in 2002 were on paperless electronic voting machines. That's double the amount in 2000. California currently has four counties using paperless electronic voting machines. That number is expected to increase to 10 in time for the March primary.
Avante International Technology already offers a verifiable paper trail with its Vote-Trakker machine. Sequoia Voting Systems, whose Edge touch-screen voting machines are currently used in Riverside County, has also produced a voter-verifiable hardware and software component for its machines that it plans to submit for federal certification in early 2004.
Meanwhile, California officials are forcing Diebold Election Systems, the nation's largest e-vote machine producer, to pay for an audit of all the company's voting machines used in the state after concerns that uncertified software was installed on some electronic voting systems in Alameda County without the state's knowledge.
Wired.com reports that three other California counties have already signed contracts with Diebold for touch-screen machines and have the machines sitting in their warehouses, while a fourth county, San Diego, is negotiating with Diebold to purchase over 10,000 units.
Diebold's e-vote systems have come in for criticism in other states. After Johns Hopkins University computer scientists in July warned that Diebold electronic voting machines could be hacked into and election results tampered with, Maryland election officials in September reported that the Diebold system used in several state elections is "at high risk of compromise," but election officials and representatives of the company still expressed confidence in the Diebold system, and the state proceeded with its $55.6 million contract to purchase the machines. Avi Rubin, technical director of Johns Hopkins' Information Security Institute, testified to the Maryland Legislature in November that he has no confidence the flaws were being fixed.
Wired.com reported in October that a former worker in Diebold's Georgia warehouse said the company installed patches on its machines before the 2002 general election that were never certified by independent testing authorities or cleared with Georgia election officials. If true, that would be a violation of federal and state election-certification rules. It also raises questions about the integrity of the Georgia election results and any any other election that uses patched Diebold systems that have not been re-certified, Wired.com's Kim Zetter noted. In Georgia, Democrats who were favored in polls going into election day wound up being upset by Republicans for governor and the US Senate, but no recounts were possible because there was no paper trail to verify the votes.
Meanwhile, momentum is building for Rep. Rush Holt's bill to require all e-voting systems to produce paper trails. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Ct.), and Rep. Charles Bass (R-N.H.) became the first Republicans to join more than 70 Democrats in co-sponsoring HR 2239, the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003. The bill, which has not yet gotten a committee hearing, would require all voting machines to produce an actual paper record by 2004 that voters can view to check the accuracy of their votes and that election officials can use to verify votes in the event of a computer malfunction, hacking, or other irregularity. It also requires surprise recounts in 0.5% of voting precincts as a test of e-vote accuracy. (See www.populist.com/voting.html for more on e-voting.)
LABOR BULKS UP DEAN CAMPAIGN. Howard Dean not only gets entree to more than three million union members with endorsements of the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The former Vermont governor's presidential campaign, which was rapped as a cause for middle-class whites, also gets the organizational skills of two of the nation's most ethnically diverse labor groups. The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades also plans to send 120 political organizers to Iowa in the runup to the January caucus to encourage some 3,000 members in that state to support Dean, the New York Times reported.
HELP WANTED ADS DOWN. Further evidence of weak demand for new employees is a decline in the "help wanted" advertising index, which tracks the volume of job openings posted by employers in 51 major metropolitan newspapers, writes Sylvia Allegretto of the Economic Policy Institute in a "Snapshot" for Nov. 19. As expected, throughout each recession since 1970 the "help wanted" advertising index fell. The index sharply increased immediately for all subsequent recoveries except for two. The index continued to fluctuate on a downward trend for 11 months following the March 1991 recessionary trough, but thereafter steadily trended upward for 35 months. The index again fell sharply through the most current recession but has continued to trend downward since the 2001 recessionary trough that occurred 22 months ago. This index reflects the continued hesitation of employers to hire new workers during this prolonged weak recovery. See www.epinet.org/content.cfm/webfeatures_snapshots.
FUN FACT: It has been estimated that it would cost about $1.2 billion an election cycle to have public financing of all federal election campaigns. The current energy bill gives $23.5 billion in tax breaks to coal, oil and gas interests "In other words, one could fund our national elections for nearly 20 years for what Congress is now paying back to some of its campaign contributors. The question isn't really public campaign financing at all. It's whether we pay for our campaigns during the election, openly and honestly, or whether we pay for them under the table to campaign contributors in tax breaks and subsidies in the years that follow. Doing it legally and openly is much, much cheaper." -- Sam Smith (prorev.com).
BUSH OFF ILLINOIS BALLOT? When Republicans set their nominating convention for early September, it turned out at least six states had filing deadlines for presidential candidates earlier in the year. The GOP managed to get the laws changed in all but Illinois, where Dems were agreeable to extend the deadline, but only if Republicans agreed to waive election fines against Democratic officeholders and to allow "dimpled chads" to be counted. The House passed the bill but at press time Republicans were balking in the Senate.
NADER ON CAL BALLOT. According to the Ballot Access News (ballot-access.org) the Green Party of California has asked the Secretary of State to list four candidates on the primary ballot next year: Ralph Nader, David Cobb, Lorna Salzman and Kent Mesplay. Each of the four had requested the party to submit their names. David Cobb, the Green Party's national counsel, lives in California. Lorna Salzman is a long-time activist of the New York Greens. Kent Mesplay is a Californian.
GINGRICH FAN ENGINEERS AARP SELLOUT. "Seniors and Democrats were stunned when the AARP announced its support of the Trojan Horse Republican Medicare bill," said Buzzflash.com Nov. 19. "The AARP message board is burning up with rage against the AARP and its CEO, William D. Novelli, the former public relations whiz kid. Seniors appear to be canceling their memberships and calling for heads to roll at AARP headquarters. But Novelli defiantly dismissed membership outrage at his alliance with the Republicans, who see the proposed Medicare bill as the first step in the privatization and dismantling of the senior health insurance program. ... Mr. Novelli claims he has his AARP seniors in the bag for the GOP. But is being an enthusiastic supporter of Newt Gingrich's wing-nut healthcare plan for America doing the best for seniors? Novelli is such a fan of Gingrich that he wrote a preface to Newt's babbling right wing treatise on how to destroy the healthcare safety net for seniors and other Americans: Saving Lives & Saving Money."
GENERAL: TERRORISTS COULD HIT CONSTITUTION. Tommy Franks, former Central Command chief who led the war against Iraq, told Cigar Aficionado magazine that in the event of a WMD hit on the US, our form of government would go out the window. Reprinted by Newsmax.com Nov. 21, the retired general now living in Tampa said if terrorists acquired and used a biological, chemical or nuclear weapon that inflicts heavy casualties, "... the Western world, the free world, loses what it cherishes most, and that is freedom and liberty we've seen for a couple of hundred years in this grand experiment that we call democracy." He added, "It means the potential of a weapon of mass destruction and a terrorist, massive, casualty-producing event somewhere in the Western world -- it may be in the United States of America -- that causes our population to question our own Constitution and to begin to militarize our country in order to avoid a repeat of another mass, casualty-producing event. Which in fact, then begins to unravel the fabric of our Constitution ..."
CONGRESS BUCKLES ON MEDIA MONOPOLY, OVERTIME. Congressional bargainers bowed to White House objections and agreed to let media conglomerates own larger numbers of TV and radio stations as lawmakers put finishing touches on the $390 billion year-end spending bill, the Associated Press reported Nov. 24. Congress buckled under a veto threat after it tried to forbid the Federal Communications Commission from easing TV ownership rules to allow a corporation to own both the top newspaper and the top TV station, along with scores of radio stations, in the same city in most US markets. Legislation blocking Bush's overtime pay take-away also was stripped from the omnibus bill so eight million workers will lose their overtime pay protection as soon as January, the AFL-CIO reported. (See aflcio.org.)
MASS. OK WITH GAY MARRIAGE. Republicans hope to make gay marriage a wedge issue to peel off conservative Democrats next year but new polls released Nov. 23 suggest a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's ruling that struck down the state's gay marriage ban was not as unpopular as the GOP thought. A Boston Globe/WBZ-TV poll of Massachusetts residents found 50% agreed with the ruling, while 38% opposed it. A Boston Sunday Herald poll found 49% supported legalizing gay marriage, while 38% opposed it. A Merrimack College poll found 75% of state adults supported gay marriage or civil unions. However, a national poll conducted Oct. 15-19 by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press found Americans oppose gay marriage, 59% to 32%.
CHRISTIANS ORGANIZE ON LEFT. Liberal and moderate religious leaders announced the founding of a political group to oppose George W. Bush's election and become a voice in public policy debates, the Associated Press reported Nov. 21. The Clergy Leadership Network (clnnlc.org) will help churches, temples and mosques develop voter registration programs, get out the vote and, if it can generate enough money, air issue ads. The Rev. Albert Pennybacker, the group's president and chief executive, is former president of the Interfaith Alliance. He belongs to the Disciples of Christ but said the group comprises Jews, Muslims and Christians and will counter the conservative voice of groups such as the Christian Coalition.
BAD MEMORY. During the recent marathon debate on judicial nominations, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch claimed the Democrats' filibuster against several of George W. Bush's nominations was unprecedented and even unconstitutional. But Jeffrey Lubbers wrote the Washington Post (Nov. 21) that he remembered when Senate Republicans mounted a filibuster against President Carter's nominee for general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board -- a man who had served as an attorney at the board for 27 years. After five days of floor debate, the filibuster was broken and the nominee was confirmed for a four-year term. "The reason I remember this episode so well," Lubbers wrote, "is that the nominee was William A. Lubbers, my father, and the senator leading the filibuster was Orrin G. Hatch."
In a twist, The Hill on Nov. 20 noted that Republicans were blocking one of Bush's judicial nominees. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) sought unanimous consent to take up the nomination of Leon Holmes to a seat on the US District Court in Arkansas after waiting six months for Majority Leader to schedule a floor vote on Holmes, his former law partner.
BLACKOUT REPORT MISSES DEREG. The US Department of Energy's (DOE) report on the August blackout identifies some of the events that led to the power failure but fails to acknowledge the underlying cause: deregulation, said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. "Over the past decade, partial repeals of the Public Utility Holding Company Act (PUHCA) encouraged the construction of hundreds of unregulated power plants that have no obligation to prioritize system reliability over profit," she said Nov. 19. "These new unregulated power plants undermine the cooperative model of localized, monopoly utilities that worked with one another to ensure their legal obligation to serve all consumers affordably and reliably -- a model that existed for a century." She noted that the pending energy bill endorsed by the White House ignores the failures of these deregulation policies. Instead, the bill accelerates deregulation by repealing PUHCA (a consumer protection act that prohibits utility holding companies from investing ratepayer money in areas that will not directly contribute to low bills and reliable service); allows owners of transmission lines to charge consumers more for the privilege of having a monopoly; overturns a nearly century-old policy of leaving the siting of new transmission lines up to state and local governments; and endorses the concept of Regional Transmission Organizations (RTOs), which will limit the ability of states and local governments to ensure reliability.
FUNDRAISING MISSION HALF-ACCOMPLISHED. With the election still a year away, George W. Bush's fundraising total has surpassed $100 million after a Nov. 13 campaign swing through Florida. The $2,000-a-person fundraisers in Orlando and Fort Myers were the latest in a series of exclusive, big-ticket events nationwide that have provided the vast majority of the Bush-Cheney campaign's unprecedented fundraising haul, according to WhiteHouseForSale.org. Bush may collect as much as $200 million before the Republican National Convention -- more than four times the amount a candidate who remains in the public financing system can raise and spend. Even though the president faces no opposition in the primaries, the campaign has now raised more money than it did during the entire 2000 presidential primaries.
BUSH UNDERMINES STATE WATCHDOGS. A.C. Thompson and James A. Thompson write for In These Times: "The Bush administration is quietly seeking to roll back oversight of the banking business and the scandal-riddled securities market through two pending proposals -- a planned rule change for the banking industry and a House bill -- that diminish the ability of states to police banks and stock brokers. The plans are worrisome because the federal government has been largely MIA when it comes to cracking down on corporate crooks in the post-Enron era. While the feds have grabbed headlines with a few high-profile indictments, state law enforcers -- most notably New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer -- are taking a far more active role in purging Wall Street of con artists and thieves." -- Democrats.com.
TOO MANY COOKS SPOIL BUSH. Queen Elizabeth II reportedly was steamed when George W. Bush brought five personal chefs to Buckingham Palace, London's Daily Telegraph reported. "She's not thought to be [thrilled] about the whole visit anyway," a snitch told the Telegraph, "but when you consider that she has excellent cooks herself, you can see why this would be taken as a bit of an insult." Then it got worse, according to the Nov. 23 Daily Mirror: "The Queen is furious with Bush after his state visit caused thousands of pounds of damage to her gardens at Buckingham Palace ... Palace staff said they had never seen the Queen so angry as when she saw how her perfectly-maintained lawns had been churned up after being turned into helipads with three giant H landing markings for the Bush visit. The rotors of the Marine Force One helicopter and 2 support Black Hawks damaged trees and shrubs that had survived since Queen Victoria's reign. And Bush's army of clod-hopping security service men trampled more precious and exotic plants."