Saturday, November 20, 2004

Document reveals Columbus, Ohio voters waited hours as election officials held back machines

Document reveals Columbus, Ohio voters waited hours as election officials held back machines

by Bob Fitrakis

One telling piece of evidence was entered into the record at the Saturday, November 13 public hearing on election irregularities and voter suppression held by nonpartisan voter rights organizations. Cliff Arnebeck, a Common Cause attorney, introduced into the record the Franklin County Board of Elections spreadsheet detailing the allocation of e-voting computer machines for the 2004 election. The Board of Elections' own document records that, while voters waited in lines ranging from 2-7 hours at polling places, 68 electronic voting machines remained in storage and were never used on Election Day.

The Board of Elections document details that there are 2886 "Total Machines" in Franklin County. Twenty of them are "In Vans for Breakdowns." The County record acknowledges 2886 were available on Election Day, November 2 and that 2798 of their machines were "placed by close of polls." The difference between the machines "available" and those "placed" is 68. The nonpartisan Election Protection Coalition provided legal advisors and observed 58 polling places in primarily African American and poor neighborhoods in Franklin County.

An analysis of the Franklin County Board of Elections' allocation of machines reveals a consistent pattern of providing fewer machines to the Democratic city of Columbus, with its Democratic mayor and uniformly Democratic city council, despite increased voter registration in the city. The result was an obvious disparity in machine allocations compared to the primarily Republican white affluent suburbs.

Franklin County had traditionally used a formula of one machine per 100 voters, with machine usage allowable up to 125 votes per machine. The County's rationale is as follows: if it takes each voter five minutes to vote, 12 people an hour, 120 people in ten hours and the remaining three hours taken up moving people in and out of the voting machines.

Once a machine is recording 200 voters per machine, 100% over optimum use, the system completely breaks down. This causes long waits in long lines and potential voters leaving before casting their ballots, due to age, disability, work and family responsibilities.

A preliminary analysis by the Free Press shows six suburban polling places with 100 votes a machine or less, and only one in the city of Columbus meeting or falling under the guideline.

The legendary affluent Republican enclave of Upper Arlington has 34 precincts. No voting machines in this area cast more than 200 votes per machine. Only one, ward 6F, was over 190 votes at 194 on one machine. By contrast, 39 Columbus city polling machines had more than 200 votes per machine and 42 were over 190 votes per machine. This means 17% of Columbus' machines were operating at 90-100% over optimum capacity while in Upper Arlington the figure was 3%.

In the Democratic stronghold of Columbus 139 of the 472 precincts had at least one and up to five fewer machine than in the 2000 presidential election. Two of Upper Arlington's 34 precincts lost at least one machine. In the 2004 presidential election, 29% of Columbus' precincts, despite a massive increase in voter registration and turnout, had fewer machines than in 2000. In Upper Arlington, 6% had fewer machines in 2004 One of those precincts had a 25% decline in voter registration and the other had a
1% increase. Compare that to Columbus ward 1B, where voter registration went up 27%, but two machines were taken away in the 2004 election. Or look at 23B where voter registration went up 22% and they lost two machines since the 2000 election, causing an average of 207 votes to be cast on each of the remaining machines. In the year 2000, only 97 votes were cast per machine in the precinct. Thus, in four years, the ward went from optimum usage to system failure.

Jeff Graessle, Franklin County Election Operations Division Manager, told the Citizen's Alliance for Secure Elections (CASE) Ohio voting rights activists that Franklin County does not use a simple 100 votes per machine guideline. Rather, they allocated their machines in the 2004 election based on a new criteria determined by ACTIVE registered voters. Hence, an affluent area like Upper Arlington which has shown a consistent pattern of voters is rewarded with more machines and fewer losses. A less affluent area of Columbus where voters miss voting at more elections and may only come out in a hotly tested election, like Bush-Kerry, are punished with fewer machines.

Of course, there's a direct correlation between affluence and votes for Bush and below medium income areas and votes for Kerry. Franklin County, Ohio's formula served to disenfranchise disproportionately poor, minority and Democratic voters under the guise of rewarding the "likely" voter or active registered voters.

Bob Fitrakis is a Professor in the Social and Behavioral Sciences Department at Columbus State Community College. He has a Ph.D in Political Science and a J.D. from The Ohio State University Law School. He is the author of seven books, an investigative reporter, and Editor of the Columbus Free Press ( He has won ten major investigative journalism awards including Best Coverage of Politics in Ohio from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists. He served as an international election observer in the 1994 presidential elections in El Salvador and was the co-author and editor of the report to the United Nations. He served as legal advisor for eight polling locations on Columbus' Near East Side for the Election Protection Coalition.

Article originally published November 16, 2004


Questioning Ohio -- No controversy this time? Think again.

The Boston Phoenix

Questioning Ohio -- No controversy this time? Think again.


FOR AMERICANS, it's bad enough that the 2000 election was such a fiasco that our government felt compelled to bring in international election monitors from Vienna, as though we were some Third World banana republic rather than the world's oldest democracy. Worse, the monitoring group -- the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) -- left unimpressed. The OSCE won't issue a final report for another six weeks, but its preliminary findings (available at
are a litany of "questions of possible conflict of interest," "widespread ... allegations of electoral fraud and voter suppression," "significant delays ...[that] may restrict the right to vote," "considerable confusion ... regarding the use of provisional ballots," "occasional faults and breakdowns of DRE [direct-recording equipment] machines," "concerns ...regarding the secrecy of the vote." Not only that, but "it was not clear that poll workers had generally received sufficient training to perform their functions."

On the plus side, the election "proceeded in an orderly and peaceful manner," the OSCE says. And according to many news reports, America was awfully glad, above all else, that there was no untidiness with this election. Once John Kerry conceded, it seemed, concerns about voter suppression, intimidation, and fraud could be safely ignored. The mainstream media refocused their attention on the Scott Peterson trial, while Internet bloggers chased phantom conspiracy theories into the void.

But there are at least two valid reasons why we should keep our eyes trained on November 2. First, a Phoenix analysis suggests that more Ohioans may have tried to vote for Kerry than for Bush, and couldn't -- in which case by rights W. should be packing his bags and shredding his files, rather than plotting his second-term agenda.

And besides -- isn't this kind of thing horrible even if it didn't happen to tip the election this time?

BUSH HAS, at the moment, won Ohio by 136,483 votes, but a number of considerations throw that lead into serious doubt. For one thing, that number will likely diminish when the state's approximately 155,000 provisional ballots are processed. Most of those who had to use provisional ballots probably were first-time voters whose names had not made it onto their precinct lists, observers say, and first-timers went 54-46 for Kerry in Ohio, according to exit polls.

Another 92,672 votes were discarded, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, mostly due to now-familiar problems with punch-card ballots. Those punch-card machines are -- surprise, surprise -- predominantly used in urban areas that tend to vote Democratic. In Cuyahoga County -- two-to-one Kerry country -- a voter reported misaligned holes and out-of-order pages on the punch ballots to Election Protection, a nonpartisan coalition of organizations led by People for the American Way Foundation, which was monitoring elections in select states, including Ohio.

Punch cards also probably slowed down the voting process, suggests Carlo LoParo, spokesperson for the Ohio secretary of state, as voters with memories of Florida made super-extra-sure to remove the chads they produce completely. "People were a little more methodical, making sure they didn't leave any hanging chads," agrees Dan Trevas, communications director for the Ohio Democratic Party.

But wait -- wasn't the Help America Vote Act of 2002 supposed to help rid states of these machines? Why, yes -- in fact, Ohio received $133 million from the federal government specifically to replace those old clunkers with new DRE and optical-scan machines. The state even contracted with venders. But then Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell -- a Republican -- had a change of heart. The technology was not sufficiently proven secure, he said. Nothing has been purchased.
The $133 million stayed in the bank. "We weren't going to spend it on more punch-card machines," says LoParo.
Or on more poll workers, or training, or any of that nonsense.

"There should have been a lot of effort [put into], instead of talking about challengers, talking about getting enough machines and getting ready to handle the large turnout," Trevas says.

THE CHALLENGERS Trevas has in mind were, of course, the Republicans deployed to polling places to make voters prove they weren't committing fraud. At the last minute, the state Republican Party finally won the right to carry out the plan from the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, after a lower-court judge had ruled that it would be too intimidating.

As it turns out, the Republican challengers were not especially disruptive, observers report. But they were one element in a broad pattern of alleged intimidation and deception. In Cuyahoga County, according to one Election Protection caller, black voters were asked to show ID, but white voters were not. In another area some African-Americans reportedly were redirected to incorrect polling places across town, says Scott Britton, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio. According to multiple reports, in the days leading up to the election, phone calls and leaflets directed low-income and minority voters to incorrect polling locations. (Although some might not have been dirty tricks -- a Democratic get-out-the-vote group in Marion County was giving out a wrong address by mistake, Trevas says.)

There were cruder attempts at dissuasion as well, including leaflets seen in several parts of the state, including Columbus, informing voters that, due to high expected turnout, Republicans would vote Tuesday and Democrats would vote Wednesday. "I saw one of those leaflets," Trevas says. "There were a lot of dirty tricks."

Serious questions have also been raised about absentee ballots, which may have been withheld from those who requested them -- a problem in the Bay State as well.
The single biggest election complaint in Massachusetts came from college students who sent for, but never received, absentee ballots from their home states, says David Harris, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, in Boston. He received at least 50 such complaints from Harvard alone. The same problem reared its head at Boston University, says BU psychology professor Deborah Belle: more than a half-dozen of her students told her similar stories.

We don't know yet how many of those students were trying to vote in Ohio, but we do know that the Republican-led Ohio legislature prevented the elections department from implementing expedited absentee balloting and early voting, says Trevas. Then, Blackwell barred those who never received their absentee ballots from casting provisional ballots in person -- that is, until Election Day, when a Toledo woman filed and won a lawsuit against him in US District Court.

MANY OF THOSE who did get to the polls had to wait ages to get to a booth. There were reports of waiting times of two-and-a-half-hours in Cleveland, five in Columbus, and six in the college town of Gambier.

This was all officially blamed on extraordinarily high turnout, but many disagree. After all, turnout was actually lower than predicted by the Secretary of State's office, and the increase from 2000 worked out to just 64 additional voters per Ohio precinct. "Everybody saw it coming -- the huge lines, the huge voter turnout," says Britton. "We're very concerned that county officials did not adequately prepare."

"It was poor planning, and I think you lay that on the head of the governor and secretary of state," Trevas says.

But Republican governor Bob Taft and Blackwell did prepare: they reduced the number of polling places, ensuring long lines.

As noted above, the state had been anticipating the purchase of DRE machines, which are both more expensive and -- at least in theory -- quicker. That meant, according to Blackwell, that counties could make do with fewer machines without affecting the lines, and fewer faster machines meant that counties could merge small precincts together to share them. The Republican-led legislature helped encourage precinct consolidation by raising the maximum allowable number of registered voters per precinct. So, some counties merged their polling places, cutting as many as 48 percent in some cases.

When the state suddenly nixed the new machines, those counties were left with fewer polling places for more voters, with the old slow machines, and about the same number of poll workers. Erie County consolidated 101 precincts in 2000 into just 62 this year. As a result, the average number of voters per precinct in Erie nearly doubled, from 355 to 640.

"Our county was in a budget crunch," says Ruth Leuthold -- Republican -- director of the Crawford County Board of Elections, which went from 67 precincts to 46. "We did it due to budgetary reasons, and to go to electronic voting."

The long lines were greatly exacerbated by the poll workers, whose average age was 78 statewide, according to Bryan Williams, director of the Summit County Board of Education.

And in case the octogenarians were too nimble, Williams -- Republican -- encouraged them to take their time. "At their training, I emphasized accuracy over speed," Williams says.

At one Columbus site, the head poll worker was a half-hour late to open up, "and things went downhill from there," reported the Columbus Dispatch. Several other poll workers in the county overslept, according to the paper. And oddly enough, the same thing happened in Cuyahoga County, where four polling places opened late, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Another poll worker was fired for showing up drunk.

Nobody in Columbus's Franklin County, including poll workers, could reach the elections-board office by phone -- even when machines broke, which was frequent. For a 45-minute stretch at one site, all three voting machines were inoperative, according to the Dispatch, which added that half of the 100 people in line left without voting.

Almost certainly, long lines disproportionately disenfranchise poorer, working-class voters, who tend to live in high-density city precincts, and have less flexibility in their schedules. "We heard of folks who were told by their bosses they have to get back to work instead of stay and vote," says Britton.

LoParo of the Secretary of State's office dismisses the concern, saying that "we have heard anecdotally"
that only a few people showed up but didn't vote. But Ohio newspapers were filled with anecdotes to the contrary. And many people probably didn't bother to show up, as word about the long waits spread. "People were in line on their cell phones telling their friends not to try to take one hour to vote --
everybody was in line doing that when I went," Trevas says.

HERE'S THE rub: a Phoenix analysis shows that the precinct reductions disproportionately hurt Ohio's Democratic turnout.

Of Ohio's 88 counties, 20 suffered a significant reduction -- shutting at least 20 percent (or at least
30) of their precincts. Most of those counties have Republicans serving as Board of Elections director, including the four biggest: Cuyahoga, Montgomery, Summit, and Lucas.

Those 20 counties went heavily to Gore in 2000, 53 to 42 percent. The other 68 counties, which underwent little-to-no precinct consolidation, went exactly the opposite way in 2000: 53 to 42 percent to Bush.

In the 68 counties that kept their precinct count at or near 2000 levels, Kerry benefited more than Bush from the high turnout, getting 24 percent more votes than Gore did in 2000, while Bush increased his vote total by only 17 percent.

But in the 20 squeezed counties, the opposite happened. Bush increased his vote total by 22 percent, and Kerry won just 19 percent more than Gore in 2000.

If the reduced number of precincts in those counties accounts for the difference, it cost Kerry about
45,000 votes. And who knows what might have happened had the state increased polling places in anticipation of the high turnout it knew was coming? And if the state had encouraged voting rather than threatened to challenge credentials? And if there had been no dirty tricks and intimidation? And if all had received their absentee ballots?

Would we be preparing for a Kerry presidency? We'll probably never know.

Article originally published Nov. 17, 2004


Something is rotten in Denmark

Something is rotten in Denmark: Exit poll data in former Soviet
Republic of Georgia vs. USA

By Sara S. DeHart, Ph.D.
Online Journal Contributing Writer

November 17, 2004—Dr. Stephen Freeman is a University of Pennsylvania
professor whose expertise includes research methodology. In a recent
paper titled The Unexplained Exit Poll Data he reports that the
International Foundations sponsored an exit poll in the former Soviet Republic of
Georgia during their November 2003 parliamentary election and projected
a victory for the main opposition party. [1] Exit poll data is
considered so robust that when the sitting government counted the votes and
announced that its own slate of candidates had won, supporters of the
opposition stormed the Parliament, and the president, Eduard A.
Shevardnadze, resigned his office under pressure from the United States and
Russia. [2]

Contrast that event with what happened in the United States in the
recent national election when in three battle ground states, Ohio,
Pennsylvania and Florida, with data based on exit polls predicted an outcome in
variance with the tallied vote outcomes. Major news organizations,
including CNN changed their exit poll data to conform with the tallied
outcomes, most of which came from paperless, electronic voting equipment.
In each case the tallied outcomes favored the incumbent, George W. Bush.
The odds for such an occurrence is one in 250 million for this to have
occurred by chance. [1]

Does the phrase, “Something is rotten in Denmark” have any meaning for
the media? In plain language the term refers to a line from the play
Hamlet, when an officer of the palace guard, who after the ghost of the
assassinated king appears, utters the immortal line, “Something is
rotten in the state of Denmark.” The term has universal meaning to describe
corruption or a situation in which something is wrong. [3]

Freeman Analyses

Professor Freeman’s analyses of the data are compelling for a number of
reasons. First, he was able to sample 2004 exit poll data that was not
meant to be released directly to the public and was available through a
computer glitch that allowed him to view “uncalibrated data that had
not yet been corrected to conform to the announced counted vote tallies.
These data remained on the CNN website until approximately 1:30 a.m.
election night. At that time CNN substituted data ‘corrected’ to conform
to reported tallies.” (1, p. 3). Second, uncorrected exit poll data
have been secreted in a black box and AP, Edison Media Research, Mitofsky
International and the New York Times have ignored all requests for the
raw data. In an open democratic system or any scientific inquiry the
data would be open to inspection. The fact that it is not adds to the
suspicion that widespread fraud occurred in vote tallies in the
battleground states.

The integrity of the system is being questioned by citizens across the
nation and internationally. The response of mainline media is a harsh
attack on citizens and writers who dare raise questions about the data.
Robert Parry [4] points out that The New York Times (NYT) has joined
the Washington Post and other major news outlets in scouring the Internet
to find and discredit Americans who have expressed suspicions that
Bush’s victory might not be entirely legitimate.

What the Freeman Data and Analysis Reveal

In the three battleground states, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, exit
polls differed significantly from the recorded vote tallies with Bush
winning and thereby ascending to an electoral victory. Let us examine
the exit poll predictions versus tallied votes in each of these
battleground states combining the male and female vote, weighted for their
percentage in the electorate by state. For example, the Ohio electorate data
comprised 47 percent males and 53 percent females. This procedure was
also followed in Florida and Pennsylvania (1, p. 4 & 5).

In Florida Bush was predicted to win by the narrowest of margins, 49.8
to 49.7 percent. In fact, Bush tallied 52.1 percent and Kerry 47.1
percent of the vote.
It was predicted that Kerry would win Ohio by a sizeable margin 52.1
percent versus 47.9 percent for Bush. The tallied outcome was 51 percent
for Bush and 48.5 percent for Kerry.
In Pennsylvania Kerry was predicted to win by a sizeable margin 54.1
percent versus 45.5 percent for Bush. The tallied outcome was 50.8
percent for Kerry and 48.6 percent for Bush.
According to Professor Freeman, “the likelihood of any two of these
statistical anomalies occurring together is on the order of
one-in-a-million. The odds against all three occurring together are 250 million to
one. As much as we can say in social sciences that something is
impossible, it is impossible that the discrepancies between predicted and actual
vote counts in the three critical battleground states of the 2004
election could have been due to chance or random error.” [1]
Given these discrepancies in the data and the probability that these
events did not occur by chance, in order to document integrity of the
process, it is crucial that the NYT, CNN and other media sources open
their books for public inspection rather than provide questionable
explanations about the discrepancies between exit poll and tallied vote data.
While the NYT cites a report issued by pollsters that debunked the
possibility that their exit polls are correct and the vote count wrong, they
provide no data to support an error in exit polling data.

Multiple explanations provided about error in exit polling procedure
crumble under careful scrutiny. For example, the predictions in the Utah
presidential election were remarkably accurate. Exit polls predicted
Bush would take 70.8 percent and Kerry 26.5 percent of the vote. The
actual tallies recorded that Bush received 71.1 percent and Kerry 26.4
percent of the vote.

This was not the case in 11 key states (Colorado, Florida, Iowa,
Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania
and Wisconsin). In each of these states Bush’s tallies were greater than
expected, and in all but Wisconsin, Kerry’s tallies were less than
expected from exit polling. (See Professor Freeman’s paper for tabulated
data comparisons.)

Princeton economics professor Paul Krugman warned that there are many
perils in electronic voting. He posits a scenario in which on election
night the early returns suggest trouble for the incumbent. Then,
mysteriously, the vote count stops and when it resumes, the incumbent pulls
ahead. [5] What Krugman reported is not a paranoid fantasy. It is a true
account of a recent election in Riverside County, California, reported
by Andrew Gumbel of the British newspaper, The Independent. [6]

Analyses of available data by independent pollsters show some alarming
trends from both Florida and Ohio. In Florida certain counties tallied
votes for Bush that were far in excess of what one would expect based
on Republican registrations. These were primarily counties that used
optical scanning equipment to feed votes into precinct computers that were
then sent to countywide databases. At any point after physical ballots
became databases, the system is vulnerable to external hacking. Colin
Shea reran preliminary CNN data and points out a number of disturbing
trends that include counties where 88 percent of the voters are
registered Democrats with Bush receiving nearly two-thirds of the vote. Other
disturbing data reveal that “according to official statistics for
Cuyahoga County [Ohio] they had a turnout well above the national average. In
fact, their turnout was well over 100 percent of registered voters.”

Was November 2, 2004, the final act for what began in Florida in 2000,
tested in various locales with electronic voting equipment in 2002 and
finally played out in a disastrous final act that left the media
simpering that this election was about moral issues? That may be true, but
they depict the wrong moral issue. The untouchable topic is that election
fraud rather than gay marriage turned this election on its ear. The
media and politicians would be wise to listen to the voices of dissent and

Freeman’s Conclusions

Professor Freeman concludes his paper with the following statement:

“Given that neither the pollsters nor their media clients have provided
a solid explanation to the public, suspicion of fraud or among the less
accusatory, “mistabulation” is running rampant and unchecked. That so
many people suspect misplay undermines not only the legitimacy of the
President, but faith in the foundations of democracy.” [1]

Neither the people nor corporate media should accept the fact that
networks altered exit poll results to fit the tallied vote numbers. This
calls into question the integrity of other information these networks
report. Or as Andrew Gumbel so aptly states, “As the world’s most powerful
democracy talks of exporting freedom to Iraq, it is at risk of becoming
an object of international ridicule.” [8]

For historical perspective, let us review what happened in the former
Soviet Republic of Georgia when their November 2003 election results
contrasted sharply with exit polls. Both the United States and Russia
pressured the president, Eduard A. Shevardnadze, to resign. Compare that
behavior to what has just happened in the United States. CNN changed its
exit poll data to conform to counted vote numbers under the very eyes
of Professor Freeman and other observers. Meanwhile the media do
everything in their power to undermine the credibility of independent
observers. Those who sound the alarm of voter fraud are summarily dismissed as
conspiracy theorists and traitors of democracy.


1. Freeman, Steven. “The unexplained exit poll discrepancy” Nov. 10,

2. Plissner, Martin. "Exit polls to protect the vote". New York Times,
October 17, 2004.

3. The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, 3rd Edition, 2002.

4. Parry, Robert “Big Media, Some Nerve!.” Consortium News, November
13, 2004.

5. Krugman, Paul. “Too many perils in electronic voting.” Arizona Daily
Star, July 28, 2004.

6. Gumbel, Andrew. “Mock the vote.” Los Angeles City Beat, October 29,

7. Shea, Colin. “I smell a rat.”

8. Gumbel, Andrew. “Portrait of a country on the verge of a nervous
breakdown.” Common Dreams, November 13, 2004.

Sara S. DeHart, MSN, PhD, Associate Professor Emeritus, University of
Minnesota. Dr. DeHart is a freelance writer and democracy activist,
living in the Seattle, Washington area. She may be contacted at


Top 10 Questions About the Legitimacy of the 2004 Presidential Election

Top 10 Questions About the Legitimacy of the 2004 Presidential Election

1. Systematic Voting Machine Irregularities: The Diebold optical scanner voting machines used in 29 Florida counties gave wildly unlikely and unauditable results, with Bush winning huge margins in heavily Democratic areas. Republicans gained 128.45% over 2000 in counties using optical scan machnes while Democrats had a –21% loss.

2. Highly Irregular Intervention by Federal Authorities: Warren County Ohio accounted for a third of Bush's statewide margin. The county emergency services coordinator prohibited outside observers from monitoring the counting, on the advice of the Federal Department of Homeland Security. Bush's most important county in Ohio and the nation was the only one to do this.

3. Impossible Vote Totals: More votes were recorded than there are registered voters in six Florida counties. In Baker County Florida there are 12,887 registered voters, and 69.3% of them are registered Democrats and 24.3% are Republicans. Yet Kerry received only 2,180 votes to 7,738 for Bush, meaning that 5 out of 7 Democrats voted for Bush. In Franklin Ohio a machine reported an extra 3,893 votes for Bush. Local officials can neither explain how nor can they provide assurance that thousands of identical machines did not also malfunction.

4. Unfair Election Supervisors: Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, an aggressive Republican activist, saw to it that the polling place for Kenyon College had only two voting machines, causing some students to wait up to 9 hours to vote. This was true elsewhere as well.

5. Untrustworthy Vendors of Election Machinery: The two major vendors of electronic voting machines, ESS and Diebold, are the chief beneficiaries of the Help America Vote Act and are active Republican donors. The software in these machines is not open source, so its functioning cannot be independently verified, and the machines do not produce an auditable paper trail.

6. Unexplained Exit Poll Disparities: Exit polls in states that had verifiable paper trails were virtually identical to the real results, but in states where electronic voting machines were used the exit polls were very different than the total reported on the voting machines.

7. Unreliable Voting Machinery in Poor and Working Class Areas: Hispanic voters in New Mexico are five times as likely to have their vote "spoiled," or set aside as an uncountable punch card ballot as New Mexico's white voters. About 3% of votes cast are not recorded due to this.

8. Atypical Voting Changes from 2000 to 2004: Bush's statewide total in Ohio declined from
2000 to 2004, and the overwhelming portion of his statewide margin (85%) came from just 9 counties, all of which showed improvement from 2000 to 2004. Bush won over 70% of the vote in just two of those counties in 2000 but won over 70% in all of them in 2004.

9. Uncounted Ballots: In Ohio 92,672 ballots did not register a vote when run through a counting machine and 155,000 people voted on provisional ballots.

10. Illegal Voter Suppression Activities: The Republican Party in Ohio and elsewhere distributed flyers with false information on polling places and eligibility.


Friday, November 19, 2004

A Florida Style Nightmare - North Carolina Citizens Demand Verified Voting Measures

A Florida Style Nightmare - North Carolina Citizens Demand Verified Voting Measures

(PRWEB) November 17, 2004 -- "NC has the worst election problem in the country RIGHT NOW." - November 11, 2004 Computer scientist Dr. David L. Dill of Stanford University.

"A Florida-style nightmare has unfolded in North Carolina in the days since Election Day, with thousands of votes missing and the outcome of two statewide races still up in the air." Steve Hartsoe, AP Newswire, Nov 13, 2004

How can we trust our key decision-makers when they ignore the seriousness of the problem?

"Except for the lost votes in Carteret County, Gary Bartlett, executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, called the problems 'easily remedied and lessons learned.' " AP Newswire, Nov 13, 2004. This is definitely a rosy view to an election where citizens votes were lost, public totals were mis-tabulated, thousands of provisional ballots were generated, thousands of absentee and early ballots were “misplaced“, and two state-wide races still unresolved.

North Carolina’s election problems will not be so easily remedied as Mr. Bartlett says. The degree and severity of problems in North Carolina’s election system indicates the need for serious study. Many of the problems are compounded by the State’s reliance on non-verifiable voting systems. Problems with voting machines, central tabulators using outdated and secret software, registration confusion, poll worker training, provisional ballots and absentee ballots are not easily remedied. The Board of Elections must change its focus towards election management. If the State insists on being dependent on electronic voting, when it is clear that the officials know very little or nothing about it.

Lost: 4,500 votes in Carteret County - this is the consequence of e-voting without a proper paper trail.

Omitted: entire precinct of 1,209 votes in Gaston County left out of Nov 2 Count.

Missing: 12,000 votes not reported by Diebold Software in Gaston County.

Bamboozled: In 2003 Guilford County bought vote tabulating software that used over a decade old technology, it was already obsolete when purchased. This software released presidential vote totals that were off by 22,000 votes.

More votes than cast: Craven County reported 11,283 more votes for president than cast, voting software same as in Guilford County.

In the past, the NC BOE has relied on the advice of voting machine salesmen and turned a deaf ear to the good advice and warning of thousands of computer scientists across the country. The voting machine vendors gain access to some of our election officials via a private organization called The Election Center. This is a private, non-profit whose “mission” is to educate and inform election officials, yet this group admits to accepting money from the voting machine companies.

Just this August “The Election Center” hosted a conference for election officials. The voting machine salesmen wined and dined election officials from across the country, giving them parties, prizes and a dinner cruise on the Potomac. Gary Bartlett sits on the Board of Directors of the Election Center, an ethical situation that voting activists find troubling.

Who are we trusting our democracy to?
In 2002, Tom Eschberger, then at Global Business Systems accepted immunity in reward for his testimony in the bribery kickback conviction of then SOS of Arkansas, Bill McCuen.
Eshberger went on to be a key executive at the ES&S Voting machinery company.

In 1999, two Sequoia (Voting Systems) executives, Phil Foster and Pasquale Ricci, were indicted for paying Louisiana Commissioner of Elections Jerry Fowler an $8 million bribe to buy their voting machines. Fowler, is currently serving five years in prison. Voter advocate Bev Harris alleged that managers of a subsidiary of Diebold Inc. (voting machines), included a cocaine trafficker, a man who conducted fraudulent stock transactions, and a programmer jailed for falsifying computer records, Jeffrey Dean, who served time in a Washington correctional facility for stealing money and tampering with computer files.

In March of this year, the BOE turned down the opportunity to certify for state use a voting system that did provide a Voter Verified Paper Ballot and used the highly desirable open source operating system.

Over 2000 technologists endorsed Verified Voting’s resolution saying “Computerized voting equipment is inherently subject to programming error, equipment malfunction, and malicious tampering...”

The continued computer breakdowns and mis-counts prove the need for a voter verified paper ballot. This is not a receipt that we ask for, but a paper printout of a ballot to be verified by the voter and kept by the election officials in case of recount, audit or computer breakdown. Any computerized voting systems must have open source code that can be publicly examined by computer scientists who have no financial interest in our voting equipment. Funding from the Help America Vote Act can be used to fund this solution.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections can do the right thing by consulting with recognized computer scientists such as Dr. David Dill of Stanford University, Dr. Rebecca Mercuri of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Dan Wallach of Rice University, Professor Doug Jones of the University of Iowa Computer Science Department.

These computer scientists are world renown and have availed themselves to election officials across the nation in advisory capacities regarding electronic voting.

The State can institute real requirements based on these recommendations, including a VVPB, and allow sufficient time for a thorough review,to ensure that North Carolina’s voting system is the most secure and trustworthy in America.


North Carolina: Gaston investigates election tally errors
Charlotte Observer

Gaston investigates election tally errors
Maker of vote-counting machinery asked to check equipment
Staff Writer

GASTONIA - Gaston Elections Director Sandra Page said for the first time Monday that her office is investigating why more than 13,000 votes were excluded from the county's unofficial election results.

Page said the investigation so far pointed to an interrupted download as the likely cause of the exclusion of about 12,000 early votes. She said human error by poll workers probably resulted in the omission of 1,200 votes from a Dallas precinct.

The Gaston elections office has faced mounting criticism for its initial failure to count the votes and because almost a week passed after the Nov. 2 election before the errors were corrected. The errors were caught before the county submitted its official results to the state, and they did not change the outcome of any local race.

Monday was Page's first day at work since last Tuesday -- she has been home sick -- and she said she moved quickly to find out what went wrong.

Page said she has asked the company that manufactured Gaston's vote-counting machines, Diebold Election Systems of McKinney, Texas, to review the operation of its equipment. A spokesman for Diebold confirmed that the company is doing so.

The county pays a technician from Diebold to operate its systems on Election Day. That person was in charge of transferring early votes from electronic storage to the counting computer. Diebold believes the transmission was interrupted, said spokesman David Bear.

"It's understood that it was an interruption, and now the question is why didn't we" catch it, Bear said.

Page said she was also planning to speak with poll workers at the Dallas precinct about the possibility that they transmitted their votes incorrectly to the elections office on Election Day.

The laptop computer used to transmit results from the Dallas Civic Center recorded only a single vote from each of the precinct's voting machines, Page said.

The votes are transferred from the machines to the laptop by disk. Page believes the error occurred because poll workers removed the disks from the laptop too quickly.

"These aren't computer people," she said.


Indiana: 3 more counties report errors
The Palladium-Item serving Greater Richmond, IN

3 more counties report errors
Franklin Co. equipment trouble wasn't an isolated incident

By Pam Tharp

Franklin County isn't the only Indiana county that had programming troubles with optical scan voting equipment this year.

Ripley, Brown and Carroll counties each had a different problem, ranging from handcounting a race because the software program didn't comply with Indiana law to 63 unvoted ballots in one precinct, according to the scanner's tally tape.

The Legislature decided this year that all voting systems will get another look next year. Certification of voting systems approved by the Indiana Election Commission before Jan. 1, 2005, expires on Oct. 1, 2005, said Kate Shepherd, communications director for Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita.

In the past, voting systems approvals lasted five years, but because of the changes in voting systems over the last few years, the General Assembly decided all systems must be recertified next year, Shepherd said.

Voting systems already must undergo a public test in each county before the election and that's where Ripley County discovered an error with Fidlar Election Co. optical scan memory cards, Ripley County Clerk Ginger Bradford said.

The memory cards that count the votes in optical scanners had the wrong precinct labels, so the cards were sent back to the company, Bradford said. Bradford said she didn't know if the error could be called a programming error.

"They reprogrammed the cards when they got them back, so it sounds maybe like it was a programming error," Bradford said.

A programming error in Fidlar optical scanners in Franklin County led to a recount last week. The error caused straight-party Democratic ballots to be counted for Libertarian candidates and straight-party Libertarian ballots to be counted for Democratic candidates, Fidlar officials said.

The recount changed the outcome of the election, awarding one of three seats to formerly defeated Democrat Carroll Lanning and taking a seat from the initially declared winner, Republican Roy N. Hall. Hall is considering a challenge.

Carroll County, with optical scanners from Election Systems and Software (ES&S), had to handcount county council votes in its 19 precincts on election day. The Indiana Election Commission determined the computer program didn't comply with Indiana law for that office, Carroll County Clerk Laura Sterrett said.

Indiana's law has a quirk many voters may not realize.

Voters who vote a straight ticket but want to vote for candidates of another party in multi-candidate races like at-large council will lose all votes for candidates in that race from their own party.

If a voter votes a straight Democratic ticket but picks one Republican in the at-large race, no votes count for the Democratic candidates. Only the Republican vote is counted.

Carroll County had one Democratic candidate and two Republican candidates for county council, Sterrett said. A voter who marked a straight Democratic ticket but then voted for the two Republicans should have lost the vote for the Democratic council candidate, but ES&S's program would have counted all three votes, Sterrett said.

Carroll County had the same software problem in the 2003 municipal election in one precinct, which also was handcounted, Sterrett said.

"We thought it was taken care of. We had addressed it to the election commission, but when we did the pre-test this year, it wasn't fixed," Sterrett said.

Brown County, which also uses ES&S optical scanners, considered recounting votes in one precinct because the tally tape produced by the scanner showed 63 unvoted ballots.

"We were concerned about the machine or the pens that were used to mark the ballot," Clerk Benita Fox said. "We've never had that many unvoted ballots before. The law doesn't allow the election board to reject certification by the precinct board, so we didn't do anything. We will be looking at that problem in the future."

Article originally published Nov 16, 2004


Honoring the Man from Hope

Honoring the Man from Hope
Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Center

November 18, 2004

Admired by millions for his optimism and enthusiasm, President Clinton told the 30,000 guests wearing colorful rain ponchos at the dedication of his Presidential library what his mother always used to say, “Rain is liquid sunshine because the ground probably needs it and someone’s benefiting.” Those in attendance, many of whom sat in the rain for three hours, seemed to have the same positive outlook.

For more on the dedication and on the New Clinton Presidential Library, go to:


A change of pace -- and rules -- in Congress

A change of pace -- and rules -- in Congress

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- This White House doesn't fool around. Now the strengthened Republican majority in Congress is saying, "Neither do we."

The Political Play of the Week: If the rules get in the way, rewrite them.

First there was this irritating little problem of a House Republican rule requiring any leader indicted for a crime to step down.

With Majority Leader Tom DeLay facing possible indictment in Texas for campaign finance violations, House Republicans found a solution -- change the rule. Shield their leader from, in the words of Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, "Any partisan crackpot district attorney who might want to indict a member of our leadership."

On the Senate side, newly re-elected Sen. Arlen Specter alarmed conservatives the day after the election by saying, "When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, overturn Roe vs. Wade, I think that is unlikely."

The party immediately demanded that the Pennsylvania senator do penance if he wanted to become chairman of the Judiciary Committee. So Specter went through all the "Stations of the Cross."

"He presented his views to the leadership," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said. "He went before the Judiciary Committee ... he answered every question to the satisfaction of each of the members."

The party welcomed the errant sinner back to the fold.

Specter immediately endorsed a controversial rules change that would stop Democrats from filibustering President Bush's judicial nominations. "If a rule change is necessary to avoid filibusters, there are relevant recent precedents to secure rule changes with 51 votes," Specter said.

In yet another rules change, Senate Republicans voted narrowly to give Frist broad new power to hand out powerful committee assignments without regard to seniority -- power he can use to discipline moderates and keep conservatives in control.

"I hope you'll see huge changes in how the United States Senate is run," Frist said.

We probably will -- what with new rules, a tighter ship and the political Play of the Week.

The idea is to run the Senate more like the House, where the majority rules and the minority is ruthlessly suppressed.

That doesn't sit too well with minority Democrats, or with the minority of moderate Republicans.

Bill Schneider is CNN's senior political analyst.


The Dramatic Rise of Opium in Afghanistan

The Dramatic Rise of Opium in Afghanistan

An article (UN Warns Afghanistan Becoming ‘Narco-State’ )
on a new United Nations survey released on Thursday, reports on the dramatic rise in opium cultivation in Afghanistan over the past year. The U.N. report in 2003 found that one in 10 Afghans — many of them unemployed returned refugees — is involved in the drugs trade which last year employed 2.3 million people, and made up 60 per cent of the gross national product.

In just one year, the area under cultivation increased by 64 per cent, with the output estimated at 4,200 tons, a 17 per cent increase on last year with only disease and bad weather acting as drag factors.

This is the great accomplishment of the US war on terrorism in Afghanistan.


Vote By Mail

Vote By Mail
By Jeena Huntzinger

Pardon my naiveté, but I wonder why more (or all) states don't adopt vote by mail. Here in Oregon, the only state that has all its voting done by US mail, we receive voters' pamphlets in our mailboxes several weeks before an election and the actual ballots a week or two later. All one needs is a #2 pencil and some time to reflect on candidates and ballot measures. Sign the security envelope, put on a 37¢ stamp and mail it to the county elections clerk from the convenience of ones own home. If one prefers, the signed ballot can be dropped off at several voter sites up until 8:00PM election night.

My husband recently hurt his right hand and had to sign his ballot with a cast restricting his signature. He was concerned his vote would not be counted, since his ballot signature was not exactly like that on his voter registration card. We asked our county elections clerk for clarification. She told us that if there is a concern that the registered voter had not actually been the one to sign the ballot, the elections board would have to contact that voter by mail within 10 days of receiving the ballot. Although Oregon has only been voting by mail for a few years, the elections clerk said there had never been any cases of signature fraud in our county.

In this presidential election, Oregon recorded an 85% registered voter turnout. The cost is minimal, especially compared to funding voting machines, precinct sites and workers. The paper trail that is so important for recounts is there. Once a ballot has been received and all political parties cross names off their polling lists, the part I like the best begins. NO more polls or pitches!

So, my humble question is this: if all this trouble with touch screen voting without paper backup is causing angst, why not adopt Oregon's vote by mail plan? It works for us!

Jeena Huntzinger
Dallas, Oregon
(yes, there is another Dallas - named for President Polk's vice president)

Originally posted in TruthSeekersElection2004 Yahoo Group
Wed, 17 Nov 2004


Fast-forwarding through commercials may soon be illegal

Is ‘Fair Use’ in Peril?

The far-reaching Intellectual Property Protection Act would deny consumers many of the freedoms they take for granted.

By Eric Hellweg
November 19, 2004

Do you like fast-forwarding through commercials on a television program you’ve recorded? How much do you like it? Enough to go to jail if you’re caught doing it? If a new copyright and intellectual property omnibus bill sitting on Congress’s desk passes, that may be the choice you'll face.

How can this be possible? Because language that makes fast-forwarding through commercials illegal—no doubt inserted at the behest of lobbyists for the advertising industry—was inserted into a bill that would allow people to fast forward past objectionable sections of a recorded movie (and I bet you already thought that was OK). And that’s but one, albeit scary, scenario that may come to pass if the Intellectual Property Protection Act is enacted into law. Deliberations on this legislation will be one of the tasks for the lame-duck Congress that commenced this week.

In a statement last month, Senator John McCain stated his opposition to this bill, and specifically cited the anti-commercial skipping feature: “Americans have been recording TV shows and fast-forwarding through commercials for 30 years,” he said. “Do we really expect to throw people in jail in 2004 for behavior they’ve been engaged in for more than a quarter century?”

Included in the legislation are eight separate bills, five of which have already passed one branch of Congress, one of which was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and two of which have merely been proposed. By lumping all the bills together and pushing the package through both houses of Congress, proponents hope to score an enormous victory for Hollywood and some content industries.

Here’s more of what’s included: a provision that would make it a felony to record a movie in a theater for future distribution on a peer-to-peer network. IPPA would also criminalize the currently legal act of using the sharing capacity of iTunes, Apple’s popular music software program; the legislation equates that act with the indiscriminate file sharing on popular peer-to-peer programs. Currently, with iTunes, users can opt to share a playlist with others on their network. IPPA doesn’t differentiate this innocuous—and Apple sanctioned—act from the promiscuous sharing that happens when someone makes a music collection available to five million strangers on Kazaa or Grokster.

Not surprisingly, the bill has become a focal point for very vocal parties. In favor of the legislation are groups such as the Recording Industry Association of America, the Motion Picture Association of America, and various songwriter, actor, and director organizations. “We certainly support it,” says Jonathan Lamy, spokesperson for the RIAA. “It includes a number of things to strengthen the hand of law enforcement to combat piracy. Intellectual property theft is a national security crime. It’s appropriate that the fed dedicate resources to deter and prosecute IP theft.”

Against the bill stand a number of technology lobbying groups and public-interest organizations. “[IPPA] is a cobbled-together package to which Congress has given inadequate attention. It is another step in Hollywood and the recording industry’s campaign to exert more control over content,” says Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a Washington, DC-based public interest group that aims to alert the public to fair use and consumer rights infringements, and fight those perceived infringements in Washington.

Anyone attuned to the machinations of Congress the last two years likely has become numb to the often overblown rhetoric on this issue. Both sides use hyperbole—usually in the form of calling a piece of legislation the death of an industry or the death of individual rights. The 1982 statement to a congressional committee by Jack Valenti, then head of the MPAA, that the VCR is to Hollywood what the Boston Strangler was to a woman alone still stands as the ne plus ultra of exaggerated claims. And civil libertarians haven’t met an affront that didn’t equal a stake through the heart of individual rights. But IPPA demands attention not just from Hill watchers, but from regular individuals. In part because IPPA is such a broad, encompassing bill that could affect things as pedestrian as fast-forwarding a commercial, but also because with Senator Orrin Hatch—a very Hollywood-friendly pol—on his way out as the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to be replaced possibly by Arlen Specter, many in the Hollywood community see this as an important, last chance to get their demands made into law.

Eric Hellweg is a technology writer based in Cambridge, MA.


All I know is what I don't read in the papers

All I know is what I don't read in the papers

Keith Olbermann
November 19, 2004

SECURE UNDISCLOSED LOCATION— I’m beginning to think like Jim Bunning now.

So far in this post-election trip through Alice’s looking glass we’ve had:

—a University of Pennsylvania professor defending the accuracy of exit polling in order damn the accuracy of vote counting;

—a joint CalTech/MIT study defending the accuracy of exit polling in order to confirm the accuracy of vote counting;

—a series of lesser academic works assailing the validity of the Penn and CalTech/MIT assessments;

—and now, a UC Berkeley Research Team report that concludes President Bush may have received up to 260,000 more votes in fifteen Florida counties than he should have, all courtesy the one-armed bandits better known as touch-screen voting systems.

And, save, for one "New York Times"reference to the CalTech/MIT study "disproving" the idea that the exit poll results were so wacky that they required thoroughly botched election nights in several states, the closest any of these research efforts have gotten to the mainstream media have been "Wired News" and "Countdown."

I still hesitate to endorse the ‘media lock-down’ theory extolled so widely on the net. I've expended a lot of space on the facts of political media passivity and exhaustion, and now I’ll add one factor to explain the collective shrugged shoulder: reading this stuff is hard. It’s hard work.

There are, as we know, lies, damn lies, and statistics. But there is one level of hell lower still— scholarly statistical studies. I have made four passes at “The Effect of Electronic Voting Machines on Change in Support for Bush in the 2004 Florida Elections,” and the thing has still got me pinned to the floor.

Most of the paper is so academically dense that it seems to have been written not just in another language, but in some form of code. There is one table captioned “OLS Regression with Robust Standard Errors.” Another is titled “OLS regressions with frequency weights for county size.” Only the summary produced by Professor Michael Hout and the Berkeley Quantitative Methods Research Time is intelligible.

Of course, I’m reminded suddenly of the old cartoon, with the guy saying “I don’t understand women,” and the second guy saying, “So? Do you understand electricity?”

In his news conference yesterday at Berkeley (who attended? Who phoned in to the conference call? Why didn’t they try?) Professor Hout analogized the report to a “beeping smoke alarm.” It doesn’t say how bad the fire it is, it doesn’t accuse anybody of arson, it just says somebody ought to have an extinguisher handy.

Without attempting to crack the methodology, it’s clear the researchers claim they’ve compensated for all the bugaboos that hampered the usefulness of previous studies of the county voting results in Florida. They’ve weighted the thing to allow for an individual county’s voting record in both the 2000 and 1996 elections (throwing out the ‘Dixiecrat’ effect), to wash out issues like the varying Hispanic populations, median income, voter turnout change, and the different numbers of people voting in each county.

And they say that when you calculate all that, you are forced to conclude that compared to the Florida counties that used paper ballots, the ones that used electronic voting machines were much more likely to show “excessive votes” for Mr. Bush, and that the statistical odds of this happening organically are less than one in 1,000.

They also say that these “excessives” occurred most prominently in counties where Senator Kerry beat the President most handily. In the Democratic bastion of Broward, where Kerry won by roughly 105,000, they suggest the touch-screens “gave” the President 72,000 more votes than statistical consistency should have allowed. In Miami-Dade (Kerry by 55,000) they saw 19,300 more votes for Bush than expected. In Palm Beach (Kerry by 115,000) they claim Bush got 50,000 more votes than possible.

Hout and his research team consistently insisted they were not alleging that voting was rigged, nor even that what they’ve found actually affected the direction of Florida’s 27 Electoral Votes. They point out that in a worst-case scenario, they see 260,000 “excessives” - and Bush took the state by 350,000 votes. But they insist that based on Florida’s voting patterns in 1996 and 2000, the margin cannot be explained by successful get-out-the-vote campaigns, or income variables, or anything but something rotten in the touch screens.

It’s deep-woods mathematics, and it cries out for people who speak the language and can refute or confirm its value. Kim Zetter, who did an excellent work-up for "Wired News,"got the responses you’d expect from both sides. She quotes Susan Van Houten of Palm Beach’s Coalition for Election Reform as saying “I’ve believed the same thing for a while, that the numbers are screwy, and it looks like they proved it.” She quotes Jill Friedman-Wilson of the touch-screen manufacturer Election Systems & Software (their machines were in use in Broward and Miami-Dade) as responding “If you consider real-world experience, we know that ES&S’ touch-screen voting system has been proven in thousands of elections throughout the country.”

What’s possibly of more interest to us poor laymen is what isn’t in the Berkeley report.

As I mentioned previously, they don’t claim to know how this happened. But more importantly, they say that they ran a similar examination on the voting patterns in Ohio, comparing its paper ballot and electronic results, and found absolutely nothing to suggest either candidate got any “bump” that couldn’t otherwise be explained by past voting patterns, income, turnout, or any other commonplace factor.

In other words: No e-voting machines spontaneously combusting in Ohio.

“For the sake of all future elections involving electronic voting,” Professor Hout concluded, “someone must investigate and explain the statistical anomalies in Florida. We’re calling on voting officials in Florida to take action.”

Anybody want to belly up to this bar?

Thougths? E-mail me at


'Stinking Evidence' of Possible Election Fraud Found in Florida

'Stinking Evidence' of Possible Election Fraud Found in Florida
by Thom Hartmann

There was something odd about the poll tapes.

A "poll tape" is the phrase used to describe a printout from an optical scan voting machine made the evening of an election, after the machine has read all the ballots and crunched the numbers on its internal computer. It shows the total results of the election in that location. The printout is signed by the polling officials present in that precinct/location, and then submitted to the county elections office as the official record of how the people in that particular precinct had voted. (Usually each location has only one single optical scanner/reader, and thus produces only one poll tape.)

Bev Harris of, the erstwhile investigator of electronic voting machines, along with people from Florida Fair Elections, showed up at Florida's Volusia County Elections Office on the afternoon of Tuesday, November 16, 2004, and asked to see, under a public records request, each of the poll tapes for the 100+ optical scanners in the precincts in that county. The elections workers - having been notified in advance of her request - handed her a set of printouts, oddly dated November 15 and lacking signatures.

Bev pointed out that the printouts given her were not the original poll tapes and had no signatures, and thus were not what she'd requested. Obligingly, they told her that the originals were held in another location, the Elections Office's Warehouse, and that since it was the end of the day they should meet Bev the following morning to show them to her.

Bev showed up bright and early the morning of Wednesday the 17th - well before the scheduled meeting - and discovered three of the elections officials in the Elections Warehouse standing over a table covered with what looked like poll tapes. When they saw Bev and her friends, Bev told me in a telephone interview less than an hour later, "They immediately shoved us out and slammed the door."

In a way, that was a blessing, because it led to the stinking evidence.

"On the porch was a garbage bag," Bev said, "and so I looked in it and, and lo and behold, there were public record tapes."

Thrown away. Discarded. Waiting to be hauled off.

"It was technically stinking, in fact," Bev added, "because what they had done was to have thrown some of their polling tapes, which are the official records of the election, into the garbage. These were the ones signed by the poll workers. These are something we had done an official public records request for."

When the elections officials inside realized that the people outside were going through the trash, they called the police and one came out to challenge Bev.

Kathleen Wynne, a investigator, was there.

"We caught the whole thing on videotape," she said. "I don't think you'll ever see anything like this - Bev Harris having a tug of war with an election worker over a bag of garbage, and he held onto it and she pulled on it, and it split right open, spilling out those poll tapes. They were throwing away our democracy, and Bev wasn't going to let them do it."

As I was interviewing Bev just moments after the tussle, she had to get off the phone, because, "Two police cars just showed up."

She told me later in the day, in an on-air interview, that when the police arrived, "We all had a vigorous debate on the merits of my public records request."

The outcome of that debate was that they all went from the Elections Warehouse back to the Elections Office, to compare the original, November 2 dated and signed poll tapes with the November 15 printouts the Elections Office had submitted to the Secretary of State. A camera crew from met them there, as well.

And then things got even odder.

"We were sitting there comparing the real [signed, original] tapes with the [later printout] ones that were given us," Bev said, "and finding things missing and finding things not matching, when one of the elections employees took a bin full of things that looked like garbage - that looked like polling tapes, actually - and passed by and disappeared out the back of the building."

This provoked investigator Ellen Brodsky to walk outside and check the garbage of the Elections Office itself. Sure enough - more original, signed poll tapes, freshly trashed.

"And I must tell you," Bev said, "that whatever they had taken out [the back door] just came right back in the front door and we said, 'What are these polling place tapes doing in your dumpster?'"

A November 18 call to the Volusia County Elections Office found that Elections Supervisor Deanie Lowe was unavailable and nobody was willing to speak on the record with an out-of-state reporter. However, The Daytona Beach News (in Volusia County), in a November 17th article by staff writer Christine Girardin, noted, "Harris went to the Department of Elections' warehouse on State Road 44 in DeLand on Tuesday to inspect original Nov. 2 polling place tapes, after being given a set of reprints dated Nov. 15. While there, Harris saw Nov. 2 polling place tapes in a garbage bag, heightening her concern about the integrity of voting records."

The Daytona Beach News further noted that, "[Elections Supervisor] Lowe confirmed Wednesday some backup copies of tapes from the Nov. 2 election were destined for the shredder," but pointed out that, according to Lowe, that was simply because there were two sets of tapes produced on election night, each signed. "One tape is delivered in one car along with the ballots and a memory card," the News reported. "The backup tape is delivered to the elections office in a second car."

Suggesting that duplicates don't need to be kept, Lowe claims that Harris didn't want to hear an explanation of why some signed poll tapes would be in the garbage. "She's not wanting to listen to an explanation," Lowe told the News of Harris. "She has her own ideas."

But the Ollie North action in two locations on two days was only half of the surprise that awaited Bev and her associates. When they compared the discarded, signed, original tapes with the recent printouts submitted to the state and used to tabulate the Florida election winners, Harris says a disturbing pattern emerged.

"The difference was hundreds of votes in each of the different places we examined," said Bev, "and most of those were in minority areas."

When I asked Bev if the errors they were finding in precinct after precinct were random, as one would expect from technical, clerical, or computer errors, she became uncomfortable.

"You have to understand that we are non-partisan," she said. "We're not trying to change the outcome of an election, just to find out if there was any voting fraud."

That said, Bev added: "The pattern was very clear. The anomalies favored George W. Bush. Every single time."

Of course finding possible voting "anomalies" in one Florida county doesn't mean they'll show up in all counties. It's even conceivable there are innocent explanations for both the mismatched counts and trashed original records; this story undoubtedly will continue to play out. And, unless further investigation demonstrates a pervasive and statewide trend toward "anomalous" election results in many of Florida's counties, odds are none of this will change the outcome of the election (which exit polls showed John Kerry winning in Florida).

Nonetheless, Bev and her merry band are off to hit another county.

As she told me on her cell phone while driving toward their next destination, "We just put Volusia County and their lawyers on notice that they need to continue to keep a number of documents under seal, including all of the memory cards to the ballot boxes, and all of the signed poll tapes."


"Simple," she said. "Because we found anomalies indicative of fraud."

Thom Hartmann (thom at is a Project Censored Award-winning best-selling author and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk show. His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights," "We The People: A Call To Take Back America," and "What Would Jefferson Do?: A Return To Democracy."


Bono's New Casualty: 'Private Ryan'

The New York Times
November 21, 2004

Bono's New Casualty: 'Private Ryan'

As American soldiers were dying in Falluja, some Americans back home spent Veteran's Day mocking the very ideal our armed forces are fighting for ­ freedom. Ludicrous as it sounds, 66 ABC affiliates revolted against their own network and refused to broadcast "Saving Private Ryan." The reason: fear. Not fear of terrorism or fear of low ratings but fear that their own government would punish them for exercising freedom of speech.

If the Federal Communications Commission could slap NBC after Bono used an expletive to celebrate winning a Golden Globe, then not even Steven Spielberg's celebration of World War II heroism could be immune from censorship. The American Family Association, which mobilized the mob against "Ryan," was in full blaster-fax and e-mail rage. Its scrupulous investigation had found that the movie's soldiers not only invoked the Bono word 21 times but also, perhaps even more indecently, re-enacted "graphic violence" in the battle scenes. How dare those servicemen impose their filthy mouths and spilled innards on decent American families! In our new politically correct American culture, war is always heck.

The stations that refused to show the movie were not just in Baton Rouge and Biloxi but in cities like Boston, Detroit, Cleveland and Baltimore. For some reason, a number of them replaced "Ryan" with the 1986 movie "Hoosiers," the heartwarming tale of high school basketball players who claw their way to the championship in 1950's Indiana. But even Indiana and jocks have no immunity from the indecency cops in 2004. Less than 48 hours after "Hoosiers" supplanted the censored "Ryan," the Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Tyler Palko used the Bono word in a live interview with NBC Sports's Tom Hammond after his team's upset of Notre Dame. Unless the F.C.C. wants to open a legal Pandora's box, it now has no choice but to apply the same principles to a victorious football player's spontaneous expletive that it did to a victorious rock star's.

For anyone who doubts that we are entering a new era, let's flash back just a few years. "Saving Private Ryan," with its "CSI"-style disembowelments and expletives undeleted, was nationally broadcast by ABC on Veteran's Day in both 2001 and 2002 without incident, and despite the protests of family-values groups. What has changed between then and now? A government with the zeal to control both information and culture has received what it calls a mandate. Media owners who once might have thought that complaints by the American Family Association about a movie like "Saving Private Ryan" would go nowhere are keenly aware that the administration wants to reward its base. Merely the threat that the F.C.C. might punish a TV station or a network is all that's needed to push them onto the slippery slope of self-censorship before anyone in Washington even bothers to act. This is McCarthyism, "moral values" style.

What makes the "Ryan" case both chilling and a harbinger of what's to come is that it isn't about Janet Jackson and sex but about the presentation of war at a time when we are fighting one. That some of the companies whose stations refused to broadcast "Saving Private Ryan" also own major American newspapers in cities as various as Providence and Atlanta leaves you wondering what other kind of self-censorship will be practiced next. If these media outlets are afraid to show a graphic Hollywood treatment of a 60-year-old war starring the beloved Tom Hanks because the feds might fine them, toy with their licenses or deny them permission to expand their empires, might they defensively soften their news divisions' efforts to present the graphic truth of an ongoing war? The pressure groups that are exercised by Bono and "Saving Private Ryan" are often the same ones who are campaigning to derail any news organization that's not towing the administration line in lockstep with Fox.

Even without being threatened, American news media at first sanitized the current war, whether through carelessness or jingoism, proving too credulous about everything from weapons of mass destruction to "Saving Private Lynch" to "Mission Accomplished." During the early weeks of the invasion, carnage of any kind was kept off TV screens, as if war could be cost-free. Once the press did get its act together and exercised skepticism, it came under siege. News organizations that report facts challenging the administration's version of events risk being called traitors. As with "Saving Private Ryan," the aim of the news censors is to bleach out any ugliness or violence. But because the war in Iraq, unlike World War II, is increasingly unpopular and doesn't have an assured triumphant ending, it must also be scrubbed of any bad news that might undermine its support among the administration's base. Thus the censors argue that Abu Ghraib, and now a marine's shooting of a wounded Iraqi prisoner in a Falluja mosque, are vastly "overplayed" by the so-called elite media.

President Bush tried to turn the campaign, in part, into a referendum on Hollywood's lack of a "heart and soul." Now that he's won, administration apparatchiks have declared his victory a repudiation not just of Hollywood's dream factory but of the news industry's reality factory. "The biggest loser was the mainstream media," wrote Peggy Noonan in an online analysis for The Wall Street Journal after Election Day. She predicted that institutions like the networks, The New York Times and, presumably, the print edition of her own newspaper (editorial page excepted) were on their way to being rendered extinct by "the blogosphere and AM radio and the Internet" ­ in other words, by opinion writers like herself.

In this diet of "news" championed by the right, there's no need for actual reporters who gather facts firsthand by leaving their laptops and broadcast booths behind and risking their lives to bear witness to what is actually happening on the ground in places like Falluja and Baghdad. The facts of current events can become as ideologically fungible as the scientific evidence supporting evolution. Whatever comforting version of events supports your politics is the "news."

The reductio ad absurdum of such a restricted news diet is Jim Bunning, the newly re-elected senator from Kentucky. During the campaign he drew a blank when asked to react to the then widely circulated story of an Army Reserve unit in Iraq, including one soldier from his own state, that refused to follow orders to carry out what it deemed a suicide fuel-delivery mission. "I don't read the paper" is how he explained his cluelessness. "I haven't done that for the last six weeks. I watch Fox News to get my information." That's his right as a private citizen, though even Fox had some coverage of that story. But as a senator, he has the power to affect decisions on the conduct of the war and to demand an accounting of the circumstances under which one of his own constituents was driven to revolt against his officers. Instead Mr. Bunning was missing in action.

He is, however, a role model of the compliant citizen the Bush administration wants, both in officialdom and out. In a memorable passage in Ron Suskind's pre-election article on the president in The New York Times Magazine, a senior White House adviser tells Mr. Suskind that there's no longer any need for the "reality-based community" epitomized by journalists. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," the adviser says. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality." A test run of this approach dates at least as far back as May 2003, a week after the president declared the end of major combat operations. When a reporter told Donald Rumsfeld in a Pentagon press briefing that "journalists in Iraq report that a sense of public order is still lacking," the secretary of defense ridiculed journalists for showing only "slices of truth." The reconstruction effort, couldn't anyone see, was right on track.

The creation of this alternative reality has been perfected into an art form in Falluja. Almost everything the administration has said about this battle is at odds with the known facts. "There are over 3,000 Iraqi soldiers who are leading the activities," said the now outgoing deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, as the operation began and those Iraqi troops were paraded before the cameras. But as Edward Wong of The Times later reported, the Iraqis actually turned up in battle only after the hard work was done, their uniforms "spotless from not having done a lick of fighting." Meanwhile, another group of crack Iraqi trainees fled their posts in Mosul, allowing the insurgents, and possibly our current No. .1 evildoer, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, to wreak havoc there while Americans were chasing their ghosts in Falluja.

Casualties are also now being whipped into an empire's idea of reality. "We don't do body counts," said Tommy Franks as we fought in Afghanistan in 2002 ­ an edict upheld in a press briefing in Iraq as recently as Nov. 9 by the American commander Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz. But only five days later, as the "reality-based" news spread that many of the insurgents had melted away before we got to them, that policy was sacrificed to the cause of manufacturing some good news to drive out the bad. Suddenly there was a body count of 1,200 to 1,600 insurgents in Falluja, even though reporters on the scene found, as The Times reported, "little evidence of dead insurgents in the streets and warrens where some of the most intense combat took place." By possibly inflating both body counts and the fighting prowess of the local army against guerrillas, the Bush administration is constructing a "Mission Accomplished II" that depends on a quiescent press (as well as on a public memory so short that it won't notice the similarity between the Falluja narrative and Tet).

As the crunch comes, we'll learn whether media companies will continue to test such Iraq war stories against "reality-based" reportage, or whether they'll kowtow to an emboldened administration, spurred on by its self-proclaimed mandate and its hard-right auxiliary groups, that can reward or punish them at will. For now the most dominant Falluja image has been that of the "Marlboro Man" ­ the Los Angeles Times photo of the brave American marine James Blake Miller, his face bloodied and soiled by combat, his expression resolute. It is, as Mr. Rumsfeld might say, a slice of truth. But other slices ­ like the airlifting of hundreds of American troops to Germany to be treated for the traumatic fallout of Falluja's graphic violence ­ are, like "Saving Private Ryan" on Veteran's Day, missing from too many Americans' screens.


Thursday, November 18, 2004

Scholars on the votes, Ohio undervotes

Scholars on the votes, Ohio undervotes
Keith Olbermann
November 18, 2004

SECURE UNDISCLOSED LOCATION— We return to Academic Dueling In Our Time, already in progress.

A UC Berkeley sociology professor, director of his school’s Survey Research Center, is scheduled to conduct a news conference at 1 p.m. ET today at which his “research team” will report that “irregularities associated with electronic voting machines may have awarded 130,000-260,000 or more excess votes” to President Bush in Florida.

The advance word of the news conference gives little detail, but suggests Professor Michael Hout might be treading out onto thin ice. His study is said to show “an unexplained discrepancy between votes for President Bush in counties where electronic machines were used versus counties using traditional voting methods.”

The Berkeley group may have new material, but if not, it could be pinioned by the fact that some of the apparent variations between optical scanning and other voting methods in Florida, might also be explained by— or, even better explained by— historical voting patterns in Florida’s Dixiecrat counties of the north, and the Panhandle.

Regardless, this is now shaping up as the BCS of presidential election analysis. A joint report out of the CalTech and MIT voting project— suggesting that the much-decried exit polling of election night really wasn’t outside the margin of error at all when analyzed on a state-by-state basis— had already been countered by a Penn professor’s report using the exit polling for Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Now it’s not just CalTech and MIT versus Penn— but also UC Berkeley versus CalTech and MIT.

Stay tuned for the halftime show.

And stay tuned for the latest disaster from Ohio.

For 40 years, the Dayton Daily News reports this morning, Shirley Wightman has worked at polling places on election days. Two weeks ago, she says, turnout was high - 611 voters - and she and her colleagues paid careful attention to their punch-card, chad-filled, voting stations in Washington Township, Ohio.

“We checked the machines periodically,” Ms. Wightman told the paper, “and I could see nothing wrong with them.”

Yet when the votes were tallied, 168 of the 611 voters had made no choice for president. Unless these were the famed undecideds we heard so much about in the closing weeks of the campaigns, something went terribly wrong. 27 and a half percent of the voters in that “Washington X” precinct in Montgomery County officially didn’t have a presidential preference.

This was the high point of the Daily News’ investigative analysis of the still-unofficial voting results in its county— or more properly, perhaps, the low point. The paper discovered that of the 284, 650 votes in Montgomery, a total of 5,693 registered no valid vote for president. And the percentages were significantly higher in the 231 precincts that wound up voting for Kerry (2.8%) than did the 354 that wound up voting for Bush (1.6%).

Besides Washington X, a second County precinct exceeded 27% ‘undercount,’ as the election professionals, such as they are, call it. Washington X, Kettering 3-A, and five of the other top ten ‘undercount’ precincts by percentage wound up supporting Bush.

Since, as the papers note, political scientists suggested that the poor and the lesser-educated are presumed to have more trouble with punch card voting, there are several logical disconnects here. Given the outcomes in those two precincts, Washington X and Kettering 3-A, were those mostly Bush voters who managed to blank out more than a quarter of their own ballots, or did the precincts wind up voting for Bush because more than a quarter of the ballots had no valid presidential vote?

What happened in the voting precincts in Moraine, Ohio? 2,557 votes were cast at seven sites there. The President won the city by 2%. The number of ballots without a valid presidential vote was 5.6%.

What do the state undercounts in Ohio look like? Did they reduce Bush’s margin of victory? Did they eliminate votes for Kerry? What the hell happened?

The least likely explanations are that these people couldn’t make up their minds, or screwed up only the presidential part of their ballots.

“It is very difficult to believe that a quarter of the people would not vote for president, especially in a year like this,” University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato— an old friend of Countdown— told the Daily News. “If I were the election officers in those areas I would be doing some very extensive checks of those machines.”

As the Ohio recount nears, the number of hotspots continues to multiply. You are aware of the remarkable late night voting lines throughout the state, and the mysterious Glitch of Youngstown which initially registered negative 25,000,000 votes. There is the Gahanna machine which gave one presidential candidate 4,000 extra votes in a community of 600. And the farcical “walling off” of the vote counting in Warren County, because the county head of security was told face-to-face of an FBI terrorism warning there - except the FBI says it didn’t issue any terrorism warnings there.

The Associated Press today carries a report of 2,600 ballots in nine precincts around Sandusky, Ohio that were counted twice— as that paper puts it— “likely because of worker error.” The Clyde precinct showed a voter turnout of 131%, to the dismay of the head of the elections board, Barb Tuckerman.

Ms. Tuckerman, in one of the great quotes of the election, told the News-Messenger of Fremont, Ohio: “I knew there was something amiss.”

Tell me about it, Barb.

What do you think? E-mail me at


A Good Deal Goes Begging

The New York Times
November 18, 2004

A Good Deal Goes Begging

Last week, President Bush professed a desire to see a true peace in the Middle East, one where Israel can live alongside its Arab neighbors in serenity and harmony and all other good things. So why in the world is his administration holding up a trade deal between Israel and Egypt that could increase economic cooperation between the two countries?

Back in 1996, Congress passed a law giving Jordan and Egypt duty-free access to some parts of the American market if those products included some Israeli content. The point of the law was to encourage commercial ties between Israel and the Arab world, and to weaken the Arab boycott of Israel. Jordan embraced the law and set up special industrial zones for textile exports that included Israeli content, like zippers and fabric lining. Egypt, for its part, dallied for years; Egyptian officials cited the Palestinian intifada as one reason why they didn't want to be seen as embracing Israel.

But this year, Egypt finally came to its senses. The coming end in December of the United States quota system that has protected textile manufacturers from Chinese competition may have had something to do with the Egyptian turnaround. But whatever the cause, Cairo has agreed to establish special trade zones for duty-free exports to the United States. Such exports - mostly clothing and textiles - would include 11.7 percent Israeli content. Israel and Egypt quietly signed the pact in September. Great news, right?

Wrong. United States trade officials haven't approved the deal, citing concerns that it could hurt American textile and apparel companies. Apparently peace in our time isn't quite so important after all, especially not when measured against protecting important political constituencies.


Politics and the C.I.A.

The New York Times
November 18, 2004

Politics and the C.I.A.

When President Bush rushed to appoint Porter Goss, a partisan Florida congressman, as director of central intelligence before the election, the choice raised concerns about how serious Mr. Bush was about fixing one of the central problems with American intelligence: that the president was being told what he wanted to hear to confirm his policy choices, rather than what he needed to know. Now that Mr. Bush has been safely re-elected, Mr. Goss is only heightening those fears.

No one who has read the 9/11 commission's report or the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the prewar intelligence on Iraq could doubt the need to shake things up in the intelligence apparatus. It's also important to allow the head of a major government agency to make changes without undue second-guessing. But what Mr. Goss is doing at the Central Intelligence Agency is starting to seem less like reform and more like a political purge.

Mr. Goss has removed the head of the clandestine operations division and his deputy - both career intelligence officers. The No. 2 C.I.A. official, John McLaughlin, has resigned, along with four other senior people. Others are reported to be thinking about leaving. Many of them feel trampled by Mr. Goss's inner circle of political operatives from the House, where he was chairman of the Intelligence Committee.

Now, Douglas Jehl of The Times has obtained a memo, circulated on Monday, in which Mr. Goss appeared to be signaling his displeasure with leaks about intelligence on Iraq during the presidential campaign. He reminded his staff twice that they work for a secret agency and said all dealings with the public and with Congress would be handled by his team.

He dutifully noted that the C.I.A.'s job is to "provide the intelligence as we see it - and let the facts speak to the policymaker." But Mr. Goss added language that has reportedly sent a chill through the intelligence agencies: "I also intend to clarify beyond doubt the rules of the road. We support the administration and its policies in our work. As agency employees we do not identify with, support or champion opposition to the administration or its policies."

Certainly, the C.I.A. should not be taking sides in presidential campaigns. Many of Mr. Bush's supporters claim that high-ranking members of the agency attempted to undermine the president's re-election - if Mr. Goss has evidence of that, he should present it. But it's inappropriate for him to suggest that it's the job of the C.I.A. "to support" a particular administration and its political decisions.

The C.I.A.'s loss of public credibility in recent years has been due, in part, to a perception that the agency saw how much the Bush administration wanted to invade Iraq and cooked its conclusions to support that goal. What the country wants, and deserves, is an agency where intelligence operatives feel free to tell the administration that policies are based on wrong or incomplete information. They should be able to blow the whistle on mistakes and wrongdoing to the appropriate bodies in Congress without having to go through Mr. Goss's palace guard.

Lawmakers who oversee intelligence have said they will ask Mr. Goss about these events. We hope that their questioning is aggressive and that they make it clear that what was acceptable politics on Capitol Hill is not acceptable at the C.I.A. - particularly if Mr. Bush plans to compound his mistake in choosing Mr. Goss by elevating him to the new job of national intelligence director when Congress finally gets around to creating that much-needed position.


Lame Duck Confit

The New York Times
November 18, 2004

Lame Duck Confit

Having let the people's business stew for nearly a year, Congress is back in session this week, pledging to complete what the Republican leadership deemed too politically fraught to handle before the election. With time expiring, the lawmakers must raise the federal debt limit - the Senate approved an $800 billion increase yesterday, and the House is expected to follow suit today. The move will allow the government to borrow up to $8.2 trillion. Congress must also pass nine overdue spending bills totaling $355 billion.

What is happening in the halls of Congress right now is a travesty. Let us count the ways.

For nearly a year, everyone in Washington and in the financial markets worldwide has known about the need to raise the debt limit. Doing so basically requires a one-sentence-long piece of legislation. But debate on that bill was bound to draw attention - and rightly so - to the wildly expanding deficits created by the Bush administration's fiscal and economic policies. So, predictably, Congressional leaders delayed facing up to reality.

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary John Snow has been forced to suspend the issuance of United States debt, to postpone indefinitely the announcement of the coming Treasury bill auction and to admit to Congress and the world that he is running out of legal ways to keep America afloat. In other words, with risk and uncertainty emanating from every corner of the global economy, the Congressional leaders' foot-dragging has made them look like fiscal buffoons, courting a loss of lenders' confidence in the government's ability to steward a deeply indebted nation. No one is worried about an American default. But Congress has been playing economic brinksmanship when leadership has been needed - and that's foolish.

That's not the worst of it. The new fiscal year began Oct. 1, but Congress has failed to pass the spending bills needed to pay for about 20 percent of the federal government - virtually everything except defense, homeland security, entitlements like Medicare and interest payments on the national debt. Neither the House nor the Senate was able to stay below the unrealistically low spending caps without resorting to gimmicks, ending up with competing out-of-whack bills that are some $8 billion apart. (The Senate wants more spending than the relatively more government-averse House.)

With no time or willingness to bridge their differences, and little appetite for confronting the mess they have created, the lawmakers now plan to lump all the spending into one huge bill: the dreaded omnibus. The great advantage for the faint of heart is that no one will actually see the actual bill before it's passed. The problem is that it will home in on the unrealistic spending targets with an indiscriminate, across-the-board reduction that ignores the real needs the government is supposed to be addressing. For instance, the Energy Department has predicted a 38 percent increase in the cost of home heating oil this winter, but heating assistance for low-income people will probably be cut to allow for an increase of only 5 percent.

To make really awful matters worse, members are freely larding the bill with nonessential pork even as they ignore essential needs. There are the usual last-minute anti-environmental riders undermining protections for forests and endangered species, but the worst by far is a proposed $2 billion expansion of the lock system on the upper Mississippi River, a project that the National Academy of Sciences has twice reviewed and twice declared a waste of money.

Finally, the cost-cutting aspects of this exercise are a fiscal charade. The spending that Congressional Republicans will go after - known as nondefense, domestic, discretionary spending - is not to blame for the federal budget deficit. Far from being out of control, the growth rate for such spending dropped to a mere 1 percent by 2004, after increasing noticeably in 2002, when surpluses from the Clinton years were thought to still be available. It is highly doubtful that domestic discretionary spending in 2005 will even keep pace with inflation. The real culprits in creating the deficit are the costs of the war and homeland security, and, in particular, the cost of the unnecessary tax cut legislation passed during the Bush presidency, which is 17 times as large as the increases in domestic discretionary spending.

Clamping down on domestic spending won't tame the deficit, but it will harm exactly the kinds of government services Americans support and count on. A backlash will eventually come, either from dissatisfied citizens who care about responsive government or from financial markets that care about fiscal sanity. Or both.