The Collapse of the Trust Me Elections Model

Published: Mon 3 Dec 2007 10:14 AM
BBV Exclusive: The Collapse of the Trust Me Elections Model
An original Black Box Voting investigative report: (discussion area)
By Bev Harris
In 2007, Black Box Voting embarked on a year-long investigative series examining elections in what we call the Moonshine territories – reputedly the most corrupt local governments in America. What we found has staggering implications for the design of American election systems as a whole. Our current system only works if we trust every human link in the chain. In this report we will knock the concept of trust-based elections out the window.
What follows concludes with examples from places like Illinois, New York, Oregon and California. It begins with our examination of the "Trust Me" election model as it is implemented in locations like Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas. What we found in these locations quickly unravels into an indictment of faith-based elections in all 50 states.
The very core of the voting machine controversy is not paper trails or spot check procedures. The essence of whether an election system can be trusted is whether it allows the owners of the government, The People, to view the counting and the chain of custody. Votes counted in secret, and secret chain of custody can never work unless we change human nature itself.
MOONSHINE AMERICA: Collapse of the "Trust Me" model
Fraud follows presidential primaries like a hound on a scent. Most people don't pay much attention, because they are watching the main event: the general election.
During the 1996 presidential primary an elections official in Logan County, West Virginia sold his own vote. County Clerk Glen Dale "Hound Dog" Adkins pocketed an impressive $500 for it, higher than normal -- but then again, maybe votes cost extra when you buy them from someone who also has inside access to adjust ballots and voting machines.
Conspiracy theory? That's half right. The Logan County sheriff and the city of Logan's police chief also pleaded guilty to election fraud, and six officials in nearby Lincoln County also got nailed. Conspiracy yes, but not a theory.
For the past five years citizens have looked on in amazement as public officials perform contortions of reason to justify why our votes should be counted in secret by insiders, with a chain of custody so indecipherable only a criminal defense lawyer could love it.
"After all, you have to trust someone," they tell us.
Such a concept turns citizen sovereignty on its head, giving government insiders ultimate power over the will of the citizenry rather than the other way around. It's a relatively new model for elections, and of course the concept is laughable, yet they feed it to us with a straight face.
In May 2005, Fulton County, Kentucky election official Lesia LaRue resigned. Two of her deputies bit the dust as well. LaRue was indicted for falsifying records and missing funds.
In January 2007, former Morgan County, Tennessee election official Tim Steelman pleaded guilty to stealing more than $10,000 from his office and was sentenced to four years probation. Steelman resigned after prosecutors issued an ultimatum: he must plead guilty and resign, or face an ouster lawsuit and criminal prosecution.
Voting machine manufacturers admit that using their equipment requires citizens to suspend any ability to make sure results are accurate.
"There has to be faith in their local election boards," said James Ries Jr., president of Microvote, one of the voting machine providers for the moonshine states. "It's one of those areas of a leap of faith. That you really do have to have a faith in your local jurisdiction, that they are conducting equitable elections in the best faith of the voters."
You have to trust your elections official, but that's not all. The weakest link in the human chain can destroy the integrity of the election simply by swapping a memory card or popping in a USB memory stick. The human chain includes the programmers at the company that manufactures the voting machine; the subcontractors who maintain and service the machines; each person who has access to the voting machine warehouse (which may include the janitor, the sheriff, and the transportation crew); employees of the elections division; and the designated elections administrator.
In June 1998, a mistrial was declared for Bowie County, Texas Clerk Marylene Megason. She had been charged with two counts of abuse of official capacity, dummying up payments to her son's company for work that was actually performed by employees of her office and jail inmates. In Bowie County, the County Clerk is responsible for voter registration.
In August 2006, prosecutors filed charges against the Greene County, Arkansas Election Commission Chairman Karl Horton on two counts of financial identity fraud. A scary thought: Due to voter registration requirements, elections officials have access to the social security number and signature of every voter in their jurisdiction.
In August 2000, Kentucky State Auditor Ed Hatchett released the audit of former Floyd County Clerk/elections chief Carla Robinson Boyd. She had already been convicted of theft, sentenced to five years probation and directed to pay restitution in the amount of $26,822. Carla Robinson Boyd's uncle, C. Ollie Robinson was a Floyd County clerk before her.
"Floyd County will probably have to sue the estate of the late county clerk C. Ollie Robinson," wrote the Floyd County Times. Robinson reportedly owed the county $51,047 according to a state audit, after which the state of Kentucky assumed control of Floyd County spending for a time.
Carla Robinson Boyd's husband, Joe Bolton, has programmed the Microvote machines for Floyd County and 22 other locations for more two decades. Now he's her ex. He seems like a nice guy, but Joe Bolton programs machines that count nearly 200,000 Kentucky votes while sitting in the privacy of his own home. Whether or not you trust whoever replaced Carla, you also have to trust Joe. In the secret chain of custody that controls vote counting, one broken link can invalidate everything.
Another Microvote county is Elliott County, Kentucky. In 2006, the state auditor found that $12,515 was missing from the county clerk's fee account, in addition to more than $28,000 already owed from previous years. Elliott County Clerk/elections official Reeda Stinson Ison blamed the prior years' deficits on an employee in the clerk/elections office who stole from the account. A local grand jury wound up indicting the deputy clerk for theft, and Ison herself for official misconduct.
"It's one of those areas of a leap of faith," Microvote president Ries Jr. says. "Quite frankly it's very difficult to convince somebody how do I know my vote counted."
In May 2006, State Auditor Crit Luallen released two audits, covering calendar years 2004 and 2005, of Owsley County, Kentucky elections official Sid Gabbard's office, formally disclaiming any opinion because he did not maintain adequate accounting records to allow the auditors to verify the revenues and expenditures. The 2004 audit uncovered a $61,876 shortfall; receipts were received by the Clerk's office but not deposited into any of the office's accounts. A cumulative shortage of over $65,000, partially offset by personal and unidentified deposits, was discovered at the end of 2005.
Those in control of the counting and chain of custody for secret vote counting are the very same public officials caught in financial cheating. And should we really be surprised? Human nature is imperfect. The founders of this nation realized that, and precisely for that reason, envisioned a system based on distrust, not trust.
“If once [the people] become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, Judges and Governors, shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions.” — Thomas Jefferson
And yet, The People are not entirely inattentive. Ever the rascals, politicians decided (without our consent) to implement "Trust Me" election systems. Vendors (who perhaps get a bad rap in all this because after all they can't sell what government insiders don't want to buy) cooperated in the manufacture of computerized systems based on trusting insiders. The People realize this setup is bogus, but despite many efforts, have so far been unable to dislodge the Trust Me system.
Before moving on to other Moonshine states and the rest of America, I'll mention that Kentucky has a political history so colorful it actually does inspire awe. Kentucky's 1900 Sec. State Caleb Powers was prosecuted and convicted (three times) for the murder of Gov. William Goebel and spent eight years in prison. In April 2002, one Pulaski County candidate shot and killed the other candidate. And in Kentucky, it's not unusual for the sheriff to be the drug dealer.
Kentucky was one of the first places in America to install "Trust Me" voting systems. They began using paperless touchscreens with secret software programmed by private individuals back in 1986. We can point at Kentucky, or we can learn from Kentucky. When votes are counted in secret, The People can only displace their governors if the insiders who control counting and chain of custody are honest. This system will lead to a government that is progressively more corrupt. Unless we correct this flawed "Trust Me" elections model, America will become one big Kentucky.
Kentucky has also provided an excellent example of corruption clean-up using the Al Capone strategy. When the feds couldn't get at Capone for his other gangland activities, they investigated him using financial audits. Kentucky currently has an especially tough-minded state financial auditor, Crit Luallen. When you read the audits performed by her division, you find both a no-nonsense, no excuses approach and a willingness to turn things over to prosecutors. Some of the crookedest officials in Kentucky were brought down not for their drug deals, but using their financial records.
The Kentucky state auditor formally disclaimed any opinion on financial doings in Knox County audit, referring the 2003-04-05 audits to multiple agencies for prosecution, citing $2.7 million in questioned expenditures. County payments were being cashed or deposited into accounts of companies other than they were made out to, owned by relatives of county officials. Nearby Knott County had nearly $13.5 million cited in questioned costs. The audit detailed 23 findings and was referred for criminal prosecution to the US Attorney, the FBI, the Kentucky State Police, and several other law enforcement agencies.
When you think about it, any time an elections official is caught forging a document, it pretty much blows up the chain of custody.
In 1999, former Fayette County, Kentucky Deputy County Clerk Stacia Johnson entered a guilty plea to one count of Theft and one count of Forged Instrument. The Theft count arose from her taking more than $41,000; the Forged Instrument charge was from the alteration of a document to hide the theft. Johnson was sentenced to serve 30 days in jail and then probated for two years.
In Oct. 2007, a candidate for the position of Boone County Clerk/elections chief pleaded guilty to second degree forgery. Ed Moore dropped out of the county clerk’s race after news of his forgery surfaced, but still nearly won the race. Democrat Rena Ping squeaked by him to prevail.
Kentucky may have a culture of corruption, but no-nonsense audits and a willingness to prosecute are getting traction on cleaning it up. In the end, however, you can't prosecute your way out of corruption. You still need the front-end protection: elections controlled by The People. The public needs to be able to see the counting and the chain of custody needs to be simple, and in the public view, at all times.
For some reason with elections, we allow excuse after excuse. When records are missing and safeguards botched, as in Ohio 2004, public officials do not hold other public officials accountable. The same people who concocted a fake homeland security alert in Warren County Ohio in 2004 are still in office, as are those who destroyed elections records in violation of a court order. The Ohio sec. state has not held them accountable. Contrast that with this Kentucky audit:
"The Auditor of Public Accounts was engaged to audit the financial activity of the Knox County Fiscal Court for fiscal year ended June 30, 2003, and we have issued a disclaimer of opinion thereon. Based on our assessment of fraud risk, we determined the risk for fraud to be too high and we were unable to apply other procedures to overcome this fraud risk. In addition, the Fiscal Court had weaknesses in the design and operation of its internal control procedures and accounting functions. Furthermore, management elected to override the internal control procedures that were in place¦The significance of these issues, in the aggregate, prevents us from expressing an opinion and we do not express an opinion on the financial activities of the Knox County Fiscal Court."
And the auditors took it right to the prosecutors, at the state AND federal levels.
While he didn't match Kentucky's former secretary of state in audacity by murdering a governor, Arkansas Secretary of State during the Clinton years, William James McCuen — also known as Bill McCuen — admitted to accepting kickbacks in connection with voting machine procurement, and conspiring with a political consultant to split money embezzled from the state. He was indicted on corruption charges in 1995, sentenced to 17 years in prison and fined.
The voting machines are supposed to go through various levels of standards-setting, evaluation, and certification. Yet even the kingpins in these areas admit that insiders can alter election results. In a recent deposition, which will likely be released to the public very soon, one of the most powerful governmental authorities stated that the idea that insiders might tamper is "a frightening thought."
"If that happens, we've got a lot bigger problem than elections," he stated in sworn testimony.
News flash to the kingpins: The problem has arrived.
The 1980s featured Mississippi Operation Pretense, with at least 71 Mississippi county officials pleading guilty to corruption charges in 26 counties. 20 And lest you think human nature has changed in Mississippi since the mid-80s, note that two Tunica County sheriffs have been convicted of various crimes in recent years and a new election was ordered in Tunica County in Nov. 2007 after ballots were seized following a search warrant issued for the Tunica County Circuit Clerk's office.
The current system uses a chain of custody so convoluted it can collapse when a single document disappears. Example: Election officials will tell you they put seals on the voting machines to make sure no one changed anything. What they don't tell you: Public records show that these seals frequently arrive with mismatched seal numbers, or broken, or missing, blowing up the chain of custody. And what about this: Have election officials ever falsified a document?
In June 2005, Benton County, Tennessee Clerk Rosanne Ward and her husband Jerry were indicted on a felony and a misdemeanor in relation to the audit findings from the State Comptrollers office which concluded that the clerk and her husband had falsified documents.
In many jurisdictions the local sheriff holds a key to the chain of custody (literally). Besides the fact that sheriffs are quite often running for office at same the time they are protecting the election, the sheriff position has a history of corruption. Sheriffs control contraband, like drugs and guns, and sign off on traffic studies needed by developers for multi-million dollar deals. If the voting machine storage area may have been broken into, the sheriff deals with the report; in some places the sheriff transports the ballots, and in some states the sheriff, by law, is on the board of elections.
Tippah County, Mississippi Sheriff Gary Mauney was so scandal-ridden that he was asked to appear on the Montel Williams show in 1996. One of four Mississippi sheriffs elected in 1996 who had been convicted of felony crimes, Billy McGee, president of the Mississippi Sheriffs' Association lamented that the state of Mississippi should hang its head, and the Mississippi Attorney General tried to purge the felonious four, succeeding with only three. Gary Mauney refused to step down.
In August, 2007 Mississippi State Attorney General Jim Hood announced the 14th arrest in a vote-buying investigation. Arrests continued to mount; among the arrested was sheriff candidate Clint Moffett and Benton County Supervisor Tate King.
Check this out: In August, 2007, Jennings B. White, the chief elections official in Clay County Kentucky pleaded guilty to involvement in a major drug ring. He had been busted for drug running, extortion, arson and bribery and was sentenced to seven years in prison.
White had served two terms as county clerk. He was arrested in 2006 in connection with a drug ring headed by Kenneth Day, a former Clay county election commissioner and local businessman. Day admitted that he had bought votes at times.
Elections chief White pleaded guilty to a number of charges, including money laundering for Day and taking drug cash. Other charges against White included conspiring to distribute drugs and conspiring to offer a bribe. White also acknowledged that between May 2004 and October 2006, he took part in extorting kickbacks.
The word "bribe" is in the dictionary because people do it. The word "conspiracy" is in every RICO prosecution in America. “If once [the people] become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, Judges and Governors, shall all become wolves," said Thomas Jefferson. It is your civic duty to oversee your own public affairs.
Excerpt from videotaped interview; Kathleen Wynne, with Ray Martinez, former Vice Chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission:
Wynne: We want non-secret elections. The secrecy is taking priority over transparency.
Martinez: I really can't argue with that, Kathleen. My only retort to that is, I elect local administrators in Texas…I place my faith in casting a vote for my local county clerk who I know is also going to be my local election administrator. And when I vote for her I'm voting for her integrity... Integrity to me means putting trust in people I elect or who eventually get appointed to important positions like county clerk. I'm perfectly comfortable with my definition.
Martinez, now a lobbyist, may be perfectly comfortable with a "Trust Me" elections model, but evidence indicates this is a foolish position. Voters have no way of knowing whether a public official has integrity or not, and even when they learn of problems, how and with what authority can citizens displace convicted felons?
Jeff Carbajal was a crook, and Jeff Carbajal was an elections official, but it did no good to question his position with the Bernalillo County, New Mexico elections bureau, despite Carbajal's sentence on embezzlement charges. Carbajal pleaded guilty to the charges, which stemmed from his time in the Grant County Clerk's Office.
In December 2006, Monterey County, Calif elections chief Tony Anchundo was sentenced to 90 days in jail and 180 in home confinement, plus five years probation, for after pleading "no contest" to 43 criminal charges. He had embezzled $84,000 on county-issued credit cards.
In 2003, Twin Falls, Idaho County Clerk Robert Fort entered a guilty plea to a felony charge of misuse of public funds. The county clerk position in Twin Falls handles elections; the complaint against Fort states that he appropriated over $60,000 to his own use or to the use of another."
Kathleen Wynne, who interviewed the EAC's Ray Martinez on videotape, also caught two Cuyahoga County, Ohio elections workers admitting on videotape that they broke the law during the recount. Thanks to her videotape, they were convicted of rigging the 2004 presidential recount, and sentenced to 18 months in jail. In Nov. 2007 they managed to plead it down to "no contest" and their jail time was converted to public service. One of the convicted was the election board's third-ranking staff member Jacqui Maiden; the other was middle manager Kathleen Dreamer. While the two women were convicted, their supervisor, Michael Vu, went on to run elections in San Diego County, Calif.
Is it going to take citizens running around with video cameras trying to catch public officials on tape as they admit their crimes? What if they don't admit them?
Even the feds tend to tiptoe around public officials who break the law. In 2006, federal authorities announced that a Sangamon County, Illinois cocaine investigation was complete after nine indictments, but also forwarded the names of six other people to the state's attorney's office for possible prosecution. The feds pitched the ball, they said, because five of the six had connections to county government or law enforcement. The state's attorney's office then pitched the cases to the state appellate prosecutor's office. Among the six: Sangamon County Clerk Joe Aiello.
When government officials hire convicted felons, how are voters supposed to judge "integrity"?
When Brennan A. Enos filled out a Dallas County, Texas employment application during the summer of 2005, he dutifully noted that he had a criminal record for involuntary manslaughter. But somehow that bit of information didn't make its way to County Clerk Cynthia Calhoun. Enos made a good enough impression in his interview to get hired. A Palm Beach Post article laid out many instances in which Mr. Enos padded his résumé with titles, responsibilities and awards that he did not hold. Dallas County Human Resources Assistant Director Kathy Shields said the clerk's office did not ask for a background check. However, someone within the clerk's department checked out Mr. Enos' work experience.
"It was not a perfect system for hiring," said Calhoun. I guess not.
The Dallas County elections administrator may or may not cross paths with the County Clerk's office, but that doesn't mean hiring practices don't go through the same human resources department. A broken link in the elections chain of custody can be any employee, vendor, technician, or employee with access.
When county officials ignore their own knowledge of criminal histories in the elections division, isn't it putting an unreasonable burden on the citizenry to police it for them?
David Bruun became the Kane County, Illinois elections director even after courts found him guilty of misappropriating bank funds and stealing from a disabled man. He was turned down for jobs as a teacher, bus driver and real estate agent because of his criminal record. But in 2004, Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham hired Bruun to ensure politicians in the county get into office honestly. As the county's election director, Bruun helped oversee vote tabulations for elections up through 2006. Bruun had been convicted in 1985 of misappropriating bank funds by writing checks for a client on a trust account backed by stolen bearer bonds, and of theft in 1998.
In 2006, a Peoria County, Illinois commissioner pleaded guilty to a felony in connection with voting machine purchasing. Eugene J. Wittry never revealed that he owned several thousand shares of stock in Populex, nor that he was also on the Populex advisory board at the time it was submitting proposals to the commission. According to the prosecutor, Wittry took information gleaned from the competitors' bids, relayed that back to Populex instructing them how to resurrect their bid and modify it to make it superior to their competitors. Populex Corp., run by one of Wittry's relatives, was deemed an improper purchase in Peoria but despite the bid-rigging in Illinois, managed to secure contracts in 11 New York counties.
And are voters, in order to make sure their elections officials have "integrity", supposed to memorize the rap sheet of every convicted felon in America?
At the time of his arrest in 1999, Dutchess County, New York Republican County Elections Commissioner William Paroli Sr. was also serving as chairman of the county Republican Party. After serving time in federal prison on corruption charges in a conspiracy sting that netted four other Poughkeepsie public officials, the appropriately-named Paroli was released. He promptly re-entered local politics by filing a petition to secure a spot on the Dutchess County GOP committee. Petition signers, when interviewed, said they didn't realize he was a felon.
What about a crooked politician married to the elections official?
On Sept. 9, 2006, Victoria Doyle pleaded guilty to a felony count of falsifying a report in her losing bid for Marion County, Oregon clerk in 2004. Meanwhile, her husband Dan Doyle, an Oregon state representative, pleaded guilty in Marion County Circuit Court to 11 felony counts of falsifying items on his 2002 and 2004 reports. Prosecutors alleged that he diverted as much as $150,000 in campaign contributions to personal use. Had they both won their elections, Marion County elections would have had mail-in votes counted in secret by the felonious wife of a felonious politician.
Does this "Trust me" model mean ordinary citizens are expected to chase down the arrest records of the recruiters and trainers of election officials? On a tip from other extraordinary citizens like Susan Pynchon and Pokey Anderson, Kathleen Wynne drove to the county records office in Houston to check out R. Doug Lewis, Executive Director of The Election Center, a powerful entity that recruits and trains elections official, and a strong advocate for Trust Me voting systems. It turns out he, too has a rap sheet. He pleaded no lo contendre to indecent exposure charges in 1996.
Shall we trust the lawmakers who got the bright idea to turn America's elections into a Trust Me model? Voting machines were forced into 50-state use by the Help America Vote Act, co-sponsored by convicted felon Bob Ney, at the time a U.S. representative from Ohio. Ney pleaded guilty to making false statements, conspiracy to commit fraud, and violating US lobbying restrictions.
"Trust me."
Human nature.
A stupendously flawed elections model that only bureaucrats, crooked politicians and academics living in ivory towers could dream up.
‘When the solution is simple, God is answering.’ — Albert Einstein
In recent years we've seen election systems turn into millions of lines of programming code, overlaid with supposedly CIA-proof encryption, hundreds of pages of conflicting procedures and regulations, an entire industry full of compliance experts, consultants, ancillary device vendors, complexifying the system so much that The People can't even recognize it anymore, much less control or even oversee it.
‘Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler.’ — Albert Einstein
Elections have three basic attack vectors:
1. Access to voting (voter registration polls, purges, and stuffing)
2. Fairness (dirty tricks like sending people to the wrong polling place, or putting out false campaign literature)
3. Counting (correctly counting and adding up votes, and keeping the chain of custody intact)
‘It should be possible to explain the laws of physics to a barmaid.’ — Albert Einstein
Two ways to simplify and remove inside attacks from vote counting:
1. Chain of custody: Voter marks ballot. Voter deposits ballot in a translucent ballot box that sits in full public view all day. When polls close, ballots are removed from ballot box in full public view. Before being transported anywhere, they are counted in full public view.
2. Counting: Ballot counting is physically positioned so that members of the public can view ballot faces as they are counted, with a zoom lens if needed. Allow the public to videotape if they wish.
Simple ways to count in public:
Method A. Position real people such that observers can see the face of each ballot they count. Allow the public to videotape ballots as they are counted at the polling place.
Method B. For technology fans: Place each ballot, one by one, into optical scan machine. Do this when the polls close, while still at the polling place. Position the feed tray so the public can capture close-up view of each ballot as it is fed into the scanner.
Counting method A, with no technology, can be done right now in every small jurisdiction in America, and with planning and recruitment, can be done in large jurisdictions if there is a public and governmental will to do so. Counting method B, using technology, can be done right now with no extra cost outlay in every jurisdiction that has optical scan machines.
Simple adjustments need to be made to achieve public counting with public chain of custody:
In some states, it is against the law to count in public with public chain of custody. (Really.) Laws can be changed.
Mail-in voting has special chain of custody issues. It needs to be examined more carefully.
Some states use double-sided ballots. Layout or procedures may need to be adjusted.
Some states prohibit videotaping after the polls close. The public needs a way to document with meaningful evidence. Such prohibitions need to be rolled back.
* * * * *
1. Out of clutter, find simplicity.
2. From discord, find harmony.
3. In the middle of difficulty lies harmony. — Albert Einstein (his three rules of work)
* * * * *
Black Box Voting is supported entirely by citizen donations. To support 2008 Election Protection Actions click here:
or mail to:
Black Box Voting
330 SW 43rd St Suite K
PMB 547
Renton WA 98057

Next in Comment

Dutton’s Quixotic Proposal: Nuclear Lunacy Down Under
By: Binoy Kampmark
Dunne's Weekly: National Drifting On Health
By: Peter Dunne
On The Trump Shooting And A Potential Hike In Fees For Visiting The Doctor
By: Gordon Campbell
New Zealand's Joe (Biden/Ward) Moment
By: Keith Rankin
Tony Blair: Profiteer And Emissary Of Artificial Intelligence
By: Binoy Kampmark
The Time Antony Blinken Went To Bed With Sergey Lavrov
By: Eugene Doyle
View as: DESKTOP | MOBILE © Scoop Media