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The elections-integrity fight isn't about the RTA vote; it's about future rigged elections

News stories have repeatedly framed the election-integrity efforts of the Pima County Democratic Party as a "fight over the 2006 Regional Transportation Authority election," an illogical assertion, since the party endorsed the RTA.

That frame diverts attention from the truly serious systemic problem. Whether the RTA was fraudulently rigged is certainly a big deal, but the struggle for every vote count to be honest is a much bigger deal. In our world of media sound bites, it is difficult to get the media or the public to focus on a problem. The use of computers with secret instructions to count our votes is among our biggest problems that few are willing to examine.

It has been said that those who know the most about computers are the least willing to have them count our ballots. The Pima County Democratic Party and its ally in this struggle, the Pima County Libertarian Party, have a unique group of highly skilled and educated computer experts that began investigating our Pima County election system years before the RTA election.

In July 2003, almost three years before the RTA vote, the Pima County Democratic Party adopted a report that detailed security problems with our election computer system.

The problem that you and I share is that it is easy to cheat and rig any election in Pima County—and there is nothing that we can do under our current rules to expose the cheating or reverse any announced election result. This easy-to-cheat fact is not seriously challenged by any knowledgeable observer. Numerous reports from experts detail the many ways to cheat.

What makes it so easy to cheat? The Pima County Diebold GEMS computer was built so that the log entries that record how data has been manipulated is not a file separate from the data itself. Any log entry can simply be deleted, and no record will remain of what has been done to the data.

Those changes need not be done at the election office; they can be accomplished on a home computer using the common Microsoft Access program. Court testimony from several Pima County Elections Department workers established that our county's computer operator regularly took home copies of election data during elections.

The ballots at each of our precincts are counted on optical scanners that record and print the results from "memory cards"—that can be programmed in advance of the election to print fake results. When election departments nationwide were alerted on July 4, 2005, by a special report from the Black Box Voting organization that a machine called a "crop scanner" could be used to program the cards to fraudulently rig elections, Pima County's response was to immediately buy one of those hack tools. Pima County's election computer operator testified that he practiced with the machine, and that it wasn't difficult to get the memory cards to record and print false results.

The ease-of-cheating problem becomes magnified when combined with the impossibility of challenging any computerized rigged election in Arizona. Arizona law allows five days only to challenge an election. The Pima County Superior Court ruled last summer that the five-day period was the exclusive remedy not only to challenge an election, but even to obtain relief to protect future elections.

All computer experts are in agreement that it is impossible to analyze computerized election data within five days and show specifically how an election was rigged. The result is that it is easy to cheat and impossible to challenge.

The security problems are not limited to the Diebold system, as all of the systems have serious problems. The good news is that there is a solution to cheating: The Arizona Democratic Party has endorsed our plan to graphically scan all ballots. If all ballots cast are graphically scanned and made available to all parties and the public, those ballots can be counted by anyone. The result would be that no one could cheat in the future.

Pima County is currently refusing to graphically scan, and the court has refused to even accept jurisdiction to consider significant evidence of cheating. That legal fight is being continued by the Libertarian Party in the state Court of Appeals.

The goal of honest counting is the goal of local election activists. We fully understand that the RTA is here to stay. It is the next rigged elections that are our concern.

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