June 2009

How Senator Dodd Tried to Stop the Voter-Verified Paper Trail

By James Lavin

It’s time for my home state’s Senator, Chris Dodd, to return home from the U.S. Senate.

Sen. Dodd seems a nice guy. And he has cast many good votes in his many terms since joining Congress in 1975, 34 years ago.

But – as Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee – Sen. Dodd was better positioned than almost anyone to prevent the financial crisis, to prevent the looting of taxpayers’ financial futures to bail out failed, bankrupt banks, and to punish those responsible. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Dodd failed in all three areas… all while receiving millions in kickbacks campaign contributions – plus sweetheart mortgage deals – from those same financial institutions he failed to adequately regulate.

More on this in a future post. Today, I want to talk about something Sen. Dodd did to undermine American democracy itself.

Nearly a decade after it should have spoken out against electronic voting, The New York Times declared this week in an editorial that “Electronic voting machines that do not produce a paper record of every vote cast cannot be trusted.”

In 2004, The New York Times noted Sen. Dodd’s central role in preventing election paper trails: “Mr. Dodd, who has actively opposed paper trails, then appointed Jim Dickson, an [American Association of People With Disabilities] official, to the Board of Advisors of the Election Assistance Commission, where he will be in a good position to oppose paper trails at the federal level.”

Knowingly or unwittingly, every time Sen. Dodd appeared at a meeting with disabled people as props to defend his opposition to paper trails, he was part of the electronic voting industry’s conspiracy to use the disabled to prevent auditable elections. The same 2004 New York Times article above noted the flow of cash from electronic voting machine companies to associations purporting to advocate for the rights of the disabled:

The National Federation of the Blind, for instance, has been championing controversial voting machines that do not provide a paper trail. It has attested not only to the machines’ accessibility, but also to their security and accuracy – neither of which is within the federation’s areas of expertise. What’s even more troubling is that the group has accepted a $1 million gift for a new training institute from Diebold, the machines’ manufacturer, which put the testimonial on its Web site. The federation stands by its “complete confidence” in Diebold even though several recent studies have raised serious doubts about the company, and California has banned more than 14,000 Diebold machines from being used this November because of doubts about their reliability.

Sen. Dodd’s sister is blind, and he has mentioned her as a reason for his legislation. I deeply respect his concern for his sister and for all American disabled. But that does not excuse the travesty of the legislation he drafted and passed and defended against all attempts at voter-verified paper ballots and other forms of auditable paper verification.

Tens of thousands of activists from all major and minor political parties have been screaming about electronic voting for many, many years. Have elections been stolen using electronic voting machines? Almost certainly. Can we prove so? It’s pretty hard when there’s no physical record of how people voted. Computers can be programmed to report anything, no matter how people actually voted. Sadly, I think that’s precisely why these machines became so commonplace during this decade.

Who wrote and advocated legislation requiring states to dump paper ballots and instead use unauditable electronic voting machines and paying states to buy those unauditable, privately owned-and-operated machines? The #1 person behind that legislation – called HAVA – which outsourced U.S. elections to private companies using secret software: Senator Chris Dodd.

Most of the electronic voting machine companies were owned by right-wingers. The CEO of Diebold famously promised Ohio Republicans in a 2003 fund-raising letter that he “I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.”

Only one company, TruVote, was dedicated to a voter-verified paper audit trail. TruVote had built a brilliant electronic device that printed a paper ballot which the voter then viewed through glass before accepting, at which point it was dropped into a lockbox with other voter-verified printouts. The system was backed by Microsoft. But Mr. Gibbs’ system died after he “was killed when the SUV he was driving was hit from behind by a tractor trailer”). (You can view a 5-minute video on Mr. Gibbs’ creation.)

Did Sen. Dodd intend to undermine democracy? Did he intend to steal from the people their ability to trust in the integrity of the vote-counting process? Of course not. But it really doesn’t matter why he forced electronic voting machines on states. He should have known better. He shouldn’t have risked turning America into a banana republic. And he failed – for years – to listen to (or understand or agree with) the loud voices of computer experts and election experts who decried HAVA and the unauditable elections it produced.

And the still murky circumstances surrounding Dodd’s negotiations over HAVA apparently concerned the Justice Department. In 2006, Roll Call reported:

Justice Department investigators have begun a review of Senate Rules and Administration Committee records relating to negotiations over the Help America Vote Act, involving then-Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and former House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), as they wrap up their investigation into Ney’s connections to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

This may well be an example of smoke without fire. But it’s troubling to learn that Dodd’s democracy-undermining legislation was drafted after suspicious negotiations involving two disgraced Republican insiders, Bob Ney and Jack Abramoff.

Even more appalling than Dodd’s initial drafting of HAVA is his continued staunch opposition to a paper audit trail. Three years later, in 2005, after the stolen 2004 presidential election, HAVA’s deficiencies were blatantly obvious. Nevertheless, in 2005, Dodd stood on the anti-democratic side of Republican Senator John Ensign (R-NV), who was calling for printers to be attached to existing electronic voting machines to create a paper trail to “make sure the machines are kept honest.” Attaching printers to untrustworthy voting machines was a poor “solution,” but Dodd opposed the push to add a modicum of election transparency and accountability, advocating instead for an even lousier “solution” – doing nothing:

Senator Christopher Dodd, the [Senate Rules and Administration Committee]’s ranking Democrat, objected because a paper-only verification system couldn’t be used by the blind and some other people with disabilities.

“By insisting on paper, you’re denying people who cannot read because they cannot see,” Dodd, of Connecticut, said during a hearing attended by several people with disabilities. “I would vehemently oppose any legislation that excludes the ability of those people to have the right to the same thing that those who can read have.”

Adding printers denies the blind what??? The same right to have their votes stolen as everyone else?!?!?! How is protecting the integrity of 99.9% of Americans’ votes worse than leaving 100% of American votes at risk of theft by whichever private companies created and control the electronic voting machines? Don’t even the disabled benefit when all Americans can feel some confidence that 99.9% of American votes – as opposed to 0% – are counted honestly and accurately?

In March 2005, voting integrity advocates from TrueVoteCT talked for more than 1 1/2 hours with “Ms. Kennie Gill, a member of Senator Dodd’s Washington staff and his primary assistant on the issue of electronic voting. [Dodd staffer Anthony] Householder described Ms. Gill as Dodd’s HAVA expert and the person who drafted HAVA in the first place.”

TrueVoteCT left the meeting very disturbed:

The impression that we were left with is that Ms. Gill (and we would assume Senator Dodd himself) are for some reason not supportive of VVPBs [voter-verified paper ballots]…

Ms. Gill (and presumably Senator Dodd) have a very troubling understanding of the problems associated with DREs. They seem to believe, against the views of almost all independent computing experts, that paperless DREs can be trusted to count our votes, as long as they are properly engineered and administered.

Ms. Gill (and presumably Senator Dodd) seem to have a fundamental antipathy against VVPBs, much of it based on erroneous assumptions about how VVPB technology works and on how well VVPB machines worked in Nevada.

TrueVoteCT was also upset that Dodd’s staffer falsely denied Chris Dodd played any role in killing paper voting trails in Connecticut:

One of the first questions that came up was whether Senator Dodd would support SB55, given its amended language to require an accessible VVPB. She replied that Senator Dodd makes it a policy not to take a position on state laws. No one at the meeting raised the point that Senator Dodd was instrumental in killing last year’s version of SB55 (SB388), which had received widespread support in the Connecticut General Assembly and looked like it was headed for easy passage.

No matter Sen. Dodd’s motives, his strong and unwavering support for paperless electronic voting played an instrumental role in election thefts this decade, including the 2004 presidential election. For that alone, Sen. Dodd should retire – or be retired.

###

James Lavin is an economist and blogger in Stamford. This article was originally published as "Please retire Chris Dodd from the Senate (Part 1)" on his blog, James Lavin — Blogging the Bust.