Political MoJo

Storm Clouds in Kentucky 2nd

| Tue Nov. 7, 2006 10:22 AM EST

The race for Conress in Kentucky's second district is not only hotly competitive, but is already embroiled in voting rights irregularities. According to Warren Stewart of VotetrustUSA "callers are complaining that the name of the candidate that shows up on the review screen is not the candidate they voted for." In the end run the irregulaities may amount to nothing, but the contest is well worth keeping an eye on.

In the 2nd district Ron Lewis, the incumbent with 12 years in the House, looked like a shoo-in. But Democratic challenger Mike Weaver is hard on his tail and has pulled up enough for CQ last night to change the ratings from Favored Republican to Leans Republican. Weaver's success in the campaign can be attributed to his conservative stance on issues, which have helped keep him from getting tabbed as yet another left wing Democrat. He shies clear of Nancy Pelosi, plays up his background as a vet, but has been criticized as being too conservative. Lewis looked bad when he didn't show up for eight consecutive debates.

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Election Chief Asked for ID at Voting Booth After Helping Secure Law Saying ID Not Necessary

| Mon Nov. 6, 2006 10:00 PM EST

A zany and troubling story out of Missouri. First, a quick run-down on the issue of voter identification: Democrats in charge of elections usually oppose forcing individuals to show photo ID at the polls because the Democratic base is more likely than the Republican not to have a driver's license, state ID card, or anything similar. Republicans, for the same reason, favor mandatory voter ID.

Missouri's Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, a Democrat, thought she had this settled after a state Supreme Court ruling struck down a law that mandated voter ID. Then she went to the polls.

Carnahan was asked three times by a poll worker to show photo ID when she went to cast an absentee ballot Friday. From the AP: "Carnahan said that she tried to explain a photo ID was not necessary, but that the election worker replied that she was instructed to ask for one anyway. Carnahan said she eventually was allowed to vote without displaying a photo identification."

Said Carnahan: "I'm guessing this may be happening in other parts of the state." And other parts of the country, no doubt.

The Newest New Election Tricks

| Mon Nov. 6, 2006 8:50 PM EST

If you've read Mother Jones' recent story on 11 sneaky vote suppression tactics, you might think you know every trick in the bag. But just in case you aren't already feeling paranoid, more concerns have been brought to light in Cast Out, a new report by NYU's Brennan Center for Justice:

Wireless Technology in Voting Machines

A year-long Brennan Center study, completed in June, found many voting machines include wireless components that could be infiltrated by a Trojan horse virus using technology as simple as a palm pilot. Only Minnesota, New York and California ban machines with wireless components. The report found the machines "pose a real danger to the integrity of national, state and local elections."

The Help America Vote Act Inverted

Passed by Congress in 2002 to improve access to the polls, the Help America Vote Act requires all states to create computerized databases of registered voters by January 1, 2006. "For the first time we are seeing virtually every state with a centralized voter list," says Cast Out author Wendy Weiser. The databases are supposed to be more reliable and easily updated than paper versions, but, as they come online, many states are cross-checking them against databases maintained by other state agencies such as the Department of Motor Vehicles and purging any names that don't match up. According to Weiser, these cross-checks can improperly reject up to 20 percent of voters from the rolls. Voters may have no way of knowing they've been booted until the show up at the polls on election day.

And Don't Bother Registering Either

Some states are also using DMV and Social Security databases to reject voter registration applications as soon as they arrive. Challenged in a lawsuit, Washington State and Pennsylvania abandoned the practice but Florida, North Carolina, South Dakota and Iowa still use it.

Clinics Want To Know How Bill O'Reilly Got Confidential Patient Records

| Mon Nov. 6, 2006 8:01 PM EST

Two clinics in Topeka, Kansas have asked the Kansas Supreme Court to investigate Kansas Attorney General Phil Kline and Fox Broadcasting's Bill O'Reilly over O'Reilly's claim that he possessed information from the records of patients who underwent abortion procedures.

Kline, a vocal opponent of abortion, took possession of ninety medical records from the two clinics earlier this year "as part of his investigation into alleged cases of child rape, failure to report child rape and violations of state's late-term abortion statue." According to Kline's website:

Those medical records are being reviewed by criminal prosecutors and investigators in my office. I want to remind Kansans that women and children are not and never will be under investigation - only abortion doctors, confirming doctors, and rapists are under investigation. Also, I have never sought the women's identities. I do not need their identities. Their privacy is protected by a protocol my office established with the district court judge to removing the identifying information of the women from the very beginning.

O'Reilly maintains that an "inside source" gave him the information from the Topeka records. He cited the case of a doctor who performed late-term abortions "because patients were depressed," and referred to the procedure as "executing babies."

Last week, Kansas's former attorney general, Bob Stephan, asked the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission to investigate Kline's fundraising activities.

Human-Cow Embryos?!

| Mon Nov. 6, 2006 7:28 PM EST

We interrupt the pre-election political chatter for something that's just too twisted not to briefly blog about: Researchers in the United Kingdom have applied for permission to create embryos made by fusing human DNA with cows' eggs. The goal is to get around the shortage of all-human embryos that's holding up stem-cell research. Apparently embryos with a little less humanity and a little more bovinity are easier to generate. Don't they read "The Island of Dr. Moreau" in Britain anymore?

Saddam Verdict Not Yet Fully Written, Yesterday's Announcement Was Early Release

| Mon Nov. 6, 2006 6:38 PM EST

In a blog post over at NBC News, reporter Richard Engel observes that details on why Saddam is being sentenced to death are still unclear. (The reasons are obvious, of course, and the verdict a foregone conclusion for years, but the court released little by way of supporting argumentation.) Turns out, the verdict hasn't been fully written and is expected to be completed Thursday. Money paragraph:

The full verdict, a document of several hundred pages, explaining how and why today's judgment was reached was not released. U.S. officials said it should be ready by Thursday. So why issue the verdict today? U.S. court advisors told reporters today it was delayed mainly for technical reasons. All insist the verdict was not politically timed and that it was an Iraqi decision; there is no reason to doubt their word.

Huh. The verdict will be completed two days after the American midterms, but the decision is made public two days before. I'll bet the Bush Administration didn't plan for that to come out.

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Another Republican Stands Up the President

| Mon Nov. 6, 2006 6:27 PM EST
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President Bush went to a rally for Florida gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist today, but Crist apparently had better things to do. His campign explained that he wasn't snubbing the prez, but that he already had the vote in the Panhandle wrapped up, and needed to campaign in other areas of the state. Riiiight. Crist isn't the first Republican to head for the hills (I know there are no hills in Flordia) when the president's come by on a campaign swing. April Rabkin collects a few more examples in our current issue, like Washington senatorial candidate Mike McGavick, who missed a Bush stop in Seattle because his son had just graduated from high school—a day earlier.

More Coverage of Push Polling

| Mon Nov. 6, 2006 6:05 PM EST

The New York Times weighs in today on the GOP's push polling efforts in contested districts, noting this gem from a recent smear on Jon Tester, the Montana Democrat who's running against Conrad Burns: "Does the fact that Jon Tester says he would have voted against common-sense, pro-life judges like Samuel Alito and John Roberts, and Conrad Burns supported them, make you less favorable toward Jon Tester?"

According to the Times, ccAdvertising (a/k/a FreeEats.com), which I reported on recently, has been robo-calling on behalf of an attack group called Common Sense Ohio, which "was formed in July to run issue advertisements in the governor's race there, and it became involved in the Senate races in Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Ohio and Tennessee, and in the abortion referendum in South Dakota." FreeEats, which is chaired by Donald Hodel, a Reagan-era cabinet official and the former president of both the Christian Coalition and Focus on the Family, has also been working on behalf of the Economic Freedom Fund, a 527-committee bankrolled by Bob Perry (of Swift Boat Veterans fame).

The Times notes that "some experts question how much impact the calls will have amid the rest of the political fog, especially since some voters quickly get annoyed with the technique." Gabriel Joseph, the president of FreeEats, would beg to differ. As he told me, "When you make 3 ½ million phone calls a day, we generally talk to more people than watch television, listen to the radio, or read the newspaper combined."

How to Make Sure Your Vote Counts..

| Mon Nov. 6, 2006 4:37 PM EST

Before you head out to vote tomorrow, you may want to take a look at some of the basic advice given us today from three different groups: Warren Stewart at VoteTrustUSA, Mary Boyle at Common Cause, and Joe Irrera of a Tennessee group called Gathering to Save Our Democracy.

Begin with this simple advice: In general, if challenged on eligibility, says Warren Stewart of VoteTrustUSA, "don't leave the voting place without casting a provisional ballot."

However, be careful what you do, for Common Cause points out "if a poll worker tells you you're at the wrong precint, don't try to vote on a provisional ballot because in many states provisional ballots won't be counted unless they are cast in the right precinct." Try to go to the correct precinct and then cast your vote.

If you vote by machine, and something looks fishy and you don't think your vote is being accurately tabulated, ask to vote on another machine.

Finally, says Common Cause, "if you run into problems, ask a poll worker for help. They are there for assistance. If your right to vote is being challenged, you can call for legal assistance at 1-800-OUR-VOTE and to report a problem or find your polling place, call 1-866-MYVOTE 1."

A real gloomy view about all this comes from Tennessee where Joe Irrera ,Vice-President of Information Systems at Gathering to Save Our Democracy, said the following:

Unfortunately, as a voter tomorrow there's not a whole lot you can watch out for except screen calibration errors on your touchscreen voting machine. In other words, candidate flipping in the final voter selection review, before confirming your vote.

As the recent Princeton University study confirms, illegal software can easily be introduced into that touchscreen voting machine via the memory card, which secretly miscounts votes. The voter would never know it when the final machine totals tape is printed after the polls close.

Most of the danger is unseen below the surface. I'm referring to the central tabulator computers. These are the ordinary Windows computers that are fed the totals from each of the voting districts. In Shelby County (Memphis area), Tennessee we're already dealing with illegal software and a network connection that was found on both the main and backup Diebold GEMS computers which would facilitate manually altering vote totals in the database. We only discovered this because several local primary candidates contested the final vote tally and were able to bring in their own computer expert to examine the equipment.

The Diebold GEMS central tabulator software is frighteningly insecure and when you couple this with an internet-enabled network connection to the PC, you have the capacity to alter tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of votes for that county, from anywhere in the world! Thanks to the internet, I have a downloaded, working copy of GEMS on my home PC, including the Shelby County primary vote totals database. I'm less knowledgeable of the ES&S central tabulator because of the wall of secrecy the voting machine manufacturers have been legislatively allowed to hide behind. However, considering both Diebold Election Systems and Election Systems & Software originated from the same company (Data Mark), I'm not optimistic.

Iraq Scrapes Bottom of International Corruption Index

| Mon Nov. 6, 2006 2:20 PM EST

Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International just released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index, and Iraq is almost at the bottom of the barrel, tied with Myanmar and Guinea. This is the first year TI has not figured Iraq's pre-war record of corruption into its findings. Not that the transition has helped: Last year, Iraq was ranked 137 out of 158; this year it's 160 out of 163. Goodbye, Oil for Food scam, hello Bagmen of Baghdad. Not that we care where our billions of dollars in reconstruction money are going, anyhow...