Every time there is a discussion about implementing paper ballots, some naysayer points to a 20th Century Tennessee that was ripe with political corruption and vote rigging made easy by the use of paper ballots. That same naysayer almost invariably says, read “Secrets of the Hopewell Box” if you want to understand the evils of paper ballots. Then we say, “we already have” and “you can’t possibly believe that having a piece of paper you can count isn’t better than not having anything to count and not even having the possibility of knowing how your vote is being counted!” and “that’s why citizens have to be vigilant about monitoring elections!”

We’re a little verbose, I know.

On Monday, Jim Squires, grandson of legendary Tennessee police sergeant Dave White and author of the “Secrets of the Hopewell Box: Stolen Elections, Southern Politics, and a City’s Coming of Age,” will join us on Liberadio(!).

Paper ballots? Oh yeah, we’ll be talking about paper ballots. But Jim is more than just the author of a reference used liberally during paper ballot discussions.

Born in Nashville in 1943, he is a former editor of both the Chicago Tribune and the Orlando Sentinel. While with the Tribune, the paper won seven Pulitzer Prizes. “Secrets,” only one among several books he has authored, does chronicle the rise and fall of the corrupt rural Democratic political machine which he describes as ripe with “self-serving political egalitarianism.” (Call Bookman Bookwoman in Hillsboro Village for your copy.) His other books include Horse of a Different Color: A Tale of Breeding Geniuses, Dominant Females and the Fastest Derby Winner Since Secretariat and “Read All About It!: The Corporate Takeover of America’s Newspapers.”

His latest book, which will be released by Times Books on August 4, is Headless Horsemen: A Tale of Chemical Colts, Subprime Sales Agents, and the Last Kentucky Derby on Steroids.”

An Amazon review:

“Jim Squires has written a sad and scathing and all-too-true story about the greed and obtuseness that are destroying the once glorious sport of thoroughbred horse racing and that are turning that most magnificent of God’s creatures — the thoroughbred horse — into a steroid-swollen dinosaur. The charlatans of the Kentucky breeding industry and at the New York Racing Association — as well as their overpaid apologists — should read every page of Squires’s indictment with heads hung in shame.”—Joe McGinniss

Liberadio(!) with Mary Mancini & Freddie O’Connell broadcasts on WRVU 91.1 FM every Monday from 7 to 9 am.

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Author, activist, speaker and documentary filmmaker Molly Secours recently appeared with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi at a health-care reform press conference on Capitol Hill and this Monday, August 3, she will be join Liberadio(!) for a live interview.

Secours has been through quite a lot in recent years including a life-and-death battle with uterine cancer and the threat of home foreclosure. Hear about her story as well as the struggles she documents in her film, The Faces of TennCare: Putting a Human Face on Tennessee’s Health Care Failure, on Monday’s show.

Watch Molly at the Capitol Hill Press Conference:

You can also read her remarks on the Speaker’s website.

Liberadio(!) with Mary Mancini & Freddie O’Connell broadcasts on WRVU 91.1 FM every Monday from 7 to 9 am.

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The Foul in Fowler

There was a fight this past legislative session which David “I Make Stuff Up Because the Means Justifies the Ends” Fowler of Tennessee Right to Life purports to have won:

Pro-life Tennesseans ended the state Legislative session with an impressive win on a long sought priority: removal of preferential treatment for Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest promoter and provider of abortion services.

By strong majorities of 25-7 in the state Senate and 69-22 in the state House, pro-life legislators in both parties took action to remove language first placed into Tennessee law during the early 1970’s which specifically named abortion provider Planned Parenthood as an officially recognized adjunct to state family planning services.

In addition to removing the clause, pro-life legislators enacted language which mandates that the Tennessee Department of Health give priority and preference to local public health departments in the awarding of family planning funds rather than private, non-profit organizations.

If Fowler and his ilk continue to ignore the good work that Planned Parenthood does to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies in Tennessee which thereby reducing the number of total abortions, then it’s only a matter of time before they will come after your contraceptives for the same purpose – to further their own myopic agenda.

Oh wait, they already are. Fowler knows that the Title X funds represented in this legislation cannot be used to end pregnancies and he also know that for nearly 40 years, Planned Parenthood in Tennessee has received Title X family planning dollars and have used the money to provide reproductive and sexual health care – including contraception – to over 11,500 men and women in Tennessee who could otherwise not afford it.

Better start stocking up on your prophylactics while you still can.

Watch the heroics of some of Tennessee’s Democratic legislators who tried to stop this “compromise bill” from passing.

Rep. JoAnne Favors (D-Chattanooga):

Rep. Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville):

Chairman Mike Turner (D-Old Hickory):

Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville):

Rep. Jeanne Richardson (D-Memphis):

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Comments on this post from Jersey Joe of Shelby County offer more evidence why unverifiable electronic voting machines suck and what problems we could face if we use them in 2010:

You are correct. The 2005 voluntary standards of the EAC are not established as the gold standard guidelines for anything. In fact, in November of 2008, the EAC published an evaluation of a system and they used the 2002 standards for that evaluation. There is no reason that Tennessee cannot use the 2002 guidelines.

It is also true that there are the next generation set of guidelines being worked on now. In the comments on the new guidelines, some people question the value of the EAC guidelines, saying the testing does not correlate to real world experience. There is also skepticism expressed by one state implying fraud in the utilization of Diebold machines, the kind we use here in Shelby County. (http://www.eac.gov/program-areas/voting-systems/docs/certification-system-comments-by-section.xls/attachment_download/file)

There is little doubt that Secretary of State Hargett is willfully obstructing the will of the General Assembly. Is there anyone in the Republican majority who cares more for their constitutional oath than their Party and who will demand that Hargett follow the law as passed by the legislature?

The question is why does Hargett want to so brazenly disobey the law? Why has the question of having elections with verifiable ballots that can be recounted become a partisan issue? Accurate recounts should be in everyone’s interest. But not here in Tennessee in 2009. Why? Are the rumors about these systems true? Did the Republicans really win all those surprise House districts last year honestly? All the Voter Confidence Act does in the end is give us the ability to habd count ballots independent of technology. Much of the current technology is totally opaque and so there is no way to determine if the machine accurately captured the voter’s intent. Since all machines have a known error rate, in a very close election, the machine may be incapable of differentiating the true vote counts. This will be a problem with the optical scan machines as well.

When these machines give us a number, they are really giving us a range of numbers based on the known errors of the system. Based on the known error rate, we can construct “confidence intervals” around the result which can be for any degree of precision we choose. In science, the standard is usually 95%. What that means, is if the machine has a CI of plus or minus 5%, then 95% of the time the “real” number will be within that range around the number given in the count. Let’s say 200 balots are counted and the 95% confidence interval is 3. If the machine count comes out 100, then we would add and subtract 3 from 100. We can then say that if we put the ballots through the machine again, we would get an answer between 97 and 103 at least 95% of the time. But lets say that two candidates are running and candidate A gets 99 votes and candidate B gets 101 votes. Candidate B has won—maybe. If we run the count again, candidate A will get a number between 96 and 102; candidate B will get a number between 98 and 104. There is roughly a 43% chance that candidate B will lose or be tied in that second count. Who wins? The machine count, in this case, is not capable of answering that question. It is beyond the physical capability of the equipment.

In that situation, we must have an independent method to ascertain the intent of the voter to do a valid recount. Merely running ballots through the same machine(s) is meaningless. Let us imagine that Congressman Cohen beats Mayor Herenton by 50 votes in next August’s Democratic primary election. Is Secretary of State Hargett eager to stand before this community in the calm, quiet of election night and explain to us all why the Election Commission can’t really recount the votes and therefore, Congressman Cohen has won.

Secrertary Hargett is leading us down just that road. What is the gain that makes it worth taking that kind of risk? That is the question we should be asking of Mr Hargett and Senator Norris and Senator Todd and Senator Stanley and anyone else who advocates no recount voting systems.

If you’re a candidate in the next statewide election and we’re still using the unverifiable machines, you better make sure your margin of victory is a large one.

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If I were Sky Arnold piecing together my Fox17 news report on the battle for paper ballots brewing between Bernie Ellis of Gathering to Save Our Democracy, Chip Forrester of the TNDP (listen to Chip call for the firing of the Secretary of State), and Secretary of State Tre Hargett, I would have switched the order of presentation because if there ever was a money quote, he got it from Bernie Ellis that night.

In the report, Secretary of State Hargett leads viewers to believe that by implementing the Voter Confidence Act the state would be wasting taxpayer dollars to buy the machines that would count the paper ballots.

“I certainly don’t know it’s a wise use of taxpayer dollars when you know better technology is on the way. To go out and spend 25+ million dollars on equipment that is soon to be outdated.”

Bernie’s rebuttal was spot on:

“If Tennessee were using optical scan equipment and paper ballots that’s 20 years old, it would still be more secure reliable and verifiable than the most up-to-date touch screen machines…”

That said, there is a broader point to be used to rebutt Mr. Hargett. The money to buy the machines are federal dollars that were given to us to buy election equipment. It can be used for nothing else.

If Mr. Hargett is holding on to that money for an election “emergency” than I can think of none better than the replacement of machines in which he is unable to prove that even one vote has been counted accurately.

Watch the full report:

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May we please have paper ballots?

May we please have paper ballots?

Last week, TNDP Chair Chip Forrester called for the General Assembly to fire Secretary of State Tre Hargett if he can’t manage to implement the law (Voter Confidence Act) that would give the voters of Tennessee secure and verifiable elections.

A few days prior, Democratic House Leader Gary Odom and Senator Roy Herron led a press conference asking for the Mr. Hargett to begin implementing the law.

Leader Odom:

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Senator Herron:

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More from Leader Odom:

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Nina Cardona of WPLN reported on it:

The law calls for the entire state to switch to a system of paper ballots that are counted by optical scan machines. It specifies that the scanners be certified by the state according to “the applicable…guidelines.”

Both sides agree that no machines on the market meet the most recent set of federal standards, issued in 2005. For that reason, Secretary of State Tre Hargett says the state cannot yet certify any optical scan machines.

But at a press conference today, House Democratic Leader Gary Odom says that’s a waiting game that could be dragged out indefinitely. He contends that by the time machines meet the 2005 standards, another set of guidelines will be in place.

Mr. Hargett came back with a false argument (why settle for “less than the best” equipment out of haste?) and a questionable legal opinion.

There is only one reason why Mr. Hargett will not implement the Voter Confidence Act – he doesn’t want to implement the Voter Confidence Act.

Remember, the 2005 standards in which Mr. Hargett is placing all his opposition eggs are “voluntary” standards. In other words, it’s up to us, the state of Tennessee – in all our states rights glory – to decide whether or not to use the 2005 standards when purchasing equipment.

More simply, the EAC guidelines say that we can use the 2005 standards or not use the 2005 standards so by making the decision ourselves, we are following the EAC guidelines.

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A recent study by Mark Lindeman, an assistant professor of political science at Bard College in New York, shows that optically scanned paper ballots were better at registering the intent of the voters than touch screen voting machines.

In the study, Prof. Lindeman found that in the 67 North Carolina counties where the voting method is optically scanned paper ballots (what Tennesseans are not using now), 0.78% of ballots failed to register a vote for President last November. The 24 counties where touch screens (what Tennesseans are using now) were the principal method of voting saw 1.36% of ballots fail to register a vote for President, a difference of over 7000 votes in the 2008 election. His findings are consistent with a previous study of the Brennan Center for Justice that showed precinct-based optical scanners had the lowest residual vote rate of any type of technology in the 2004 Presidential election.

This latest study makes the argument on the last day of session by Tennessee House Minority Leader Gary Odom to keep the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act – and paper ballots counted by optical scan machines – intact and on track for implementation for the November 2010 election even more relevant.

Although Leader Odom’s plea fell on deaf ears and the House voted in a ridiculously large number (73-20) to delay our paper ballots, he demonstrated a firm grasp of the issue and made many salient points.

One that is of particular importance since the delay bill failed in the Senate and the State Election Coordinator is now legally obligated to implement paper ballots by the 2010 election, is that there is virtually no difference between the 2002 standards and the 2005 standards applied to the optical scan machines the state is required to purchase.

Leader Odom: “…I guarantee you, in 2011, we’re going to come back here, and this is going to be delayed again – or repealed – because there’s not going to be a machine that meets the 2005 standards. And in my discussions – and I’ve talked frequently with the Election Assistance Commission personnel, they’re telling me the standards differ very little in the technology between the 2002 scanner and the 2005…”

So while the State Election Coordinator is saying that he can’t comply with the law because the law says that he must purchase machines that are certified to 2005 standards, I say that according to the EAC, the 2005 standards ARE the 2002 standards and that no machines certified to the 2002 standards have been “de-certified.”

I also say, take a look at the studies like Prof. Bards’s which illustrate that the machines we use now to vote on are crappy machines.

And finally, while most people discussing this issue put the emphasis on the machines that count the paper ballots, I say, put the emphasis on the paper ballots themselves because the paper ballots are what will give Tennesseans secure and verifiable elections.

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Summary: Our guests include Stacy Rector, executive director of Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing, Chip Forrester of Tennessee Democratic Party, and Media Matters for America research fellow, Elbert Ventura.

Part 1 – Is it 9 O’Clock Yet? While Mary waits not so patiently for the end of the show, Freddie drops the news tidbits – Judge Sonya Sotomayor, Massachusetts’ big gay agenda, John Ensign’s extra-curricular Christian activities, and Vice President Dick Cheney’s own private CIA. [17.28MB download mp3]

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Part 2- Interview with Stacy Rector Stacy is the excutive director of the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing (TCASK.org). She tells us the story of the release of death row inmate, Paul House, one of the most underreported news items in Tennessee. [25.5MB download mp3]

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Part 3 – Interview with Chip Forrester of the TNDP and What, You Want a Medal from the Secretary of State for Disenfranchising Folks? Tennessee Democratic Party chairman Chip Forrester joins us to talk about his call for the General Assembly to fire Secretary of State Tre Hargett. After Chip leaves the studio, we continue to discuss Mr. Hargett and his decision to give one state legislator a medal for disenfranchising Tennesseans. No, really. [27MB download mp3]

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Part 4- The Media Matters for America Smackdown, The Remo Report, and It’s Finally 9 O’Clock!Media Matters research fellow Elbert Ventura talks to us about how the news that our President checked out some girl’s a** bumped the Republican sex scandals from the top story of the day and how even though the bogus story originated from the slimiest source of all – The Drudge Report – it made its way to them mainstream media without any verification. Then, if you think your phone is being tapped then it probably is. And Mary’s dad Remo calls in from his home in Nevada to give us an update on his Senator, John Ensign. Will he or won’t he resign? [23.76MB download mp3]

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I’ve never actually seen a Bizarro World comic but according to Wikipedia the code for the cube-shaped planet is “Us do opposite of all Earthly things! Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!”

Add “Us hate truth” and “Us love screwing with the democratic process” to that code and we have the motivation for Bizarro Secretary of State Tre Hargett to award Bizarro State Senator Bill Ketron (R, Murfreesboro) the 2008-09 National Association of Secretaries of State Medallion Award for, as the Rutherford County Dems put it, “all his legislative effort to delay the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act and to kill the state’s Ethics Comission [sic].”

“I am honored to present the NASS Medallion Award to Sen. Ketron for his work in pursuing the highest standards of integrity in the electoral process as well as his work to protect the fiscal stability of local governments,” says Mr. Hargett.

Wow. How bizarre. During the legislative session we had here on earth (not-Bizarro world?, reality-based community?), Senator Ketron not-pursued “the highest standards of integrity in the election process.” Here on earth, he sponsored three election-related bills that would disenfranchise Tennessee voters.

First, he carried the bill that would delay until 2012 the replacement of the unsecure and unverifiable electronic voting machines we use now in 93 out of 95 counties with paper ballots.

He also sponsored the photo ID to vote and proof of citizenship to register bills that were both solutions in search of problems.

Secretary of State Hargett learned a lot about Bizarro World politics from 8 years of the Bush Administration, but so have the people of Tennessee. We especially learned, from bizarro-world titles like the “Clear Skies Initiative” and “No Child Left Behind,” that just because you give it a flowery name doesn’t mean it smells pretty.

H/T: Joke of the Day from Woods at Pith

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Bernie Ellis, best known as one of the organizers of Gathering to Save Our Democracy but more recently known to have been singled out by the Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett as a “terrorist threat,” responds to the “two legislative leaders, Representative Gary Odom and Senator Roy Herron” who on Thursday called a press conference “to outline the false and baseless arguments that Secretary of State Tre Hargett continues to cling to doggedly to keep our elections unsafe.” [podcast of full press conference coming soon]

In his press release, Ellis, who correctly characterized Leader Odom’s and Chairman Herron’s press conference as an “open meeting” where they “took questions openly from anyone in attendance” and Mr. Hargett’s response as “another press release issued in haste and without an opportunity for questioning by the same press and the same Tennessee voters, by an increasingly isolated and insulated Secretary of State,” responds point by point to Mr. Hargett’s rebuttal:

“Tre [Hargett] Says We Don’t Have the Money to Implement Safer Elections. Here’s the Truth”

For Tennessee voters to believe that the newer, safer voting systems will cost $11.7 million “extra” to implement, as Tre continues to say, we would also be forced to believe the following:

— It will cost $434,572 “extra” statewide to service and maintain 70% fewer voting machines.
— It will cost $211,640 “extra” statewide to deliver 70% fewer voting machines.
— It will cost $342,144 “extra” to conduct a single pre-election training session for poll workers.

Tre Hargett Says We Don’t Have The Time To Implement Safer Elections. Here’s The Truth

Right now, we have almost seventeen months left before the November, 2010 elections. Every other state that has made the switch from unverifiable touch-screen machines to paper ballots and optical scan machines has done so statewide in seven months or less. The way Tennessee voters who live in the reality-based world count time, seventeen months is more than seven months.

Tre Hargett Says There’s No Equipment Available For Safer Elections. Here’s the Truth
Tre wants Tennessee voters to believe that the Voter Confidence Act requires that our new voting machines must meet 2005 federal certification standards, something that no equipment now meets. In truth (and in the reality-based world), Tennessee voters who take the time to read the TVCA from beginning to end will not find the number “2005″ anywhere.

Tre Hargett Says Our Current Voting Equipment Is “Safe and Reliable”. Here’s the Truth.
In 2009, there are only a handful of election officials remaining anywhere in this country (or on this earth) who believe that slow, expensive and unverifiable touch-screen voting equipment is “safe and reliable”. Unfortunately, Tennessee is burdened by two of them – Tre Hargett and the source of the “safe and reliable” quote – Tre’s State Election Coordinator, Mark Goins.

Paperless touch-screen voting machines have now been proven conclusively to be inefficient, expensive, insecure, inaccurate and incapable of being audited. By using them, we have effectively privatized one of the most sacred public duties in our country – the responsibility to completely and accurately measure and transfer the power inherent in the “consent of the governed” to our elected leaders. We now know that these machines perform two vital functions very poorly: they record each voter’s choices, functioning much like $3,000 pens that use disappearing ink, and they total those votes, as if they were $5,000 abacuses that use invisible beads. If Ronald Reagan were here today, he would laugh out loud and ask us, “Just what part of ‘Trust but Verify’ do you not understand?”

Tre Hargett Says He Doesn’t Have to Respect the Law. Here is What the Truth Should Be.

Tre Hargett has demonstrated that his only commitment right now is to keep our elections unsafe and unverifiable in Tennessee and that he will do and say anything to accomplish that goal….

What kind of person would stoop to lies, half-truths, false information and pig-headed refusal to face the facts in order to keep our elections unsafe at any cost?…

Perhaps it is the kind of person who would dispatch his State Election Coordinator, Mark Goins, to Memphis two weeks ago to instruct Tennessee’s county election officials to openly and aggressively defy the Voter Confidence Act and to do anything they could to drag their feet another six months in hopes that, when the General Assembly reconvenes, they will provide cover for this un-American stance to keep our elections unsafe that the assembly has demonstrated not once but twice they are unwilling to do. (For the sake of democracy, we cannot afford the third go-round with the General Assembly to be the fatal charm for Tre Hargett’s’anti-democratic intentions.)

Bernie can write. Read the rest here [pdf download].

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