By MARC McDONALD
In the following interview with BeggarsCanBeChoosers.com, Bev Harris, executive director of Black Box Voting talked about what her "consumer protection group for elections" has been up to lately.
Harris, who popularized the term "Black Box Voting," (which refers to voting on electronic machines that do not print paper ballots) said she is "not at all confident" that America's voting system woes will be fixed in time for the 2006 elections. Harris said election officials haven't taken the necessary steps to fix security issues and "to protect our votes properly."
Harris said the fixes that have been made to date have been "token efforts, Band-Aids, cosmetics, putting makeup on a broken system."
Currently, Black Box Voting is doing work on several fronts, including producing audit material to show that voting machines did not perform reliably in November 2004, Harris said. The organization is also working on specific investigations to prove fraudulent certification of the voting machines.
First of all, for the people out there who've not heard of your Web site and work, can you briefly explain what Black Box Voting is all about and what its purpose is?
Harris: Black Box Voting is a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer protection group for elections. We investigate problems with election integrity, focusing especially on new technologies and on local situations which illustrate generic problems affecting elections nationwide. The most active section of our site is the "Forums" section, which provides interactive information on investigations and latest news. We post a new, original-research consumer report on elections problems about once a week, sometimes more often.
How did you first get involved in this field?
Harris: Investigative writing, which led to breaking many stories on election integrity problems in the U.S. After a number of breakthrough investigations, I founded a nonprofit group, funded by public donations, which allow two full time investigators to do field work. You cannot just study this issue on the Internet. Going out into the field to review documents, interview citizens and candidates, and visit elections officials is of critical importance, and what you learn often doesn't quite match what you read on the Internet. Our nonprofit organization has been active for a little over a year, and we are working on several important new consumer reports right now.
What is the main task that you are working on these days?
Harris: We are very interesting in the money trail driving procurement. We are also working on specific investigations to prove fraudulent certification of the voting machines, and we are producing audit material showing that the machines did not perform reliably in November 2004.
For a while after the 2004 election, we saw the media pay some attention to election controversies and irregularities. But there hasn't been much follow through and the issue seems to have faded away. Do you feel confident that the American people will ever learn the truth about the 2004 election problems?
Harris: Interest will always ebb and flow, but we are pleased that this story now has "legs" -- weak ones, but as the evidence is growing, so is media interest, even in off-years for elections.
The biggest problem with the media is that they fail to do the homework needed (takes too much time, budgets generally do not provide for that) -- and therefore, fail to ask effective follow up questions. Instead of learning the truth, therefore, what we see is spin. The progress we have made is that there is now some spin on both sides, but most media coverage is still largely spin.
Another problem is that no single major publication has done an effective series on voting machines and procurement. This is a multifaceted, agenda-ridden issue that will become bigger than Watergate, when a publication finally embarks on a
quest for the truth.
Do you feel confident that our nation's voting system will be in any better shape for the 2006 elections?
Harris: I hope so, but I am not at all confident about this. There is not a will to engage in real reform by elected officials (small wonder; they owe their power because of the current flawed system). There is not a will to engage in real investigative journalism among any of the mainstream outlets (although Adam Cohen, of The New York Times, did an outstanding job in the summer of 2004).
There is not a will among election officials to learn about the security problems with their systems, and certainly not a will to take the correct steps to protect our votes properly. There is a will among ordinary citizens to correct electoral problems, but many have been led to easy, politically correct "solutions" that don't really address core problems.
What is needed, first and foremost, is willingness to fight. Too often, we are told to "be polite" and "work within the system." That only works if the system is responsive to real reform efforts. What we are seeing is token efforts,
Band-Aids, cosmetics, putting makeup on a broken system.
No doubt, there are many frustrated citizens out there who are concerned about the future of fair and honest elections in America. What can they do to help your cause?
Harris: Get involved. You can hook up with others in your area who are interested in reform by going to the forums at Black Box Voting, where each state has a section. The forums also have the latest suggestions for actions to take, and ways to help "be the media."
One of the most important things to do is to start showing up at meetings, with a video camera. This will put local officials on notice that you are watching them, and will help you meet others in your town who share your interests. When
you go, focus on getting public officials to commit to answers (or non-answers, fibs, or evasions) -- that's why you need the video camera.
We have a primer on the voting machines, quite readable and very thorough, online. Go to Black Box Voting and look for the Black Box Voting book, available chapter-by-chapter in free downloads. You will find the chapters on the right hand column of the home page.
Now, let's go take back our republic.