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The Carter-Baker Election Commission: Corporate Conflicts of Interest and Bi-Partisan Myopia? PDF Print Email
By Linda Schade and Kevin Zeese   
April 21, 2005
The last two presidential elections revealed that American democracy is in distress.  A full public airing is much needed and the stature of the Carter-Baker Commission promises to garner the national attention and respect required to truly grapple with the scope of the problem. That is, until people begin to look at the make-up of the Commission and its agenda.

Perhaps the hottest issue in election reform is making sure that votes are counted accurately. It is now widely understood that paperless computer voting systems are vulnerable to human error, computer failure and malicious tampering and therefore verification of the vote is essential. Paperless electronic voting vs. voting with a voter verified paper ballot (VVPB) is now an issue under consideration in state legislatures across the country. So far, 14 states have passed laws requiring a VVPB, many others are considering bills and still others traditionally vote on voter verified paper ballots.

Sadly, the Carter-Baker Commission has compromised itself at the outset by including a figure with an embarrassing corporate conflict of interest on the key question of vote counts. Ralph Munro is the Chairman of VoteHere, a company with millions invested in the ‘vote verification’ market. VoteHere is literally banking on the successful marketing of their cryptographic product as the verification method in spite of the fact that voter-verified paper ballots are the solution most recommended by independent computer security experts. Munro should recuse himself to save the Commission from further awkwardness.
A model election is one which is so transparent that the losing candidate and their supporters trust the process completely. Make audits a routine practice of every election and deliver a refreshing boost to voter confidence. The good government practice of routine audits, required in the business world, elevates the credibility of the results. Imagine elections where the candidates truly earn the good will of the losing party. The only remaining decision should be what constitutes a sufficient audit, i.e. what percentage of hand counted paper ballots should be compared to the electronic count to be sure the election outcome was accurate.

Full audits, also known as recounts, are another essential for transparent and credible elections. Rather than fearing recounts election officials should welcome them as an opportunity to build public confidence in the process. Unfortunately in recent years election boards and state legislators have been moving 'to legislate recounts out of existence' as one state official describes it, by adding costs to those who request them and creating other hurdles. Administration of meaningful recounts - whether initiated by candidates and/or citizens – should be viewed as a fundamental duty of election officials in a democratic nation. After all, if voters do not trust election results, the legitimacy of government is undermined.

Also related to how we vote is the non-partisan administration of elections. This effects every aspect of voting from voter registration, candidate's being on the ballot, the machines used for voting and the conduct of recounts. We saw in the most recent presidential election a secretary of state in Ohio, who also served a chairman of President Bush's campaign in Ohio, allegations that voting machines were provided in greater numbers in Republican-voting areas than in Democratic voting areas.

In Maryland, paperless electronic voting has been blocked by Democrats trying to protect their Democratic election administrator who bought the machines. The Republican Governor has been trying to replace her with an administrator of elections of his choosing, so the Democrats are afraid to admit that she made a mistake – by spending $55 million on machines that cannot conduct an independent recount. The Democrats have put partisan election administration ahead of machines voters can trust.

If we solve the problem of paperless e-voting by putting in place voter verified paper trails, routine audits and transparent, independent recounts not only will voters be more confident in the results, but political parties will feel less need of administering elections with a partisan at the helm.

We hope the Commission proves us wrong but the corporate conflicts of interest of the Carter-Baker Commission raises initial doubts.

*Linda Schade is the director of TrueVoteMD.org and communications director of VoteTrustUSA.org. Kevin Zeese is president of VoteTrustUSA.org and a member of the board of Velvet Revolution.

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