Thursday, December 20, 2012

Semi-Automatic Gun Control for Christmas

Unfortunately it took this many lives, but we may finally get semi-automatic weapon control. This hits home because of the recent massacre in Wisconsin and our newly passed concealed carry law. Illinois seems to be the only sensible state left, but I don't want to move there, I want sensibility in Wisconsin and the rest of the U.S. again.

For those who are looking to buy up assault weapons like the Buschmaster used in the Newtown Elementary School Massacre, beware you may likely be wasting your money. If our leaders in Washington do what's right, they'll pass a ban on military-style non-animal hunting weapons and a required buy back program. So, you'll soon be selling your new Buschmaster back to the government for less than you paid.

Here's looking at you Mill's Fleet Farm!

If people would just lock up their guns, we'd all be much safer, including the owners themselves. You can't yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater, you shouldn't be able to own weapons that can massacre a crowd of people. And it's not the fault of violent movies and video games that are watched and played in every other country that doesn't have our massacre problem. How are we better protected by having untrained and potentially hazardous citizens carrying more powerful weapons than most police officers carry?

As for protecting our schools, instead of arming our principals and teachers, we should take notes from the Secret Service playbook. A locker with bomb armor and plans to get children out of danger ASAP would be much more beneficial than more guns. Their duty is to protect the children, not take out shooters.

All I want for Christmas is semi-automatic gun control with sensible sales and license regulations for all guns.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Republican Gerrymandering Shows in Wisconsin

Wisconsinites confirmed with near record or record turnout their support for President Barack Obama and his policies, particularly the Affordable Care Act of which Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin was a prominent supporter. The statewide races weren't nearly as close as they had been predicted, with each winning by at least a few percentage points.

However, we're starting to see the effects of the Republican gerrymandering of the state in 2011. The GOP looks to have taken control of the state senate again. The tightly and secretly designed districts keep the state congress red when the state leans blue.

We're still waiting for the final tally for Senate District 18 where Jessica King (D) is the incumbent. It looks like a recount will be triggered.

This gerrymandering is toxic to our democracy and only worsens this country's partisanship. Wisconsin Republicans should be ashamed of their immoral tactics.

The biggest concern on the horizon is implementing an exchange for Wisconsin for the Affordable Care Act. Wisconsin clearly likes the Affordable Care Act, even if our red state congress doesn't represent that. Governor Scott Walker has refused to set the exchange up, even though the deadline is quickly approaching. He's already wasted a year and $38 million delaying the exchange. If these Republicans don't believe in the Affordable Care Act, how can we trust them to do a good job?

Wisconsinites expect excellent health care. Republicans and Governor Walker better make it happen!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Early Results in Wisconsin Look Good for Progressives

Wisconsin has already been called for Barack Obama, and we've elected Wisconsin's first woman U.S. Senator and the nation's first openly gay U.S. Senator. Congratulations to Tammy Baldwin, her staff, volunteers, supporters and voters! We made history today!

All of the networks have called the election for Barack Obama, winning Ohio to get to 270 votes. However, Mitt Romney won't get out of "The Bubble" and won't concede.

None of the U.S. House of Representatives races changed the make up of the House. Mark Pocan has won the 2nd CD vacated by Tammy, and Paul Ryan has kept his seat in the 1st CD. Tom Petri also won re-election, and I believe the rest of the races are uncontested.

Unfortunately, the Post Crescent reports that Jamie Wall has conceded to Tea Party Ribble. Fox Valley, you continue to disappoint!

Regarding state congressional races, it looks like "The Man Who Votes 3 Times" (Joel Kleefisch) will lose his seat. Now we need to break up the Fitzgerald family empire in Wisconsin.

It looks like Dave Hansen will keep his seat, but both races are still too early to call.

Overall, the results look like Wisconsin just didn't like the recall, but we're still a blue-leaning Progressive state!

Better days are ahead now that the Tea Party crazies couldn't convince the majority of voters to go back to the Bush policies.

Forward and On Wisconsin!

Voting Machines Switching Obama Vote to Romney

Thanks to @polymath22 for shooting and posting this video.

He also posted this on reddit:
"I'm the guy who shot the video, hopefully this doesn't get burried. You guys have questions, I have answers.

My wife and I went to the voting booths this morning before work. There were 4 older ladies running the show and 3 voting booths that are similar to a science fair project in how they fold up. They had an oval VOTE logo on top center and a cartridge slot on the left that the volunteers used to start your ballot.

I initially selected Obama but Romney was highlighted. I assumed it was being picky so I deselected Romney and tried Obama again, this time more carefully, and still got Romney. Being a software developer, I immediately went into troubleshoot mode. I first thought the calibration was off and tried selecting Jill Stein to actually highlight Obama. Nope. Jill Stein was selected just fine. Next I deselected her and started at the top of Romney's name and started tapping very closely together to find the 'active areas'. From the top of Romney's button down to the bottom of the black checkbox beside Obama's name was all active for Romney. From the bottom of that same checkbox to the bottom of the Obama button (basically a small white sliver) is what let me choose Obama. Stein's button was fine. All other buttons worked fine.

I asked the voters on either side of me if they had any problems and they reported they did not. I then called over a volunteer to have a look at it. She him hawed for a bit then calmly said "It's nothing to worry about, everything will be OK." and went back to what she was doing. I then recorded this video.

EDIT: There is a lot of speculation that the footage is edited. I'm not a video guy, but if it's possible to prove whether a video has been altered or not, I will GLADLY provide the raw footage to anyone who is willing to do so. The jumping frames are a result of the shitty camera app on my Android phone, nothing more."

While I originally reported this as occurring in Wisconsin, it appears @polymath22 was voting in PA. Either way, it can happen in Wisconsin. You should avoid touch screen voting machines in Wisconsin, unless you know they have a paper trail.

Be Part of History - Elect Tammy Baldwin Wisconsin's First Woman Senator and First Openly Gay Senator

If you need motivation to get out and vote, help convincing a friend to vote, or something to help you choose, think of the history that can be made. Not only by electing the first black President to a second term, but you can do something even more historic by electing U.S Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin Wisconsin's first woman senator and the first openly gay U.S. Senator. You can help Wisconsin add to its long progressive record.

Wisconsin doesn't need another Tea Party Senator like Ron Johnson (remember the joke of a senator who hasn't done anything since his election), and that's exactly what Tea Party Tommy will be. Tammy Baldwin is a proven hard worker for the middle class. Be part of history and keep Wisconsin purple.

Tammy Baldwin has a 77.2% chance of winning, but only if you vote, because the election will be incredibly close. She's got some hefty endorsements even from conservative newspapers like the Green Bay Press Gazette. Take a little time out of your day and be part of history. Your vote will matter today.

Vote for Tammy Baldwin!

Tea Party Tommy Won't Offset Ron Johnson for Purple Wisconsin

Our old, and often embarrassingly drunk, Governor Tommy Thompson is a shell of the person he used to be. He served under the George W. Bush Administration and clearly drank too much of the spiked kool-aid. Now he's become "Tea Party Tommy."

During his time with Bush, Tea Party Tommy helped give drug companies a blank check. Instead of negotiating the price of drugs, Tommy forced Medicare to pay drug companies whatever they want for the drugs you need. That means our tax money is at the mercy of drug companies, and Tea Party Tommy helped make that happen. Why should we believe Tea Party Tommy cares about us and our tax money now?

Tea Party Tommy fought against providing healthcare to 9/11 responders. Then, during this election Tea Party Tommy ran an attack ad against Tammy Baldwin which was fact-checked "false and vicious," trying to say she didn't support 9/11 victims.

Tea Party Tommy loves Paul Ryan's Medicare-voucherizing, wealthy tax decreasing and middle-class tax increasing budget. "I will pass Paul Ryan's budget plan in the Senate. It is the right plan at the right time for America," Thompson said at the Wisconsin GOP convention.

But that's not enough for Tea Party Tommy. He promised he would repeal ObamaCare, with no plans for replacing the savings and protections the legislation provides. ObamaCare saves Wisconsinites more than $14.5 million in insurance premiums this year alone. Tea Party Tommy doesn't care about how much it might save you, Obama can't have the historical legislation. I can understand how difficult it can be to contemplate the effects of healthcare cost increases that aren't offset by wage increases when you own 4 homes, but we need a Senator who can.

Like the rest of the Tea Partiers, Tea Party Tommy signed a pledge to Grover Norquist that says he won't raise taxes, even if hell freezes over. The only pledge Tea Party Tommy should be signing is the pledge to uphold the Constitution and serve his constituents. Norquist's pledge is toxic to a legislator's ability to keep his promise to his constituents, because at times such as war, taxes need to be increased to keep from growing the deficit. The pledge forces us into debt if we start a war.

And just like the rest of the Tea Partiers, Tea Party Tommy will obstruct everything that Obama and the Democrats try to do. Tea Party Tommy will hold us back rather than help move us Forward.

Tea Party Tommy can't even remember how many homes he has. How is he supposed to keep track and make sense of thousands of facts and statistics as Senator? Oh forgot, facts don't matter to Tea Partiers.

Most of Wisconsin's newspapers including the conservative Green Bay Press Gazette, which endorsed all of Tea Party Tommy's runs for governor, have endorsed his opponent, Tammy Baldwin.

We already have one Tea Party Senator in Ron Johnson. This "purple" state can't have two Tea Party Senators. We need to elect a Senator who stands for middle-class families and workers not the Tea Party line.

Vote for Tammy Baldwin today!

Want motivation? Tammy Baldwin's election will mark a historical election. Tammy would be Wisconsin's first woman senator and the first openly gay U.S. Senator. You can be a part of history!

Now, get out there and vote for Tammy Baldwin!

Reid Ribble: Just Another Tea Party Candidate

Reid Ribble, U.S. Congressman from Wisconsin's 8th District (Fox Valley area), is just another Tea Party candidate looking for a re-up.

First, he signed a pledge to Grover Norquist that says he won't raise taxes, even if hell freezes over. The only pledge Ribble should be signing is the pledge to uphold the Constitution and serve his constituents. Norquist's pledge is toxic to a legislator's ability to keep his promise to his constituents, because at times such as war, taxes need to be increased to keep from growing the deficit. The pledge forces us into debt if we start a war.

Second, Ribble says he's for reducing the deficit, but his record doesn't show that. He voted for Paul Ryan's budget, which increases the deficit while reducing taxes on the wealthy and increasing our taxes. He voted over 30 times against ObamaCare, which also reduces the deficit and healthcare costs.

On ObamaCare, Ribble would like to take away your over $14.5 million in insurance premium savings. That's how much ObamaCare saved Wisconsinites on insurance premiums last year. There's also many other benefits of ObamaCare that Ribble would like to take away, like coverage under your parents' plan until age 26. Ribble doesn't care what it does for you, he just doesn't want Obama to have the revolutionary healthcare legislation on record. Anything to keep Obama down.

Finally, Ribble has done everything he can to stunt our economic growth in order to try to make Obama look bad. Ribble has refused to vote for any of the President's jobs legislation. He's also refused to vote to hire more teachers and fix our schools and infrastructure. All of these plans were shown to provide economic growth, but Ribble refused to vote for any. His continued obstruction will keep holding us back instead of moving us Forward.

Ribble once sent out a survey to constituents asking them to respond to the question paraphrased, "What is the cause of the gridlock in Congress?" Constituents were expected to choose one of a few multiple choice answers or "Other." None of the answers were the obvious partisanship. Instead, they were all regarding the state of the economy, i.e., the economy was causing the gridlock in Congress. Totally clueless to reality and shows why Ribble has no accomplishments to speak of.

Ribble has many "tele-town halls," but never provided early notification. Instead, he'd just call and leave a message if you weren't available. This means, Ribble would never include anyone with a day job in his "tele-town halls."

Reid Ribble's record shows, he would rather serve his corporate donors and Tea Party friends than the constituents of the 8th District.

Today, vote for Jamie Wall, a sensible and rational candidate instead of the Tea Party craziness of Reid Ribble.

ObamaCare Saves Wisconsinites Over $14.5M On Insurance Premiums

From the Milwaukee Community Journal,
"Madison – Americans have saved an estimated $2.1 billion on health insurance premiums as a result of two important provisions of Obamacare – officially called the Affordable Care Act – that protect citizens from excessive premiums. This includes 288,984 Wisconsin residents who have saved a total of $14,551,793.

In every state, insurance companies must submit a justification for public review if they want to raise premiums by 10 percent or more. This protects citizens from excessive – and unjustified – rate increases. Rate reviews have helped save an estimated $1 billion for American citizens, including $4,182,000 for 6,172 Wisconsin residents.

The 80/20 rule ensures that insurance companies spend at least 80 percent of premium dollars on patient care. Those companies that do not meet those spending requirements must write checks back to their customers for the difference. Americans have received rebate checks for $1.1 billion thanks to the 80/20 rule, including $10,369,793 in savings for 282,812 Wisconsin residents.

“Rate review and requiring insurance to spend 80% of premiums on patient care have brought transparency and accountability to health insurance companies,” said Doug Hill, director of Know Your Care Wisconsin. “Because of Obamacare, Wisconsinites are saving millions of dollars on insurance premiums. And for the first time ever, many are getting money back from their insurance companies.”"

Mitt Romney had the right idea when he laid the groundwork for ObamaCare as Governor of Massachusetts.

Monday, November 5, 2012

If You Vote, Obama Has a 92% Chance of Winning

Nate Silver's latest prediction on his FiveThirtyEight blog has Barack Obama at a 92.0% chance of winning and Tammy Baldwin at a 77.2% chance of winning.

BUT those numbers depend upon you voting. If you don't vote, the numbers don't add up, and the chances drop off quickly. Both elections will be incredibly close in Wisconsin, and your vote will matter.

And since we're in Wisconsin, our vote carries a lot more weight than most. If you don't vote, Obama may lose. If you do vote, Obama will win.

This is why the Republicans have been trying to suppress our vote for the last year with photo ID laws and absurdly long voting lines (in other states). If they can keep enough of us from voting, they win. If enough of us vote, we win.

You can't do a touchdown dance before crossing the goal line, otherwise you risk fumbling the ball. We can only win if you vote and help get out the vote.

If you lack motivation, think of the people standing in line for 8-9 hours to vote in Ohio and Florida. If they can do that, you can vote. Think of the people in areas heavily affected by Superstorm Sandy. If they can vote, so can you.

If you're sick of being screwed. Vote!

No More Stolen Wisconsin Elections!

Wisconsin voting machines have probably already been compromised in previous elections, but there is no way to detect if a machine has been compromised (after the pre-election test). The Hand Count Votes Now! coalition has already found many issues with the Walker Recall election. So, we need to keep an eye out for irregularities in every election, particularly a big election like Tuesday's. 

VOTE if you haven't registered to vote yet. In Wisconsin, we can register on the same day we vote. It's super easy, just bring a utility bill or any number of proofs of residence, and it only takes a few extra minutes.

STAY in line if you arrived by the 8:00pm closing time. You can vote as long as you're in line by 8:00pm.

Do NOT tweet or post completed Wisconsin ballots! It's illegal!

The following are some things to watch out for when voting Tuesday.

Do NOT let anyone turn you away for not having an ID. You need proof of address, if you haven't registered to vote before today. Otherwise, just bring yourself.

Do NOT use a touch screen voting machine without a paper trail. They are only for use by disabled voters - not sure why they get the crap. However, voters have reported being instructed to use the wrong machines. If you don't vote on paper, your vote can't be recounted!

Do NOT approach or talk to "True the Vote" people. They are under instruction by their corporate overlords to suppress the vote at any cost. Anything they tell you should be considered a lie. Seek help from poll workers. Poll watchers are not allowed to talk to voters entering a polling site. They can only talk to you after you've voted.

To get involved in protecting elections in Wisconsin, see No More Stolen Elections! and the Wisconsin Wave hand count info.

Government Accountability Board voter information.

If you don't vote on paper, your vote can't be recounted!

Republican Voters are Idiots, Racists or Just Plain Selfish

If you've voted or will vote for Mitt Romney or Tommy Thompson, you're either an idiot, a racist, or you're just plain selfish. Think I'm wrong, prove me wrong.

With far too many drinks in me, I've said this to several Republicans over the past month. Guess what their response was? Their best answers were lies told by Tea Baggers. Everyone I talked to wanted policies that are far more aligned with Barack Obama and Tammy Baldwin than Mitt Romney or Tommy Thompson. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to convince any of these Republicans for at least one of the 3 reasons.

If you're rich, I can see why you would vote for Mitt Romney or Tommy Thompson. They'll give you tax breaks and make it easier to screw your workers for more profit.

If you're racist or a bigot, I can see why you would vote for Mitt Romney or Tommy Thompson. Just one example, this button being sold at Mitt Romney campaign rallies.

If you're poor or middle-class, young or old, there's no good reason for you to vote for Mitt Romney or Tommy Thompson. Their policies have been shown to have a negative impact on people like us by many non-partisan organizations and by the 8 years of the Bush Administration who tried the same policies. Any time Mitt Romney or Tommy Thompson says we're they're priority, they're lying through their teeth. One only needs to look at their policy recommendations and private statements.

47%, anyone?

A lot of poor and middle-class voters vote for Republicans based on abortion. But that's absolutely unpatriotic, as our Constitution declares a required separation of church and state. No one has the right to impose their religious beliefs on anyone else, and that's exactly what you expect by trying to place extreme limits on abortion. The only reason Republicans support limiting abortion is because they know you'll vote against your interests to vote for them.

If you're not rich or a bigot, why would you vote for Mitt Romney or Tommy Thompson? Because you've been bamboozled by some of the greatest salesmen in the world. You may not really be an idiot, but you're definitely ignorant. Don't want to be called an idiot, then be smart and don't fail the rest of us.

There are people who call themselves Republicans but don't fall into one of these 3 categories. However, those Republicans aren't voting for Mitt Romney or Tommy Thompson.

Think I'm wrong? Prove it. The lines are wide open.

Wisconsin Voter's High Return on Investment

Think your vote doesn't count. Not in Wisconsin in 2012!

Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight Blog has a Return on Investment Index, and Wisconsin is ranked number 6. The "likelihood that an individual voter would determine the Electoral College winner" is higher for everyone in Wisconsin than 44 other states.

Make sure you and everyone you know gets out to vote for Democratic candidates like Jamie Wall and Tammy Baldwin who make decisions based on science and rationality not Tea Party crazies like Tommy Thompson and Reid Ribble. It's much easier to vote here in Wisconsin than the hour-long lines in Ohio and Florida. Make a plan to vote tomorrow.

There's no excuse, Wisconsin. Vote.

The Boss: Forward and Away We Go!

This morning in Madison, Bruce Springsteen performs the "campaign song" for Barack Obama's re-election during this morning's rally at the State Capitol. An estimated 20,000 people attended, and we're all going to get 5 other people to the polls.

Springsteen introduces and carries the song with humor and even an Obama impression. Everyone around me seemed to really enjoy this part of the rally. It's a great song to sing while you canvass your area to Get Out the Vote!

"Election sealed!"

Friday, September 14, 2012

Wisconsin Collective Bargaining Rights Have Been Unstripped!

I'm a bit late to the party, but late this afternoon, a Wisconsin judge struck down the collective bargaining rights-stripping law, Act 10. Unfortunately, the law is still in place for state workers, but city, county and school workers now have their rights back.

The judge claimed that Act 10 created different classes of workers in part by excluding police and firefighters. The judge found that the state had no reason to limit the wages that these public workers could bargain while allowing other employees to bargain for larger salaries.

The case can still go to the Wisconsin Supreme Court for appeal, but today was a win for democracy and workers rights in Wisconsin. It's just another case that shows Walker and his Tea Party legislators went way too far, creating far too many unconstitutional laws to limit the rights of particular citizens.

Monday, August 13, 2012

ALERT: Kathy Nickolaus Threatens to Destroy Votes before Audit

While many county clerks have been open and transparent, county clerks all over Wisconsin are mysteriously trying to stop a non-partisan grassroots effort to verify the recall election for Scott Walker, and one clerk is taking things to a whole new level. Friday, Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus informed the Wisconsin Wave and the "Hand Count the Votes Now!" coalition that she plans to illegally destroy all ballots in Waukesha County before her results can be verified with a hand count. According to the Wisconsin Wave, she "threatened" to begin the malfeasance "as early as noon today."

After the Walker recall election, discrepancies in the results prompted the non-partisan grassroots coalition to begin hand counting ballots throughout Wisconsin with open records requests. Even though the exit polls released at the beginning of election night had the race in a very tight 50/50, the official results were an unusual deviation of 53/46 for Walker. Then during the recount in Racine County, citizen-observers double-checked the gubernatorial results in the county and found "statistically significant discrepancies" that gave Walker more votes in the official GAB results than were actually cast for him. For the past month, volunteers have been working hard to verify the integrity of the recall election and uncover any more issues.

Unfortunately, "Hand Count the Votes Now!" and Wisconsin Wave volunteers have already uncovered many more "serious election integrity issues including lax ballot bag security, widespread use of [illegal] unverifiable touch screen voting machines, and most disturbingly, wards where the hand counts differ significantly from election night machine reported totals!"

Altering the results of an election and causing such discrepancies isn't as difficult as many people would have you believe. We saw many examples of these problems last year during the Wisconsin Supreme Court election of David Prosser. I've written many posts about the issues with Wisconsin's electronic election machines that allow one person to easily manipulate thousands of votes without detection. The only way we can be sure that something nefarious or accidental didn't happen to change the outcome of the recall election is to hand count the votes, something that is done in a very small number of Wisconsin counties.

Over the last two years, Wisconsin has been given many reasons to believe that some of our election equipment may have been circumvented. Unfortunately, we've been given very little to increase our confidence. Now, when we try to find answers for ourselves, public servants are standing in our way. County clerks who refuse to allow their ballots to be audited are failing their duty to their constituents.

Waukesha County itself has been an excellent demonstration of our failed policies, and the county continues to generate serious concerns. In July, an audit revealed that Kathy Nickolaus secretly changed the programming on the Waukesha County election equipment some time between certification and the April election, causing a failure in reporting during the election. Nickolaus confirmed she made a change but has refused to say what she changed, and it's not publicly known just how much of an involvement she had in the Walker recall election.

Now, Nickolaus is refusing to let Wisconsin know the true results of the recall election in Waukesha County. Not only is she refusing the legal open records request for access to the ballots, but she's threatening to destroy all evidence of the recall election in Waukesha County before the request process is even complete. While the law states that an appeal brought within 60 days of her refusal must be heard, she's making it clear how high the stakes are for her.

Nickolaus's threat only increases the justification for our concerns. If there is nothing to hide, why refuse the hand count? And what would bring someone to destroy records before an audit can take place? Kathy Nickolaus is definitely hiding something, and we must force her to show her cards before she destroys them!

The Wisconsin Wave is planning a rally today across the street from the Waukesha County government building from 11am-1pm to make it clear we mean business. If you're near Waukesha today, please consider joining the rally.

Call the GAB at (608) 266-8005 or email at to demand them to stop the destruction of ballots. If Nickolaus destroys the ballots, there is no way to find out what happened in Waukesha County.

Ballots from the recall election in at least 10 more counties will be counted over the next two weeks, but an additional 20-30 counties are in reach. Since this is a grassroots effort of people like you and me volunteering to count ballots, they really need volunteers and funds. While many county clerks are being reasonable, other county clerks are mysteriously charging unrealistically high fees in order to audit their ballots. So, the more funds the Wisconsin Wave can get, the better for the integrity of Wisconsin's elections.

For more information on the Hand Count the Votes Now! effort, see the Wisconsin Wave page.

If you want to help make sure there are no more undiscovered issues and ensure the integrity of our elections, please volunteer or contribute to the non-partisan grassroots effort at Wisconsin Wave. If there are undiscovered security lapses in our elections, we need to know and fix them. If someone has manipulated our elections, we need to know and prosecute them.

Update: At the last minute, Waukesha County thankfully announced that they will not be destroying the ballots.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What's Wrong with Wisconsin's Electronic Voting Machines?

Tuesday, I wrote a blog post, "Voting Machine Verifications Show Walker Lost Recall Election," with a plausible story of how the recall election was stolen for Scott Walker by a malicious hacker. I wrote it in an effort to try to show how easily one or a few people can change hundreds of thousands of votes. The goal was to make you feel and then learn and take action to fix this incredibly scary problem.

The truth is that we have no way of knowing whether or not such election fraud occurred, because we don't use open source election equipment and don't have sufficient auditing and verification processes. We don't know for a fact that Walker won, as well as many Democrats, or any elected official for that mattter. The truth hurts, as can be seen from the comments at the end of that post.

All of the peer-reviewed computer security research agrees, no machine will ever be perfectly secure, and so we need to account for that. It's common knowledge to them and anyone with the equivalent knowledge of a bachelor's in computer science. It's time for it to become common knowledge in the general public.

The scarier thing, for all of us who currently have the knowledge to independently arrive at the same conclusions, we also have the knowledge and understanding to circumvent electronic voting equipment. That's thousands of Wisconsinites, including one Kathy Nickolaus. The likelihood that an election machine in Wisconsin has been compromised at some point is undeniably high.

A highly regarded computer security expert, Bruce Schneier, wrote an article about the problems with our electronic voting machines after the 2004 presidential election, but with the continued problems and lack of public awareness, the article deserves repeating. Schneier's article entitled "What's wrong with electronic voting machines?" is an overview with only a few technical details. It's written for broad consumption and reads well. If you want further information, follow his links embedded in the article, or visit his website or search Google for peer-reviewed computer security research.

Schneier's article follows as it appears here.

In the aftermath of the American presidential election on 2 November 2004, electronic voting machines are again in the news. Computerised machines lost votes, subtracted votes, and doubled some votes too.

And because many of these machines have no paper audit trails, a large number of votes will never be counted.

While it is unlikely that deliberate voting-machine fraud changed the result of this presidential election, the internet is buzzing with rumours and allegations in a number of different jurisdictions and races.

It is still too early to tell if any of these problems affected any individual state’s election, but the next few weeks will reveal whether any of the information crystallises into something significant.

The US has been here before. After the 2000 election, voting-machine problems made international headlines. The government appropriated money to fix the problems nationwide. Unfortunately, electronic voting machines – although presented as the solution – have largely made the problem worse.

This doesn’t mean that these machines should be abandoned, but they need to be designed to increase both their accuracy, and peoples’ trust in their accuracy.

This is difficult, but not impossible.

Before I discuss electronic voting machines, I need to explain why voting is so difficult. In my view, a voting system has four required characteristics:
  1. Accuracy. The goal of any voting system is to establish the intent of each individual voter, and translate those intents into a final tally. To the extent that a voting system fails to do this, it is undesirable. This characteristic also includes security: It should be impossible to change someone else’s vote, stuff ballots, destroy votes, or otherwise affect the accuracy of the final tally.

  2. Anonymity. Secret ballots are fundamental to democracy, and voting systems must be designed to facilitate voter anonymity.

  3. Scalability. Voting systems need to be able to handle very large elections. Nearly 120 million people voted in the US presidential election. About 372 million people voted in India’s May 2004 national elections, and over 115 million in Brazil’s October 2004 local elections. The complexity of an election is another issue. Unlike in many countries where the national election is a single vote for a person or a party, a United States voter is faced with dozens of individual election decisions: national, local, and everything in between.
  4. Speed. Voting systems should produce results quickly. This is particularly important in the United States, where people expect to learn the results of the day’s election before bedtime.
Through the centuries, different technologies have done their best. Stones and potshards dropped in Greek vases gave way to paper ballots dropped in sealed boxes. Mechanical voting booths, punch-cards, and then optical scan machines replaced hand-counted ballots. New computerised voting machines promise even more efficiency, and internet voting even more convenience.

But in the rush to improve speed and scalability, accuracy has been sacrificed. And to reiterate: accuracy is not how well the ballots are counted by, say, a punch-card reader. It’s not how the tabulating machine deals with hanging chads , pregnant chads, or anything like that. Accuracy is how well the process translates voter intent into appropriately counted votes.

Trust a computer to be inaccurate

Technology gets in the way of accuracy by adding steps. Each additional step means more potential errors, simply because no technology is perfect. Consider an optical-scan voting system. The voter fills in ovals on a piece of paper, which is fed into an optical-scan reader. The reader senses the filled-in ovals and tabulates the votes. This system has several steps: voter to ballot, to ovals, to optical reader, to vote tabulator, to centralised total.

At each step, errors can occur. If the ballot is confusing, some voters will fill in the wrong ovals. If a voter doesn’t fill them in properly, or if the reader is malfunctioning, then the sensor won’t sense the ovals properly. Mistakes in tabulation – either in the machine or when machine totals get aggregated into larger totals – also cause errors.

A manual system of tallying the ballots by hand, and then doing it again to double-check, is more accurate simply because there are fewer steps.

The error rates in modern systems can be significant. Some voting technologies have a 5% error rate, which means one in twenty people who vote using the system don’t have their votes counted. A system like this operates under the assumption that most of the time the errors don’t matter. If you consider that the errors are uniformly distributed – in other words, that they affect each candidate with equal probability – then they won’t affect the final outcome except in very close races.

So we’re willing to sacrifice accuracy to get a voting system that will handle large and complicated elections more quickly.

In close races, errors can affect the outcome, and that’s the point of a recount. A recount is an alternate system of tabulating votes: one that is slower (because it’s manual), simpler (because it just focuses on one race), and therefore more accurate.

Note that this is only true if everyone votes using the same machines. If parts of a town that tend to support candidate A use a voting system with a higher error rate than the voting system used in parts of town that tend to support candidate B, then the results will be skewed against candidate A.

With this background, the problem with computerised voting machines becomes clear. Actually, “computerised voting machines” is a bad choice of words. Many of today’s mechanical voting technologies involve computers too. Computers tabulate both punch-card and optical-scan machines.

The current debate centres on all-computer voting systems, primarily touch-screen systems, called Direct Record Electronic (DRE) machines (the voting system used in India’s May 2004 election – a computer with a series of buttons – is subject to the same issues).

In these systems the voter is presented with a list of choices on a screen, perhaps multiple screens if there are multiple elections, and he indicates his choice by touching the screen. As Daniel Tokaji points out, these machines are easy to use, produce final tallies immediately after the polls close, and can handle very complicated elections. They can also display instructions in different languages and allow for the blind or otherwise handicapped to vote without assistance.

They’re also more error-prone. The very same software that makes touch-screen voting systems so friendly also makes them inaccurate in the worst possible way.

‘Bugs’ or errors in software are commonplace, as any computer user knows. Computer programs regularly malfunction, sometimes in surprising and subtle ways. This is true for all software, including the software in computerised voting machines.

For example:

In Fairfax County, Virginia in 2003, a programming error in the electronic-voting machines caused them to mysteriously subtract 100 votes from one candidate’s totals.

In a 2003 election in Boone County, Iowa the electronic vote-counting equipment showed that more than 140,000 votes had been cast in the municipal elections, even though only half of the county’s 50,000 residents were eligible to vote.

In San Bernardino County, California in 2001, a programming error caused the computer to look for votes in the wrong portion of the ballot in 33 local elections, which meant that no votes registered on those ballots for that election. A recount was done by hand.

In Volusia County, Florida in 2000, an electronic voting machine gave Al Gore a final vote count of negative 16,022 votes.

There are literally hundreds of similar stories.

What’s important about these problems is not that they resulted in a less accurate tally, but that the errors were not uniformly distributed; they affected one candidate more than the other. This is evidence that you can’t assume errors will cancel each other out; you have to assume that any error will skew the results significantly and affect the result of the election.

And then there’s security

Another issue is that software can be ‘hacked’. That is, someone can deliberately introduce an error that modifies the result in favour of his preferred candidate.

This has nothing to do with whether the voting machines are hooked up to the internet on election day, as Daniel Tokaji seems to believe. The threat is that the computer code could be modified while it is being developed and tested, either by one of the programmers or a hacker who gains access to the voting-machine company’s network. It’s much easier to surreptitiously modify a software system than a hardware system, and it’s much easier to make these modifications undetectable.

Malicious changes or errors in the software can have far-reaching effects. A problem with a manual machine just affects that machine. A software problem, whether accidental or intentional, can affect many thousands of machines and skew the results of an entire election.

Some have argued in favour of touch-screen voting systems, citing the millions of dollars that are handled every day by ATMs and other computerised financial systems. That argument ignores another vital characteristic of voting systems: anonymity.

Computerised financial systems get most of their security from audit. If a problem is suspected, auditors can go back through the records of the system and figure out what happened. And if the problem turns out to be real, the transaction can be unwound and fixed. Because elections are anonymous, that kind of security just isn’t possible.

None of this means that we should abandon touch-screen voting; the benefits of DRE machines are too great to throw away. But it does mean that we need to recognise the limitations, and design systems that can be accurate despite them.

Computer security experts are unanimous on what to do (some voting experts disagree, but it is the computer security experts who need to be listened to; the problems here are with the computer, not with the fact that the computer is being used in a voting application). They have two recommendations, echoed by Siva Vaidhyanathan:

  1. DRE machines must have a voter-verifiable paper audit trails (sometimes called a voter-verified paper ballot). This is a paper ballot printed out by the voting machine, which the voter is allowed to look at and verify. He doesn’t take it home with him. Either he looks at it on the machine behind a glass screen, or he takes the paper and puts it into a ballot box. The point of this is twofold: it allows the voter to confirm that his vote was recorded in the manner he intended, and it provides the mechanism for a recount if there are problems with the machine.
  2. Software used on DRE machines must be open to public scrutiny. This also has two functions: it allows any interested party to examine the software and find bugs, which can then be corrected, a public analysis that improves security; and it increases public confidence in the voting process - if the software is public, no one can insinuate that the voting system has unfairness built into the code (companies that make these machines regularly argue that they need to keep their software secret for security reasons. Don’t believe them. In this instance, secrecy has nothing to do with security).
Computerised systems with these characteristics won’t be perfect – no piece of software is – but they’ll be much better than what we have now. We need to treat voting software like we treat any other high-reliability system.
The auditing that is conducted on slot machine software in the US is significantly more meticulous than that applied to voting software. The development process for mission-critical airplane software makes voting software look like a slapdash affair. If we care about the integrity of our elections, this has to change.

Proponents of DREs often point to successful elections as “proof” that the systems work. That completely misses the point. The fear is that errors in the software – either accidental or deliberately introduced – can undetectably alter the final tallies. An election without any detected problems is no more a proof that the system is reliable and secure, than a night that no one broke into your house is proof that your locks work. Maybe no one tried to break in, or maybe someone tried and succeeded – and you don’t know it.

Even if we get the technology right, we still won’t be finished. If the goal of a voting system is to accurately translate voter intent into a final tally, the voting machine itself is only one part of the overall system. In the 2004 US election, problems with voter registration, untrained poll workers, ballot design, and procedures for handling problems, resulted in far more votes being left uncounted than problems with technology.

If we’re going to spend money on new voting technology, it makes sense to spend it on technology that makes the problem easier instead of harder.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Voting Machine Verifications Show Walker Lost Recall Election

The required verification of Wisconsin's electronic voting equipment after elections has shown that election fraud occurred in several counties during Scott Walker's recall election. The corrected election results show that Barrett won with 51% of the vote, matching the percentage of voters that voted for Democratic Senator John Lehman and favoring President Obama in the exit polls as well as more closely matching the 50/50 split exit polls for Walker and Barrett. It turns out that it wasn't the exit polls that needed to be adjusted, it was the election results.

As one of the first steps in the canvassing process after an election, each electronic voting machine and ballot counting machine is verified for its integrity. The post-election verification process is the same as the pre-election verification process. First, the integrity of the software on each machine is verified, and if the verification fails, it's assumed the machine was tampered with. If the machine passes, the function of the machine is tested. For optical scanners, election officials run a number of randomly selected completed paper ballots through the scanner and match the totals against a hand-count. For touchscreen voting machines, election officials repeat a number of votes from a random position in the paper log and match the totals against a hand-count. The machine has been compromised if the totals don't match.

The verification of the open software installed on the equipment uncovered nearly 100 machines across Wisconsin that had been compromised. It's believed that at least one person, most likely two or three, compromised the optical scanners after the pre-election verification by connecting a small device to the diagnostic port on the machine which automatically downloaded the modified software. The software only affected the gubernatorial election, which explains Lehman's win.

All of the votes counted with the compromised machines were recounted by verified machines or hand count, and the recounts show that 110,805 Barrett votes had been wrongfully switched to Walker by the compromised machines. It appears as though the modified software flipped Barrett votes at random short durations of time, so the modified software changed vote totals differently across machines. Outagamie County had the largest percentage of switched votes with 7,741 votes, 10% of the total votes in the county, but Walker still won the county nearly as much as he did in 2010. Milwaukee County had the largest number of flipped votes with 31,154, followed by Dane County with 10,682 flipped votes. The other counties with modified software were Brown, Calumet, Dodge, Door, Kewaunee, Kenosha, Marathon, Manitowac, Oconto, Racine, Shawano, and Winnebago. Interestingly, nearly every county is along Highway 41 or very close.

Since we control the open software on the machines, we can quickly plug the security hole at no cost to taxpayers for both detection and the fix. Several Wisconsin software engineers wrote a fix for the problem within a few hours of the announcement by the Government Accountability Board, and the new software will go through a number of tests before it's certified. Rest assured, our voting machines will be fixed and certified long before the next election thanks to it being open source software.

As a truly bipartisan measure, Scott Walker reportedly asked Tom Barrett to attend the brats and beers today. Walker conceded, "We have yet to determine who tampered with the equipment, but I'll relinquish my command to the rightful Governor of Wisconsin, Tom Barrett." The person(s) responsible for tampering with election equipment and swinging the election are still being investigated.

Unfortunately, someone may have tampered with voting equipment during the recall election, but we'll never be able to find out. Nearly everything above is just a dream. Voting machines are not open and are not verified after elections, and so there is no way to detect such election fraud. None of the precautions listed above are actually done in Wisconsin, but the possibility of someone swinging an election by tampering with voting machines so easily is real. Barrett could really have won with 51%, but we'll never know.

I'm very sorry if that was painful, but I hope it was effective in convincing you how important this issue is. It's a far more critical issue than voter fraud. We have no proof whether or not Walker really survived his recall, but we could. The next time a Democrat wins a big election, you can bet the Republicans will be shouting election fraud, knowing the problem exists but refusing to do anything about it. Lets get this fixed now.

I wrote a blog post following the Prosser/Kloppenburg election detailing the issues with our elections and the solutions available. By fixing these issues, we could detect and compensate for election fraud, and the story above could be a reality. The following is a minor update to the post, putting it into the context of this election.

Our most pressing issues with elections in Wisconsin continue to be:
  1. Ballot security and integrity
  2. Antiquated unsupported voting equipment
  3. Insecure and inaccurate voting equipment
  4. Voting equipment hardware design and software not open, owned and controlled by the people of Wisconsin
  5. The integrity of every voting machine isn't verified before and after every election
  6. Various vote-tallying processes are not open
  7. Ease and likelihood of errors in reporting
    • Voting equipment and software is not uniform across the state
    (1) Ballot security and integrity. There were many unsealed and ripped ballot bags during the Prosser/Kloppenburg election. Nothing was done to prevent this from occurring in future elections. The only reason we knew about these issues was because of the recount and the ability to watch some online. There could be far more issues than we are aware of from other elections.

    (2) Antiquated unsupported voting equipment. The Prosser/Kloppenburg recount showed us that at least one approved model of our voting equipment, the Optech Eagle, is antiquated and must be removed from service. The original vote tallies from that election had to be deleted, against the law, in order to carry out the recount with the machines, because there were not enough memory packs and those memory packs are no longer manufactured. Although, I will say that I believe it's good that the issue forced a hand recount in parts of the state instead of simply re-feeding the ballots back through the same machines for a recount. This model should be replaced quickly, though the following issues may warrant some delay. A full review of all our voting equipment should occur first.

    (3) Insecure and inaccurate voting equipment. Our electronic voting equipment is insecure and inaccurate, but you're not supposed to know that. The very equipment we use to cast and count votes can be manipulated without detection in seconds, swinging the results by any number of votes. There's not a single computer or security expert that would argue with that. However, even if tampering doesn't occur, our vote-tallying machines rarely count the exact number of votes. These are inevitable consequences of using electronics to cast and count our votes. Unfortunately, the design of our electronic voting machines and their margins of error are secrets kept tightly by their manufacturers. So we have no way of knowing just how insecure and inaccurate our machines are (more on this in (4)).

    Quite near anyone with the knowledge to write moderately sophisticated computer programs can manipulate a voting machine and its vote tally in literally seconds. That's well into the tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people in Wisconsin with that ability. Not at any other point in our country's history do so many people have such an ability to swing elections so dramatically. It really does take some time to stop and consider.

    No one has any "bullet-proof" solutions to this problem, and it's likely we never will. If we want to count votes using electronic equipment, and I for one think it's a "good thing," we must have verifiable guarantees of voting machine security and accuracy. We don't have that now, and we almost certainly won't have that until we solve (4).

    There are other issues regarding accuracy specific to the voting machines we use. A GAB memo from December 2009 shows that there were several issues with voting machines that we currently use in many parts of Wisconsin. An error message "error while printing" occurred 15% of the time during a test of the AutoMARK VAT. This was due to a malfunction in the system which required replacement, and the replacement had similar non-tallying related issues about 5% of the time. Such errors can cause inaccuracies, and they can also cause voter disenfranchisement as voters may be told to come back later or may have to wait for an excessive period of time.

    The AutoMARK VAT is used as an option for voters with disabilities in many municipalities across Wisconsin. However, the GAB memo says that the testing by the GAB and testing by the Wisconsin Election Administration Council shows that
    "The AutoMARK VAT does not provide full privacy and independence for voters with disabilities, especially voters with dexterity or motor disabilities, as voters may need assistance inserting the ballot, removing the ballot and placing the ballot in the ballot box or tabulator."
    The Wisconsin Election Administration Council had even more to say. The memo notes several issues including vision-impaired voters won't be able to verify their vote, inadvertent steps that cause a cancellation of votes, the device doesn't meet 2005 US-EAC guidelines, "it takes longer to cast a ballot with the AutoMARK than manually marking the ballot with a marking device," and screen reading difficulties. Yet the AutoMARK VAT was approved by the GAB for Wisconsin voters with disabilities. The GAB said, "The ES&S voting system technically meets" the requirement of a voter to privately verify their votes. The GAB later notes in a bordered paragraph,
    "The AutoMARK voting systems for which approval is being sought, do not change the degree of accessibility currently provided by previously approved AutoMARK systems."
    I'm appalled that so many of our voting machines do "not provide full privacy and independence for voters with disabilities," and that the GAB would approve such a machine. Are we that desperate for voting equipment?

    Another machine mentioned in the memo with issues regarding its ease of use is the intElect DS200. It may not be immediately clear that these issues are issues with accuracy. Any time a voter's intention doesn't get correctly included in the official results, the system is inaccurate. The more difficult a machine is to use, the less accurate it will be.

    Similar touch-screen machines continue to have worrisome issues in other states as well. In the 2010 election, a touch-screen voting machine in Pennsylvania began casting votes for the opposite candidate from the one selected by the voter, and the machine required "recalibration" to resolve. We don't use the same machine here, but the same manufacturer, ES&S. So there's good reason to suspect the same issues can and may have happened here. Luckily for us, all of our touch-screens mark or print a paper ballot, but most people expect the machines won't make a mistake. So they may not properly inspect the results before casting their vote and walking away.

    The GAB incorrectly states on their website "Adminstrative(sp) Code Chapter 5 Ballot and Electronic Voting Equipment Security insures all electronic voting systems used in Wisconsin are accurate and reliable." This is plain false, and it provides a false sense of security to those voters who aren't aware of the issues. I don't believe we will ever fully be able to insure electronic voting systems are accurate and reliable, but I believe we could publicly guarantee much higher security, accuracy and reliability if we solved issue (4).

    Wisconsin does have some of the best electronic voting machine laws in the country, but they're far from perfect. What's worse is that at any time the GAB can exempt a machine from complying with Wisconsin law. The GAB can exempt a voting machine from Wisconsin law if they choose, or as they say, "for good cause" GAB 7.03(5). I don't see how exempting a voting machine from Wisconsin law is a good idea at any time for any reason.

    (4) Voting equipment design not owned by the people of Wisconsin. When I say that the people of Wisconsin should own the designs for our voting equipment I mean that the hardware designs and the software source code should be open, i.e., in the public domain. I'll elaborate more on this in the solutions section later, but I'll briefly cover some highlights and comparisons now.

    The manufacturers of our voting machines will never provide us with the information and control we need to conduct our elections in the most fair, open and transparent way. The people who run our elections, like your county clerk, have no control or idea of what's going on inside our voting machines. (They can, but I'm not sure who's gone through the trouble s.5.905(5).) It doesn't appear as though anyone from the state government or the Wisconsin public has inspected the code or designs of these machines. We're just expected to have blind faith in these systems, but we know the manufacturers can't and/or won't solve all of their problems.

    Currently, certain portions of the software for every electronic voting machine model approved for use in Wisconsin is stored in an escrow s.5.905(2). It's unclear if every software version in use is stored in the escrow, and we have no way of knowing how much of any particular software is stored. The GAB most likely knows the exact components, but they don't make the information available on their website as they should. This escrow provision is meant to make us feel better about the insecure proprietary software, but it does little or nothing to increase the security of our voting equipment. We need all of the software components at the very least, and even that won't provide us with the security, accuracy and reliability that we could achieve with open voting equipment.

    Even if the manufacturers gave public access to the design and software of their voting machines, we won't get the full value of an open system if the hardware designs and software source code aren't in the public domain. We wouldn't necessarily be able to ensure the integrity of a voting machine simply because we have that information, because the machine itself may have certain vulnerabilities we would have very little ability to control. If all we can do is look at the designs and code, and we're not be given the ability to implement modifications, what happens if we want to make a change but the manufacturer wouldn't agree to it? That's unacceptable and completely avoidable.

    There are many advantages to creating an open election system, and I'll defer talking in detail about those for the solutions section. One of the most beneficial advantages of using an open election system is the amount of people who can inspect the design and code to ensure the utmost security and accuracy, anyone who would want to could. This doesn't make the machine less secure, because there will always be ways to "hack" a machine. Instead, vulnerabilities and issues can be spotted and resolved more quickly, including right on the spot by county clerks or other officials (through appropriate processes of course). This openness has been shown to produce highly successful software many times, e.g. LinuxFirefox and WordPress to name just a few.

    We can do better than these voting machine companies, and we must, because there's no better solution to many of our issues than using an open election system.

    (5) Integrity of voting machines not verified before and after every election. The Government Accountability board conducts periodic audits of a random selection of machines, but that won't detect a singular instance of an issue. Nor will the audits detect widespread issues that were created and manifested between audits. Even still, the GAB doesn't post the results of the audits, just the municipalities in which the audits took place. The GAB should be required to post the results of their audits. These audits are helpful, but they aren't sufficient for detecting all likely issues with our voting machines.

    The integrity of a machine can only be inspected during a recount if a candidate requests permission from the GAB, and as long as they sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement s.5.905(4). This process should be automatic for every machine for every election, regardless of the closeness, because that's the only way we can have any hope to guarantee any amount of security, accuracy and reliability. Simply "matching numbers" during canvassing will not uncover many possible issues with our voting machines. So we need a process to ensure every machine is counting votes as accurately as possible during an election.

    Verifying the integrity of a voting machine after an election includes making sure that the software currently on the machine is the software that actually counted the votes. Wisconsin Statue 5.905(3) states that "the verification procedure shall include a determination that the software components correspond to the instructions actually used by the system to count votes." However, the GAB may not have enough information or there just may not be any possible way to determine if the software instructions in a particular machine were the actual instructions used to count the votes in an election. I can't find any details as to how the GAB would make such a determination. If we solve (4) this issue becomes much easier to solve.

    There are several ways to determine the accuracy of a voting machine without verifying its integrity, although the integrity is the ultimate test. Municipalities employ a simple pre-election test of running a predetermined set of votes through a machine and verifying that the counts match. It wouldn't be difficult to write software to pass the pre-election test but still manipulate the vote counts later. At the very least, this same test must be run on every machine after an election as well as before. However, without verifying the integrity of a machine or running a hand recount, there's no way to guarantee that the results from a machine match the actual votes.

    As for recounts, there's really no point to a recount if each machine isn't inspected for its integrity, because the device should give back very near the same results a second time whether the device was manipulated or not. Fortunately, there are some hand recounts occurring throughout the state, but not nearly enough to provide information beyond most glaring types of discrepancies. Since recounts are meant to try to determine the actual vote count, why don't we at least inspect every machine automatically before proceeding with a recount? Otherwise, we're just another example of the classic definition of insanity, continuing to do the same thing but expecting different results.

    (6) Various vote-tallying processes are not open. I already mentioned the issues with the closed vote-tallying processes within our voting equipment in (4). Here, I'm referring to vote-tallying process outside of our voting equipment. This GAB manual for county clerks says, "The counting of votes is always done publicly after the polls close at 8:00 p.m." (their emphasis) If the counting of votes is always done publicly, we would have found out about the Waukesha County error much sooner. So, this law is clearly not being enforced properly, and the GAB felt it necessary to emphasize "publicly" to officials who presumably should know that very well.

    As evidenced by my reporting on the ballot bag issues, the availability of information during the Prosser/Kloppenburg recount was scarce. Yes, there was a live stream of the Waukesha County recount, but they're not the only county in Wisconsin. And even with the live stream we couldn't figure out exactly how many ballot bags had discrepancies and where they're from. There was no mention of the issues with the ballot bags on the GAB website, even though at the very least the Journal SentinelThe CapTimes and WisPolitics had reported the issues.

    Every county in Wisconsin should have a live stream of vote-tallying and machine verification. Though, even then, few of us have time to intently watch a single county. So, there should be a live stream of each county with the ability to look back at previously streamed events. There would be very little cost but a huge increase in election transparency. The cost could be further reduced by using third-party sites such as YouTube.

    Any disputed ballots during a recount should be scanned and posted online for everyone in Wisconsin to see as they were in 2008 during the Minnesota recount for the U.S. Senate election between Al Franken and Norm Coleman. We should see what causes errors, so that we can learn from those ballots. Also, it makes the process much more transparent with very little extra effort. In fact, some voting machines take "photos" of ballots, and those photos could be quickly cropped appropriately and posted for all to see. We have online banking, why not "online" recounts?

    (7) Ease and likelihood of errors in reporting. This was thought to only pertain to Waukesha County, but it also happened (on a slightly smaller scale) in Winnebago County during the Prosser/Kloppenburg recount. Therefore, it's probably just as likely in the rest of Wisconsin. This issue is not as serious if the previous six issues are resolved. However, until then, errors in reporting will continue to exacerbate the concerns we have.

    (8) Voting equipment and software is not uniform across Wisconsin. We should have a standard set of strict vote-tallying processes and one standard set of voting machines, i.e., at most a few touch-screen machines and one paper ballot-tallying machine. Variation creates unnecessary complexity and cost, and complexity increases the chances of an error. We could reduce a lot of the learning curve involved in voting as well as the cost to train staff, volunteers and maintain the equipment. Obviously, I believe that we should standardize around a set of open voting machines.

    We must seek real solutions to relevant issues by determining the best way to solve these issues. I for one won't be able to trust an election in Wisconsin until issues 1-6 are fixed, and I hope you feel just as worried.

    Are There Real Solutions?

    So what are some possible solutions? There's at least one very beneficial and realistic solution to many of these issues. Voting equipment whose hardware design and software is owned and controlled by the people of Wisconsin, i.e., open source, would be much more secure and instill much more voter confidence than any proprietary equipment ever could. We asked for nearly this back in 2005 via AB 627, but the bill was amended to remove the half-hearted provision before the bill was passed. Those who control our elections want desperately for it to stay that way, but it's not what's good for us. We will end up choosing this option at some point. So why not now?

    Standardizing open voting equipment across the entire state of Wisconsin would provide greater benefits over those from standardizing over proprietary equipment. The learning curve for voters would be reduced, because everyone would use the same user-friendly and accessible system. Reporting of votes would be faster and less prone to error. The cost of maintaining and approving voting equipment would be drastically reduced. Many other costs at both the state and municipality level would be reduced. We would know exactly how secure and accurate our voting equipment is. There would be no doubt, because anyone could inspect the code. That also means that more people can help improve the system. There are valid reasons against complete homogeneous standardization, but that debate is for a later time.

    I realize that I'm glossing over quite a few major details here. It's not guaranteed that the first, or even tenth..., version will be user-friendly and accessible. Over time it will no doubt improve, but by beginning with effective guidelines and true experts, the first version could easily be much more user-friendly and accessible than we've come to expect from our voting machines. This also applies to the costs of developing such a set of systems. Successful open source projects gain momentum quickly when they're driven by knowledgeable and thoughtful leaders. The more knowledgeable people who contribute to the project the less taxpayers will end up having to pay. I have no doubt that such a project would create more than enough enthusiasm from capable people in Wisconsin. We can do it, other less wealthy countries have successfully done this.

    I also realize that converting to an open system can't happen overnight, but a deadline should have been set a long time ago and needs to be set now. I don't know how much it would cost the state to implement and convert to such a system, but it's clear we need to replace at the very least the unmaintainable equipment, and it's quite possible the conversion would cost less than the full cost of implementing and enforcing voter suppression with photo ID.

    There's a very good chance we could partner with other states to share the burden of development. There would be no reason not to. These tough economic times add to the value of governments working together and sharing the software code they run on. Also, various other municipalities, states, organizations and countries have either begun or completed open source election systems that we could implement as is or modify to our desires. So, I believe converting to an open election system should be one of the top priorities in fixing our elections (if not the top priority).

    I'd like to have a discussion about the relevant issues with our elections and possible real solutions. Any other suggestions for solving some of these issues? Any other issues I'm not listing? Is there anything I could clarify? Did I increase your concern?

    Please, contact your state representatives and tell them why you're concerned with the security and accuracy of our voting equipment, not voter fraud. They won't do anything unless we demand it.

    Monday, June 11, 2012

    Right-to-Work May Really Be Coming to Wisconsin

    Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's outright refusal to deny Tom Barrett's accusation that Walker would sign Right-to-Work legislation in the debates has made many people believe that Walker plans to make Wisconsin a Right-to-Work state, even though he says he has no "interest." Last year, Walker was asked point blank how he would make Wisconsin a Right-to-Work state by Diane Hendricks, Walker's biggest donor and who also pays $0 state taxes. Walker replied that he would "divide and conquer" starting with the public workers. Then, less than a month later, he "dropped the bomb," stripping public workers of their right to collectively bargain. There's only one thing left to do in Walker's plan to strip the rights of everyone through Right-to-Work.

    Now, the Journal Sentinel has already begun priming the public by doing a PolitiFact on what should be an irrelevant statement about Right-to-Work, and they put it on their front page. Jeff Fitzgerald, a rights stripper, said that Minnesota was a Right-to-Work state, but PolitiFact corrected him. Honestly, if Right-to-Work isn't coming to Wisconsin, why should we be concerned with such a tangential lie, especially one so little publicized and so easily looked up? The Republicans lie all of the time, and that's the lie PolitiFact decided to cover?

    There are far more critical and convoluted lies that PolitiFact should be addressing. Instead, by addressing the Right-to-Work lie about Minnesota, the Journal Sentinel was able to begin framing the debate on Right-to-Work. The real lie in the interview that PolitiFact should be correcting is that stripping public workers of collective bargaining rights was "a middle ground," which they repeat with no statements addressing the truthfulness. Through the PolitiFact, the Journal Sentinel is promoting the idea that stripping the rights of public workers was "middle ground," and therefore prepping the public for Right-to-Work, which is just to the right of that "middle ground," not far-right hillbilly feed where it really is.

    Republicans, Right-to-Work is regulation! Not only that it regulates individual rights.

    Sunday, June 10, 2012

    Madison is Fourth Smartest City in America

    A recent study by Lumos Labs used computer games and puzzles instead of education level to find the smartest cities in America, and Madison, WI is the fourth smartest!
    "In a knowledge economy, we are often told the smartest cities and nations do the best. But economists typically measure smart cities by education level, calculating the cities or metros with the largest percentage of college grads or the largest shares of adults with advanced degrees. Others (like me) do it by charting the kinds of work people do and the occupations they hold, differentiating between knowledge or creative workers and others who do more routine manufacturing and service jobs. 
    To measure the smartest cities, Lumosity scientists tracked the cognitive performance of more than one million users in the United States on their games, mapping them across U.S. metros using IP geolocation software. Individual scores were recorded in five key cognitive areas: memory, processing speed, flexibility, attention, and problem solving. The data was normalized into a basic brain performance index controlling for age and gender. Only metros with more than 500 observations were included. The data cover 169 metros."
    You can see from this map that Milwaukee and Northeast Wisconsin are fairly "brainy," too.

    Maybe the rest of Wisconsin should listen to Madison once in a while instead of decrying it so much. They do tend to know what they're talking about. If we let Walker enact laws like those in the South, we'll end up like them. In a knowledge economy, Wisconsin needs to be more like Madison to thrive.

    Saturday, June 9, 2012

    1,275% Return on Investment for Rich Scott Walker Donors

    Mike McCabe from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign told Wisconsin Public Radio that they tracked campaign donations from the 2010 elections, tax breaks and spending from last year and found out how much Scott Walker's biggest donors in 2010 got back for their investment.

    From WPR,
    He cites a recent report on the last legislative session that tracked $330 million in tax write-offs and government spending that flowed to donors who contributed a combined $24 million, “$24 million dollars went in and $330 million went back to those donors. You can't get that return on investment in the best bull market on Wall Street."
    That's a 1,275% gain! And that's just in one year! With this high of return on investment, large out-of-state businesses will continue to pollute our elections. If you didn't like the attack ads of the recall election, you should have gotten rid of the one running them, because he's only going to make it worse now.

    Wake up Wisconsin! We're controlled by a few rich out-of-state corporations and individuals, and they're the ones who want unions gone. Duh, because then they can get away with paying all of us less.

    Friday, June 8, 2012

    No More Mr. Nice Liberal

    Bill Maher made a great point on his show Friday that liberals need Occupy Wall Street/99% Movement to be the Tea Party for liberals, an uncompromising far-left block of noisy voters. It's time Occupy Wall Street get out of the parks and into the streets. The Tea Party went from a small group to a controlling block of the U.S. Congress in just a few short years because they actually got involved in politics. There's a lot more effective uses of our time than singing songs and camping.

    The far-right are also superb at messaging, even if what they say isn't true, they get the majority of the public to believe them. We have to start actually talking to people who don't share our views. We need to canvass and make phone calls like crazy. Even though many of us did this the past year, more of us need to get involved.

    If conservatives think we've been giving them hell so far, they have no frickin idea. Their heads would explode if we acted like them. Yet, it seems to work. So, lets start giving the far-right what they've been dishing out to us. We don't have to lie like them, but we can do everything else. Come up with some short, memorable and emotional talking points, and repeat them over and over. Explain little, just repeat talking points. Hammer away. Admit no fault. Hammer again. We've got the facts behind us if anyone decides to actually look them up.

    This will be hard for liberals to digest. I understand, this goes against our grain, but it's time for us to stop being so passive. It's time to be aggressive. It's time to aggressively spread our ideas and attack the lies.

    We need to get a lot louder and our message much simpler, even if it leaves out details. It's clear the majority of the voting public can't take, nor really cares for, lengthy explanations. Don't try to convince voters, just repeat until they believe. If we would have hammered home the importance of the recall this past year, Wisconsin would probably have a Governor Barrett today.

    I'll start by calling Scott Walker a dictator, though I'm sure I'm not the first, because that's exactly what Walker is. Instead of doing the difficult and democratic job of negotiating with Wisconsin's workers (teachers, janitors, garbage collectors, etc.), Walker stripped their rights and dictated their working conditions and benefits in order to give tax breaks to corporations instead of taxing them appropriately. Wisconsin's workers improve all of our lives, and by screwing them, we screw ourselves.

    Here's some suggestions for talking points:
    • Scott Walker is a dictator over Wisconsin's workers (teachers, janitors, garbage collectors, etc.)
    • Unions are essential for the economy: The smaller unions are, the less money you make
    • Collective bargaining rights are rights: the right to assemble and freedom of speech
    • We must invest in our children not big corporations. Teachers must get paid more and schools need more money.
    • Lower our taxes, not corporations and the rich who already pay less taxes and are doing very well
    • Taxing the rich more improves the economy: See the last 80 years, there's no evidence for the Tea Party's old Herbert Hoover idea that put us in the Great Depression
    • Corporations and the super rich control Republicans, and their only concern is their prosperity
    • All men and women are created equal, including minorities and LGBT. Only tired old bigots refuse to support equal pay for equal work legislation or gay marriage. Archaic religious views have no weight in American law.
    • There is no voter fraud, but Walker or anyone else can add thousands of votes in seconds (election fraud)

    Wednesday, June 6, 2012

    Wisconsin: Scott Walker's "Laboratory for Conservative Ideas"

    What's next for Wisconsin now that Scott Walker survived his recall election?

    Out-of-state corporate and rich donors own Scott Walker now that they gave him ~66% of his $30.5 million to hoodwink the state, not to mention the more than $16 million spent by outside pro-Walker groups. And these numbers are likely to increase as the final tallies are made. Even though Walker lost his party's control of the State Senate and didn't gain many votes for his rights stripping and unlimited campaign financing, receiving nearly the same percentage of votes as he did in 2010, we know Walker will act like he got a mandate.

    We should be proud of what we were able to accomplish against such odds. Walker didn't receive the mandate that he wanted with all of his money, and by losing a majority in the State Senate with recalls this past year, we were able to slow Walker's reddening of Wisconsin. However, Walker won't stop now.

    Dan Bice from the Journal Sentinel told Rachel Maddow on MSNBC after the election that Walker will make "Wisconsin, as he has already, a laboratory for conservative ideas." This is what Walker wants to do, and what his corporate and super rich donors like Diane Hendricks (who pays $0 state taxes) want him to do. And now, Walker is owned by these few and has little to fear from Wisconsin.

    Now that Walker has significantly reduced the unions, there'll be far less funding for any progressive candidates. This was the far-right's goal, as explained by Scott Fitzgerald last year. Unions are the only special interests that share the same interests as large swaths of people, because they're democratic organizations. Unions are just groups of people working together for their collective interest. Businesses are controlled by an individual or very small group of people but with the finances of far more. The interests of business often don't align with the overall interest of a community, but unions, being part of the community, often have interests aligned with the community.

    The unions have far less funding just a year after Walker stripped their rights, and they'll have even less now that their rights won't be restored any time soon. They couldn't come close to competing with Walker's corporate money in the recall election, even though their existence depended upon it. This means unions, the only significant source of money for Democrats, won't be able to provide funding for Democrats to compete with Republicans in Wisconsin. Republicans will forever have the money advantage as long as the Democrats support union rights and the Republicans don't.

    The only other large source of funding for politicians besides unions are businesses and the rich. Democrats will have to choose one of two things: small people-funded campaigns or get funding from businesses and the rich as well. We saw from the recall election that small people-funded campaigns aren't easy. So, many Democrats will begin seeking more support from corporations or perpetually lose. We've basically ensured the corporate control of our government.

    So, what might our new out-of-state-controlled laboratory of far-right ideas cook up?

    Walker refused to say if he would sign Right-to-Work legislation in the final debate when Tom Barrett guaranteed that he would. Diane Hendricks, Walker's biggest donor, asked for it last year on video, and Walker replied with his plan to divide-and-conquer beginning with the rights of public workers. Therefore, we can only conclude that this Tea Party wish is high on his list, even though he didn't campaign on it. Wisconsin can say good-bye to good paying jobs, and say hello to your new corporate dictators.

    Right-to-Work would nearly ensure Walker's reelection in 2014 by gutting all significant funding for a Democratic challenger. It would almost certainly give Walker control of the entire legislature as well.

    Wisconsin is still suffering from a budget deficit. Just like Right-to-Work, Walker has refused to deny that he would sign legislation like Michigan's financial martial law. It wouldn't be beyond Walker to spin another crisis requiring "bold" action like that law.

    Walker hired a deer czar who's primary accomplishments involve privatizing deer hunting. A new private deer hunting industry would be a great way for Walker to push his far-right ideals and repay his rich donors. Get ready to pay hundreds if not thousands to hunt. It's what you voted for, even if Walker didn't say he would do it. That's the way Walker operates. While not nearly as likely as Right-to-Work, it's far from an impossibility.

    Walker will surely continue to reduce funding to public education in pursuit of privatization. Expect up to a 30% slash in teacher base pay, something Walker can do without any new legislation. Walker has shown he takes the easy way out, and he won't seek legislation through the now Democratically-controlled State Senate to fix the budget this year.

    With the continued bleeding of jobs, Walker may try to "stimulate" the economy again by giving more tax breaks to corporations and increasing our taxes by reducing tax cuts/credits or increasing government fees.

    The only thing standing in Walker's way is the Democratic majority in the State Senate, and that may not be easy to hold without any significant source of money. The middle class doesn't stand a chance against the rich in a war with money.

    Unfortunately, it seems our only way to stop the corporate takeover of our government is to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that negates the Citizens United ruling. People clearly don't realize when they are voting for politicians primarily supported by out-of-state interests, probably because those interests are able to frame the debate. We *could* get behind a few nationwide PACs setup to compete with corporate donations, especially if people donate what they were paying in union dues to the PACs. It's simply very difficult for candidates primarily supported by middle class grassroots to compete with candidates primarily supported by big business and the rich.