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“A Disservice To The Electorate”: Chuck Todd Thinks Voting Machine Concerns Are “Conspiracy Garbage”

This morning, NBC News’ top election expert, Chuck Todd, tweeted the following…

@ChuckTodd: The voting machine conspiracies belong in same category as the Trump birther garbage.

Todd was responding, no doubt, to the many folks who have been justifiably concerned of late, since it was discovered that a bunch of Bain Capital investors, led by Mitt Romney’s son Tagg, via a company called H.I.G. Capital (believed to stand for Hart Intercivic Group) took over control of Hart Intercivic, the nation’s third largest voting machine company, in 2011.

The Austin-based Hart company, according to VerifiedVoting.org’s database, supplies electronic voting machines and paper ballot tabulators that will be used to tally votes in the presidential election this year in all or parts of California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

I offered my point of view about those concerns earlier this month, explaining that it was not just the private ownership of Hart’s machines by Romney backers which voters should be concerned about, but the private ownership of the similar systems in all 50 states that will once again be used to tabulate the results of this year’s presidential election with little — and very often zero — possibility of oversight by the public or even by election officials.

Todd does an extraordinary disservice to the electorate with such tweets, and I’d be happy to go on his daily MSNBC show any time to explain why, as I have told him via Twitter in response to the above.

As Todd has not responded, and to expand upon my response to him, I’d like to ask him these few respectful questions…

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when paper ballot optical-scan tabulators made by Sequoia Voting Systems in Palm Beach County declared incorrect results of three different races last March, including declaring two losing candidates to be the “winners”?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when the Canadian firm Dominion Voting, which now owns Sequoia Voting Systems admitted the failure in Palm Beach was caused by a bug in all versions of its central tabulation software which will be used to tabulate the presidential election (and many others) on November 6th this year in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when, despite using Dominion/Sequoia’s recommended “fix,” the same problem occurred yet again in Palm Beach County’s August primary elections, as their Supervisor of Elections recently explained to me on air?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when 16,632 votes were found unaccounted for when those same machines were first used in Palm Beach County back in 2008?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when eight (8) top election officials—including the County Clerk, a Circuit Court Judge and the School Superintendent—in Clay County, KY were sentenced last year to 156 years in federal prison for gaming elections, including changing the votes of voters on ES&S electronic touchscreen voting machines?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when the president of Diebold Election Systems, Inc. (by then renamed Premier Election Systems, which is now owned by the Canadian firm Dominion Voting) admitted in 2008 that the company’s GEMS central tabulation software, used in some 34 states, does not tabulate votes correctly and routinely drops thousands of them when they are uploaded to the central server?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when Diebold/Premier’s spokesman admitted to the CA Secretary of State during a 2009 hearing that the supposedly permanent “audit logs” in all versions of its GEMS central tabulation system fail to record the deletion of ballots, after it was discovered that their electronic tabulator had failed to tabulate hundreds of paper ballots in a Humboldt County election (or to even notify system administrators that it had deleted those ballots)?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when the CA Secretary of State decertified federally-certified electronic voting and tabulation systems made by Diebold, Sequoia and Hart Intercivic in 2007 after a state-commissioned team of computer science and security experts from the University of California, Livermore National Laboratories and elsewhere “demonstrated that the physical and technological security mechanisms” for all of the state’s electronic voting systems (also used across the rest of the country) “were inadequate to ensure accuracy and integrity of the elections results and of the systems that provide those results” and that their “independent teams of analysts were able to bypass both physical and software security measures in every system tested“?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when the 2007 landmark study commissioned by OH’s then-Democratic Secretary of State, found “Ohio’s electronic voting systems have ‘critical security failures’ which could impact the integrity of elections in the Buckeye State” and when she (unsuccessfully) recommended, along with the then-Republican Speaker of the Senate, who is now the state’s Republican Secretary of State, that all touchscreen systems in the state be decertified due to concerns of, as she told The BRAD BLOG, “viruses that can be inserted into [Ohio’s e-voting and tabulation] system through something as simple as a PDA [Personal Digital Assistant] and a magnet and then the cards are passed from machine to machine almost like Typhoid Mary” so that “If there is malicious software, like a virus put into the system, it can not only affect the machines at the polling places, it can affect the tabulation that occurs at the server and it can also affect future elections if it’s not detected”?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when the New York Daily News discovered in 2012 that hundreds of paper ballots at just one precinct in the Bronx went uncounted in 2010 during the September primary (failure rate of 70%) and the November general election (failure rate of 54%) on their brand new ES&S DS200 paper ballot optical scanners, which are also used in OH, AZ, MI and elsewhere?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) released a warning in 2011 from a “Formal Investigation Report” that those same systems failed to count paper ballots correctly, on the heels of Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), OH’s previous finding that 10% of those machines failed during pre-election testing in 2010?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when Oakland County, MI wrote a letter of concern to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), seeking advice in 2008 after finding their ES&S M-100 optical scanners “yielded different results each time” the “same ballots were run through the same machines” during pre-election testing?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when Princeton University discovered in 2006 that they could, in mere seconds, implant a virus into Diebold touchscreen systems used in dozens of states which could then spread itself from machine to machine and result in an entire county’s election being flipped with little chance of detection?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when a computer security expert hacked a memory card on a Diebold paper ballot optical-scan system and flipped the results of a mock election (see the hack and its results as captured in HBO’s Emmy-nominated 2006 documentary Hacking Democracy here) in such a way that only a hand-count of the paper ballots in the election could reveal the true results?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when a CIA cybersecurity expert testified to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) in 2009 that e-voting was not secure, “that computerized electoral systems can be manipulated at five stages, from altering voter registration lists to posting results” and that “wherever the vote becomes an electron and touches a computer, that’s an opportunity for a malicious actor potentially to… make bad things happen”?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” that the Vulnerability Assessment Team (which also monitors nuclear facilities) at Argonne National Laboratory (the non-profit research lab operated by the University of Chicago for the Dept. of Energy) released a report earlier this year finding that Diebold’s touchscreen systems and, according to the team’s lead scientist, “pretty much every electronic voting machine” can be hacked with just $10.50 in parts and an 8th grade science education, or just $26 if you want to do it remotely?

—Was it “conspiracy garbage” when, in Volusia County, FL’s 2000 presidential election, a paper-based optical-scan tabulator made by Global Elections Management Systems (GEMS, thereafter purchased by Diebold to become Diebold Election Systems, Inc.) tallied negative 16,022 votes for Al Gore thanks to a supposed “software flaw” which has never been explained by anyone, and which Leon County (Tallahassee), FL’s Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho—the man so well respected by both major parties that he was placed in charge of the aborted 2000 Presidential Election recount in Florida—believes was a deliberate hack of the electronic tabulation system which is now used in hundreds of counties in dozens of states?

I could go on and on, obviously, but I won’t. You’re welcome. There are some 10 years worth of articles at The BRAD BLOG that folks can peruse to determine the facts underscoring my concerns and those of the others who have legitimately expressed them to you, Chuck Todd, about private, unaccountable corporations—owned by associates of Mitt Romney or by anybody else—having so much unoverseeable control of our once-public electoral system.

But, to misinform your 272,035 Twitter followers, not to mention your millions of viewers on television, that concerns about oft-failed, easily-manipulated electronic voting and tabulation systems are little more than “conspiracies” which “belong in the same category as the Trump birther garbage” is an extraordinary disservice to your readers, your viewers and the U.S. electorate as a whole.

They deserve a much better understanding of our electoral system from someone such as yourself, who is relied upon by so many as an expert in these matters.

Again, I would welcome the opportunity to discuss these concerns with you on your Daily Rundown show on MSNBC any time.

If, in fact, you are correct, that these concerns are little more than “conspiracy garbage,” you will do the electorate a great service by having me on, and putting me in my place once and for all by explaining why.

If these concerns are not “conspiracy garbage,” as I would argue, you would instead do the electorate a great service by helping the electorate understand why they are not, and what voters may be able to do at this point to help minimize the possibility of their votes not being counted accurately or transparently, or even at all, this November 6th.

Either way, the electorate will end up being much better informed before this year’s presidential election, which after all is, as I’m sure we can both agree, the most important core function of your job—and mine—as journalists.

 

By: Brad Friedman, The National Memo, October 22, 2012

 

 

October 23, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“No Deal Here Mr. Romney”: Why America Doesn’t Need A “Financier In Chief”

During the second presidential debate, Mitt Romney returned to one of the original themes of his campaign – namely that his financial experience at Bain Capital qualifies him to solve the problems of a nation plagued by unemployment and debt. Ridiculed and reviled in millions of dollars of advertising by his political rivals, from Newt Gingrich to Rick Perry to President Obama, Romney’s private sector career remains his central argument for electing him on November 6.

Today Peter A. Joseph, a respected and experienced figure in the private equity business as well as a civic activist, scrupulously debunks that argument on the New York Times website.

Over the past three decades, Joseph founded two private equity firms, gaining considerable insight into Romney’s success at Bain as well as the differences between political leadership and investment savvy. While not unsympathetic to the pressures Romney faced at Bain or his industriousness in overcoming them, Joseph says those financial triumphs have no special relevance to the Oval Office.

The role of the private-equity financier, he notes, has very little to do with being a “job creator”:

A businessman seeking to optimize profitability will look to lower labor costs by reducing headcount, whether through technology, outsourcing, or rationalization. This is right out of the basic playbook. It is not the mission of the financier to create jobs. In fact, his mission is often to do just the opposite.

Joseph gently tweaks Romney for indulging in harsh anti-government rhetoric when so much of his and Bain’s wealth derive from investing the pensions of teachers, cops, firefighters and other public-sector employees. (He might also have noted Romney’s venomous hatred of the very unions whose contractual power enabled him to get his hands on their accumulated assets.) He also suggests that Bain and other private-equity outfits have ripped off their clients, including the workers, through inflated fees:

Romney constantly derides big government, but government is made up of individuals, whose pension funds helped make him and Bain unimaginably rich. There is no doubt that these pension funds sought the higher returns offered by private-equity investing. But as the private equity business grew, the public pension funds and other capital providers have gotten the short end of the stick. They have not completely shared in the value of the franchise that is created in part by their investment in the industry. It seems odd to hear Romney criticize big government without any acknowledgment that he has made much of his fortune managing the retirement funds of many public employees.

Joseph concludes by contrasting the qualifications of a private-equity financier with what is required from a president of the United States, which don’t have much in common:

Romney’s financial success is admirable and enviable, but it came by following the mantra of increasing cash flow, cutting jobs and minimizing taxable income. Though the Obama campaign has tried to exploit this with millions of dollars in anti-Bain ads, the real issue is how Romney’s experience relates to a president’s need to balance budgetary responsibility with the heavy lifting required to address our collective concerns, our common obligations. We have heard a lot about pragmatism and practicality, but I can assure you that compassion and broader social concerns rarely make it into an investment memo. If Romney really wants to push his Bain experience, Americans will have to decide whether the answers to the problems facing them are best provided by a financier president.

 

By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, October 19, 2012

October 21, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Another Miscalculation”: Romney’s Odd Insistence On Using Bill Clinton As A De Facto Spokesperson

I’ve written before about the Romney campaign’s odd insistence on using Bill Clinton as a de facto spokesperson. Every so often, Team Romney highlights a comment by Clinton as a critique of President Obama, as if Clinton wasn’t an avowed and enthusiastic supporter of the president. The rationale, I suppose, is to be able to claim bipartisan discontent with Obama. The problem is that this does nothing more but boost Clinton’s credibility by turning him into a nonpartisan figure of repute. And as we saw during the Democratic National Convention, he can use this “referee” status to effectively hammer Mitt Romney and the Republican Party.

Indeed, it was after Clinton’s devastating speech that I expected Republicans to leave the former president out of the election. Turns out, they couldn’t resist: Today, Team Romney is distributing a clip of Clinton in Ohio, where he said that the economy has not been “fixed” under President Obama.

In their eagerness to use Clinton against Obama, it’s obvious that the Romney campaign failed to listen to what came after that statement.

Here’s the transcript:

“This guy ran Bain Capital and is a business guy, and he’s hiding his budget? That ought to tell you something. Well, he’s hiding his taxes, too, but he’s hiding his taxes in the years when he earned ordinary income. He’s given us two years when he was just running for president. And, he’s hiding whether he would have signed the Lilly Ledbetter act. He’s hiding everything. He doesn’t want you to think about him. He wants you to think, ‘Oh this economy is terrible. I’m a jobs guy.’ And as President Obama said in the debate, if I brought you a deal to Bain Capital and I said, fund my new business, I’ll give you the budget sometime in the future, just trust me on that, you wouldn’t give me one red cent, and we should not give him one vote on that.”

This is a potent message—it’s a variation on the “sketchy deal” language adopted by Obama—and by giving credibility to Clinton, Romney is making it stronger.

By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, October 19, 2012

October 20, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Incestuous Connections”: Will Federal Funds Subsidize Tagg Romney’s Private Equity Bonanza?

Nobody with the bad manners to ask the question would be likely to get the opportunity at the upcoming presidential debate, but someday—especially if Mitt Romney enters the Oval Office —someone will ask about his son Tagg’s privte equity firm.

Like the businesses operated by the first President Bush’s sons three decades ago, Tagg Romney’s Solamere Capital is rife with potentially embarrassing conflicts of interest. Founded in 2008, by eldest son Tagg and his father’s chief fundraiser Spencer Zwick, Solamere is a “fund of funds” representing more than a dozen private equity outfits, including Mitt’s Bain Capital.

What Solamere’s partnerships and investments also show is the stunning reliance of these rugged millionaire individualists on government contracts and programs. Their financial addiction to federal funds is almost amusing, especially given Romney’s infamous remarks about the “47 percent” who supposedly pay no taxes and depend on government largesse to meet all their needs.

Reporter Lee Fang closely scrutinizes those issues and Solamere’s incestuous connections with the Romney presidential campaign in the current issue of The Nation, with the support of the Investigative Fund (where National Memo editor-in-chief Joe Conason serves as editor-at-large).

Consider the man who hosted the $50,000-a-plate fundraiser where Romney made those comments in his huge, luxurious Boca Raton home. Marc Leder’s Sun Capital private equity firm is a partner in Solamere—and also owns part of the Scooter Store, a company that markets motorized wheelchairs, which Medicare beneficiaries buy with federal funds. Unfortunately the growth of the motorized scooter industry has relied heavily on as much as $500 million annually in improper and even fraudulent Medicare billing.

The Affordable Care Act—which Mitt Romney has vowed to repeal—contains a section requiring stringent reform of the motorized wheelchair benefit to prevent fraud. Would President Romney restore that reform to save Medicare funds even if his son’s business would suffer?

Another health sector suffering from rampant fraud is pediatric dentistry, with scandals in several states that involve very expensive, totally unnecessary treatments of poor children that are paid for by Medicaid—and earn huge profits for “dental management companies” owned by private equity firms. If Solamere is earning huge profits from dental mismanagement, would a Romney administration’s Medicaid agency crack down—or turn a blind eye?

Aside from exploiting Medicare and Medicaid, the private equity industry sees major profit opportunities in education—and in particular the for-profit colleges whose dubious practices and educational failures have become controversial in recent years. As Fang recalls, Mitt Romney himself promoted a for-profit institution called Full Sail University during a town hall event in New Hampshire last year, claiming that it could help students “hold down the cost of their eduation.”

Full Sail is actually the third most expensive college in the country—and happens to be owned by TA Associates, a private equity operation associated with the Romney financial empire. Would a Romney administration continue the current efforts to reform the for-profit colleges? Or would it coddle an industry that is becoming notorious for ripping off students and leaving them in debt and unemployed, after sucking down their federal loan funds?

Fang’s reporting may provide an instructive preview of the years to come in a Romney administration, with various Bush-like sons cashing in on White House connections. But the story of Solamere also suggests the hollowness of Romney’s anti-government rhetoric. More and more, the most apt description of private equity is “no, you didn’t build that.”

 

By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, October 16, 2012

October 17, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Economic Angel Of Death”: Mitt Romney, Non-Job-Creator

Back in August, the famous Reagan Budget Director David Stockman tore Paul Ryan a new one in an op-ed accusing his presumed doppelganger of great feats of mendacity and cowardice.

Now Stockman’s back with an enraged J’accuse! aimed at the very heart of Mitt Romney’s biography: the idea that he was a champion creator of “jobs” or “wealth” at Bain Capital. Stockman makes earlier critics of Bain look like Starbucks-addicted yuppie pikers. Here’s a sample:

Bain Capital is a product of the Great Deformation. It has garnered fabulous winnings through leveraged speculation in financial markets that have been perverted and deformed by decades of money printing and Wall Street coddling by the Fed. So Bain’s billions of profits were not rewards for capitalist creation; they were mainly windfalls collected from gambling in markets that were rigged to rise.

If you find Stockman’s rhetoric discredited by his hard-money biases, check out this:

Mitt Romney was not a businessman; he was a master financial speculator who bought, sold, flipped, and stripped businesses. He did not build enterprises the old-fashioned way—out of inspiration, perspiration, and a long slog in the free market fostering a new product, service, or process of production. Instead, he spent his 15 years raising debt in prodigious amounts on Wall Street so that Bain could purchase the pots and pans and castoffs of corporate America, leverage them to the hilt, gussy them up as reborn “roll-ups,” and then deliver them back to Wall Street for resale—the faster the better.

Whether you find Stockman’s producerism persuasive or not, there’s no question he’s making an effective challenge to the idea that ol’ Mitt knows what ails Main Street and Wall Street, and how to fix them. Romney’s loyalties have always been with the latter, and he knows as much about the former as his campaign’s talking points explain to him when he alights in the heartland locales where people like Mitt Romney once appeared like an economic angel of death.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 15, 2012

October 16, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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