Security of Electronic Voting Is Condemned
"Paperless electronic voting machines used throughout the Washington region and much of the country 'cannot be made secure,' according to draft recommendations issued this week by a federal agency that advises the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
"The assessment by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, one of the government's premier research centers, is the most sweeping condemnation of such voting systems by a federal agency.
"In a report hailed by critics of electronic voting, NIST said that voting systems should allow election officials to recount ballots independently from a voting machine's software. The recommendations endorse 'optical-scan' systems in which voters mark paper ballots that are read by a computer and electronic systems that print a paper summary of each ballot, which voters review and elections officials save for recounts." (WaPo)
We hear that the state's audit team has concluded their examination of Tuesday's mock vote, and attributed any discrepancies that cropped up during the exercise to human error.
On Tuesday, the state's "mock vote" -- its first run of tests on electronic voting machines in Florida's Sarasota County -- unexpectedly handed five extra votes to Democrat Christine Jennings, out of 251 ballots cast. At the time, Florida Division of Elections officials predicted they were the result of human error. After monitoring video of the votes they reaffirmed that belief, deciding that all five votes were the result of mistakes by election officials doing the voting.
On Friday, the audit moves on to its second phase, a similar run of tests on five machines that were actually used on Election Day.
Meanwhile, Jennings' legal contest of the election results is on hold pending the state's audit. If the process concludes without discovering any system errors, Jennings' camp would have to convince the state judge to allow them to run independent tests. Jennings' lawyer has strongly criticized the audit as insufficient.
Update: Jennings has added ES&S to their lawsuit challenging the election results, a step necessary to force the company to grant access to the machines' "source code," the company's software embedded in each machine.
It's one month before the Democrats take control of Congress. Do you know where your defense team is?
Evidence is mounting that corporate defense attorneys are expecting a billable-hour bonanza to result from congressional Democrats' investigative zeal. As we noted yesterday, Democratic subpoena power is good news for corporate counsel's earning power.
Law firm Dickstein Shapiro achieved quite a coup by snapping up the GOP's two top investigative lawyers from the House Energy and Commerce Committee. (TPMm Reader MV uncharitably notes, "I don't see how being an investigative lawyer for this Congress looks good on a resume.") As the press release announces, the men "will focus their practices on government investigations."
And at Wilmer Hale, prospective corporate clients are being urged to start planning now: "For companies and industries that may find themselves in the spotlight some months down the road, it would be prudent to begin planning early so that they can be ready to make their cases most cogently and effectively should the time come."
Two senior Democrats have seen their leadership ambitions deep-sixed because of their murky ethics histories. Here's a third Democrat heading for a powerful post whom folks may want to keep an eye on.
Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV) is underinvestigation by the FBI. And he's set to assume a top post which would put him in control of the FBI's budget. Neat trick, eh?
The FBI's probing Mollohan for possible violations of the law arising from his sprawling network of favors and money which connects him to good friends via questionable charities, alarmingly successful real estate ventures, and hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarked funds.
The investigation appears to be active and ongoing. We're told that the Feds continue to gather information on the guy. Yet the Democrats look poised to make Mollohan the chairman of the panel which controls the purse strings for the entire Justice Department -- including the FBI.
It might not work as a campaign slogan, but it gets your attention.
Facing stiff competition in a runoff election just nine days away, Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) has begun running an ad in which he asserts, "I have never taken a bribe from anyone." Jefferson, under FBI investigation for taking bribes, is trying to hold onto his seat representing Louisiana's 2nd District. But Democratic state Rep. Karen Carter is giving him a run for his money. No pun intended.
In the ad, Jefferson disputes Carter's claim that he was videotaped by the FBI taking a bribe. "Her newspaper source got the facts wrong," he says. You can watch the ad here:
Though the laundry list of damning quotes captured by FBI wiretaps do include such gems as "I make a deal for my children" and "I'm gonna get your deal out of the way... and I probably won't last long after that," we do have some sympathy for Jefferson here.
On the videotape to which Jefferson is referring, the FBI informant actually is captured giving Jefferson the briefcase filled with $100,000 in cash as an intended bribefor the Vice President of Nigeria -- not Jefferson himself, so he does have a point.
Of course, despite the fact that Jefferson subsequently told the informant that he'd passed on the cash (which he cryptically referred to as "African art") to Nigerian VP Atiku Abubakar as discussed, a FBI raid of Jefferson's home found $90,000 of the intended bribe in Jefferson's freezer.
Call it a sign of the times. How to salvage a sweetheart contract for Republican lobbyists when control of Congress flips? Make it a sweetheart contract for Democratic lobbyists!
Down in Texas, Republican Governor Rick Perry caused an uproar last year when it was discovered that he'd gutted the state agency charged with lobbying the federal government and replaced it with Republican lobbyists. For $1.2 million over four years, the lobbyists, Drew Maloney (formerly an aide to Tom DeLay) and Todd Boulanger (formerly of Jack Abramoff's lobbying team), who showed their appreciation by cycling tens of thousands in contributions back to Republicans, were charged with convincing Texas' already immensely strong GOP delegation of the state's priorities. An analysis by The Houston Chronicle of the lobbyists' billing records showed that they'd only met with two House Democrats the whole time -- and those Democrats denied those contacts had occurred.
Well, now the Democrats are in charge -- so a couple of GOP lobbyists aren't of much use anymore. So the firms, who won the contracts based on their GOP bona fides, are preening as Democratic powerhouses.
As we noted yesterday, the state's first run of tests on electronic voting machines in Florida's Sarasota County unexpectedly handed five extra votes to Democrat Christine Jennings.
Since then, the Division of Elections has been busily trying to figure out what went wrong. But despite a full day of analysis that did not explain the discrepancy, the department's spokesperson is still insisting that "human error" is to blame. They just need more time to figure out how.
Meanwhile, evidence continues to mount that whatever problems caused electronic machines not to register a vote in the congressional race for more than 18,000 voters in the county on Election Day, the problem affected Democrats more than Republicans.
...Tuesday, Stanford University professor David Dill said his examination of ballot data supported that conclusion.
Dill, an electronic-voting expert, found that 5,304 people whose ballots showed no selection in the congressional race voted a straight Democratic ticket on the five statewide races. He found that 3,290 voted straight Republican. [Republican Vern Buchanan won the official tally by fewer than 400 votes.]
"Something's going on there," Dill said. "But I'm not sure what yet."
FEMA Ordered to Resume Katrina Payments
"Condemning the bureaucracy at the Federal Emergency Management Agency as 'Kafkaesque,' a federal judge Wednesday ordered the government to immediately resume housing payments to Gulf Coast residents who lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina.
"Barely six months after Katrina ravaged the region, FEMA began ending payments to several thousand families still in temporary housing and unable to return to their homes.
"U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said the agency had violated the evacuees' rights by not adequately explaining why it was ending the benefits, making it difficult for storm victims to appeal the decisions....
"Leon ordered the agency to explain its actions, restore short-term benefits to evacuees who had been cut off and give them the two months of housing payments they would have received after payments finally stopped in August 2006. The ruling affects 11,000 families, mostly in Louisiana and Texas.
"The judge cited letters from FEMA that gave contradictory explanations for decisions. He also described FEMA's practice of conveying its decisions 'cryptically â¦ by a code or phrase' decipherable only after evacuees obtained a separate pamphlet explaining the codes." (LAT, AP)
Remember Brandon Mayfield? He's the guy the FBI arrested in 2004 and held for two weeks for allegedly aiding a terrorist bombings of Spanish commuter trains. Except, he didn't do it.
Mayfield just won a $2 million settlement from the U.S. government for its rather egregious error, along with a written apology for its mistakes.
Based on a faulty fingerprint match, the FBI arrested Mayfield, raided his house and office, and held him for two weeks. They finally admitted their error and released him.
The kicker to the story: a March 2006 report from the Justice Department's Inspector General examined the Mayfield case and the Patriot Act, and concluded that for the most part, the new law had no impact on the way the FBI investigated the case. But, the report found, the Patriot Act did allow the FBI to share information about the innocent Mayfield more broadly within the intelligence community.