A few years back I sent a small donation to Bev Harris's group Black Box Voting, which was investigating alleged electoral fraud. Since then I've been on their mailing list. I haven't donated again because I have read about controversy surrounding the group and the alleged evidence they have produced.
The latest fundraising letter from Black Box Voting arrived in my mailbox today. The letter opens with this passage:
Black Box Voting has been examining checks and balances for the Iowa presidential caucuses.
What we have found is grim: The Iowa caucus system lacks critical checks and balances. In reality, political party machinery controls procedures, documents, voting machines (yes, the machines are used in the caucuses in many locations), and chain of custody. This means that political party machinery has ultimate control over results.
-Unlike publicly run elections, Iowa caucuses are not subject to Iowa public records laws.
-Results for the caucuses come in precinct by precinct, but Black Box Voting has learned that these results are not committed properly into permanent public records at the time they are announced and a complete set of the recinct results can be very difficult to obtain. Even when individual precincts are carefully monitored by attendees, tracking down discrepancies for the whole chases a moving target—that is, if you can get a detailed accounting at all. Not acceptable!
-Use of voting machines in caucus and upcoming primaries: Manipulation of voting machines can achieve wholesale alteration of election results. The mechanisms are easier to understand when you watch the detective story as it unfolds in the HBO documentary Hacking Democracy. (See below). Computerized voting is locked into 2008. Paper trail? Necessary, but doesn't guarantee honest elections. Manual spot checks? Nice, but don't guarantee honest elections. The biggest risk is insiders, who have access to voting machines and ballots.
The letter goes on to say that Black Box Voting has designed a “Caucus Watch Project” for Iowa citizens. They don't give details in this letter—it seems that you would have to fill out a slip promising to volunteer in order to find out what they have planned.
I am not going to send them money or volunteer for this “caucus watch.” First of all, I am not aware of voting machines being used in any precinct caucus. Someone correct me if I am wrong about that, but at the caucuses I've attended, individuals count people in each group and report the numbers to the precinct chair, who calculates the delegate equivalents using a pen and paper or a manual calculator.
No one fills out a ballot or feeds any paper into a voting machine that I have seen.
Second, I think this fear-mongering about “insiders” tampering with the caucus results is unfounded. The caucus is public, and the results at each precinct are announced to all who are present. I will be “watching” my precinct in my role as precinct captain for the Edwards campaign.
Precinct captains will report the results of their caucuses to the various campaigns, which will keep track of how many county delegates their candidate has won from the precincts.
I think it would be hard for party insiders to alter the results at the county level without one or more campaigns becoming aware that they were being cheated.
That said, I do agree with Black Box Voting that the Iowa Democratic Party and the Iowa Republican Party should make precinct-level results publicly available to allay any suspicions about the process.
Side note: has anyone out there seen this HBO documentary Hacking Democracy? I am interested, but I don't want to send Black Box Voting a contribution of $45 or more (they are giving away the DVD to all donors at that level).