Monday, July 17, 2006

Blowing the Whistle on Diebold

Blowing the Whistle on Diebold
By John Ireland (
In These Times

Monday 17 July 2006

On July 13, the Pensacola, Fla.-based law firm of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. filed a "qui tam" lawsuit in U.S. District Court, alleging that Diebold and other electronic voting machine (EVM) companies fraudulently represented to state election boards and the federal government that their products were "unhackable."

Kennedy claims to have witnesses "centrally located, deep within the corporations," who will confirm that company officials withheld their knowledge of problems with accuracy, reliability and security of EVMs in order to procure government contracts. Since going into service, many of these machines have been linked to allegations of election fraud.

In the wake of alleged vote count inconsistencies and the "hanging chad" debacle of 2000, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002. HAVA appropriated $3 billion to replace voting equipment and make other improvements in election administration. Diebold, Election Systems & Software and Sequoia Systems secured the lion's share of $300 million in contracts to purchase EVMs. All 50 states have received funds and many are hurriedly spending it on replacing lever and punch card machines in time for November.

According to the Election Assistance Commission, more than 61 percent of votes in the 2004 presidential election were cast and/or tallied by EVMs. Election Data Services, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm, estimates that the figure will jump to 80 percent by November, which will see elections for all 435 seats in the House of Representatives.

Matt Schultz, an attorney with Kennedy's law firm, Levin Papantonio, describes the process of competition for HAVA's $300 million of contractor funds as "a race to the bottom." "There is no question in my mind that these companies sacrificed security and accuracy, mass-producing a cheap product to cash in on tons of federal money," Schultz says. "It's an industry-wide problem."

Qui tam lawsuits stem from a provision in the Civil False Claims Act, which Congress passed in 1863 at the behest of President Abraham Lincoln to respond to price gouging, use of defective products and substitution of inferior material by contractors supplying the Union Army. The provision allows private citizens to file a suit in the name of the U.S. government charging fraud by government contractors and other entities that receive or use government funds.

Long known as "Lincoln's Law," it is now commonly referred to as the "Whistleblower Law." Since the mid-'80s, qui tam recoveries have exceeded $1 billion, mostly after exposing medical and defense overcharging.

Mike Papantonio, partner in the law firm and co-host with Kennedy on "Ring of Fire," a weekly radio show on the Air America Network, explains the value of the qui tam approach. "The problem with injunctive relief, or [a writ of] mandamus, or prohibition-type writs, is it all comes down to politics.… How do you bring injunctive relief with [Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth] Blackwell? How do you get [Florida Governor] Jeb Bush to do anything? They won't. You have to move outside of that political realm."

In 2004, Blackwell was in charge of implementing state and federal election laws, while, at the same time, co-chairing the state's 2004 Bush/Cheney Campaign. Under his watch, election officials neglected to process registration cards from Democratic voter drives, purged tens of thousands of voter registrations and distributed EVMs unevenly, leaving some voters waiting up to 12 hours. According to Kennedy, "at least 357,000 voters, the overwhelming majority of them Democratic, were prevented from casting ballots or did not have their votes counted." Ohio was decided by 118,601 votes.

The contents of the suit could be under judicial seal for at least 60 days while the U.S. Department of Justice considers whether or not to join the suit. If U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales decides not to join the suit, Levin Papantonio may approach individual state attorneys general. If no one joins, the firm is free to, as Papantonio puts it, "stand in the shoes of the Attorney General and fight on behalf of the taxpayers and the nation."

"The single greatest threat to our democracy is the insecurity of our voting system," warns Kennedy. "Whoever controls the voting machines can control who wins the votes."

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

Al Gore's new documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" is an important opportunity to further educate the public and inspire action towards global warming solutions.  And since the movie opened last month, most of you have seen it and made it one of the most successful documentaries ever.

Now we need to make sure that more people see it--not just people already concerned about the environment like you, but all your friends, family, and neighbors as well. The more people who see this film, the greater chance we'll have to convince our political leaders to enact real global warming solutions.

To pledge to bring friends to see "An Inconvenient Truth," click on the link below or paste it into your web browser:


Global warming is starting to change weather patterns. Scientists predict that these changes will accelerate in the future and say that we can expect:

* Extreme weather. Scientists expect hurricanes to become more intense and say that the hurricanes that hit the Gulf states in 2005 may be an indication of what's to come.

* Public health risks. Scientists also expect heat waves to become more dangerous, causing more people to suffer heat stress and stroke. Other impacts include the spread of infectious diseases.

* Less snow, less water. Many of the rivers and streams that we rely on for our water supply are fed by mountain snow. But warmer winters are starting to cause less precipitation to fall as snow, which may cause serious future water shortages.

Most global warming pollution comes from burning oil, coal, and natural gas in our power plants, cars, SUVs, and factories. Power plants are the single biggest source, responsible for about 40% of U.S. global warming pollution. Because there are no federal limits on global warming pollution, industry can pump unlimited amounts of the pollution into our skies.

Some states have already taken the first steps, such as by requiring power companies and automakers to reduce global warming pollution from power plants and cars. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has sided with the coal, oil, and auto industries to reject limits on global warming pollution. Without federal action, pollution will continue to rise.

The good news is we can reduce global warming pollution by using existing technology to make power plants and factories more efficient, make cars go farther on a gallon of gasoline, and shift to cleaner technologies, such as hybrids, biofuels, and wind and solar power.

These are win-win solutions because they also will reduce our dependence on oil, reduce air pollution, protect pristine places from oil drilling and mining, and bring many other benefits.

We're urging Congress to set science-based targets for reducing global warming pollution from power plants, cars, and other sources. These targets should put us on the path to reduce global warming pollution by 15-20% by 2020 and by 60-80% by 2050.

Al Gore's new documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" is an important opportunity to educate the public and inspire action towards global warming solutions.

"An Inconvenient Truth" has opened in many cities and is opening in many more this week. We hope you'll pledge to be one of the first to see this groundbreaking film and, even more important, that you'll get your friends and family to go see it as well.

To pledge to see "An Inconvenient Truth," click on the link below or paste it into your web browser:


Rebecca D. Stanfield
Environment Illinois State Director

P.S. Thanks again for your support. Please feel free to share this e-mail with your family and friends.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Gary has our revamped web site up

Nice work, Gary - it looks like navigation and registration is greatly simplified, especially the online forums.

Definitely a winner.


Thursday, July 06, 2006

Progressive Festival Illinois

An interesting idea came out of tonight's meeting. We are looking into holding a Progressive Festival on a farm in Rural Kane County, which we would like to become an annual event. Tentative time frame is a Saturday around the end of September. PDI will be looking for other Progressive organizations to co-sponsor the event as well. ( info at illinoisprogressives dot org for inquiries) We are interested in speakers, local musical acts, etc.

The idea is in the very early planning stages, and we are just beginning to send invitations out for co-sponsorship of the event as of this evening.


Hal Snyder has been voted to replace Nayana as Co-Chair of PDI, I remain as the other Co-Chair.

Kat Doyle replaces Hal as Secretary and should be posting minutes in the near future.

We are also investigating the possibility of forming multiple PDA chapters from PDI's membership. This would help grow both organizations and help coordinate Progressive activity in the state if we can successfully implement such a strategy. Nothing finalized on this as yet.

We also are discussing further methods of growing PDI and leaning towards more focus on PDI's secondary mission of setting up tools to act as a bridge between Illinois Progressive groups and organizations for the near term. General consensus is that this strategy will help us achieve our long-term mission of reforming the Democratic party from within in the State of Illinois.

The web site at is undergoing a revamp and should be vback up in the next few days per Gary Kleppe. After that point, he will pursue implementing our new database.

All in all, a productive meeting.

Rough ideas for growing PDI

> Get the database up and running so we can do some coordinated outreach.

> Start actively tabling at events.

> Create a broadcast list for press releases, including position statements.

> Find a way to teach everyone to use online chat so we can get things done without waiting for the -monthly- meetings.

> Schedule chat sessions as soon as the above is completed - weekly?

> Compile a list of locations in reach of our members that allow free publications to be left out.

> Do at least a quarterly newsletter and leave a few at the above locations.

> Start collecting a dollar a head at the monthly meetings so we have a few bucks to print up flyers or newsletters at Kinkos or wherever. Voluntary, of course.

07/06/06 Meeting Agenda

Meeting Agenda:

7:00 - 7:30: open discussion period is typical, we might as well do it here.

7:30 - 8:00: We need to call for a second person to Co-Chair PDI as Nayana is unable to do so per our last meeting. If there is more than one volunteer we will hold a vote.

8:00 - 9:00: Discussion on ways to grow PDI, status reports on on-going efforts, and discussion of any events we can participate in or co-sponsor