October 29, 2008

Undervotes - The Scary Canary

By Mary Mancini

The Scary CanaryIn 2004 massive get-out-the-vote efforts created a huge turnout on Election Day, bringing more voters to the polls than ever before. But in key states (and The Keystone state), many voters showed up at the polls and waited in long lines for hours only to later discover the voting machines showed many of them had no vote recorded for any presidential candidate.

This particular scary canary in a coalmine is known as presidential "undervotes" – ballots cast without recording a choice for the highest office in the land.

In this clip, UNCOUNTED focuses on instances of undervoting in two battleground states in 2004 – New Mexico and Pennsylvania. New Mexico had a particularly large problem, where presidential undervote rates of 25% were reported in Democratic-leaning Hispanic and American Indian precincts. New Mexico had the nation’s highest presidential undervote rate – 21,084. (George W. Bush won that state by less than 6,000 votes.)

2008 might have a lot things in common with 2004. Now we’ll know what to look for if undervotes are one of them.

October 28, 2008

The Pledge

By Mary Mancini

Join Reverend Jesse Jackson, Tom Hayden, Barbara Ehrenreich, Manning Marable, Norman Solomon, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Van Jones, Holly Near, Emily Levy, Jim Hightower, Mark Crispin Miller, Uncounted filmmaker David Earnhardt, and nearly 80 other leading voting rights advocates and sign the “No More Stolen Elections” Pledge. The No More Stolen Elections Pledge is designed to mobilize concerned citizens in preparation for a possible repeat of Florida, 2000, and Ohio, 2004. It states:

“I remember Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004, and I am willing to take action in 2008 if the election is stolen again. I support efforts to protect the right to vote leading up to and on Election Day, November 4th. I pledge to join nationwide pro-democracy protests starting on November 5th, either in my community, in key states where fraud occurred, or in Washington, D.C.. I pledge: No More Stolen Elections!”

John Nichols writing in The Nation recently explained his reasons for signing the pledge, writing that, “The 2000 presidential election was an in-broad-daylight assault on both the concept of democracy and its practice in the United States.”

Read more and sign the pledge at NoMoreStolenElections.org.

October 28, 2008

How to See Uncounted if You Can’t Make it to a The Damned Concert

By Mary Mancini

UPDATED: As you know, Uncounted is screening on Starz at many set times in October, twice on Election Day eve (Monday, 11/3, Starz Edge at 9:40am and 7:35pm ET/PT) and four times on Election Day (Tuesday, 11/4, Starz Cinema at 11:45am and 8:35pm ET/PT and Starz Cinema W at 2:45pm and 11:35 ET/PT)

What you might not know is that if you have Comcast cable you can also watch Uncounted for free ON DEMAND. Yep - why wait until election day? Have you friends and family over TONIGHT! Or, better yet, invite a bunch of people over on Halloween, and tell them you’re going to watch the scariest Halloween movie EVER.

I can even envision the Halloween-themed snacks you’ll make to entice them…Diebold Dip? Hand Counted Paper Ballot Brownies? Pennsylvania Pumpkin Pie? The possibilities are endless!

October 28, 2008

Uncounted Punk Rocks the Vote

By Mary Mancini
The Damned

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When Pinch, drummer for the seminal and socially conscious punk rock band The Damned, emailed us last week, he made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. Would you like to expose 10,000+ potential voters to the issue of election integrity?

Why, yes, thank you. So, starting tonight in San Francisco, and for the first week of band’s west coast tour, Uncounted will play from when the doors open, to the first band, and at every interval until it has finished. Pinch’s hope, and now ours too, is that the film will encourage the “inactive/passive American to become a proactive/demonstrative voter who demands their voice was heard and doesn’t just become another hanging chad or broken machine voter.”

If you’re in Cali, check out the most entertaining screenings of Uncounted ever. Ever.

Tuesday, October 28 at Slims, San Francisco, CA
Wednesday, October 29 at Blank Club, San Jose, CA
Thuursday, October 30 at House Of Blues, Anaheim, CA
Friday, October 31, House Of Boos, Hollywood, CA
Saturday, November 1, House Of Blues, San Diego, CA
Sunday, November 2, Downtown Brew, San Luis Obispo, CA

October 28, 2008

UPDATED: Stop, Drop & Poll - What You Can Do if You Have Problems Voting

By Mary Mancini

Greetings to you, lovers of participatory democracy!

Sparky the Fire DogThis year’s presidential election has already begun (early voting in more than 30 states!) and reports of problems at the polls have started to surface. VotersUnite.org keeps a running list which includes faulty equipment, intimidation, long lines or other forms of systematic disenfranchisement, the dissemination of misinformation, and inadequate procedures and systems.

Although most of you will not have any problems at the polls this year, disenfranchisement can creep up on you like Michael Myers on Laurie Strode, so please take the time to read the 10 suggestions listed below to prepare yourself. (And for goodness sake, don’t go in the basement!)

1) Know the Rules Governing Elections in Your State
Don’t expect poll workers at your precinct to be experts in the rules that govern elections in your state. Although they are trained, they are also overworked and underpaid and can easily get confused by misinformation. Since each state has different rules and requirements for an election, make sure you know things like what ID requirements are needed, when you might be required to vote on a “Provisional Ballot,” whether or not you can wear clothing with your candidate’s logo, etc.. For instance, you should avoid casting a “Provisional Ballot” - which is a ballot that was set up as a safety-net for voters who might otherwise not be able to vote - because how and when these ballots get counted varies widely from state to state, and has resulted in a good number not being counted (1/3 of all provisional ballots were not counted in 2004). Although you might be offered a provisional ballot for legitimate reasons, these reasons are different in each state - so know the rules and you’ll be well-equipped to handle problems if they arise.

2) Check Your Registration and Check Your Polling Place
Even if you think you’re registered you may not be, as there have been reports of recent wholesale purging of voter rolls (see NY Times and Washington Post). Make sure you are registered to vote by checking online at www.CanIVote.org. Or, call your county election office. Also, know where you are supposed to vote before leaving your house. You can check you polling place at Google’s handy dandy poll location finder thingy (not the technical term). If you show up at the wrong precinct and try to vote, you will either be directed to your actual precinct or you will be given a provisional ballot. In this instance, avoid the provisional ballot (for reasons discussed in #1), and take the time to get your democracy-loving self over to your correct precinct.

3) Early Vote, If You Can
Check if early voting is possible in your state and then pick a day that’s not November 4 - and go vote. Besides alleviating the stress of getting to the polls on November 4th, early voting also allows you to take care of any problems that may crop up in time to vote another day!

4) Avoid “Straight Party” Voting
“Straight Party” voting means selecting a single bubble or box for a specific political party in order to register your vote for multiple candidates of that party. Fifteen states allow straight-party voting, and the laws vary widely from state to state. Do not use the “Straight Party” voting option if it’s available to you. Again, each state is different and some require that the presidential race not be part of a “Straight Party” voting option. So, even though you may think you’re voting for every race using the “Straight Party” option, you may not be. Voting may take a little longer when you don’t use the “Straight Party,” but it will give you more control over your ballot.

5) Verify Your Vote
Remember when your third grade teacher told you to “check your work?” Yeah, well, everything you need to know about verifying your vote you learned in 3rd grade.

6) At the First Sign of a Problem, Stop!
At the first sign of a problem with your machine (or if you have any other problems listed below*), stop what you are doing and ask to speak to the supervisor (skip the poll worker) at your polling location. Explain your problem. If they try and waive you off, call your main election commission and ask to speak to the election commissioner or someone who will satisfactorily address your issue. Keep in mind that many poll workers/supervisors will try and blame the voter. Do not leave your polling place until your problem is well-documented and addressed to your complete satisfaction and, if the problem is with the machine, that the machine is quarantined. If you can’t get the machine taken out of service, begin telling all the voters still waiting in line exactly which machine is having problems and try to get them to refuse that machine. Also, do not leave your polling place until you have cast your vote.

7) File a Report. File Several Reports.
Your local polling place will have incident reports that are specific to your county available to you. If they do not, call the county election commission and ask someone to bring one to you. Make sure that both you and the supervisor sign it. Do not leave without a copy of the signed report in your hands. Then, file a state report - info on how to do so can be found at the U.S. Election Assistance Commission website or, call your state election commission.

8. Call the Election Protection Hotline
Report any incident to the non-partisan Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-Our-Vote, especially if you feel you are being bullied. This hotline can also help with filing reports and any additional grievances that you feel may not be taken seriously by your local election officials.

9) Video Your Vote
If possible, plan ahead for any problems by bringing a cell phone or video camera with you to Video the Vote (a national initiative to protect voting rights by monitoring the electoral process). If you encounter difficulties, or see others having problems, make a detailed record. Then, spread it around - local news media, YouTube, your own website or blog, etc.. Remember, the focus should be on gathering evidence and not telling stories. So, use video, audio, and photographs to document. If you do not have a means to record, then it is especially important for you to file a report (see #7) as well as write down names and phone numbers of witnesses, voting machine serial numbers, names of poll workers, and the time and day of your incident.

10) Never Let Anyone Tell You That You Can’t Vote.
We the People, indeed.

*Problems can include: machine problems (vote flipping, etc.), polling place problems (machines not set up on time), switching or closing of polling place, voters forced to vote on a provisional ballot, long lines/waits, intimidation, unusual ID demands, poll workers asking inappropriate questions, etc.

Please forward as you see fit and remember, the vote you save may be your own!

October 28, 2008

Check Your Work

By Mary Mancini
2008 Election

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Remember when your third grade teacher told you to “check your work?” Yeah, well, everything you need to know about verifying your vote you learned in 3rd grade.

In the following video, Jackson County, WV (where stories of vote flipping about this early voting season) County Clerk Jeff Waybright demonstrates that an uncalibrated - and supposedly calibrated - ES&S iVotronic voting machine will actually flip votes.

Votes flip so check your work and verify your vote. In the words of citizen Waybright, “You should never leave the voting booth without voting for who you wanted to vote for.

(h/t: Bradblog.com)

October 23, 2008

The Powerful and Obnoxious Odor of Provisional Ballots

By Mary Mancini

In their recent piece in Rolling Stone Magazine, Block the Vote, Robert Kennedy, Jr. and Greg Palast underscore Uncounted’s message about the duplicity of provisional ballots:

In 2004, an estimated 3 million voters who showed up at the polls were refused regular ballots because their registration was challenged on a technicality. Instead, these voters were handed “provisional” ballots, a fail-safe measure mandated by HAVA [Help America Vote Act] to enable officials to review disputed votes. But for many officials, resolving disputes means tossing ballots in the trash. In 2004, a third of all provisional ballots — as many as 1 million votes — were simply thrown away at the discretion of election officials.

With their status in limbo, the voters were forced to cast “provisional” ballots, which can be reviewed and discarded by election officials without explanation.

And Step 4 in their guide to Stealing Back Your Vote urges,

DO NOT FILL OUT A PROVISIONAL BALLOT if your vote is challenged!! In 2004 the Republicans challenged a ridiculous number of voters. The voters were then told by a sweet little lady at a table that their “provisional ballot” would be counted, BUT IT WON’T… DEMAND that poll judges make the judgment ON THE SPOT. Demand a call to the supervisor of elections. If you have to, go home and come back with a better form of ID. If you need help, call ELECTION PROTECTION at 1-866-OUR-VOTE. And help those around you when you’re at the polling place. Look for people having trouble. Call the number for them. Tell them not to fill out a provisional ballot!

In this clip from Uncounted, Ohio citizen Bobby Jackson, who was forced to vote provisionally in 2004, sends out a heartfelt plea for participatory democracy - despite his vote not counting. “I guess I’ll vote next time too,” he says, “’cause people fought and died for my right to vote…and I know that…”

Please help spread this clip and its message, along with with Mr. Kennedy’s and Mr. Palast’s timely and specific instructions, and help, in the words of Mr. Jackson, “make it right…”

October 23, 2008

What Organization is More Sinister than Al Qaeda?

By Mary Mancini

According to Stephen Colbert, it’s ACORN (dun-dun-DUN!) - the biggest nut-based threat to America!

October 22, 2008

Help Stop Vote Flipping in West Virginia

By Mary Mancini

An action alert from TrueVote.US, who have been working to end paperless electronic voting in the United States:

Every day there are reports from voters of machines flipping the vote. So far, all the reports have been votes changing from Obama to McCain.

This is reminiscent of the experience in Sarasota, FL in 2006. When the voting was completed and they counted the vote, they discovered that the vote flipping was the tip of the iceberg. The machines, the iVotronic - the same ones being used in West Virginia, had 18,000 blank ballets. This was enough to change the outcome of the election. Election officials were unable to reconstruct the race. For more on this see “Vote Flipping with the iVotronic the Florida 2006 Experience” at http://truevote.us/nucleus/index.php?itemid=363 which includes a comment by an election integrity advocate in Sarasota as well as links to reports, including from the U.S. GAO, on the 18,000 lost votes.

We are demanding that the state remove any machine that reportedly flips the vote or resists taking voter’s choices. Such machines should be immediately removed. Voters should not be forced to vote on a machine that shows intermittent or continuous misalignment. These problems can be a sign of fraudulent software or hardware this is not likely to be corrected by recalibration of the machine.

Further, if the problems continue the state should be preparing for a paper ballot election with hand counts. At this late stage of the game that is the only alternative that seems possible.

TrueVote provides this online form to send a letter below to all elected officials in West Virginia, including the Governor, Secretary of State, Senators and Members of Congress.

October 22, 2008

All Hail the Mighty The Google!

By Mary Mancini

The Google finds it hard to believe that in 2008, even with the Help America Vote Act, information important to U.S. citizens and the democratic process - like finding out how to register and where to vote - isn’t well organized on the web. OK, so I added the snarky bit about HAVA, but Google has done their part to solve this voter info problem by creating a US Voter Info site in an “effort to simplify and centralize voting locations and registration information.”

We developed the site in the hope that it will increase voter participation. We were helped by a number of partners, including many state and local election officials, the League of Women Voters, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and others involved in the Voting Information Project.

They also have a gadget for your website:

Are you registered to vote? What’s the best way to obtain an absentee ballot? When people visit the site, answers to these questions appear. And anyone with a website can provide the same information. The US Voter Info gadget places a simple search box that expands to show a full set of voter information when someone enters an address.

And an API:

To encourage political participation, we’ve opened up this data to third-party sites and developers through an API developed by Dan Berlin, one of our open-source engineers. We’re excited to share this data, and hope that others will find it useful in encouraging citizens to vote.