Something's rotten in the state of Denmark

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Aaron Brown stops the silence

You can't say Keith Olbermann is alone in covering this stuff. Aaron Brown on CNN -- actually, my favorite broadcaster, with objectivity and humor in abundance -- took a step out of the media silence fog last night. (Okay, it wasn't the first time he had discussed the irregularities.)

I missed the actual broadcast, but here's the transcript. You have to go down aways to get there. Oh, hell, here it is:

BROWN: Saw a poll today showing that 80 percent of the country believes the president won the election in a fair vote. The other 20 percent write me. We have no reason to believe the election wasn't fair, but, oddly, we have less than perfect confidence that the votes were counted accurately. No one, we suppose, expects 100 percent accuracy in such things, but how much error is too much error? And perhaps a better question still, will we ever know?

BROWN (voice-over): Bev Harris, a citizen activist who first brought national attention to the problems with voting software, is now in Florida pursuing internal computer records for what she calls a forensic audit.

BEV HARRIS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, BLACKBOXVOTING.ORG: I think we can talk, you know, until the cows come home about what might happen and could happen and what's theoretical, and the best thing we can do is just go get the records and see what did happen.

BROWN: She's not alone. A number of experts are now looking and looking hard at not only fraud, but the possible effects of simple computer error, the kind of dumb mistake that ruined the Hubble telescope and sent Mars missions astray. So how accurate was the 2004 vote count?

DR. REBECCA MERCURI, VOTING TECHNOLOGY EXPERT: Basically, 80 percent of our votes, for the most part, we really don't know. We haven't taken the time to look into it.

BROWN: Some examples. In Franklin County, Indiana, a programming error was applying Democratic votes to the Libertarian Party. After a recount, the winner on election night is now the loser. In North Carolina, over 4,000 ballots are gone forever, lost when a voting machine passed its arbitrary limit. In South Florida, election officials were horrified to see vote totals start counting down after they hit 32,000.

What is even more disturbing, a statistical study done at U.C. Berkeley indicates that there could have been similar counting problems in all Florida counties that use touch-screen voting machines.

MERCURI: The type of testing that you need is really being done at Election Day, as opposed to being done before Election Day.

BROWN: In Washington today, in an office so new you could still smell the carpet glue, the Federal Election Assistance Commission admits it is only beginning the process of creating national standards.

DEFOREST SOARIES, CHAIRMAN, U.S. ELECTION ADVISORY COMMISSION: Every voting machine that was used this year was certified against standards that were 1990 standards.

BROWN: The chairman promises intensive federal audits, audits to guarantee eventually voter confidence.

SOARIES: We're going to go down to the ground on this much further than we've ever gone before. I don't take the opinion, and neither does my commission, that what you don't know won't hurt you.

BROWN: And the debate will go on.

"We have no reason to believe the election wasn't fair." Cough, cough.

That said, a) this kind of break in the media silence is terrific and b) though he doesn't really explain the import of the Berkeley study -- c'mon, Aaron, burying the lede about the 130,000 excess votes? -- he still mentioned it.

For the final word, we'll go to Olbermann on his blog:

Which reminds me that it was mildly encouraging to see some focus given to this entire topic Tuesday night by my old CNN cohort Aaron Brown. A carefully-worded segment included a laundry list of the problems we’ve been reporting on Countdown for the last three weeks, and compared them to “the kind of dumb mistake that ruined the Hubbell telescope.” Brown referenced the UC Berkeley study on the prospect of 130,000 phantom votes in Florida (though he didn’t mention its conclusion that all of them went to President Bush), and even had about fifteen seconds of Blackbox’s Bev Harris and her slog through the computer printout records in Florida.

Whatever your stance on any of this, the media silence has been fairly odd, given how much coverage Specter and DeLay have been receiving.