WALTER CONNEL INTERVIEWS CHARLES R SMITH AND BRENT BELESKEY

MSNBC Hardball interview with host Chris Matthews May 10th 2001

Video Transcript

Chris Matthews-
Remember how we all spent weeks together watching what was happening in Florida. Well last year’s recount circus in Florida, with its hanging chads, pregnant chads, butterfly ballots and ever-changing vote counts, triggered lots of calls for election reform.

There were demands for an end, to punch-card voting machines, new standardized voting systems. And consistent rules for states like Florida, that allowed counties to set their own standards, for one vote should count. Well more than four months have passed since the election was certified and while states like Florida and Georgia were asked to reform their systems. The States, wants Washington D.C., the federal government, to pay the cost of those reforms. And right now, the U.S. Congress doesn’t seem to have election reform, anywhere near the top of its list of priorities.

With me to discuss that is U.S. Congress and Bob Ney and Ohio Republican who chairs the committee on House Administration, which is jurisdiction over federal elections and Scott Harshbarger, president of Common Cause. .

Let’s go to a couple points here. First of all Congressman Ney, you brought this to our attention. What is it about this issue that made the country furious and I mean especially, against the Democrats who lost out on that final vote in Florida. Why is this just gone away as an emotional issue with Congress?

Congressman Bob Ney-
Well Chris, really it hasn’t gone away we revived it. Congressman Steny Hoyer and I and I and the members of the committee have had a ah hearing with Catherine Harris, ah other Secretaries of State advocacy groups. So, I think we revitalized it. And you know I made a commitment and so has Mr. Hoyer of Maryland, that a, we want to see this thing be a go. And the Speaker of the House, has that same commitment and ah Mr. Gephardt. So I think we revitalized it.

Frankly, Chris, after all the emotion came in Florida. The Congress wasn’t in session, ah we came back late January and then there was the idea will Select Committee, that kind of fell apart mutually, by Mr. Gephardt and the Speaker. And now it’s in our lap and I think we revitalize it.

Chris Matthews-
Well let’s talk about that. Let’s just put the money on the table. We get a 2002 Congressional Election coming up. A lot of governorships at stake, lots of senators at stake, all Congress at stake. This year from now, roughly a year an a half from now. Will we have the same stuff again or can you give us any assurances Congressman that states like Florida, will have their act together?

Congressman Bob Ney-
Well, you know Chris, on a personal level, the next time we see a chad, whether it is dimpled or pregnant, I want it to be in the Smithsonian Institute. And a, we just have to make it a positive clear vision, that were to work together hear in Congress and we are going to get this thing going. Is it going to be perfect, are we going to do be able to do 72,000 precincts, all in the next time? I don’t know but we have to make it a goal, to, to achieve that.

Chris Matthews-
What’s the best voting system that you know off? What’s the simplest, the one with a good paper trail, that can’t be cheated on and works for 100% of the people, or close to it?

 

Congressman Bob Ney-
Well May 15th and 16th, we are going to have an Expo, in a House Administration Hearing Room of different technologies. So I don’t think there is the one perfect device. But the touch screen as far as I know is supposed to be a good device. It will give your receipt, it can be applied with a hearing device for a…

Chris Matthews-
But no paper trail! How do you recount a machine, that was done like an ATM machine? Is there paper trail of how the person voted, so you can afterwards?

Congressman Bob Ney-
Well I think what there will be, there we be a technology trail of sorts. With all the technology were developing and I read in an article, that um, some of the major computer companies are focusing in on what we wanted to do, in a sense election reform. I think we will develop a device, that will have, have the ability, to have that, ah, guaranteed recount. I really do.

Chris Matthews-
Do you trust the sharpies in the big cities, that are always ahead of you one step?

Congressman Bob Ney-
Ahum…

Chris Matthews-
To adjust the numbers before even people vote that morning, which is an old tradition in some cities?

Congressmen Bob Ney-
(laughing) Ahee, well, ahee, you got to watch that you know. But I think that, ah, we will be able to find technology, that will be I think, fairly foolproof. And, and people want honest elections, they want to make sure an illegal vote doesn’t cancel out, a good vote.

Chris Matthews-
Ok. Let’s go to Scott Harshbarger of Common Cause. Your nonpartisan group, a good government group. Are either of these parties getting serious about this need, to meet the need, we saw last November.

Scott Harshbarger ,Common Cause-

Chris, we had a major national crisis last November, in terms of a Presidential Election. It was one that everybody talked about the threats to democracy. The reality that this isn’t just about technology or about barriers and standards, in terms of voting alone. It’s about a fundamental, voting rights issue. About equality and democracy and full citizen participation. On that score, we are not treating this with a degree of urgency, that it requires. And I understand what the congressman saying. But the fact of the matter is, everybody was announcing proposals and commissions and studies and we…

 

Chris Matthews-
1500 bills!

Scott Harshbarger ,Common Cause
Right. We leaped into this crisis, by studying it and having commissions, when in fact what we need, is fundamental assessment of why it is, in the high-tech capital of the United States, the greatest democracy in the world, we cannot even give people the right to vote without barriers, that clearly disproportionately affect poor people, African-American. In various states, why we can’t count votes that are actually caste, accurately?

Chris Matthews-
Right.

Scott Harshbarger, Common Cause-
This is a fundamental issue. This is one person, one-vote. And with the history we have in this country of voters rights, ah, abuses and a challenge to voting, we have got to treat this much more seriously.

Chris Matthews-
OK. Let’s cut. I don’t believe everybody in this together. I think there are different points of view and different interests here.

Congressmen Ney, I’ve heard that Republicans would like to stop the cheating, especially in big cities. Where maybe people are grabbing handfuls of ballots, because there is no white Republicans around, to stop them from doing it. Especially a one party system vote, to our big cities. And the Republicans. And Democrats on the other hand, would like to make it more accessible, for poor people, with less education to vote. The Republican and the Democrats don’t have a common interest, do they?

Congressman Bob Ney-
I think we do…

Chris Matthews-
What’s the common interest?

Congressman Bob Ney-
The common interest Chris, is for good elections. American people have already…

Chris Matthews-
Oh, come on!

 

Congressman Bob Ney-
…have a low, low, a low voter turnout. And let me say something. You know, a Mr. Hoyer and I, he is a Democratical Republican, were not the undertakers for this bill. We are having hearings, were moving on it, we want to do something.

Now I know some groups are out there saying well, “you know they do what to do anything”, I know people also have to also gin-up their constituency. But we want to do something. And it is not just technology. I agree with the gentleman from Common Cause. I mean, there, there are other things out there to look at. But, you know, if we were serious about this, we wouldn’t have had, the large kicked off we had, the exposition and all the work for putting into this. I’m telling you Chris were serious about it.

Chris Matthews-
But the way I was opening the show. I was just saying Florida and Georgia have acted to try to reform their system, but they want the money from the federal till. Is that likely, Congressmen?

Congressmen Bob Ney-
Chris, let me tell yah. And I, I say this rate of front, on this program. I, I don’t beat around the bush, about. This is going to cost , $5 billion. Now I think we can do that. Some people say “$5 billion”? I, I been around this building for awhile, I’ve seen us spend 500,000 to see how cows burp. 5 billion, is not too much for, a, democracy.

Chris Matthews-
Sounds reasonable. And that would be to give every state and locality, sort of the state-of-the-art equipment, to count votes with.

Congressman Bob Ney-
Well, that’s right. It would have to be shared situation. We always do that, whether it’s Medicaid or elections, is going to be shared situation, of the 5 billion costs, plus there has got to be training. We have to look at a, people’s ability to votes, nobody should be disenfranchised, for race or for poverty level or for military status.

But the, but the other thing, that a, you know, I want to make clear to you is that we, we do want this process to work and were not nationalizing elections. Were not telling any state, you have to get rid of those punch cards. I think the pressure will be, to get rid punch cards, once other states do it.

Chris Matthews-
Scott Harshbarger. Let me ask you, historically there’s been certain states that have been clean in their elections, Minnesota Wisconsin. Teddy White use to talk about that, back in the days of the Kennedy- Nixon race. Certain states have honest politics. Other states, ethnic big cities, historically, rotten in turns of honest count.

Do you have any parading State, would you point to right now Scott and say “this is a state that has his act together, the vote is pretty much as it’s counted, is pretty much as was cast?”

 

Scott Harshbarger, Common Cause-
Well, I will tell you, that talking to Secretary of States around the country, with the Congress can attest to. Every state realizes, that “there before the grace of God go they”. That is, given the fact, that in every close race, in every county, one size doesn’t fit all. But some states, have clearly moved to much more aggressively, to have good administrative procedures, were the resources are there were some remotes incorrectly, the vote ballot comes back.

What’s interesting Chris, that the absence here of assistance engagement, a broad aggressive citizens coalitions, to push for this, is a real problem here because the reality is it that states in Congress. With all due respect, the Democrats and Republicans, there going to see this as an issue of politics and control to some extent.

What’s really a stake here is, why can’t we in this country have a fair and uniform and equal voting system, that ensures every person gets to vote and that’s what the challenge and needs to be done now. That’s what why you need …..

Chris Matthews-
Great. Congressman Ney. Dennis Hastert, the Speaker of the House, I know we don’t see much about, he’s a quite good man. As he ever personally committed to you, that he’ll with that $5 billion and make this happen? Has he ever said that to you?

Congressman Bob Ney-
We have not gotten the details….. The Speaker of the Houses has committed and, and I’ve had conversation with him. The Speaker of the House is committed that he wants fair elections, he wants the process to work….

Chris Matthews-
But “will he pay piper”?

Congressman Bob Ney-
You know, I believe and when people say “well, what about the money”. If this legislation passes, which I believe it will. That will generate the money. Once we get this out there and it’ll be a hot potato, that nobody gonna wanta kill the money. I think the Speakers is going to do everything within his power. And he is assigned to this Committee, to make this thing a go.

Chris Matthews-
It seems to me to start with, we got a trillion dollar federal budget every year. The people that control, that trillion dollar budget, it might be worth 5 billion, to get the right people in their, that actually won the election.

 

Congressman Bob Ney-
This is a fundamental voting rights issue. It’s why it cuts across all kinds of lines here. And what I hope the citizens will do, is whether it’s reaching out to Common Cause.org or other groups here. We’ve got to get the people to work together, weathered civil rights groups, reform groups and put the pressure on to get a good results here, in America interest.

Chris Matthews-
Congressman Ney, I thank you very much for bringing this uptoday. And I thank you Scott Harshbarger.

And by the way, the first time I ever said this. Write your Congressman and Congresswoman, and get them off their keasters.

CBC Sunday Report - Voting Machines

Video Transcript

WENDY MESLEY: Hi, I’m Wendy Mesley. Who would have thought that the next US President would be determined by a vote recount in Florida. But what if there had been no paper ballots to recount? That’s what will happen with the no paper electronic voting technology coming our way. So can those voting machines really be trusted? Brent Beleskey is on a mission to save the country. He’s running for city council on a plank of bring back the paper ballots.

BRENT BELESKEY (City Council Candidate / Director International Voters Coalition):
With a private paper ballot you have that ballot you can count and watch it being counted.
You can’t watch cyberspace.

MESLEY: This is his cyber nightmare, the voting machine. Beleskey is no luddite, he works on a computer. He just doesn’t trust them with his vote. So three years ago, from this basement, Beleskey set up the one man International Voters Coalition. It was right after Beleskey’s first run at City Council when he realized that the city of Barrie, Ontario, Canada had replaced the ballot box.

BELESKEY: All of a sudden we’re faced with this computer. And you just say oh this is what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to test the screen and this and that and I’m going well, where’s my ballot. Oh, he says, we don’t need a ballot any more. I said how can you do recounts? How can you do checks?

MESLEY: In a traditional vote, there are the election officials who run the vote, and then there are the scrutineers. Someone from each party can watch as the voters are given their ballots. The scrutineers can also watch as each ballot is counted. They are the public’s eye and ears keeping everyone honest. Scrutineers also closely monitor recounts, like this one. But with a computer program rather than paper ballots, what’s to recount? Barrie was the first city in Canada to use computer touch screen technology in an election. And John Craig is the city clerk who bought the system.

JOHN CRAIG (Barrie City Clerk): Then you push “next”.

MESLEY: Here’s how it works: When you sign in at the polling station you are given a smart card that unlocks the touch screen computer and lets you cast your vote.

CRAIG: This is just a plastic version of the ballot and when you put it in the equipment here, it shows you the digital version on the screen.

MESLEY: Would my identity be on that card?

CRAIG: No.

MESLEY: Craig’s always liked using computers to count votes. Computer voting just seemed like the next logical step. Why did you go looking for that sort of thing in the first place?

CRAIG: Paper ballot system is very cumbersome. It takes a long time at the end of the evening. And with a computer election system, the tabulation is done at the end of the evening, done very quickly, and ah, so you can reduce the number of staff that you need.

MESLEY: So it was a money issue?

CRAIG: Uh, money uh, convenience, I think accuracy as well.

MESLEY: When the new computer revealed Beleskey had lost he refused to believe it, but didn’t ask for a recount because there were no real ballots. All the votes were digital.

BELESKEY: That’s why we have the private paper ballot, ballot box, hand count and scrutineers. And the public’s right to witness the process, the election process.

MESLEY: But this way you’re handed a smart card instead of a ballot.

BELESKEY: Yeah, but it’s not tangible. The people have the right to scrutinize the process. The process has to be perceived to be fair and honest.

MESLEY: South of the border in Plymouth Township, Michigan, it’s a state primary and people have come to vote for their local and house representatives.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN (1): To vote, you touch the name. It’ll light up. If you make a mistake, and you touch the wrong name, touch it again, the light will go off.

MESLEY: This town has been voting on a touch screen system since 1996. Instead off ballot boxes, the votes at each station are stored on computer hard disks.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN (2): The polls are now closed.

MESLEY: At the end of the day they are brought into town hall and the information is fed into a computer, printed and posted.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN (2): Is this precincts or totals?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN (3): This is totals.

MESLEY: So far, so good. But a few miles away, Jerry Vorva has chosen to vote at this polling station to avoid the touch screen computers at other polls. That’s because three years ago in another county vote on school funding that used touch screen voting, somehow 716 votes simply disappeared. Why couldn’t you just ask for a recount?

JERRY VORVA: Some people did ask for a recount, but what are you recounting? You’re recounting that 716 votes were lost, how do you find out how they voted? There’s no paper trail. That’s the bad thing about the touch screen voting, is one, you can’t check the intent of the voter. And additionally, I’m sorry to say this, I don’t wanna sound like a conspiratorialist, but how do I know it’s being recorded properly?

MESLEY: There’s mistakes in the old fashioned paper system, too.

VORVA: Yes, but that’s allowed for. You see, because you have the paper to look at it. Here I have an electronic signal that goes off into electronic signal never never land.

MESLEY: Vorva tried for two years in court to have the election thrown out but eventually gave up. Back at the mall in Barrie, Vorva’s paper ballot soul mate is still fighting, collecting names for his petition.

BELESKEY: I have a petition to restore the private paper ballot. It’s all cyberspace, it’s subject to being tampered with, it’s subject to crashing and eliminating – how many people have had their computer at home and all of a sudden it crashed and you’ve lost every data you’ve got?

MESLEY: Bob Urosevitch isn’t worried. For him it’s big business. He runs the company that sold the touch screen package to Barrie. He says people like Beleskey should get with the programme. That electronic voting is inevitable.

BOB UROSEVITCH (Global Electronics): Marketplace can be up into the 10 billion or so higher. There is approximately 400 million registered voters in North America, and if you start doing the math and everybody would interact with the process, that’s a lot of people.

MESLEY: Global Elections touch screen machines were used in seven states in last week’s American elections. And Urosevitch already sees the day when voting machines are as common as automatic banking machines. There still are people who are not entirely at ease with ATM’s. What do you say to people who think a paper vote is more secure?

UROSEVITCH: Well, obviously, you know, technology is not for everyone. But there’s always going to be those few people that aren’t going to embrace technology.

MESLEY: With paper, you can go back and actually see the individual votes and you can do an actual re-count and how do you know that there’s not been a mistake with e-voting?

UROSEVITCH: Post election, the system has the ability to print back the image, in paper ballot form so that you can hand audit it as if it was a paper ballot.

MESLEY: But it’s an image. So that means you have to trust the system?

UROSEVITCH: Yes. Just as you have to trust the people who are hand counting or processing your ballots as you’re voting today.

MESLEY: The Barrie clerk who bought Urosevitch’s system has full trust in technology too. What if there were a, a corrupt election official who could have access to the disc and, and, and mess with the software, mess with the program?

CRAIG: It doesn’t differ from a paper ballot or any other system. Part of the trust that people have to have is that the election officials are trustworthy. Because if we’re not trustworthy, then it doesn’t matter what kind of election equipment you’ll use, paper or electronics.

BELESKEY: Which cyberdisk are we going to choose? Who won the election? Which one do you want to pick?

MESLEY: You don’t trust governments?

BELESKEY: In God we trust, i don’t know about anything else.

MESLEY: But Beleskey’s own government thinks most Canadians are trusting technology more and more. In fact, in the next federal election, Ottawa plans to make electronic voting an option. But it won’t be touch screen technology. The government plans to start with the next level – voting on the internet. Internet voting is already pretty common in the private sector. Irene Katzela is voting from her living room in Toronto. She’s a member of an international engineers’ association that lets its 55,000 members choose a new executive by the internet.

IRENE KATZELA (International Engineers Association): For the President, uh, we have in a couple of options.

MESLEY: This internet site was created by election.com, the corporation that ran the biggest public internet election so far – the Democratic primary in Arizona last spring.

BILL TAYLOR: We believe that it’s very well received. People like it. It’s a good product.

MESLEY: Bill Taylor organized that Arizona election where if voters chose to vote via the internet, their personal data and how they voted were all recorded and sent to these servers owned by election.com. What guarantee is there, how can the public know that you won’t ever sell that information to someone?

TAYLOR: The way our technology is designed is that when someone votes, we split the vote from the voter so we do not know how someone actually voted.

MESLEY: And there’s no possible way of actually putting that back.

TAYLOR: There’s no way of putting that back, it’s encrypted immediately upon leaving that person’s computer so when they cast the vote, that’s split, we have no way of knowing the person and how they voted. We only know that the ballot has been consumed and a vote has been cast.

MESLEY: What do you think of the issue of the digital divide that the poor and minorities are much less likely to have access to internet?

TAYLOR: We hadn’t seen it to be an issue and we’ve spoken to the community
leaders.

MESLEY: Well that’s funny because nearly everybody, the people who don’t have an economic stake in this, who go and look at the issue do see it as an issue.

TAYLOR: We consulted with a number of minority groups who have helped us, ah, and spoken with us. We have not seen that to be an issue.

MESLEY: In Canada, sixty per cent of homes are not connected to the internet. But those computer voting firms are starting to connect with our politicians. At a recent NDP convention in Ontario, the election.com folks put on a presentation to pitch their wares.

PRESENTATION: Casting a paper ballot may soon be cast aside.

MARK STRAMA (VP Public Affairs, election.com): Internet voting can decrease costs while increasing participation.

MESLEY: And in Ottawa with all those referendums in mind, the Canadian Alliance has been lobbying John Pierre Kingsley. And Canada’s chief electoral officer is not immune to the pitch.

JOHN PIERRE KINGSLEY (Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer): As Canadians, younger Canadians, move into the stream of electors, to them it will be a very natural thing to express their choice about who should govern them. Who should hold power in Canada that way.

MESLEY: But there’s just one last problem.

KINGSLEY: We don’t know who’s at the other end, who’s voting.

MESLEY: So how can you fix that?

KINGSLEY: You would provide, for example, a shot of your iris and we would be able to, when you’re at the other end, there would be a camera picking up your iris, transmitting that information to our computer, checking it out.

MESLEY: So using biometrics?

KINGSLEY: Biometrics.

MESLEY: With a paper ballot now, there’s quite a ritual involved. You can get off early from work, you go home, you meet your kids, you give them a little speech about democracy. You all troop down to the polling station. Now, or in the future, with internet voting, it could be like a quick nip into the bank in between your other errands. Could something be lost?

KINGSLEY: Some of that would be lost, yes. But on the other hand, would participation rates increase? Would those votes be less valid because people didn’t go to the polls.

MESLEY: Back in Barrie, Brent Beleskey went to the advanced poll for the municipal election. But just to register, not to vote.

BELESKEY: I refuse to use this card and the computer system.

MESLEY: He’s boycotting those computers. Next, on undercurrents.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN (1): The global village has become the scene of a hailstorm of bad campaigns.

TV AD: So tell us, what do you want the internet to be?

TV AD: We are ready. Are you?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN (2): I can’t for the life of me figure out what they are selling.