Washburn's World

My take on the world. My wife often refers to this as the WWW (Weird World of Washburn)

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Location: Germantown, Wisconsin, United States

I am a simple country boy transplanted from the Piehl Township in northern Wisconsin to the Milwaukee metropolitan area who came down "sout" in 1980 for college and have stayed in the area since.
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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Washington County Voting Machines Lose Votes

It turns out that the voting equipment used in Washington and Ozaukee counties has possibly been dropping votes for more than ten years.

The voting equipment used in all municipalities in Washington and Ozaukee county is the AccuVote OS optical scanner, the AccuVote TS touch screens, all tied together with the GEMS application on the county central server. This equipment is sold by Premier Election Systems (formerly known as Diebold Election Systems).

Last week, after vendor-independent testing by the state of Ohio, Premier (aka Diebold) admitted to the state that the GEMS system loses votes contained on removable memory packs as the votes on those removable memory packs are uploaded to the central GEMS server. The GEMS server is the application which prints all those nice municipal and county level summary reports.

In their own words, here is the description of the problem provided by Premier in three correspondences to Office of the Secretary of State of OhioThis vote-losing defect has been in the GEMS system for more than 10 years.

The GEMS system was "tested" no less than 19 times under the NASED/ITA process between 1998 and 2006. Not once did the "rigorous" testing performed by vendor-funded, NASED/ITA labs discover this problem. Here is an excellent article which ties together these two threads, significant flaws and NASED "(non)testing". [Disclaimer: I am quoted in this article].

The scariest aspect to this story is:
  • The Butler County, OH officials discovered this defect by accident. They were examining the data base on an unrelated matter when they discovered the record counts did not reconcile. The scary part is that upon further investigation by the State of Ohio it was discovered that least 8 other counties in Ohio had similar vote loses which went unnoticed. Only Butler County, OH officials noticed. The certified results in at least 8 other Ohio counties were incorrect and none of the election officials in those counties noticed.
The detailed time line from the Ohio Secretary of State is found here

Since, the records of past elections are gone, one must have faith that county clerks, Brenda Jaszewski and Julianne Winkelhorst have never certified results where this defect lost votes on them. The evidence from Ohio suggests, odds are 8 to 1 against this proposition. Let's hope our two counties have won this bet for every election in the last ten years.

State law, WI Stats. 5.91(10), requires all voting systems be:
"suitably designed for the purpose used, of durable construction, and is usable safely, securely, efficiently and accurately in the conduct of elections and counting of ballots."

My questions are:
  • How is a system, which loses votes without any notice to the municipal or county clerk, "designed to accurately conduct an election" as required by state law?
  • Is the GEMS application illegal to use in Wisconsin?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

GAB to Limit Election Observation

This Wednesday, August 27, 2008, the Government Accountability Board (successor to the State Elections Board) is proposing to limit the ability of the public to observe elections. This limitation is item G on the meeting agenda.
  • The draft of the proposed rules I received on August 5, 2008 is here.
  • My comments to the restrictions on election observers are here
  • The proposed rules as revised on August 18, 2008 is here. This is the version to be discussed Wednesday.
  • The full set of comments recieved by the GAB on this issue begin on page 51 of this large (22 megabyte) PDF file.
The current draft is better than the prior draft in that the GAB seems to realize election activities in a polling place on election day are an open meeting and thus can be reasonably recorded by citizens. Unfortunately, there are still problems.
  • The rules prohibit videotaping the equipment set-up that happens before the before polling begins.[This statement is incorrect. Proposed rule GAB4.01(20) would include the activity which occurs in a polling place prior to the opening of polling (e.g. equipment setup) . I deeply regret this error. jww*]
  • The rules prohibit videotaping any of the public activities of an election which occur in the office of the municipal or county clerk.
  • The rules prohibit videotaping of the Milwaukee County canvass which occurs in the office of Milwaukee County Election Director, Janice Dunn, three days after the election.
  • The rules prohibit videotaping the municipal canvass of vote which happens in Office of the Milwauke City Election Commission located in room 501 of City Hall.
  • The rules prohibit videotaping the municipal canvass of vote which happens in the office of the office of the municipal clerk.
All of the above activities clearly meet the definition of an open meeting found in WI Stats 19.82 and thus are available to be video taped under WI Stats. 19.90

On the other hand the addition of proposed rule GAB4,01(14) is an excellent addition to the August 18, 2008 draft from August 5, 2008 draft. This proposed rule reads:

Observers shall not be permitted to handle an original version of any official election document

It always bothered me that the NPR reporter, a candidate, and I were allowed to touch the election materials as documented in this YouTube video

Under Wisconsin statutes the chief election inspector is held to full account for the election administration within a polling location. It is right and proper that the chief election inspector have the authority to exercise the necessary power to control that administration. Having the public pawing through the election records on election day leaves the chief election inspector with responsibility and accountability without the power and control to meet those responsibilities.

These rules are a step in the right direction.

One of the primary duties of the Elections Division of the Government Accountability Board is to give clear direction to state election officials on how to conduct elections in a lawful manor. These rules give clear and uniform directions. This is good. The clear and uniform directions to violate the open meetings law are not.

* I dislike the memory hole effect on the internet where embarassing information in the contents of a URL "disappear". My solution is to highlight such revisions in green. Again I appologize for confusing GAB4.01(19) of the 8/5/2008 draft with the GAB 4.01(20) of the current, 8/18/2008 draft of the regulations.

Monday, August 04, 2008

There is more to this story

When I first heard that the prime suspect in the Anthrax mailings was dead, my first thought is: "Pretty convenient. The dead guy did it. Our most embarrassing case is now closed."

The Washington Post article from Friday, August 1, 2008 raises more questions than it answers. Here is the official time line from the FBI.
  1. Bruce E. Ivins begins working at Fort Detrick biological weapons lab in 1972 as a vaccination specialist.
  2. Bruce E. Ivins passes all psychological screenings required for Fort Detrick personnel 1972-present.
  3. October of 2001, a letter containing weaponized spores of Bacillus anthracis, the bacterium that causes the deadly disease anthrax, was opened in Daschle's office at the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, DC.
  4. In December 2001, Dr. Ives is part of the team that identifies the strain of weaponized Anthrax contained in the letters to Senators Daschle and others had originated at Fort Detrick, MD
  5. In January, 2002 Ives suspects the weaponized anthrax from Fort Detrick which was used the anthrax mailing attacks has been mis-handled and spores have escaped into the larger environment of Fort Detrick. From the Washington Post article:
      In early 2002, without notifying his supervisors, Ivins began sampling suspicious areas in the Detrick lab space that he believed might be contaminated with anthrax. He took unauthorized samples from the laboratory containment areas and later acknowledged to Army officials that this was a violation of protocol.

      Ivins tested dozens of samples from a changing room, his own office and a passbox through which anthrax was sent into a secured laboratory. He reported that the passbox contained heavy growth of Ames-strain anthrax, a disease-causing form of the agent that had been found in the Daschle letter. He said he also found it in his personal office.

      Ivins informed his supervisors of his findings, and more extensive tests were conducted.
  6. June 22, 2002, the home of Dr. Steven Hatfill is searched.
  7. In March 2003, Army scientist Bruce E. Ivins accepted the Defense Department's highest honor for civilian performance for helping to resurrect a controversial vaccine that could protect against the deadly bacteria.
  8. On August 26, 2003 Steven Hatfill files suit against the FBI, DOJ, and John Ashcroft
  9. On March 7, 2008, the US courts order, Toni Locy the USA Today reporter to name names at the FBI and DOJ in the matter of Hatfill v Attorney General Michael Mukasey or personally pay $5,000 per day.
  10. In June 27, 2008 the DOJ settles for millions in order to make Steven Hatfill go away.
  11. Date unknown, a grand jury is convened on the matter of the anthrax mailing attacks and that grand jury issues subpoena to Jean C. Duley
  12. July 24, 2008, Dr. Ivins therapist, Jean C. Duley, asked a Frederick judge for a protective order against Dr, Ivins, saying he had repeatedly threatened her. In the request for a protective order, Ms. Duley asserts:
      "Client has a history dating to his graduate days of homicidal threats, actions, plans, threats & actions toward therapist. Dr. David Irwin his psychiatrist called him homicidal, sociopathic with clear intentions will testify with other details FBI involved, currently under investigation & will be charged with 5 capital murders. I have been subpoena to testify before a federal grand jury August 1, 2008 in Washington, D.C."
    In an nearly unprecedented move the FBI and DOJ have shared details of the sealed grand jury proceeding with Duley.
  13. August 1, 2008, Dr. Bruce Ivins is dead of an overdose of Codeine and Tylenol.
So, if I have the FBI story straight, the official story is:
  • A specialist in the detection of anthrax and the vaccination against anthrax, but with no actual access to weaponized anthrax, poisoned 5 people and injured 17 others with weaponized anthrax pilfered from his employer so he could get his moribund anthrax vaccine program going again.
  • In the meantime, the FBI wastes 7 years investigating Steven Hatfill (the wrong guy).
  • While the wrong guy (Hatfill) is being vilified in the press and investigated, the right guy (Dr. Ivins) has been studying where the weaponized anthrax used in the mailings is found within the Fort Detrick facility.
  • The right guy (Dr. Ivins) reports those locations and findings to his superiors.
  • JUST as the wrong guy (Dr. Hatfill) gets the proper squeeze on a key witness, the FBI and DOJ settle with Hatfill for just under 6 million.
  • Five weeks later the right guy (Dr. Ivins) is dead with no autopsy report by an overdose of a prescription-only painkiller, Tylenol-3. (BTW, which doctor wrote that script?)
  • FBI declares Amerithrax case official closed.
I don't know what it is, but, there is much more to this story than the official fable presented above.