Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Abramoff,DeLay, and Settlers

1) A well-connected American lobbyist named Jack
Abramoff, very close to Tom DeLay, starts a foundation
to assist US inner-city youth sports programs. This
foundation, the "Capital Athletic Foundation," raises
several million dollars with gala events, especially
from Native American gambling interests. Unknown to
the donors, however, the foundation managers sent a
substantial portion of the funds not to inner city
youth sports programs, but to Israeli settlers in the
West Bank. Some of these allocated funds were used to
purchase "security equipment," including "camouflage
suits, sniper scopes, night-vision binoculars, a
thermal imager," and other materials. The FBI is
currently conducting a "fraud investigation" into this
foundation. What's wrong with this picture?

How is this scenario different than several recent
cases where American groups (example: Holy Land
Foundation) were accused of raising money in the US to
support various groups listed as "terrorist groups" in
Israel/Palestine (example: Hamas)?

Considering the number of Palestinians killed by
settlers in the past four years, it would appear that
the moniker "terrorist" applies to such settler groups
-- indeed the US government has designated at least
two such groups as terrorist groups (Kahane Chai,
Jewish Defense League). So, if the group that
received this funding might at all be connected to
Kahane Chai or the JDL, doesn't it seem more logical
for the FBI to open up a "terrorism" investigation
rather than a "fraud" investigation? In the interest
of impartiality, either the aforementioned supporters
of Palestinian liberation groups should be tried for
"fraud," or Abramoff should be tried for "supporting
terrorism."

FUNDRAISING: TAKE IT TO THE (WEST) BANK
By Michael Isikoff
Newsweek
May 2, 2005 Issue
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7615249/site/newsweek/


Newsweek
May 2 issue - The pitch from superlobbyist Jack
Abramoff was hard to resist: a good way to get access
on Capitol Hill, he told his clients a few years ago,
was to contribute to a worthy charity he and his wife
had just started up. The charity, called the Capital
Athletic Foundation, was supposed to provide sports
programs and teach "leadership skills" to city youth.
Donating to it also had a side benefit, Abramoff told
his clients: it was a favored cause of Rep. Tom DeLay.

The pitch worked especially well among a group of
Indian tribes who, having opened up lucrative gaming
casinos, had hired Abramoff to protect their interests
in Washington. In 2002 alone, records show, three
Indian tribes donated nearly $1.1 million to the
Capital Athletic Foundation. But now, NEWSWEEK has
learned, investigators probing Abramoff's finances
have found some of the money meant for inner-city kids
went instead to fight the Palestinian intifada. More
than $140,000 of foundation funds were actually sent
to the Israeli [Me: Israeli?] West Bank where they
were used by a Jewish settler to mobilize against the
Palestinian uprising. Among the expenditures:
purchases of camouflage suits, sniper scopes,
night-vision binoculars, a thermal imager and other
material described in foundation records as "security"
equipment. The FBI, sources tell NEWSWEEK, is now
examining these payments as part of a larger
investigation to determine if Abramoff defrauded his
Indian tribe clients. The tribal donors are outraged.
"This is almost like outer-limits bizarre," says Henry
Buffalo, a lawyer for the Saginaw Chippewa Indians who
contributed $25,000 to the Capital Athletic Foundation
at Abramoff's urging. "The tribe would never have
given money for this."

Abramoff, a legendary lobbyist particularly close to
DeLay, is also a fierce supporter of Israel—"a
super-Zionist," one associate says. That may explain
why Abramoff's paramilitary gear ended up in the town
of Beitar Illit, a sprawling ultra-Orthodox outpost
whose residents have occasionally tangled with their
Palestinian neighbors [Me: How many Palestinians died
in these "tangles"?]. Yitzhak Pindrus, the
settlement's mayor, says that several years ago the
town was confronting mounting security problems. "They
[the Palestinians] were throwing stones, they were
throwing Molotov cocktails," Pindrus says. Abramoff's
connection to the town was Schmuel Ben-Zvi, an
American emigre who, the lobbyist told associates, was
an old friend he knew from Los Angeles. Capital
Athletic Foundation public tax records make no mention
of Ben-Zvi. But they do show payments to "Kollel Ohel
Tiferet" in Israel, a group for which there is no
public listing and which the town's mayor said he
never heard of.

Pindrus says Ben-Zvi was an outspoken proponent of
beefing up security and even began organizing his own
freelance patrols. "He used to bring in this
equipment—night-vision goggles, telescopes," says
Pindrus. At least some of the equipment appears to
have come from Abramoff's law firm. An August 2002
invoice obtained by NEWSWEEK shows that $773 worth of
paramilitary gear—including sniper shooting mats and
"hydration tactical tubes"—was shipped to one of
Abramoff's aides at the law firm where the lobbyist
then worked. Reached last week, Ben-Zvi angrily denied
any knowledge of Abramoff or being involved in any
efforts to obtain security gear.

The West Bank security payments are not the only
foundation expenditure being eyed by investigators.
The bulk of the foundation's money, about $4 million,
was used for a now-defunct Orthodox Jewish school in
suburban Maryland that two of Abramoff's sons
attended. Buffalo says his tribe had no idea its
donations were being used for this purpose, either. A
spokesman for Abramoff vigorously defended all of the
expenditures. Abramoff, says spokesman Andrew Blum,
"is an especially strong supporter of Israel and has
tried to find ways to help Israelis and others to be
less susceptible to terrorist attacks." Still, the
increasing attention from the news media and
investigators is causing even old friends like DeLay
to back away. A spokesman last week vigorously
disputed that DeLay had anything to do with Abramoff's
charity. Although he had been scheduled to attend a
planned gala fund-raiser for the foundation two years
ago, DeLay never went. As for the security shipments
to the West Bank, DeLay knew nothing about it, the
spokesman said.

With Dan Ephron in Jerusalem

© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.


Vote Lib Dem, Snuff Video, Surveillance, Columbia, Oinion, USIP

My apologies for disappearing the past 2 weeks or so
-- there has been a wedding, an immigration interview,
paper grading, and now final exam grading.

For those of you who are UK voters, I urge you to vote
Lib Dem. Although foreign interference with elections
was not welcome here in the US last year, I personally
believe that foreign interference then was every bit
as defensible as it is now. Everyone says they must
vote for Labour because "there is no alternative" or
that "the Tories will win." While this argument
somewhat parallels voting for limp noodle Kerry
instead of the Greens last year in the US, there is a
difference or two. First of all, Blair is the
individual who led the UK into Iraq -- and is also the
individual who provided international cover for the US
to enter Iraq. This makes him your Bush. If you vote
for him, you're voting for the invasion and continued
occupation of Iraq. Secondly, there is a healthy
third party in the UK, unlike the US. If enough
people vote Lib Dem, then maybe the Labour Party will
finally unceremoniously dump Blair and be obliged to
enter into a coalition with Lib Dem. If the Tories
win a majority, then fine, Labour can go into
opposition and rejuvenate itself -- like it appears
the Democrats are (in spite of themselves) doing here
in the US. In any case, that's my argument. VOTE LIB
DEM!

I have a huge amount of material to send out, and will
do so bit by bit in the coming days. Here's tonight's
contributions:


1) Here's what happens when a precision-guided bomb
hits a house, and the reaction of those spotting the
bomb:

http://www.ogrish.com/archives/500lb_bomb_hits_iraqi_building_Apr_25_2005.html


2) Ever notice those cameras they've put up at the
entrance of every major US city? How about the
fingerprinting whenever you cross borders being phased
in nowadays? Finally, what about the new passports
scheduled to come online next year -- with a chip that
instantly recognizes biometric info? Basically, the
next time they want to round up various portions of
society for a "final solution," they'll be able to
find us inside of 15 minutes per victim...:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,12271,1464666,00.html

Warning on spread of state surveillance

Richard Norton-Taylor
Thursday April 21, 2005
The Guardian

Governments are building a "global registration and
surveillance infrastructure" in the US-led "war on
terror", civil liberty groups warned yesterday.
The aim is to monitor the movements and activities of
entire populations in what campaigners call "an
unprecedented project of social control".

The warning came from the International Civil
Liberties Monitoring Group, including the American
Civil Liberties Union, and Statewatch, a UK-based
bulletin which tracks developments in the EU...


3) More on Columbia:

http://www.columbiaspectator.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2005/04/20/4265c90e7e420

Let a Thousand Grievances Bloom
by Chris Anderson

April 20, 2005

Early last week, Columbia University President Lee
Bollinger announced the formation of a permanent
five-member committee within the College of Arts and
Sciences to hear student grievances, although there
still seems to be some confusion about whether the
faculty committee will be empowered to hear charges of
political bias in the classroom. Bollinger and Provost
Alan Brinkley say it will, while College of Arts and
Sciences Dean Nicholas Dirks says he’s not sure. Some
observers might be afraid that the committee will
simply become a new pressure point for pro-Israeli
political forces to continue their attacks on the
University’s Middle East scholarship...



4) A little humor:

Report: U.S. Foreign Policy Hurting American Students'
Chances Of Getting Laid Abroad

http://www.onion.com/news/index.php?issue=4117&n=1

AMSTERDAM—American students traveling abroad confirm
the findings of a study indicating that Washington's
unilateral approach to foreign policy has seriously
undermined Americans' chances of getting laid.


5) On the (il)legality of the invasion of Iraq (or why
one must not vote Labour):

http://observer.guardian.co.uk/politics/story/0,6903,1474190,00.html

Iraq, the secret US visit, and an angry military chief

Antony Barnett, Gaby Hinsliff and Martin Bright
Sunday May 1, 2005
The Observer

The legality of the Iraq war exploded on to the agenda
last week, causing chaos to Labour strategy. Here we
reveal the key US officials who persuaded Britain that
invasion was legal - and the astonishing reaction from
our military chiefs..


6) USIP Report on Iraq "Lessons Learned" in Iraq:

The United States Institute of Peace has just
published Special Report 137

The Coalition Provisional Authority's Experience with
Public Security in Iraq: Lessons Identified , by
Robert M. Perito
http://www.usip.org/pubs/specialreports/sr137.html





HELP Tennessee AND the US Election Reform Movement

Yesterday, I wrote all of you to ask you to suppoprt our effort to protect the vote here in Tennessee. I am writing to update you on yesterday's meetings with our legislators and to ask you to please write (and re-write) our Tennessee legislature to support steps to protect our vote.

Yesterday's meetings with legislators went even better than we anticipated. Representative Susan Lynn agreed to amend her bill to require all new voting systems purchased in Tennessee after July, 2005 have a voter-verified paper ballot, that all voting systems have a VVPB by July, 2008 AND that after 2008, all non-manual vote counting systems used in Tennessee would be verified by a mandatory random manual recount of between 5-10% of the votes cast. At the end of the day, Rep. Mike Kernell, a Memphis Democrat, offered to co-sponsor Rep. Lynn's bill. That bipartisan support may be just what is needed to move this bill this session.

That, plus your letters and phone calls. Please take the time to contact all state legislators listed below. You can "cut and paste" the entire email list for each committee and send all committee members one email. (I would recommend that you "bcc" the addresses so the legislators don't know you're sending your email to multiple legislators at the same time.)

In order to expand the value of this email campaign, please write House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh to ask that he allow Rep. Lynn's bill to be heard this session. Speaker Naifeh must approve allowing Rep. Lynn's bill to move forward at this late date. His email address is rep.jimmy.naifeh@legislature.state.tn.us . Also, I have added two more "cut and paste" email lists below, and that is for all other House and Senate members who are not on any of the committees already listed. With that list, you can communicate with the entire legislature in only a few minutes.

Please help us build on our momentum from yesterday. Take a few minutes to write the legislature and then forward this request to as many election reform-minded Tennesseans as you know. We just may be able to protect our vote here in Tennessee, if we all work together for free, fair and verifiable elections NOW. Thanks for your help. Bernie
------------------------
To everyone concerned with the integrity of our elections in Tennessee:

On Tuesday afternoon, May 3, a group of concerned citizens will visit all Tennessee state legislators at Legislative Plaza to ask them to do several things NOW to protect our vote here in Tennessee. The cover letter that we will be handing them, along with other materials, is at the bottom of this email.

In a nutshell, we are asking our state legislators (and our county election commissions at the same time) to spend no more money (regardless of whether it is local, state or federal money) on non-verifiable voting systems in Tennessee. At the same time, we are asking the legislature to support current efforts to guarantee voter-verified paper ballots and mandatory random manual recounts be part of the voting process statewide in our state before 2006. (Please read the cover letter below now to familiarize yourself with these steps to protect our vote in Tennessee.)

By copy of this email, we are asking every individual and organization who is concerned with maintaining the integrity of our election process to take time NOW to let our state legislature and your county election commission know how you feel. Please take the time to write key legislators and tell them that you want no more money spent on "vapor ballot" voting systems in Tennessee AND that you want voter-verified paper ballots and mandatory random manual recounts to be part of every county's election process no later than 2006. We are asking you to do three things to show the legislature how many of us there are who are concerned about the integrity of our elections here in Tennessee:

1) Send emails and/or call key legislators NOW to let them know you support the few steps that we believe are necessary to protect the vote here in Tennessee. (Again, review our cover letter below before writing.)

To make this task easier, we have listed the key legislative committees below, in the order of their importance. You can get the phone numbers and other information on committee members by clicking on their names. In addition, we have also created a "cut and paste" list of email addresses for each committee, so you can "cut and paste" this email list to quickly address your own message to that committee about protecting the vote in Tennessee. This will make it possible for you to write the entire committee (or multiple committees) at the same time. (You could also "cut and paste" the cover letter below, or tell them your concerns in your own words.) Here are the key committees, in their order of importance:

House Elections sub-committee of the House State and Local Government committee:

Members:
Mary Langston, Committee Secretary
Lawrence Hall, Research Analyst
Lois Deberry, Tom Dubois, Joey Hensley, Ulysses Jones, Edith Langster, Judd Matheny

Cut-and-paste Email list: rep.eddie.yokley@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.john.litz@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.lois.deberry@legislature.house.state.tn.us, rep.tom.dubois@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.joey.hensley@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.ulysses.jones@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.edith.langster@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.jodd.matheny@legislature.state.tn.us
--------------------------
House State and Local Government Committee
Harry Brooks, Dewayne Bunch, Lois DeBerry, Tom DuBois, Joey Hensley, Curtis Johnson, John Litz, Judd Matheny, Larry Miller, Gary Moore, Jason Mumpower, Mary Pruitt, Randy Rinks, Park Strader, Harry Tindell, Curry Todd, Ben West, Jr.

Cut-and-paste email list:
rep.eddie.yokley@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.john.litz@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.lois.deberry@legislature.house.state.tn.us, rep.tom.dubois@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.joey.hensley@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.ulysses.jones@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.edith.langster@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.jodd.matheny@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.harry.brooks@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.dewayne.bunch@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.curtis.johnson@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.larry.miller@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.gary.moore@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.jason.mumpower@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.mary.pruitt@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.randy.rinks@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.park.strader@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.harry.tindell@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.curry.todd@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.ben.west@legislature.state.tn.us

--------------------------

Senate State and Local Government Committee:
House Finance Committee
Craig Fitzhugh, Chair
Harry Tindell, Vice-Chair
  • Johnny Shaw, Secretary
  • Members:
    Joe Armstrong, Stratton Bone, Rob Briley, Tommie Brown, Kent Coleman, Charles Curtiss, Eugene E. Davidson, Tre Hargett, Jere L. Hargrove, Michael Harrison, Beth Harwell, John Hood, Mark Maddox, Steve McDaniel, Mike McDonald, Bob McKee, Kim McMillan, Larry Miller, Chris Newton, Doug Overbey, Phillip Pinion, Randy Rinks, Dennis Roach, Charles Sargent, Janis Sontany, Nathan Vaughn

    Cut-and-Paste Email list: rep.craig.fitzhugh@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.harry.tindell@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.johnny.shaw@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.joe.armstrong@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.stratton.bone@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.rob.briley@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.tommie.brown@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.kent.coleman@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.charles.curtiss@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.eugene.davidson@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.tre.hargett@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.jere.hargrove@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.michael.harrison@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.beth.harwell@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.john.hood@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.mark.maddox@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.steve.mcdaniel@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.mike.mcdonald@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.bob.mckee@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.kim.mcmillan@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.larry.miller@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.chris.newton@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.doug.overbey@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.phillip.pinion@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.randy.rinks@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.dennis.roach@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.charles.sargent@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.janis.sontany@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.nathan.vaughn@legislature.state.tn.us
    -----------------------
    Senate Finance Committee
    Douglas Henry, Chair
    Randy McNally, Vice-Chair
    Ward Crutchfield, Secretary

    Members: Tim Burchett, John Ford, Joe Haynes, Roy Herron, Jim Kyle, Jeff Miller, Ron Ramsey, Mike Williams

    Cut-and-Paste Email List: sen.douglas.henry@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.randy.mcnally@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.ward.crutchfield@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.tim.burchett@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.john.ford@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.joe.haynes@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.roy.herron@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.jim.kyle@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.jeff.miller@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.ron.ramsey@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.mike.williams@legislature.state.tn.us
    Cut-and-paste list for the rest of the House: rep.william.baird@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.willie.borchert@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.kathryn.bowers@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.henri.brooks@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.frank.buck@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.stacey.campfield@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.glen.casada@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.chris.clem@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.curt.cobb@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.jerome.cochran@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.barbara.cooper@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.chris.crider@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.david.davis@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.bill.dunn@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.joanne.favors@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.dennis.ferguson@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.joe.fowlkes@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.george.fraley@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.steve.godsey@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.dolores.gresham@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.jim.hackworth@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.bill.harmon@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.david.hawk@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.matthew.hill@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.phillip.johnson@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.russell.johnson@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.sherry.jones@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.brian.kelsey@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.mike.kernell@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.debra.maggart@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.beverly.marrero@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.joe.mccord@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.gerald.mccormick@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.richard.montgomery@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.jimmy.naifeh@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.frank.niceley@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.gary.odom@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.wc.pleasant@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.donna.rowland@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.jack.sharp@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.david.shepard@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.paul.stanley@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.eric.swafford@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.john.tidwell@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.joe.towns@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.larry.turner@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.mike.turner@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.bo.watson@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.john.windle@legislature.state.tn.us, rep.les.winningham@legislature.state.tn.us

    Cut-and-paste list for the rest of the Senate: sen.mae.beavers@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.diane.black@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.jim.bryson@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.charlotte.burks@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.sidney.chism@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.jerry.cooper@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.rusty.crowe@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.raymond.finney@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.jamie.hagood@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.tommy.kilby@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.rosalind.kurita@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.don.mcleary@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.mark.norris@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.curtis.person@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.steve.southerland@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.jim.tracy@legislature.state.tn.us, sen.john.wilder@legislature.state.tn.us

    --------------

    2) Send emails and/or call your own state House and Senate representatives and help reinforce our message about the few steps that we believe are necessary to protect the vote here in Tennessee that are covered in the cover letter below. You can use this link to locate the email and phone numbers for your legislators, if you do not already know them. http://www.legislature.state.tn.us/

    3) Call and/or visit your county election commission offices in the next week and tell them that you don't want any more money spent on non-verifiable voting systems here in Tennessee. Find out when your county's next election commission meeting is to be held, and plan to attend and voice your concerns.

    We would be happy to provide anyone who needs and wants them with copies of several background papers on the perils of non-verifiable voting systems (several of them only one page long) that may help you as you speak with your legislators, your county election commission members and others. To obtain copies of these (MS Word and Acrobat) documents that support our two-step plan to protect our vote in Tennessee, please contact Bernie Ellis, Organizer, Gatehring To Save Our Democracy, at tracevu@bellsouth.net. We will email them to you immediately.

    In closing, we would like every individual and organization here in Tennessee who is concerned about the integrity of our voting systems, and the trust that we must place in our elections, to speak up now. If we work together on this issue, we will not be defeated. In order to rightfully and accurately confer the "consent of the governed" to our elected leaders, we must take time NOW to speak up for these needed changes in our election system. There are so many concerns that all of us have about the present course of our governments (local, state and national) on a host of issues. But regardless of our partisan positions on these issues, unless we can restore faith and trust in our election process by returning to verifiable and auditable voting systems in this country, no other issue has a chance of being addressed successfully through governmental means.

    Please help us demonstrate the strong support for free, fair and verifiable elections as the foundation of our government that we have here in Tennessee and throughout the U.S. Please contact key legislators (including your own) and your county election commissions NOW. If we work together and speak in unison for these few steps to protect our vote, we will succeed. Thanks for your help. (Now read the cover letter below.)

    Bernie Ellis, Organizer, Gathering To Save Our Democracy (tracevu@bellsouth.net)
    ----------------
    Two Steps To Protect the Election Process in Tennessee NOW
    Gathering To Save Our Democracy
    (tracevu@bellsouth.net)
    May 1, 2005

    In the next month, members of the Tennessee legislature and our 95 county election commissions will be making important decisions about the future of our election process and voting systems that we will soon use in our state. These decisions need to insure the future integrity of our election process, and the continued value of our individual votes. We are asking you to insure that two necessary changes take place that will protect our vote in Tennessee.

    Background

    In recent years, Tennessee, like many other states, has taken steps to improve and modernize the voting process. Unfortunately, this upgrading of the Tennessee voting systems has led, in some instances, to adoption of electronic "touch screen" voting machines and other methods that record votes electronically. However, these machines produce no paper ballots or other visible records of the voter's choices that the voter can review and verify to know their votes were counted properly. In addition, without paper ballots, nothing is available to be recounted in the event of an election problem or challenge. In 2004, more than half of all votes cast in Tennessee were recorded on these non-verifiable "paperless" machines. These same machines also have produced many headaches for election officials around the country. They have malfunctioned, miscounted votes and otherwise have failed to record votes accurately. (See the attached materials: "Election 2004: A Partial List of Incidents Reported in the News", "No Review for Key Component of Voting System" and "Facts About Electronic Voting" for a short review of voting machine-related problems. If you want to receive a more comprehensive document which covers the issues we are concerned about in more detail, we would be happy to provide you a copy of "Myth Breakers: Facts About Electronic Elections.")

    Here in Tennessee, we wouldn't deposit our money in a bank that does not keep good records of our transactions and that could not be audited. Why then have we entrusted our election process and our votes to such a non-verifiable and unaccountable system of paperless voting machines? Today, too many Tennesseans cast their votes on "vapor ballots", not on paper ballots. For the sake of our democracy and to regain the trust of the voters, this has to change. That's why we are proposing two steps that need to be taken immediately to protect our votes in Tennessee. We're asking you to act now to support these two improvements in our election process. They must be in place before the 2006 election.

    Two Steps We Need To Take NOW To Protect Our Vote

    1) Voter-Verified Paper Ballots: By 2006, every voter in Tennessee should be able to use or review a paper ballot that shows their choices. Those voter-verified paper ballots should be the "ballots of record" and should be stored for recounts or other election audit purposes. Using voter-verified paper ballots, and maintaining them as the "ballots of record", we will increase the confidence of Tennesseans that their votes were cast as they were intended. All voting systems judged acceptable for use in the 2006 election must use or produce these voter-verified paper ballots.

    2) Mandatory Random Manual Recounts: This step means hand-counting a portion of the paper ballots in counties that use electronic voting or vote counting systems to insure that our votes are counted correctly by these systems. This step will involve introducing a "quality control" check of the accuracy of the reported vote counts whenever and wherever electronic methods are used to cast or count the votes. These small-scale manual recounts (involving 5-10% of the votes cast in a county) will help safeguard the election process from electronic machines which could incorrectly count the votes, either through innocent computer problems, mistakes in the software or intentional fraud.

    In the legislature, decisions are now being made about how counties may use federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds to upgrade Tennessee voting systems. The legislature must decide not to spend any more federal HAVA funds on non-verifiable voting systems. In addition, Representative Susan Lynn has introduced HB 0312 (with its companion bill SB0491), a bill that may provide a framework for accomplishing the two steps we support. We urge you to review these bills, to consider amending them as needed and to support their passage. Taking just these two steps will go a long way to protect and expand voting here in Tennessee. Regardless of your political affiliation, let's work together for these necessary reforms to our Tennessee voting process. Thank you for your consideration and for your support for these two steps to protect the integrity of our election process, and our democratic foundations, here in Tennessee.
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    O.K., folks. Thanks in advance for taking the time to contact our legislature. Let's be the small group of determined people who make all the difference. It's our turn -- we are the ones we have been waiting for. Bernie

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