February 27, 2004

According to data compiled for Media for Democracy by monitoring firm Media Tenor, between October 2003 and February 2004, ABC, NBC and CBS nightly news programs broadcast only four stories on e-voting machines.

It's the Media, Stupid.

Mark Lewellen-Biddle, Danielle Taylor,
www.mediachannel.org: According to data compiled for Media for Democracy by monitoring firm Media Tenor, between October 2003 and February 2004, ABC, NBC and CBS nightly news programs broadcast only four stories on e-voting machines. Half of the four reports were compiled by CBS. NBC opted for a story that filtered the issue through that of the California recall vote. A search for e-voting news stories on CNN.com and FoxNews.com yields an even smaller assortment: a total of three reports between September 2003 and February 20, 2004, all on CNN.

Thwart the Theft of a Second Presidential Eleciton,
Show Up for Democracy in 2004: Defeat Bush (again!)


http://www.mediachannel.org/views/dissector/affalert147.shtml

Lifting the Curtain on E-Voting

By Mark Lewellen-Biddle and Danielle Taylor
MediaChannel.org

WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana, February 26, 2004 -- It
happened in 2000. It could happen in 2004. When it
comes to flawed election procedures, why does the
media wait to the last second to tell the tale?

This year, tens of millions of American voters are
projected to use electronic voting systems to cast
their vote for president. Many of these machines will
get their first test on March 2, Super Tuesday, when
voters head to the polls in ten states. If more
counties proceed with installing these new machines,
sidestepping any legal challenges along the way, the
repercussions for American democracy could be as
far-reaching as any hanging chad.

Election Data Systems, a Washington, D.C.-based
consulting firm that specializes in analysis of
election results, estimates that 50 million Americans
will use electronic ballots when they vote for a
president on November 2. Judging from mainstream
media's ongoing snub of this important story, few
voters will learn about the systems' inherent problems
before they're face to face with the new machines on
Election Day.

States that plan or have already implemented the
heaviest switchover to e-voting machines include
California, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois and
Ohio. Voters in California, Georgia and Ohio will use
these systems for the first time during the Super
Tuesday vote. Most are critical electoral battleground
states that promise to host some of the most vitriolic
campaigns of the post-nomination season.

Watching the Watchdogs

"Journalists are the watchdogs of democracy," said
Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute, a
Florida-based school of journalism. McBride is
confident that as the 2004 presidential election
approaches media coverage related to e-voting will
increase.

But since election reporting began last fall, network
news coverage of the switch has been little more than
a blip. According to data compiled for Media for
Democracy by monitoring firm Media Tenor, between
October 2003 and February 2004, ABC, NBC and CBS
nightly news programs broadcast only four stories on
e-voting machines. Half of the four reports were
compiled by CBS. NBC opted for a story that filtered
the issue through that of the California recall vote.
A search for e-voting news stories on CNN.com and
FoxNews.com yields an even smaller assortment: a total
of three reports between September 2003 and February
20, 2004, all on CNN.

Is this just more evidence of network news' obsession
with campaign spectacle and "horse race" over voter
issues and substance? Maybe, but the issues here could
have particularly far-reaching consequences.

The push to shift the American electoral process from
paper to PCs began shortly after the Florida fiasco
that stalled the selection of a president for several
weeks following the November 2000 vote. With little
substantial debate, in October 2002 President Bush
signed the Help America Vote Act, a $3.9 billion
program to help all 50 states purchase electronic
voting machines and related software in time for the
first federal election scheduled after January 1,
2006.

Television's hold on news consumers gives the
networks' dismissal of this story a particularly
virulent spin. According to a recent survey by the Pew
Center for the People and the Press, the Big Three of
television news remain the medium of choice for 35
percent of news-seeking Americans; while cable TV
commands an even bigger share, at 38 percent.

Instead, concerned voters have only two options for
coverage of the myriad issues that surround electronic
voting machines: newspapers and the Web, media that
account for 31 percent and 26 percent, respectively,
of Americans' preferred sources for news.

Picking up Some of the News Slack

This trend provides the lone sliver of good news in
the story of mainstream broadcast media's failure to
cover e-voting. Though print media's ability to lure
fresh readers remains at an all-time low, the Internet
has already demonstrated its power over the next
generation of US news consumers . . . and voters.
According to the Pew survey, 20 percent of Americans
between the ages of 18 and 29 now get their campaign
news from online sources.

An overview published in the online news magazine
Salon provided one striking contrast between the
abilities of the Web and TV to fulfill the media's
public service mission. With the help of technical
expert Jim March, Salon contributor Farhad Manjoo
demonstrated how a moderately knowledgeable techie
could hack into Diebold machines and tamper with
election results. "If you've got a copy of Access and
can get physical access to the county machine -- or,
some activists say, if you discover the county's
number and call into the machine over a phone line --
the vote is yours to steal," Manjoo wrote.

While traditional broadcast media have taken a pass on
such revealing coverage of e-voting problems, other
non-traditional news sources -- including weblogs,
Internet 'zines and online news groups -- have been
abuzz with these concerns about the machines
shortcomings.

Though such publications only command two percent of
the news public's attention, their penetrating glance
at the ramifications of e-voting should serve as a
model for network news outlets who find it a challenge
to produce a small handful of reports in a six-month
period.

A Glitch-Riddled Record

Yet while Web and newspaper e-voting coverage has not
been insignificant, it has largely failed to consider
electronic voting as a threat to democracy, given the
already checkered history of the new machines -- which
includes reports of political favoritism by the
executives at Diebold Election Systems and Election
Systems & Software, the two primary manufacturers of
these machines, and several independent technical
tests that revealed serious flaws to machine software.


Granted, civics rarely ranks as a headline-grabbing
topic. But this is a story whose legs are growing
longer by the minute. Handing over control of
America's electoral system to a handful of
corporations constitutes the privatization of
America's most public endeavor.

The four largest manufacturers of voting machines and
related software all have close ties with America's
defense industries, creating potential conflicts of
interest. The manufacturers are also associated with
the Election Systems Task Force -- a body comprised of
defense contractors and procurement agencies such as
Lockheed-Martin, Northrop-Grumman and Electronic Data
Systems, Corp. -- which has hired the services of the
Information Technology Association of America, a
powerful lobbying firm that, in a February edition of
USA Today, dismissed e-voting security concerns as
"based on conjecture rather than fact."

Even so, the Pentagon, earlier this month decided that
security concerns warrant cancellation of an Internet
voting project that would have allowed U.S. personnel
based overseas to vote online.

Questionable practices have already been brought to
light for the US's second-largest manufacturer of
e-voting machines, but it wasn't a journalist who made
the call. Beverly Harris was a publicist who decided
to do her own investigation of e-voting machines in
2002 and soon found that Diebold Corporation, a major
GOP donor, had failed to meet voting security
standards.

Memos leaked from Diebold indicated that executives
and staff were fully cognizant of flaws in their
software, gaping security holes, and the installation
of uncertified software in previously "certified"
machines.

This surely gives the public, not to mention members
of Congress, reason to question the blanket assurances
of manufacturers regarding the integrity of their
systems. The continuing critiques of the e-voting
technology have already sparked a wide-ranging public
debate. Oregon refuses to allow electronic voting and
a number of states, including California, New
Hampshire, Maine and Nevada are now investigating
paper trails. When Internet voting was proposed last
year, seven of the nine presidential candidates
challenged the notion, citing security issues as the
problem. But still, television remains silent.

Lifting the Curtain on e-Voting

Substantial debate on e-voting's effects on the
democratic process is still required, and the
broadcast media, in keeping with their Federal
Communications Commission license obligations, has a
duty to provide it.

Without adequate news coverage of these issues,
America cannot in good faith rush to embrace e-voting
technology as the panacea for an ailing electoral
process. As Anthony Stevens, Assistant Secretary of
State for New Hampshire recently commented in The
Detroit News, "the cost of restoring legitimacy is far
greater than the cost of maintaining it."

-- This article is one in Media for Democracy's
ongoing series of investigative reports on mainstream
media's coverage of the 2004 presidential elections.
For more information on joining MediaChannel's
citizens-powered initiative, visit Media for Democracy
2004.

MediaChannel.org, 2004. All rights reserved.

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Posted by richard at February 27, 2004 12:48 PM