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Secret Meetings of the Black Box Yakuza

Black Box Voting

At 11:30 today, a phone conference took place with a who's who of the Black Box Voting industry. The purpose of the call was to explore hiring ITAA to lobby on behalf of the now besieged industry.

Invitations were sent out, along with an agenda (this is a PDF file, and contains my comments. Click on the note icon for my comments, the original text is unaltered).

Typical for this industry, security was non-existant and I managed to join the conference (by dialing the number and using the passcode, provided to me by a sympathetic insider who didn't attend. ) I used my own name when I introduced myself to the rest of the conference, then I sat for an hour and took notes.

Please excuse punctuation errors, I am hurrying to get this up. Also, in transcribing my notes, I am trying to keep as true to what they said as possible, including grammar and pauses.

Notes of Conference Call between ITAA and Black Box Voting Industry

The meeting appears to have been set up with the help of R. Doug Lewis (The Election Center) and Hart Intercivic (a voting machine company).

Lewis drones on about this being a long time coming and the need for the industry to speak with one voice.

Let me quote from the Election Center's web site:

" The Election Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting, preserving, and improving democracy. Its members are government employees whose profession is to serve in voter registration and elections administration."

It seems to me that colluding with for profit companies and helping them hire a lobbying firm is not in the spirit of this organization's charter.

Harris Miller (ITAA) Gives the intro spiel about the company and how it can help the industry "stave off short-term attacks" from academics and "activists".

Apparently a meeting was held in Florida last week to discuss how to broaden the base of support for e-voting (I think the meeting was between ITAA and R. Doug Lewis).

A question is asked about how ITAA can help the industry speak with one voice. Harris explains about helping them establish certification standards and coming to the defense of a company under attack. He then adds, jokingly (I think) "unless you want use your knives on him as well."

He also touches on the need to establish a "blue ribbon" panel which could help refute problems like Diebold is currently having.

I assume this blue ribbon panel will fill the same role for the BBV (black box voting) industry that the Tobacco Institute filled for the tobacco industry.

Interesting to note that I heard not a peep from Diebold the whole call. Smart boys.

Unknown individual (AccuPoll?) asked about whether the lobby would be addressing internet voting, which was a train wreck waiting to happen. ITAA said it was not on the agenda.


ITAA said that they could help get critics "on our side" but admitted that some critics are unappeasable.

Why thank you!

ITAA felt the industry should help create its own credebility by setting high standards.

The highest standards in the world are meaningless if the code is secret.

Efforts must be made to get academics "on our side".

Working with NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) is desirable, however, if NIST mandated an oversite committee chaired by David Dill (a respected industry critic), ITAA assumed no one would want to play.

ITAA suggested “re-engineering” the certification process to make the industry the “gold standard” so they can eliminate “side attacks you are subject to now from people who are not credible as well as people who are somewhat credible.”

Notice they don't see such a thing as a credible critic.

Question: Would the existing Elections Systems Task Force be reconstituted or reformatted in any way?

Answer: They have been more focused on the HAVA (Help America Vote Act) legislation but would be interested in meeting with this group. (The major companies involved are Northrop-Grumman, Lockheed-Martin, Accenture and EDS.)

Gee, did you know that major defense contractors are involved in our elections?

The Election Systems Task Force’s “goal was very limited. They just wanted to get the legislation HAVA enacted and to create more business opportunities for them as integrators. Their agenda was “how do we get congress to fund a move to electronic voting?”

R. Doug Lewis (Head of Election Center) suggested that ITAA draft a legal brief to address the concerns of possible anti-trust ramifications so that members of the new group would know what they could and could not do. ITAA concurred and said it would do so at the first meeting of the new group.

David (ITAA) asked for views on the memorandum.

MicroVote asked what would happen if a non-member got into trouble over some issue such as security, would the Blue Ribbon Task Force remain mute or would it turn into “a loose star chamber where you have commenting vendors commenting on another vendor’s situation?”

Harris (ITAA): Normally we would not comment on a non-members situation, it wouldn’t be appropriate. “Unless the industry came to the conclusion that it was negatively impacting the entire industry.” In which case we say we can’t comment on company “x” and we reiterate our standards and code of ethics that our coalition adheres to.

Any group who gets in trouble would hopefully join us to get out of trouble.

This seems to provide great incentive for ITAA to rat out a "non-member" if they had dirt on them.

Accenture (Mark) brought up the point that self-certification will be a “tough sell” to the public. We can’t win the PR battle if ITAA tries to do an ITA’s (independent testing authority) job.

“But I do think it is very important that the industry be more aggressive and more coordinated in the way that it gives input to the ITA (Independent Testing Authority) process and the people who control the ITA process. They’ve solicited that input in the past and I don’t feel the industry has done a particularly good job of providing that input. And this is something I feel this industry can be a real conduit for.”

So, our independent testing authorities should not be allowed to be TOO independent.

ITAA agreed that they wouldn’t be involved in an ITA-like certification process. They would help to improve the process by “bringing in people to re-engineer it. But it shouldn’t be ITAA itself doing the certification.”

Yep, no independence for the ITA's if they can help it.

ITAA moves that the goals and “deliverables” are agreed to.

"Deliverables" is doublespeak for "lobbiest services".

An objection is raised that all the goals are NOT agreed to.

Unknown: “I see no lobbying effort here and secondly I don’t think we have, as a group, set down and defined what we want before we run off and subscribe to the ITAA process.”

The ITAA does want there money by the 29th.

“We should sit down face-to-face before we spend $150,000 and determine what we want as a group.”

Someone felt this was a fair question, but pointed out that no one was committing to ITAA as a consequence of this meeting.

Chet from AccuPoll: “Absolutely lobbying is an essential element for this industry.”

Harris (ITAA): “We were too subtle by half. Our #4 goal, “develop liaisons with key constituencies” is a nice word for lobbying. We just didn’t want a document floating around saying the election industry is in trouble, so they decided to put together a lobbying campaign.”

Harris then goes on to boast about his lobbying experience.

“My background is I worked on Capitol Hill for ten years and ran a lobbying firm for ten years, before I took over here in ’95. A third of my staff has direct public policy experience working on Capitol Hill. We are the most quoted IT trade association in Washington, etc, etc. I can give you all the bona fides if you want them.

I just don’t like to put it in writing because if this thing winds up in the press somewhere, inadvertently, I don’t want the story saying the e-voting industry is in trouble and decided to hire a lobbying firm to take care of their problem for them.”

Yeah, that would be embarrassing, especially since the voting machine industry is in trouble and has hired a lobbying firm to take care of their problem for them.

R. Doug Lewis: “The truth of the matter is you’re not on the same side of the issues when it comes to what you would lobby for.”

“Some of you have a vested economic interest that it should get lobbied one way versus another.”

“One of the things that you ought to do is at least employ ITAA to draft a legal memorandum that says under what conditions you guys can meet together... and pay them for that... and maybe even pay them for hosting this sitdown that you want to do to figure out your interests. Then make your determinations on whether you want to go forward with a specific proposal. ”

ITAA (Harris?): You don’t even have to pay us for it... and I appreciate Doug... you are trying to look after my checkbook.

Doug: Laughter

ITAA: I’m willing to come to a meeting wherever and have a couple of staff people come down, and eat a couple of grand to do that. I won’t do a hundred page legal memo.

Unknown person: “Clearly one of the themes going around is related to collusion among industry sources, so any meeting of all the players is, by definition... unfortunately taken by some people as not a constructive exercise, but one of negative exercise. So, it would probably be best as Doug suggested, that it would be better that we pay you to do that.”

Isn't it just like us to suspect collusion when innocent industry players get together to rig the game?

Harris: “Okay.”

Unknown: "That way, no one would perceive you weren’t an independent body."

As opposed to a hired gun.

Harris: “Okay.”

Lewis: “In that regard, other than helping you get set up and acquainted with each other and willing to start this process, while we are still in the quasi-regulatory phase...although the Election Center has no judgements it can issue in any way, shape or form on this... the Election Center is going to need to bow out of this also. We’ll be glad to talk to you about any thing you want to talk about, and be a sounding board, but in terms of your organization and discussion of industry issues, we are probably best not being involved in that.... at least until we are no longer the place where we do work for NASED (National Association of State Elections Directors).”

Discussions of how the BBV task force would be governed. Decisions would not be reviewed by the ITAA board except in two circumstances:

1) It was completely opposed to something ITAA stood for. "For example if you came out and said Security is completely irrelevant to IT work. That is so fundamentally opposed to our views that it would have to go up the ladder before you could release a statement like that."

2) If there was a major division in the task force about an issue becoming ITAA policy, which rarely happens.

Emmett (Freeman?) Accenture: “In terms of the task force responding to media inquiry, does the task force handle that role, where someone becomes a spokesman for the group? If so, who does it?”

Harris: “The answer is ITAA, it usually goes out over my name, but we could add other companies if you wish. Let’s assume we wanted to respond to some attack... assume another academic came out and said something against one particular company and the task force wanted to respond. The task force would put out a statement, ‘Harris Miller, on behalf of ITAA, says this is BS’... we would also invite other members of the task force to put in comments if they want... normally the first person to put in a comment would be the chairman and other companies would have a chance to comment, blah, blah.. and be included in the press release.”

Emmett: “So, that’s the kind of protocol you have to deal with public debate.”

Harris: “Similarly, when we get press calls and the press says ‘Joe Academic says your industry’s full of crap and doesn’t know what it is doing.’ What do you say Harris? The reporters always want to know what are the companies saying?.. And there can be two scenarios there: The companies may want to hide behind me, they don’t want to say anything... frequently that happens in a trade association, you don’t want to talk about the issues as individual companies. We have that issue right now with the Buy America Act, for example in congress. No company wants to act like it’s against Buy America -- even though they’re all against it – so I take all the heat for them.

Gee, some of ITAA's clients are going to be pissed when they read this.

The other alternative is they say sure, my company wants to talk to them, my CEO, my PR director, whatever, I’ll send them over. Our PR people know this. We never give out the name of a company member unless we know the company wants to talk.”

Emmett: “All of that seems... like currently useful for dealing with this kind of situation we’ve seen lately. It would be a big help.”

Proposal to have another conference call next Thursday at the same time, absent ITAA, so they can discuss what the whether to hire ITAA or not.

Tracy Graham: Question about the cost on “deliverables” Was that a per member cost, or total cost?

ITAA: Total cost.

Request for how annual dues are calculated (they range from $600-$44K, depending on a company’s sales. "Deliverables" will cost up to $200,000+).

There are dues and project costs. Everyone pays dues, project costs are split amongst the members of the task force as they see fit.

Discussion of fees and what is covered. Harris explains that the fees depend on what is done. If a “Blue Ribbon” panel is needed, then fees must be allocated to compensate the panel members.

“You would have to pay for some meeting time, for these blue ribbon people, you might have to pay them a fee... a minimal fee to attend a meeting.”

Tracy Graham: “We must have a proactive strategy at this time to improve the overall perception in the industry, so we are absolutely supportive of this type of forum and action on behalf of the industry.”

Jack (Gerbel?) Unilect: “We agree as well, with what Tracy said. This is very necessary to do.”


And that, my friends, was a peek at our democracy being sold down the river.