News Briefs

Electronic voting still problematic

If you've voted in the special ballot-amendment election, then you're likely familiar with the electronic voting machines, those magical contraptions that ostensibly count your vote. (If you haven't cast your ballot, early voting ends November 4; Election Day is November 8.)

Due to concerns about the reliability of electronic voting, the Government Accountability Office recently issued a report concluding that the federal Election Assistance Commission is so far behind in revamping the systems that few, if any, improvements will be made by the 2006 Congressional elections.

The GAO listed examples of voting system problems:

Cast ballots and audit logs could be modified

Supervisor functions were protected with weak or easily guessed passwords

Systems had easily picked locks and power switches that were exposed and unprotected

Local jurisdictions misconfigured their electronic-voting systems, leading to problems on Election Day

Voting systems failed to work

Venders installed uncertified electronic voting systems

While the Election Assistance Commission is developing ways to certify the voting process and to accredit independent labs that would test the machines, the GAO said these and other important changes haven't been improved since the 2004 election. Nor has the EAC consistently defined timelines or set goals to make these improvements.

The GAO report said that while some of the voting system errors were limited to a specific make or model of machine, some errors influenced the vote count in federal elections, resulting in the loss or miscount of votes.

Lisa Sorg

Darfurians waiting for justice

Bashir Gamous, a refugee from West Sudan who has lived in the U.S. for five years, left his village in 1987 and has not returned. When he contemplates returning home, he says: "When I sleep, I remember, when I get home, I'm killing all my family members." That is because Darfurians have been forced to live in a world where rape and castration have become commonplace, and living in the United States provides them with some semblance of security. The money he sends to his family means they don't have to send a mother, sister, or aunt to comb the Sahara for firewood and water, thus he is protecting them from being raped.

Gamous' family is among Darfur's 2.5 million refugees, formally known as Internally Displaced Persons, who, for the past 20 years, have been forced to live in the unprotected, overpopulated camps that the militia randomly evacuates and bulldozes in the middle of the night.

Gamous spoke at Trinity University on October 25 at a symposium on the International Criminal Court. The ICC was created in July 1998 at a United Nations conference in Rome, Italy, where 120 countries signed on as the Assembly of States parties, the ICC's legislative body. It is the first permanent, treaty-based international criminal court established to prosecute crimes against humanity. The U.S., Russia, and China abstained. The Court can prosecute anyone committing any crimes under the statute.

For decades, the Janjaweed, marauding forces that the Sudanese government imports from the eastern and southern tribal regions mixed with Arab militia elements, have been pillaging and killing Darfur's indigenous black African tribes under the direction and financial backing of the government headed by Umar Hassan al-Bashir, in Khartoum, the capital.

In April 2003, a UN spokesman referred the situation in Darfur to ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. Within days, Ocampo and his advisers opened a sealed list of 51 names suspected to be involved with the brutality in Darfur. Ocampo opened an investigation on Darfur last June.

Brian Steidle, a former Marine and member of the African Union monitoring team in Darfur, showed several graphic photographs of dead, dying, and suffering refugees taken while on missions to Darfur. Among them, portraits of children stabbed by vicious flashettes: 2-inch metal nails with stabilizing fins to ensure their tapered ends point, which are launched from helicopter gun ships.

As their days bleed into nights, Darfurians are looking to the ICC, to the U.S., to someone for help.

- Francesca Camillo

The high cost of not providing health insurance

According to a 2004 Census report, 5.4 million people in Texas are without health insurance, the highest rate in United States. In Laredo, Brownsville, and El Paso 1 in 3 people don't have health insurance.

On Tuesday, November 8, Trinity University will host anthropologist Susan Sered, who will discuss the correlation between being unhealthy and uninsured in Texas, and the high cost of health care paid by both the uninsured and the state.

Sered is a senior research associate at Suffolk University's Center for Women's Health and Human Rights and the author of Uninsured in America: Life and Death in the Land of Opportunity. Her book looks at the obstacles the uninsured must hurdle to receive basic medical services. Nationally, 45 million people are without health insurance, which the Institute of Medicine reports causes 18,000 deaths a year, and costs the nation $65 billion to $130 billion in lost resources due to diminished health and death.

Sered included members of the San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley community in her research, and found that Medicaid is not a consistent source of coverage for low-income Texans, due to the State's stringent eligibility requirements. The result is that families rotate on and off of Medicaid, start treatments and then end them when coverage stops. In addition, uninsured patients seek health care from a number of different sources - private doctors, migrant clinics, community clinics - resulting in fragmented medical histories, a serious problem for patients with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes. Sered's lecture begins at 7 p.m. in Trinity's Chapman Auditorium, and is free and open to the public.

Susan Pagani

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