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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

There is no excuse for this
Posted by Jill | 6:29 AM
We know that Republicans have benefitted mightily from vote count shenanigans for the last three elections. After the 2000 Florida debacle, one would think that Democratic leaders would wake up and realize that the voting apparatus has serious problems. Yet not one Democratic leader, other than Rep. Rush Holt of NJ, has even attempted to address the problem on a national level. The Help America Vote Act has served merely to enhance the penetration of easily-rigged DRE voting machines throughout the country. Yes, they may make it easier for the physically-challenged to vote, but if that vote isn't counted the way they cast it, what good does it do?

Even Howard Dean, who actually with his own hands participated in a demonstration of how easily rigged these machines are, has been strangely silent on the issue.

Do the Democrats, who have been repeatedly victimized by voting shenanigans, not understand the gravity of the problem, or is Mr. Brilliant right -- and they and the Republicans are really on the same team?

We are about to have a vitally important election in this country, one which will determine whether this Administration is going to be at the very least held in check, and hopefully held accountable for the way it has systematically ruined this country over the last six years. And we are no closer to having a fair election than we were in 2000. In fact, the entire nation is likely to experience this November the kind of results experienced in Georgia's 2002 beta test of Diebold DRE voting machines -- when Sen. Max Cleland and Gov. Roy Barnes went into the election with comfortable leads and each ended up losing by six points. In fact, the 2002 election results were SO far out of whack that the organization conducting exit polls, Voter News Service, was disbanded. Instead of questioning how an entire nation's election could have been rigged, the networks which collaborated on VNS, decided it was the exit poll apparatus, which had always been a reliable barometer of the eventual result, which was at fault.

When the voting apparatus is controlled by corporations led by vocal and documented supporters of one party over another, it is not possible to have any confidence in the voting machines they install in your precinct. Stuart Rothenberg and Charles Cook can talk all they want to about a Democratic takeover of the house based on current polling, but mark my words, and you heard it here first:

You are going to wake up the morning after the 2006 midterm election and find Republicans still controlling both the House AND the Senate. And again, we'll be scratching our heads and wondering why. The Republican corporatist news media, owned by GE and Disney and Viacom and Time-Warner, will once again talk about a last-minute surge of values voters, or they'll point to whatever October Surprise the Administration cooks up, or they'll say that Americans decided at the last minute that they didn't want the deaths in the Iraq war to be "meaningless". But the real reason is going to be voting machines rigged to produce a continued Republican majority. Not "hacked", but "rigged."

It's high time to stop talking about DRE voting machines as being "vulnerable to hacking." Hacking sounds to most people like a bored fifteen-year-old with a Darth Vader poster on his wall who's finished updating his MySpace profile, finds no one around on Instant Messenger, and decides to hack a voting machine. What's happening to the voting apparatus in this country has nothing to do with bored fifteen-year-olds, or hacker-geek culture. It has to do with voting machines in which a simple flip of a switch allows them to be booted from an external device as innocuous-looking as a flash stick. That is not "hacking", that is "rigging." So let's call the problem what it is -- the systematic disenfranchisement of millions of Americans who think their vote counts.

The New York Times weighs in today:

It’s hard to believe that nearly six years after the disasters of Florida in 2000, states still haven’t mastered the art of counting votes accurately. Yet there are growing signs that the country is moving into another presidential election cycle in disarray.

The most troubling evidence comes from Ohio, a key swing state, whose electoral votes decided the 2004 presidential election. A recent government report details enormous flaws in the election system in Ohio’s biggest county, problems that may not be fixable before the 2008 election.

Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, hired a consulting firm to review its election system. The county recently adopted Diebold electronic voting machines that produce a voter-verified paper record of every vote cast. The investigators compared the vote totals recorded on the machines after this year’s primary with the paper records produced by the machines. The numbers should have been the same, but often there were large and unexplained discrepancies. The report also found that nearly 10 percent of the paper records were destroyed, blank, illegible, or otherwise compromised.

This is seriously bad news even if, as Diebold insists, the report overstates the problem. Under Ohio law, the voter-verified paper record, not the voting machine total, is the official ballot for purposes of a recount. The error rates the report identified are an invitation to a meltdown in a close election.

The report also found an array of other problems. The county does not have a standardized method for conducting a manual recount. That is an invitation, as Florida 2000 showed, to chaos and litigation. And there is a serious need for better training of poll workers, and for more uniform voter ID policies. Disturbingly, the report found that 31 percent of blacks were asked for ID, while just 18 percent of others were.

Some of these problems may be explored further in a federal lawsuit challenging Ohio’s administration of its 2004 election. Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, who has been criticized for many decisions he made on election matters that year, recently agreed to help preserve the 2004 paper ballots for review in the lawsuit.

Ohio is not the only state that may be headed for trouble in 2008. New York’s Legislature was shamefully slow in passing the law needed to start adopting new voting machines statewide. Now localities are just starting to evaluate voting machine companies as they scramble to put machines in place in time for the 2007 election. (Because of a federal lawsuit, New York has to make the switch a year early.) Much can go wrong when new voting machines are used. There has to be extensive testing, and education of poll workers and voters. New York’s timetable needlessly risks an Election Day disaster.

Cuyahoga County deserves credit for commissioning an investigation that raised uncomfortable but important questions. Its report should be a wake-up call to states and counties nationwide. Every jurisdiction in the country that runs elections should question itself just as rigorously, and start fixing any problems without delay.

Six years after the 2000 election, the lack of action on the voting problem, combined with the attempt to address them by GREATER utilization of untrackable DRE voting machines, is the price we pay for willful ignorance of technology. People who are technically literate aren't "computer weirdos", as my neighbor calls us. Computers aren't magic. What you get out of a computer is dependent on what goes in. You don't have to be able to read programming language code to understand that "If vote = Candidate A and count = 20 then vote = Candidate B" means a vote is being switched. The language in which that logic is written is immaterial.

Illiteracy about the implications of computerization is about more than parents not understanding the implications of their kids' social networking pages and their use of instant messaging. And while we may laugh at Sen. Ted Stevens and his "series of tubes" rant, his ignorance, and that of the Senators who are about to hand over the internet to the telecommunications companies are going to affect how we use the internet in perpetuity. But perhaps most importantly, willful ignorance about technology has destroyed our democracy, turning us into a banana republic -- and Americans went along with it.
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