Our Brave New World of Voting
The Science of Vote Rigging and the
Future of American Democracy
By Michael I. Niman, ArtVoice,
Back in August I wrote about
Back in August I wrote about
That theory is based on the time-tested notion that elections can be
manipulated by manipulating voters. Ultimately,
however, it’s not the voters that need to be manipulated. It’s the votes.
That theory is based on the time-tested notion that elections can be manipulated by manipulating voters. Ultimately, however, it’s not the voters that need to be manipulated. It’s the votes.
Manipulating the votes, the act of stealing an American
election, used to sound far fetched. While
we didn’t always have confidence that voters would make fully informed
decisions, we always assumed that their votes would at least more or less be
counted. Then came
HAVA Electronic Elections
With calls for remediation of the nation’s patchwork of antiquated elections systems, Congress enacted the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, providing $3.9 billion in funding to put new electronic voting machines in place by the 2006 election. Like the Patriot Act, HAVA passed on a knee jerk vote by Congress representatives who had little understanding of the ultimate ramifications of their vote.
Critics now say HAVA could usher in the end of democracy, flawed as it is. Here’s the problem: With HAVA mandating new voting technology, most states are turning to computerized voting machines as the panacea for past elections woes. The new machines, however, make the 2000 election’s hanging chads look like litter in a toxic landfill.
This isn’t the rambling of a knee-jerk Luddite. To the contrary, I’m sitting here in a rather high-tech environment, hooked into the Internet, clicking away on a spiffy laptop under biomass-powered compact fluorescent light bulbs. The problem isn’t that the new voting machines are computers. The problem is that many of them don’t create any auditable trail for recounts. Worse, the software that runs them has been ruled in court to be the private property of the corporation that built the machines; hence, it cannot be examined to see if intentional or unintentional glitches are skewing the vote count. It gets worse. Many of the new elections contracts give the responsibility for counting the votes, not to elections officials, but to the companies who built and maintain the machines. In other words, the most sacred and tenuous process in our democracy, counting the votes, has been outsourced.
Historically Americans have never trusted each other to
count votes. This was evidenced in
Here’s where our current corporate culture takes on mystic proportions. While our political parties will never quite come to trust each other, we have no qualms about tossing our whole system of checks and balances out the window and outsource elections to corporations operating without oversight.
The obvious question is, who are these corporations in whom we place deity-like trust. The answer is quite scary, unless of course you’re an unpopular Republican president with a disdain for democracy and rapidly diminishing prospects for “re”-election.
The nation’s largest election management company,
Election Systems and Software (ES&S), grew out of a merger of electronic
elections pioneer, American Information Systems (AIS), with other information
companies. In the early 1990s,
Hagel not only won, but won big, receiving a majority of the vote from every major demographic group in the state – including core Democratic voters such as Nebraska’s black population, which historically never voted Republican in modern times.
In 2002, the entrenched Hagel won a landslide victory against Democrat Charlie Matulka. Questioning the size of Hagel’s victory, Matulka called for a recount. This was not possible, however, since the state’s contract with ES&S/AIS forbid examining the software on the machines, and the machines themselves created no auditable paper trail. Hagel’s company, in essence, maintained the sole power to manage the election and certify his victory.
ES&S’ primary competitor, Diebold, Inc., is the
second largest and the fastest growing election management company in the
It was in this capacity as a Republican Party honcho, that
O’Neil, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, extorted that he was
“committed to helping
Diebold’s biggest commercial success to date has been in the state of Georgia where they won the contract to supply voting machines and tally votes, making Georgia the first state to outsource an entire statewide election to a company using the new touch screen technology.
Shortly after Diebold took over the
For Georgians, Cleland’s loss was just one act in a
bizarre Election Day play. Also
deposed in the same election, was
The “upset victories” also upset political pollsters,
all of whom miscalled the
The election software in
In the months following the
Wired magazine reports that researchers from the
Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute found “stunning
flaws” in Diebold’s
Another group of analysts, working on contract for the
Touch screen voting machines are not inherently prone to election manipulation. Touch screen machines that generate a paper receipt, verified by the voter and stored by the machine, allow for accurate recounts. They also allow voters to examine the choice that the machine reports they made. This is important because the new machines, aside from being susceptible to tampering and malicious programming, are also error prone. One study conducted jointly by the California and Massachusetts Institutes of Technology (MIT and Caltech) found the new touch screen machines to be more error-prone than the notorious punch card machines of election 2000 fame. One major problem has to do with alignment. The spot on the screen with the candidate’s name, may not line up with the coded segments of the screen that register a vote for that candidate. Voters, in many recent touch screen elections, for example, have complained of machines that flash the opponent’s name when they try to vote for their preferred candidate.
The problem we are facing, however, is bigger than one of machines and technology. It involves a crisis of confidence brought on by a crisis of conflicts of interest. The problem is bigger than EC&C and Diebold. VoteHere, another major player in the emerging elections industry, is chaired by Admiral Dick Owens, a close associate of Dick Cheney and a member of the Defense Policy Board. Head of the George Bush School of Business and former CIA Director, Robert Gates, is a VoteHere director. Other election management companies have similar disturbing conflicts of interest, with connections to the current Bush administration, the Republican Party and the defense industries, as well as the Saudi royal family.
None of this indicates that elections are being stolen. But the lack of a paper trail or any system of accountability shows that, other than a quaint naïve assumption, there are no indications that they aren’t. The aggressive push by an administration that seized power in a contested election to quickly expand touch screen voting certainly isn’t putting concerned people at ease. And the Bush administration’s recent move awarding a contract overseeing Internet absentee voting to a former Arthur Anderson (as in Enron accounting scandal) subsidiary also is disquieting. Despite the fact that a government which has shown its disdain for democracy is awarding vote counting contracts to a company formerly part of a firm involved in falsifying accounting records, it’s politically incorrect to raise this issue in this country – and hence, the mainstream media has thus far ignored what the global media is hailing as the potential collapse of American democracy.
There is hope, however, embodied in a congressional bill popularly called the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003 (H.R. 2239). The bill requires voting machine manufacturers to allow software to be inspected, and mandates that the machines create a voter audited paper trail. Voters should contact their representatives and register support for this bill.
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