Our Brave New World of Voting
The Science of Vote Rigging and the Future of American Democracy
By Michael I. Niman, ArtVoice, 10/30/03
Back in August I wrote about America �s ongoing �soft coup� � arguing that military and intelligence community brass were turning against the Bush posse en masse. My theory was based on the fact that the strongest exposes written about the Bush administration last summer all cited former military and CIA officials as their primary sources. This trend has continued unabated, with current officials in Langley and the Pentagon joining their retired comrades on the Bush-bashing bandwagon. New stories come out daily about hawks and spooks defecting to the tofu brigade and telling all about how the Bush team misled the American people and plunged the nation into a needless war. And the formerly compliant media has deviated from the Bush administration script, bringing the military�s anti-Bush message right into America �s TV viewing pens.
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 Florida . And the whole quaint notion of elections got tossed out the window. The final 2000 election recount showed that Bush didn�t win, but he came close enough to move in for the kill.
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 the Florida debacle as teams of inspectors from both the elephant and donkey teams pried over hanging, pregnant and dimpled chads. Most elections are carefully watched supervised by inspectors from both major parties. The Democrats might control a city or state budget, but we can�t quite trust them to honor our democracy and not outright steal an election. Likewise, the Republicans might control the military budget and the Justice Department, but, likewise, we can�t trust them not to vote 27 times, given to chance. This mistrust of each other, ill founded or not, is simply one more example of the checks and balances inherent in our system.
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.
I Declare Myself the Winner"
When everything seems like the movies
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Our Brave New World of Voting