After the 2004 election I thought I would barf if I heard
one more Democratic pundit or politician lament the lost election and blame it
on the party's "message." As grassroots activists across the
country reported thousands of election irregularities and voting machine "glitches"
that overwhelmingly benefited Bush, the Democratic leadership seemed
unusually willing to look the other way. John Kerry quickly conceded, former
President Carter attended Bush's ignoble inauguration, and Bill
Clinton now pals around with Bush the First.
Rank and file Democrats are tearing their hair out.
Now, in a gesture calculated to win back their base,
but gain little else (in terms of voting security), both House and Senate
Democrats have offered a flurry of bills (with many state legislatures
following in hot pursuit) that require ballot printers for
touchscreen voting machines.
Incredibly, none of these bills call for the ballots to be
counted . . . except in the extremely remote event of a recount.
It takes your breath away. The Dems know that two
Republican-controlled companies (ES&S and Diebold) count 80 percent of all
votes in America. Why do they still trust these companies and their lousy
machines, particularly after the last two presidential elections? In
fact, since the 1960s when computerized voting technology
was first introduced, machine malfunctions almost always benefit
Republicans. Perhaps that's why the Republican stranglehold over the political
landscape has grown so tight. Otherwise, things don't add up. One example, if
Bush's war on the world is so popular, why don't lots of young Republicans sign
up for the military? Haven't the Dems noticed that?
The proposed legislation, popularly known
as "voter-verified paper audit trail", sounded all
right when I first heard about it a few years ago. But, on closer
inspection it became clear that it wasn't a good idea at all. Fundamentally, it
allows "voter verification" and "audits" to
replace our constitutional right to mark, cast, and count ballots. Under
this legislation, machines and election officials continue to control the
process, while meaningful citizen participation and oversight is effectively
Besides all that, don't Dems understand that malfunctioning
machines make ballot printers irrelevant? What are they thinking?
In the real world, recounts are very rare. In general,
they only get triggered if an election is "close."
Many people think that if a candidate wins by a significant margin (as Bush
appeared to do), then vote fraud or system failure is unlikely. I call it, "The
myth of the margin of victory". There are four things to consider
regarding recounts and margins of victory:
First, anyone contemplating vote fraud will certainly want
to win by a significant margin in order to avoid triggering an automatic
Second, two corporations are counting 80 percent of the
votes. Millions of votes can be easily manipulated by a handful of company
technicians. There will be little chance of detection. So, even a landslide
election is not evidence that massive vote fraud or system failure did not
Third, a significant margin of victory packs a powerful
psychological punch against the opposing candidate. They will be unlikely to
contest the election under these circumstances. Some observers contend
that is exactly what happened to John Kerry in this past election. On the other
hand, something was fishy when candidate Kerry said that he was going to make
sure that "every vote will be counted" in the 2004 presidential
election. Who was he kidding? He had to know that 99 percent of all votes are
processed by machines, not people. Kerry sent thousands of attorneys and
volunteers to the polls on Election Day 2004 in a futile attempt to monitor an
unobservable vote count.
Fourth, although polling data can be used to raise red flags
where election fraud may have occurred, polls can also be used to shape public
opinion, create false expectations, and even support rigged election
results. The relationship between the corporate news media and polling
organizations is completely nontransparent. There is no reason to believe a
thing these polls have to say. And there's plenty of reason to suspect the news
media. This country's largest voting machine company, ES&S, is owned by one
of their members, The Omaha World Herald.
But, none of this should be news to the Democrats. So,
why aren't they demanding the obvious solution? Get rid of the machines.
Or, at least don't wait for a recount. Count the damn ballots the first time.
Again, what are they thinking? Either the Democrats are unbelievably naive or
they've been bought off.
The Democratic National Committee's (DNC) leadership on the
issue of voting systems has been mind-bending. On Oct. 3, 2004, the
DNC voted to endorse the policy of requiring paper ballots for touchscreen
voting machines by the 2004 election. Then, on Nov. 22, the
DNC approved the use of the most insecure voting system on the face
of the planet for the 2004 Michigan Democratic primary -- Internet voting.
That was the second time. In the 2000 Arizona
Democratic primary, the Internet was also used. Strangely, the
Democrats tried to stonewall this journalist from finding out the
name of the company that conducted the online Michigan primary. What
did they have to hide? See Democrats
Send Mixed Signals in Voting Technology Debate.)
There's more. John Fund, author of the book, Stealing Elections, writes, "Joe Andrew, chairman of the Democratic
National Committee until 2001, is a senior adviser to a biotech firm that owned
several Internet companies. He says the conspiracy theories aren't healthy
and last month he told the Maryland Association of Election Officials that "When
it comes to electronic voting, most liberals are just plain old-fashioned nuts.'
While conservatives were skilled at coordinating their messages, he added, 'that
does not mean there is a vast right-wing conspiracy trying to steal votes in
America, as the loudest voices on the left are saying today' . . . Mr. Andrew
said the people obsessed about DRE manipulation are either computer experts
with impressive technical knowledge but little practical experience with
elections or left-leaning computer users who are conspiratorial by nature. He
noted with regret that they have been joined in their hysteria by prominent Democrats
who 'are rallying behind the anti-DRE bandwagon in a big election year because
they think that this movement is good for Democrats.'"
Mr. Andrew appears to be batting for the other side.
Will things change under Howard Dean's leadership?
Maybe not. Back on Oct. 02, 2003, the Associated Press reported, "Eight of the presidential candidates
have written national Democratic officials to support a challenge of Michigan
Democrats' plan to allow Internet voting in its caucuses Feb. 7. Only Howard
Dean, former Vermont governor, and Wesley Clark, the retired general who just
joined the race, did not sign on to back the protest."
Perhaps, the Democrats need a crash course in Voting
101. There is an enormous difference between people marking, casting,
and counting ballots and machines performing these same functions. People
can be observed and machines can't. If poll watchers can't
observe the process, then they'll have no real opportunity to
discover if vote fraud or miscounts occur. It's that simple. But, it's a simple
truth that seems to elude congressional Democrats.
In contrast, the Republicans have figured it out. An
HBO documentary that aired on October 11, 2004, shows Congressman Pete
King (R-NY) bragging about the upcoming election, "It's already over. The election's over. We won. It's all over
but the counting and we'll take care of the counting."
They sure did.
Landes is one of the nation's leading journalists on voting technology and
democracy issues. Readers can find her articles at EcoTalk.org.
Lynn is a former news reporter for DUTV and
commentator for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Contact info: email@example.com
/ (215) 629-3553.