So much for a free and fair exchange of ideas. At conferences and hearings
across the country, traditional voting rights organizations have
successfully blocked any serious debate on machine-free,
paper-only elections. It appears that our well-entrenched so-called 'voting
rights' organizations, including the NAACP and ACLU, haven't absorbed
the lesson from America's election debacles. They would
rather invite the industry-funded National Association of State
Election Directors (NASED) to speak at their conferences, than invite
researchers and activists who will argue that the machines must go.
The Dec. 7 conference in Washington, DC, Voting
2004: A Report to the Nation on America's Election Process,
sponsored by Common Cause, The Century Foundation, and LCCR (Leadership
Conference on Civil Rights) was no exception. Instead of
fighting for the peoples' right to a paper ballot and a hand
count, the conference adopted the VerifiedVoting.org and Congressman
Rush Holt's (D-NJ) prescription for voting integrity. It is beyond
It gives people false hope, instead of a sensible solution. Holt's
legislation calls for ballot printers and audits. First, that leaves the
machines in the voting process -- ready, willing, and able to malfunction,
break down, or not show up -- causing chaos and confusion. Ballot printers
won't fix that. Second, it proposes spot audits, which leaves
the counting of ballots in the hands of the very election officials
who prove with each new election how truly inept or completely evil they
really are. And third, the only time paper ballots will be counted is in case
of a "close" election, ensuring that perpetrators of vote
fraud will steal a sufficient number of votes to avoid
triggering a recount.
At the conference, I privately asked Rep.Holt about the shortcomings to
his legislation. He looked like a deer caught in the headlights. When I asked
what happens when the machines malfunction (ballot printers and all), Holt
said something about "emergency ballots". When I asked what "emergency
ballots" were, he said that it's up to the states. It was obvious
that he is not accustomed to tough questions. That's strange, I thought. I've
been communicating with Michele Moulder of Holt's staff for the past two
years. So how could he be so unprepared to defend his legislation?
When I asked Ms. Moulder why the conference was not discussing
the machine-free/paper-only election option, she said that people
just weren't "there" yet. I surmised she meant that people
weren't ready to consider that option. But judging from the reaction to
my articles and speeches, I suggested to her that a growing
number of people are already "there." And more people might be "there" if the
issue was allowed to be on the agenda at these conferences. She
smiled and walked away.
The conference organizers did graciously allow members of the
audience to ask questions. I was one of the first up. I, of
course, questioned the effectiveness of ballot printers and audits.
Wade Henderson, executive director of the LCCR, and with whom I have
spoken personally, was ready for me. He neatly batted the birdie back across
the net, responding that my questions would be addressed later on in the
conference. That really never happened. So, just before the conference ended,
I waited my turn again and then spoke into the microphone.
I asked Mr. Henderson why the organizers were not debating the
machine-free option. He said that machine-free elections were
up for discussion in that I was
there bringing it up. Welcome to the world of Wade.
One question does not a debate make. And the panelists who answered
me included in their responses enough baloney to choke a horse.
That's par for the course. Voting rights organizations are misleading the pubic
on several critical issues. At the "Claim Democracy" conference
in Washington last year, speakers from several organizations, including DEMOS
(whoever the heck they really are) were running around telling audiences that
HAVA (Help America Vote Act) requires that each precinct have a touchscreen
voting machine for the disabled. Actually, Rush Holt's Ms. Moulder insisted on
it. To her credit, she was open to be corrected. She had a copy of the act in
her hotel room, so we ran up and read it. I pointed out the pertinent passage
and she accepted the fact that HAVA does not require voting machines for the
The alleged need for voting machines for the disabled often gets
trotted out at these conferences. Forget the fact that the blind can vote privately and
independently using tactile paper ballots and audio assistance; something that
is used all over the world as well as in Vermont and other states. Forget
the fact that voting machines can cheat the disabled as easily as the
able-bodied. Forget the fact that voting machines are harder for the disabled to
use; that it will take the blind significantly longer to vote on a machine than
to be assisted by a person of their choice. Forget the fact that two
leading associations for the blind have received over $1 million dollars
from the voting machine industry to flog their wares. These things are never
mentioned because conference organizers make sure that the debate is never
Discussion about the accuracy of voting machines is also fodder for
disinformation. Take Dr. Ted Selker of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of
Technology), please. At the conference, he once again blathered about "residual
votes" (i.e., overvotes and undervotes), claiming that "new"
machines are better than old machines. How wonderful for the industry.
Selker avoids the real elephant in the closet -- that
voting machines can be easily rigged and impossible to safeguard.
Selker claims that voting machines reduce undervotes and overvotes, when
in fact, he can provide no evidence that the voting machines don't
add and subtract votes on command or willy-nilly.
But, the most shocking response to my question at the conference came
from Dr. Avi Rubin. He said that Americans would not go back to
paper ballots. He said that one day we'll all be using our home
computers to vote. So much for all Avi's first-rate reports on voting
machine insecurity. He just endorsed voting by electronic ether. Can an
endorsement of VoteHere's products and services, on whose technical
advisory board Avi sat for two years, be far behind?
It's time for a good hard look in the mirror. Voting machines have
been around since 1892. Why have the voting rights groups failed for so
long to recognized the tremendous threat to basic civil rights these machines
pose? When the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed why didn't these groups
question the use of voting machines? Why didn't they stop and consider
that all the good the act would do, would be rendered
moot by these technological Trojan Horses? Sure, a few minority
congressmen have made it to Congress, but that doesn't mean that elections
haven't been routinely rigged. The U.S. Congress does not remotely represent
the diversity of people or opinions in the general population.
Didn't these voting rights groups notice that Craig Donsanto,
chief of the U.S. Department of Justice Election Crimes Branch, has sat on
his hands for the past 30 years. He has refused to seriously investigate
complaints of vote fraud, particularly when it involved computerized
voting machines. Actually, that guy doesn't seem to investigate much of anything,
ever. Why haven't these groups made an issue of Donsanto?
Even if the voting rights groups weren't sensitive before, the
elections of 2000 should have concentrated their minds on the limitless
problems and endless threats voting machines assure a democracy. So, why
didn't they say one word in public protest when the DNC (Democratic
National Committee) allowed the use of Internet voting in the 2004 Democratic
primary in Michigan?
It makes a person question everything about these
organizations. Ever wondered why the voters who were unfairly purged from the
rolls in Florida are still not back on the list? It seems that instead of
getting a court order, the voting rights groups (including the Legal Defense
Fund of the NAACP), agreed to an out-of-court settlement with the state of
Florida. Four years later, disenfranchised citizens are still not on the
Four years after the 2000 election, voting machines are causing more
problems than ever. Someone needs to get a clue. At least let's have a real
Lynn 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
/ (215) 629-3553.