Published on Tuesday, November 16, 2004 by CommonDreams.org
Corrupt Before a Vote was Cast
by Alan Gilbert
Tom Zeller, Jr., “As Fast as Blogs See Vote Fraud, Web is Proving Rumors Wrong” (New York Times, November 12, p. A1) and John Schwartz, “Mostly Good Review for Electronic Voting” (A20) make some good points about seeming anomalies in Florida. But their fundamental claim that the November 2nd election was fair is wrong.
The right to vote is the most important democratic right. It mandates control over government by the people as opposed to tyranny.
Does the integrity of the vote exist in the United States? If our leaders were concerned about restoring confidence in the integrity of the right to vote, they would have gone out of their way to demonstrate fairness and transparency. No reasonable person could think given the 2000 election, they automatically had integrity.
But the November 2nd election was less transparent than in 2000. Officials substituted computerized voting machines which leave no paper trail to recount for comparatively accurate punch cards. Fifty million people, more than forty per cent of actual voters, used such machines. But in the Nevada primary, Dean Heller, the Secretary of State commissioned voting machines which did leave a paper trail. Solving the problem was neither expensive nor difficult. Yet needing to prove the integrity of elections, the Republicans and the voting machine makers stuck to touch screen, no paper record computers. Every ATM transaction leaves a paper trail. Gambling machines in Nevada are randomly checked. Only the most important right in a democracy is held prisoner by the false claims of politicians and manufacturers that no paper record can be provided.
A year and a half ago in the House of Representatives, many Republicans as well as Democrats would have voted for a paper trail. But Dennis Hastert and Tom Delay prevented a resolution from ever getting to the floor. The Help America Vote Act envisions a paper trail only in 2006. Why was the Republican leadership determined to prevent democracy in 2004?
Alone among democracies, in the United States, election officials - Secretaries of State – are partisan. Even so, one would think that the Glenda Hoods, Kenneth Blackwells and Donetta Davidsons would be concerned to do their jobs: to uphold the transparency of the right to vote. But in adopting touch screen machines with no paper record, they did the opposite. Companies such as Diebold, Electr onic Systems and Software and Sequoia Voting Systems gave 43% of the budget of the National Association of Secretaries of State (New York Times, September 12, 2004). They took the Secretaries to dinners and on cruises. Further, they provide “revolving door” employment. In 2003, the California Secretary of State Bill Jones becomes a consultant to Sequoia; his assistant secretary became an employee. Former Secretaries from Florida and Georgia have signed on with ES&S and Diebold.
Internationally, fair elections are understood to be administered by nonpartisan officials. Observers who had seen the use of voting machines in Venezuela – much attacked by the Bush administration – commented that they were fair and transparent compared to the United States: “The observers said they had less access to polls [in the US] than in Kazakhstan, that the electronic voting had fewer fail-safes than in Venezuela, that the ballots were not so simple as in the Republic of Georgia and that no country had such a complex national election system.” (Thomas Crampton, “Global Monitors Find Faults,” International Herald Tribune, November 3, 2004). In the last two American Presidential elections, the Republicans, who dominate all branches of government, have tarnished the reputation of the United States as a democracy. When foreigners and many Americans look on the elections with horror – that no one can get a true count of the vote because officials blocked it from the outset – no reasonable response can be made. As one computer expert from Stanford, David Dill, invoked in Schwartz’s article, suggests, a supposed lack of problems was “just a matter of luck.” If the fix was not in, there is no way to show it. The only proof that the officials were honorable would have been if George Bush had lost.
Two facts about the vote counting itself also point, on the face of it, to the theft of the November 2nd election. First, in the swing states of Ohio, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Iowa, the exit polls all pointed to a Kerry landslide. Taken among samples of actual voters, these polls are comparatively reliable. They have only been “wrong” one other time in modern history – in Florida in 2000. But they were not wrong then. Had 50,000 mainly black voters not been wrongly removed as putative “felons” from the rolls and 179,855 votes been declared “spoiled” by Secretary of State Katharine Harris, Gore would have won. Like a canary in a mine, the exit polls are a warning of danger. In the face of the exit polls, faith in computerized voting with no paper record – along with company secrecy about the codes the machines use and no independent review - is bizarre. Second, in Gahanna Precinct, Franklin County, Ohio with 638 registered voters, a machine recorded 4,238 votes for George Bush – a 4,000 vote differential. Bush’s “lead” in Ohio is now officially 132,000. But no errors appear in the direction of John Kerry. By no random process can errors benefit only one candidate.
Given this context, other anomalies cry out for investigation particularly in Ohio which could still swing this very close election. For instance, the errors in 19 precincts in Cuyahoga county could be explained, as a “spokeswoman for the county” Kimberly Bartlett suggests, by a “buggy” machine totaling absentee ballots as more votes than the number of people registered. But she isn’t even a voting official. And in some precincts, the vote was several hundred percent of those registered. Shouldn’t this be independently rechecked? And why did Zeller’s article avoid Ohio?
Given the exit polls and the problems with computerized voting with no paper record alone, there is no reason to think that Bush won the swing states. As the exit polls recorded, there is good reason to think that Kerry won the election.
Some Democrats approved the use of voting machines in Congress. Like Gore, Kerry gave up the election too easily. The New York Times ran its telling series on Making Votes Count before the election. But the press acts as if the election were not stolen. No reasonable person should agree with them.
Alan Gilbert is a democratic theorist, author of Democratic Individuality and Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? and John Evans Professor at the Graduate School of International Studies of the University of Denver.