Paperless Voting: A Catastrophe in the Making
The advent of touch-screen voting has the potential to be a
catastrophe of unprecedented magnitude.
It's easy for those of us who supported Kerry to view the re-election
of George Bush and the war in Iraq as "disasters". But consider them
in a historical perspective: The war in Vietnam, the ascension to
power by Joe McCarthy, the Great Depression, the Civil War and the
ensuing reconstruction era -- all were considered disasters by many at
time, all were arguably at least as serious as the problems we're
currently facing, and our democracy survived all of them.
But democracy doesn't "protect itself". Attempts to rig elections
probably began in ancient Rome, if not earlier. Certainly, many
elections in this country have been biased illegally, by ballot box
stuffing, "losing" ballots, double-registering people, and any number
of other tricks. For democracy to survive, we need to to actively
guard against the efforts of people to circumvent the system. And
to do that, we need several things.
- Election procedures must be monitored.
- There must be some kind of check on the "official counts".
- If something appears to be wrong, we must re-count the votes,
under neutral or bi-partisan supervision.
The Diebold machines, which are used everywhere in Georgia, in much of
Florida, in parts of Ohio, and in some other states, make it impossible
to perform a recount. If there is suspicion of
vote-tampering, there is no way to determine if it's founded or not.
In the absence of a viable recount procedure, we still can at least
tell if someone is "cheating" if
we have a double check on the
official count. That double check is -- or should
exit polls. But something is very wrong with the way exit polls are
perceived in this country. Here's a link to an article I found very
on the Venezuela election
It describes possible fraud in a recent election in Venezuela, using
electronic touch-screen voting. The disturbing aspect is not the
possible fraud, though -- it's the U.S. reaction to the gross
discrepancy between the exit poll results and the "official" results.
The gap is too wide to be explained by any reasonable scenario except
fraud, yet Jimmy Carter (whom I admire and respect) and the mainstream
press in the United States,
including the New York Times, just dismissed the exit polls as being
"inaccurate". Are people so mesmerized by "official figures" and by
the "infallible" output of computers that they dismiss polls done by
people as automatically more suspect?
On PBS, late at night this past November 2, one of the commentators
seriously suggested George Bush should ban
exit polls "if he's
re-elected" (the results were still in doubt at the time). The reason
given was that they had been unacceptably "inaccurate" in two elections
row, showing Florida as going against Bush each time. The bedrock
assumption seems to be that the official numbers are always correct,
and if there's disagreement, the exit polls must be wrong.
The planned "fix" I have read of for the "problems" with the exit
polls which were seen in this election is to carefully avoid releasing
the raw numbers at all in future elections. Nobody except the
statisticians at the polling company will ever get to see the
"uncooked" exit poll numbers; to avoid embarrassing leaks, they will be
adjusted to match the "official" numbers before they are even sent to
the TV networks.
If touch-screen machines without a paper trail are adopted across most
of the nation, and if exit polls are suppressed or dismissed as
"inaccurate", then we have laid the groundwork for the total and
permanent destruction of democracy in this country. Whether the
election which just passed was "rigged" or not is, in the long view of
things, not of overwhelming importance; its effects will eventually
pass. But if we
adopt a system which can't be double-checked, and which the party in
power can invisibly "rig" in order to keep itself in power, then
whether or not it's honest today, sooner or later the machines will be
corrupted and after that there will be no way to repair the
damage. Because, with a currupt and
uncheckable system in
place, no candidate who is opposed to the system will be electable, and
no referendum to change the system will ever gain a majority of the