Newspaper logo  
 
 
   Faking Democracy: Americans Don't Vote, Machines Do, & Ballot Printers Can't Fix That

ANALYSIS:

Diebold's voting tablet-computer
But it's so cute...

Faking Democracy: Americans Don't Vote, Machines Do, & Ballot Printers Can't Fix That

by Lynn Landes

Machines will produce 99.4% of the election results for the upcoming 2004 presidential election. With all the hoopla over voting machine "glitches," porous software, leaked memos, and the creepy corporations that sell and service these contraptions, and with all the controversy that surrounds campaign financing, voter registration, redistricting issues, and the general privatization of the election process--we are missing the boat on the biggest crisis facing our democracy.

Americans aren't really voting. Machines are. Call it faking democracy.
Think of voting as a three-step process: marking, casting, and counting ballots. Once a machine is involved in any one of those steps, the result is hard evidence of the machine's output--and only circumstantial evidence of the voter's input.
And no one seems to be challenging it. As far as I can tell from my own investigations and from discussions with law professors, attorneys, and others, there has never been a lawsuit that challenges the right of machines to be used in the voting process. Recent lawsuits that have been filed by Susan Marie Webber of California and Congressman Robert Wexler (D-FL) are based on verification. The plaintiffs want voting machines to produce paper ballots so that voters can verify that the machine's output matched their input. They also want paper ballots for manual audits and recounts.

But these lawsuits, as well as proposed legislation in Congress from Congressman Rush Holt and Senator Bob Graham, leave voting machines in control of election results. The public is being offered a set of false choices--paperless touchscreen voting machines or touchscreen machines with ballot printers. Machine-free elections are not on the menu.

Part of the reason may be that people believe the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) requires states to use voting machines. It does no such thing, not even for the disabled. Another reason the machine-free option is not widely discussed is the popular misconception that people will not "go back" to paper ballots. But they already have. Absentee voting continues to grow in popularity despite real security problems with the chain of custody of the ballots.

It is particularly confounding to this writer that our foremost legal scholars and political scientists have yet to address this issue. Instead, a bold band of tech-heads are leading a charge against paperless voting machines. But, they are not looking at the broader Constitutional issues. Being technical, they're calling for a technical fix--ballot printers.

The only fix that will give Americans back their constitutional right to vote is to ditch the machines.
The voting process must be transparent in order for voting rights to be enforced. Machines are not transparent, and adding printers won't cure the defect.

In Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court said that a "legal vote" is one in which there is a "clear indication of the intent of the voter." Voting machines (lever, optical scan, touchscreen, the Internet, etc.) produce circumstantial evidence of the voter's intent, at best.Think of voting as a three-step process: marking, casting, and counting ballots. Once a machine is involved in any one of those steps, the result is hard evidence of the machine's output and circumstantial evidence of the voter's input.

Many activists are calling for ballot printers, hand counts, and strict audits to ensure honest election results. That will not fix the problem of using voting machines. Voting rights are for people, not machines. The voting process must be transparent in order for voting rights to be enforced. Machines are not transparent.

When voting machines are used, critical parts of the Voting Rights Act can't be enforced. Under Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.Code §1973f, Federal Observers are authorized to observe "... whether persons who are entitled to vote are being permitted to vote ...(and) whether votes cast by persons entitled to vote are being properly tabulated..."

Under "Prohibited acts" in §1973i, the "Failure or refusal to permit casting or tabulation of vote"...can result in civil and criminal penalties. "No person acting under color of law shall fail or refuse to permit any person to vote who is entitled to vote...(and) Whoever...knowingly and willfully falsifies or conceals a material fact... shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than five year, or both."

Voting machines violate those provisions. Vote casting and tabulation take place inside of a box. Federal Observers can't observe "... whether persons who are entitled to vote are being permitted to vote ...(and) whether votes cast ...are being properly tabulated.." Voting machines by their very design conceal a material fact.

Although Susan Marie Webber and Congressman Wexler are suing to force states to require manufacturers to attach ballot printers to voting machines, the resulting ballot would still be only circumstantial evidence of the voter's intent. It's been predicted by election officials (and it makes common sense, to boot) that many voters won't bother to verify their ballots. In which case, who is to say if the vote cast matched the voter's intent? Some will say that it's the voter's responsibility to verify their ballot, but that view misses the point. Why should people verify the work of a machine? That places the voter in the position of playing second fiddle to technology. Whose right to vote is it?

The contention that voters too often don't fill out ballots properly or the elections officials too often don't count correctly is not borne out by the facts, but is moot, regardless. Again, the right to vote and to observe your vote counted properly belongs to people, not machines.

Consideration of time and convenience is another red herring in this debate. Those issues have simple no-tech solutions, anyway. If officials want a fast ballot count then they can limit the size of the voting precincts or increase the number of election officials. If more elections officials are needed they can be drafted into public service as is done all year around for jury duty. Likewise, voters who don't understand English could order ballots in their own language in advance of an election.

Voting machines have been marketed as 'assisting voters' (i.e., President Bush's Elections Assistance Committee), rather than what they really do, which is to interfere with a citizen's right to vote. It's particularly galling to see the needs of the disabled voters used to force voting machines down the throats of the electorate. The simple ballot template, which is used in Rhode Island, Canada, and around the world, allows the blind to vote privately and independently, or as independently as possible. Actually, when the disabled use voting machines they certainly are not voting independently. They are relying on the machine to vote for them, just like able-bodied voters.

It's insane when you think about it. Using machines in elections. Yet, we've been doing it since 1888. How can Americans be so naive? How can we surrender our precious right to vote to some hunk of junk? How can it be that so few people seem to notice or to care? How can we call ourselves a democracy?

It is painful to think that as African Americans intensified their struggle for the vote in the 1960's, voting machines were already in widespread use and perfectly positioned to control election results, and, according to some accounts, were already doing so. Can you imagine how the Iraqi people would react if the U.S. government told them that their elections will be electronic and that Halliburton, the Carlyle Group, and Microsoft will provide the machines and the software they run on? Exactly. The Iraqis would burn the place down, some more.

Yet here we Americans go again. Not connecting the dots. Shooting at the wrong target. Attaching printer machines to the voting machines that don't belong there in the first place. Asking voters to verify a machine's output, leaving the voter's input indirect and in doubt.

I wonder what the United Nations think about a country that fakes democracy? They probably already know.


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 info: lynnlandes@earthlink.net / (215) 629-3553.



Copyright © 2004 The Baltimore Chronicle. All rights reserved.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

This story was published on April 16, 2004.
  
Local Stories, Events

Ref. : Civic Events

Ref. : Arts & Education Events

Ref. : Public Service Notices

Books, Films, Arts & Education
Letters

Ref. : Letters to the editor

Health Care & Environment

06.22 'Washing is a privilege': life on the frontline of India's water crisis

06.21 China Just Handed the World a 111-Million-Ton Trash Problem [we must switch to bioplastics ASAP]

06.21 Some rare good climate news: the fossil fuel industry is weaker than ever

06.20 ALEC’s Deadly Asbestos Agenda Benefits Koch Industries, Nationwide [the sociopaths are at it again]

06.18 Flooding from sea level rise threatens over 300,000 US coastal homes – study

06.16 Delhi's air pollution is now so bad it is literally off the chart [an increasingly deadly problem]

06.16 Former Bank of Canada Head: Pipeline Protesters May Be Killed. So Be It.

06.15 What if Canada had backed wind energy instead of the oil sands? [infographic]

06.14 The rate of Antarctic melting has nearly tripled in the past five years

06.14 The legal fight to leave the dirtiest fossil fuels in the ground

06.12 Our plastic pollution crisis is too big for recycling to fix

06.12 Giant African baobab trees die suddenly after thousands of years

News Media Matters

Daily: FAIR Blog
The Daily Howler

US Politics, Policy & 'Culture'

06.23 Recognizing the Neoliberal Roots at the Heart of Trump's Cruel and Inhumane Border Policies

06.23 National Suicide Point?

06.22 As 'Wealthiest and Freest Country in the World,' Nikki Haley Tells Bernie Sanders It's 'Ridiculous' to Examine US Poverty [how underregulated capitalism kills people and entire nations]

06.22 50 Years Later, We Still Have a Dream [how underregulated capitalism kills people and entire nations]

06.21 Migrants in Detention Are Suffering Widespread Abuse and Neglect

06.21 James Comey: 'You stare at children crying – what kind of people are we?’ [We have stupidly allowed bribery and greed to corrupt government to the point where morality—and what's best for people is totally ignored...is considered too late.]

Justice Matters
High Crimes?

06.23 Gang raped and set on fire: ICC pushes to investigate Myanmar Rohingya atrocities

06.17 Coalition Ignores Famine Warnings and Continues Assault on Yemen as Critics Question US Complicity [BARBARISM]

Economics, Crony Capitalism

06.22 The Unsurpassed Power Trip by an Insuperable Control Freak: An Open Letter to Jeff Bezos [how underregulated capitalism kills people and entire nations]

06.19 'CEOs don't want this released': US study lays bare extreme pay-ratio problem

06.16 As AT&T-Time Warner Close Deal, Floodgates 'Wide Open' for Corporate Mega-Mergers

06.16 Social mobility in richest countries 'has stalled since 1990s'

International & Futurism

06.23 World to Refugees: Go to Hell

06.23 Top Six Dictators who also Divided Children from Parents like Trump/Sessions [joining the Elite Sociopaths Club]

06.23 North Korea Agreed to Denuclearize, But US Refuses Despite Treaty Obligation

06.23 The Billionaire Class is Not Fit to Rule – Paul Jay [14:31 video]

06.22 SHE NAMED HER CHILD “ENOUGH”

06.22 Europe’s democrats must unite to prevent a far-right takeover [how underregulated capitalism kills people and entire nations]

06.21 Trump’s Astonishing Reversal Is No Solution

06.21 Basic income could work—if you do it Canada-style

We are a non-profit Internet-only newspaper publication founded in 1973. Your donation is essential to our survival.

You can also mail a check to:
Baltimore News Network, Inc.
P.O. Box 42581
Baltimore, MD 21284-2581
Google
This site Web

Public Service Ads: