Monday, November 28, 2005

November 28, 2005

Black Box Voting
Shame or Disgrace?

Am I missing something here? A growing number of readers tell me I am. They say I need to get on this right now because "they" are about to steal America's democracy.

"They" are a shadowy cabal of right-wing evil-doers and Diebold. They are conspiring to steal elections. They already have, these folks tell me. It is a devilishly simple scheme. Switch voters to electronic voting machines so there are no more re-countable paper ballots. Then program the machines so only their Manchurian candidates win.

This email is typical of the emails I am getting from readers (edited for length):

I'm so glad that I'm not the only person nudging you. But, what you say about the brazenness of Diebold & Co. You soooo underestimate them. Go to Black Box Voting and read about what they are trying to set up as a 'test' for re-certifying with Black Box Voting. No way is it a fair fight. It is my measured opinion that this is indicative of a general fear that if anyone were to overlook the hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of lobbying dollars spent to ram these machines through, it would be like the unmasking of the Wizard of Oz.

Don't take things for granted. Trust me. I'm not a paranoid person. Just look. Investigate. Decide for yourself. Elected officials of all stripes have fallen under the spell of the big electronic voting machines and it's not because they are so highly rated or have a good track record. Why would that be?

Were you aware that this summer at California tax payers' expense there was a several days long seminar on voting and electronic voting machines for election officials and it was partially paid for by the electronic voting machine companies who were there to demonstrate (read "push") their product. Most people were unaware of this gross conflict of interest and misuse of public funds. All I'm trying to say is it's part of a total picture in which many individuals from both sides are at the lucrative trough. Did you know that Diebold hired a former DNC Chairman to head their fifty state campaign to get Diebold in every state. What the heck does that mean? Is it suicide or murder or both? I can't overstate this. The fact that the Dems have not seen the handwriting on the wall does not change the facts. It just reflects poorly on the Dems.

I wouldn't care if it weren't so important. I believe that this is the foundation of everything.

Best wishes,

Yes, it seems all so simple. Too simple. I don't believe it. Which of course does not matter. All that counts is that a growing number of entirely sane and reasonable voters believe it's true.

Having said I don't believe it, I don't mean to imply that they are above pulling something like that. We know these folks too well now to put anything past them. I just mean that the risk/benefit ratio is too heavily weighted to the risk side of the equation. The party caught fixing a major race would be out of power for a generation. Also, if I learned anything from a quarter century of unraveling real and alleged conspiracies it's that getting caught is always in the cards.

Then there are the conspiracy claims that actually panned out. Once inside these plots they were almost always more Keystone Cops than James Bond, chuck full of more hapless comedy than drama.

(I submit for you, Exhibit A, Iran/Contra. Remember that one. Reagan sending Robert McFarland off to Iran to present the Ayatollah a cake with a frosting key emblazoned on top as a symbol of, who hell knows what, and an autographed Christian bible.... oh and few dozen ground to air missiles. Ollie North furiously shredding evidence, his secretary getting caught trying to smuggle documents out in her knickers. Oh yes, what a well-oiled conspiracy that one was!)

Getting caught, as I say, is in the DNA of conspiracies. It takes too many humans to cook up and carry out any conspiracy worth the doing, and humans are born blabber mouths. (You know them by the name "unnamed sources.")

I remember when former Secretary of State, George Schultz, was leaving Washington at the end of the second Reagan term and a reporter asked him what the most important thing he had learned. "Yeah. I learned that anyone who thinks he can keep a secret in this town needs to have his head examined," he responded.

But again I say, what I believe, or don't believe, doesn't matter. What matters is how many people believe that electronic voting machines are modern day Trojan horses rigged by neo-cons to fix elections. The growing number of emails I get each day from people who believe just that indicates to me that we have more to worry about than the spread of bird flu. The virus of doubt may, in the end, be the greatest danger to America since the Civil War.

I'm a real computer nut. I have been since I bought my first on back in the stone age of personal computing 1979. If it has a silicon chip in it, I either own it or want to. Over the decades it's became one of those love/hate, can't-live-with-them, can't-live-without-them relationships. Anyone who has ever tried to figure out how an annoying application keeps loading, even after you've deleted it a dozen times, understands why electronic voting machines have sparked suspicion and controversy.

(Never mind that Diebold also makes and programs most bank ATM machines in the world as well. Bank ATM's contain a mother lode of super-sensitive private information. But that does not seem to bother those now accusing Diebold of rigging its voting machines. I suspect these same folks routinely shove their bank cards into Diebold ATMs every day without a worry that Diebold is sending the info off to Neocon Central.)

Anyway, I do take this concern seriously even though I doubt it's real. Because democracy is all about trust. If the trust disappears, democracy goes with it.

So, here's my bottom line on this subject.

No paper receipt.
No secure and credible post-election audit trail,
No electronic voting machines.

I don't care how they do it, just do it. Diebold only made matters worst when they claimed that producing paper receipts was not necessary and/or too hard to do.

Nonsense. Most of us own personal computers and most of those computers are connected to a cheap printer. So don't tell us that an electronic voting machines -- produced by the same company whose ATMs spit out paper receipts -- can't produce a hard copy receipt to voters. I don't want to hear it. It's not true.

Actually I'd want two printed receipts; one for the voter to keep and one the voter deposits in a locked and sealed box that before leaving the polling place. After the polls close those boxes would be locked in a vault maintained by bipartisan Federal or state election commissions and kept for a year in the event election results are challenged.

It can be done and it must be done. Because doubt and suspicion are on the rise. And without credible assurances votes caste are the same votes counted, no future elected officials, Republican or Democrat, will possess any mandate to govern.