Electronic voting, like the war in Iraq, is starting to get bad press. And following the debacle of last month's midterm elections, a lot of people have begun to demand an exit strategy.
Surely there ought to be a limit to the number of egregiously wrong turns the same ideologues are allowed to make at one time. How many can we afford, for God's sake? At a time when governments at every level are going bankrupt, thanks in large part to the Bush administration's trillion-dollar quagmire in Iraq, they're spending billions of dollars on high-tech voting equipment that's blowing up in their -- I mean our -- faces.
Has democracy ever been so crater-scarred?
A year and a half ago, when I first started writing about disenfranchisement and the troubling evidence of electronic voting fraud in the 2004 election, this was not a respectable topic for mainstream discourse. Those who broached it were relegated to a spectrum of mockery that ran from "sore loser" to "conspiracy nut." But the ongoing horror show of "glitches" perpetrated on democracy by touchscreen voting machines this year can no longer be ignored even by those who would prefer to, and e-voting disasters are now being reported with some regularity.
Consider, for instance, the Washington Post story last week about the damning report just issued by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which advises the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Paperless electronic voting machines "cannot be made secure" and, indeed, "a single programmer could 'rig' a major election," according to the report, which the Post calls "the most sweeping condemnation of such voting systems by a federal agency."
Now, let's start connecting some dots, as we take a leisurely visit to Sarasota County, Fla., site of the most grotesque e-voting crater still smoldering since Nov. 7. You know, this is where more than 18,000 voters -- fully 15 percent of the electorate -- using paperless machines, failed to vote in the 13th Congressional District race or, hmm, voted but didn't get their votes recorded. Republican Vern Buchanan allegedly beat Democrat Christine Jennings, for Katherine Harris' vacated congressional seat, by 363 votes.
Fortunately, Jennings is challenging the results to this spectacularly tainted election. She joins angry residents in demanding a revote.
Wow, that's some glitch, though -- 18,000 votes lost in cyberspace? Cast on machines that "one of the government's premier research centers" (according to the Post) said cannot be made secure and are easily rigged? Ain't that a heckuva coincidence?
And guess what? It gets even weirder -- it gets downright Bush vs. Kerry, 2004 revisited, as (prepare to be shocked) most of the precincts where the undervotes occurred in droves, like Sarasota County's Precinct 31, with 22 percent, are solidly Democratic and, indeed, largely African-American.
The voters who registered no choice in that one race "solidly backed Democratic candidates in all five of Florida's (other) statewide races," the Orlando Sentinel reported two weeks after the election, after reviewing 17,846 touchscreen ballots that recorded no vote in the congressional race. (Hallelujah, a newspaper doing its job!)
"In the governor's race, for example," the Nov. 22 article notes, "Republican Charlie Crist won handily in Sarasota, easily beating Democrat Jim Davis. But on the undervoted ballots, Davis finished ahead by almost 7 percentage points."
Maybe this is just more crappy luck for the Democrats. (Remember how, in '04, it was always, "I tried to vote for Kerry and Bush lit up on the screen"?) Or maybe these ghastly electronic voting machines are working just the way they're supposed to.
Yes, the Dems won big in the midterms. They recaptured both the House and Senate. Nationwide, their House candidates garnered 40.3 million votes, or 52.7 percent, while Republicans got 34.6 million, or 45.1 percent. But here's something a little odd.
According to the Election Defense Alliance, the Edison-Mitofsky exit poll results released by CNN on Nov. 7 at 7:07 p.m. EST showed Democrats winning nationally by a far wider margin, 55 to 43.5 percent. Then, when the "real" results started coming in, the poll results were adjusted, quietly reallocating about 1.5 million Democratic votes and, in the process, distorting the poll's demographics to resemble what EDA's Jonathan Simon referred to as "a roomful of Republicans." (For more info, check out EDA's highly detailed paper at www.ElectionDefenseAlliance.org.)
If we're still connecting dots, this is where our crayon usually breaks. We've just moved from glitch to fraud. As a nation we're hardly ready to make that final connection, to accuse Bush Republicans of being so power-hungry they'd disenfranchise their fellow Americans in order to win.
For now, I guess, we can only conclude that electronic voting machines are committing treason all by themselves.
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Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at email@example.com or visit his Web site at commonwonders.com.
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