30 March 2006

Faith-Based Voting
'Without procedural integrity, you have nothing'

Robert C. Koehler - March 30, 2006

Oh, those glitches!

For some reason we tolerate them a lot more in an election — that is to say, in the mechanics of democracy, something we affect to believe in so fervently we're willing to go to war to make sure other countries have it — than we would in, let's say, our banking system.

Last week's primary election fiasco here in Chicago and Cook County — a fiasco of such ballot-eating magnitude that the city and county, which each had separate deals with Sequoia Voting Systems, are withholding more than $30 million remaining on their respective contracts with that company — should have generated howls of outrage. Instead, the tone of the local coverage of the chaotic transition from punch cards to optical-scan and touch-screen voting struck me more as tepid bemusement.

Most infuriating was the scattershot use of the trivializing, blame-avoidance word "glitch," which reduces disenfranchisement to oh well, gosh, just one of those things. The media can live with glitches. They still get their numbers to report. They still get "results," which, in our world of breathless headlines and two-second sound bites, are all that matter. Voting - democracy — is the booster engine that produces winners, then quietly disappears.

The operative assumption is that, despite the chaos, vulnerability to fraud and enormous cost, electronic voting is inevitable, "modern." And once you eliminate the human-error factor, it's, you know, infallible.

This, of course, is preposterous; every line of code in a voting program was written by a human. Our vote is hostage to a flawed, secret system of counting that almost no one understands.


1 comment:

ConcernedVoter06 said...

FYI: This appeared last week in Investor's Business Daily. Makes things a bit more interesting.

Hugo Wants Your Vote
Posted 4/5/2006

Elections: If 9-11 taught us anything, it was to be wary of asym- metrical threats from hostile entities no matter what size. We might just get ambushed again if the Venezuelan government ends up controlling our elections.

Don't think it can't happen. A Venezuelan-linked company called Smartmatic has bought out a U.S. electronic voting device firm called Sequoia, which holds contracts for elections in Chicago and elsewhere.

U.S. foreign investment bureaucrats aren't worried because no military secrets are involved. But that kind of thinking can blindside our democratic institutions as we look for threats to our hardware.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is the foremost meddler in foreign elections in the Western hemisphere and has been accused of secretly financing candidates in Peru, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Mexico. Why wouldn't he be interested in influencing vote outcomes here?

He's already trying to influence our politics through a congressional lobbying effort and a cheap fuel program for welfare recipients explicitly linked to congressional participation.

These and other shenanigans signal interest in influencing perceptions in the U.S.

There's plenty of domestic white noise about electronic machines to cloud the issue. But the problems Chavez could cause are in a different league.

Even as regulators dismiss security threats, the performance of Smartmatic in Venezuela's own elections raises questions.

For example, 82% of voters there sat out last December's Smartmatic-operational congressional race on shattered confidence in the system.

The Smartmatic machines are capable of controlling the speed at which votes are transmitted, creating long lines to discourage voting. They can also instantaneously tally as results come in, giving favored sides information to manipulate turnout.

Mathematicians accuse them of flipping results. And combined with fingerprint machines, they can match votes to voters, violating ballot secrecy.

There may be no problem with Smartmatic working U.S. elections, but just wait for a close call and see how credible the result will be. With as many problems as U.S. elections have seen, the one thing it doesn't need is to import Venezuela's electoral wreckage.