When it comes to e-voting, the corporate media have put out a couple of narrative
frames that have been successful in throwing even voting reform advocates off
the track. The most obvious is the conspiracy frame. Stephen Pizzo, who ultimately
advocates the abolition of e-voting in order to restore voter confidence, nevertheless
believes “[t]he 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.” In this, he finds himself in substantial agreement with conservative
columnist and former Reagan administration official James
It seems to me their argument would be a lot stronger if the GOP hadn’t
already been “caught” attempting to fix every single election since
2000. Hell, they do it out in the open, proudly. People like Katherine Harris,
Glenda Hood, and Ken Blackwell have made whole careers out of purge lists, voter
intimidation, and aggressive partisanship in the administration of elections.
That’s because what we are seeing in operation is not a conspiracy, but
unchecked monopolies and corporate combinations, and there is nothing fanciful
or farfetched about it. The concentration of wealth and power is the ultimate
point toward which all capitalist systems tend. The last 70 years of (relatively)
regulated corporations are the exception, not the rule.
Privatized voting is a perfect example of how the undermining of government
regulatory mechanisms leads to one-party rule and further deregulation, in a
self-perpetuating cycle. We see the same thing with the highly-consolidated
corporate media. Neither is a “conspiracy” required in order for
the various corporate entities to act in concert. Combination is in their best
interests, and successful corporations are all about finding and pursuing their
own best interests, as single-mindedly as sharks. Which explains why the corporate
media have virtually ignored a
recent GAO report detailing serious e-voting failures in 2004.
If the GAO and Conyers reports aren’t credible and important, certainly
exit and pre-election polling anomalies aren’t. Another one of those cropped
up -- in Ohio, of all places -- in the recent election. A Columbus Dispatch
poll was off by a mind-boggling 40 points. The Dispatch is a conservative paper
whose polls are historically highly accurate. The Dispatch’s public affairs
editor, Darrel Rowland,
said the paper “see[s] no reason to discontinue a methodology that’s
proven accurate for decades.”
On the other hand, the Dispatch sees no need to get all worked up about a measly
40 points, either.
An excellent documentary called Invisible
Ballots: A Temptation for Electronic Vote Fraud gives a good overview of
the available evidence. For example, when the state of Georgia adopted paperless
touchscreen voting statewide prior to the 2002 contests, it became an interesting
test case. As it turned out, there were six major upsets in Georgia that year,
including the election of their first Republican governor since the Civil War.
Yet such is the success of the prove-it frame that Mark
Hertsgaard and Mark Crispin Miller recently debated whether or not we can
prove that the 2004 election was stolen, an argument that neatly inverts the
problem: the burden of proof should not be on voters to prove fraud, but on
voting corporations to provide credible evidence of the reliability of their
procedures and the accuracy of their results.
I very much doubt that banking customers would accept ATMs that don’t
print receipts and cannot be audited. Even if the bank had never committed fraud
before. Even if, in the past, the computer tallies and the paper trail have
always matched perfectly (yeah, right). Even if the bank were staffed by friends
and neighbors of both parties and all religious denominations. The process itself
is simply and self-evidently unacceptable.
Yet e-voting corporations and their advocates flatly oppose a voter-verified
paper receipt. The usual reason they give is that it’s too expensive.
That’s pretty funny, given the billions being spent on these machines.
If, in fact, you truly accept that there is no objective verification possible
without a paper trail -- and the computer and voting experts in Invisible Ballots
give a multitude of reasons why this is so -- then electronic voting machines
start to look an awful lot like $3000 pencils. If taxpayers saw them in that
light, they might begin to question the enormous ongoing expense of buying,
staffing, and maintaining these white elephants. They might begin to see Diebold,
ES&S, and Sequoia as the corporate soul mates of Halliburton, Bechtel, and
The truth is, privatizing the vote does not merely open the door to potential
election fraud, it is, in and of itself, an egregious abuse of power, a transfer
of another precious public resource -- in this case the franchise -- into the
hands of powerful, wealthy, entirely self-interested corporations.
One thing we can say about the right-wing’s assaults on our democratic
processes: they show us where the weaknesses are. Many voting activists believe
that the best solution is not only to reject electronic voting but to go to
a completely transparent voting system: scrap
the secret ballot. Other activists are setting up parallel elections, in
which voters cast their ballots twice, once privately in a voting machine and
once publicly and with their names attached, outside the polling place, in order
to document discrepancies.
We are in for the fight of our lives to get and keep a truly democratic voting
system. It is already clear that pressure on voting officials will not be enough.
The revolving door transforming election officials into corporate voting machine
lobbyists, and vice versa, has never twirled faster. Only a grassroots effort
of the type used to alert the public to the lies behind the war in Iraq will
do the job. With two-thirds
of the American people finally realizing that George W. Bush is a liar,
now is the time to educate the public about e-voting. One voting activist, Joan
Brunwasser, has actually created a lending library to provide the movie
free of charge to anyone who wants to have a house party, speak to a group,
or -- like me -- write an article on the subject of e-voting.
Why not host a party showing Invisible Ballots? You couldn’t do anything
more important right now.
Patricia Goldsmith is a member of Long Island Media Watch,
a grassroots free media and democracy watchdog group. She can be reached at: