Rage against the voting machine

Dec 10, 2003 at 12:00 am

We weirdoes at New Hits like nothing more than to digest arcane publications and Web sites, the bloviations of conspiracy theorists, wacko rabble and wing nuts the world over. It’s infinitely entertaining and good for the self-esteem. But all too often, there’s an element of truth behind the agitprop that crackles and foments in the ether.

Such is the case with voting machines. What has been largely an underground debate fueled by a few digital crusaders was thrust into the mainstream last week by columnist Paul Krugman of The New York Times, a conservative academic who’s trained as an economist. Krugman, who’s emerged as a courageous and eloquent voice in this Age of W.-speak, penned a column that lends heavy credence to concerns about the new machines that record and tabulate votes. Direct Recording Electronic Systems (DREs) — touch-screen voting machines that leave no auditable paper trail — are the bane of a burgeoning group of activists, and Krugman too. Seems the head of one of the biggest manufacturers is a heavy donor and fund-raiser for George W. Bush, and has vowed in writing to “deliver” the electoral votes of Ohio, his home state, to Dubya next year.

Independent studies have shown the machines and their software to be shockingly inaccurate and insecure. The 2000 Florida election debacle included one instance in which an electronic tabulation system went awry (purposely?) and actually subtracted 16,000 votes from Al Gore. (A reporter who saw the tab running in reverse blew the whistle, and the glitch was corrected.)

“… [T]here’s nothing paranoid about suggesting that political operatives, given the opportunity, might engage in dirty tricks,” Krugman writes. “… [Y]ou don’t have to believe in a central conspiracy to worry that partisans will take advantage of an insecure, unverifiable voting system to manipulate election results. Why expose them to temptation? … the credibility of U.S. democracy may be at stake.”

Kelly Chesney, spokesperson for the Michigan secretary of state, tells News Hits there’s nothing to fear. Though new federal regulations require at least one DRE at each polling place to accommodate people with physical handicaps, Michigan is embracing the “optical scan” method of voting, which employs a paper ballot that is marked and then fed into a tabulating computer. The paper ballot is seemingly a better option than touching a computer screen with no way of double-checking what the circuitry actually records.

But Bev Harris, a Washington state-based author turned full-time foe of unverifiable voting, says optical scanning is no panacea. If the software that counts the paper ballots is unreliable, insecure or malleable, then the potential for chicanery or inaccuracy persists.

Harris tells News Hits there are simple ways to fix such problems, but that most manufacturers of the equipment are, in fact, rabidly opposed to creating a sound audit trail that could be followed when questions arise.

“The amount of money the manufacturers have been willing to spend to fight it makes me suspicious,” Harris says. “They practically go through marketing gymnastics to prevent paper ballots.”

You can learn much more about this important and robust debate at blackboxvoting.org.

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