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 Pinkerton.
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 CACI.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Articles by Patricia Goldsmith