Monday, October 13, 2003

A Smorgasbord of electoral fun. 

According to an old story, Benjamin Franklin was confronted by a woman as he left the last session of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in September 1787.
"'What kind of goverment have you given us, Dr. Franklin?' she asked. 'A Republic or a Monarchy?'
"'A Republic, Madam,' he answered, 'if you can keep it'."
--My Govenment book.

I can honestly say, Benjamin Franklin, that I never imagined growing up in a time when our democracy was threatened. But then again, if you read Howard Zinn, Americans have been living under the false illusion that democracy as practiced here, is pure and idealogical. How quickly we bury historical remembrance of fixed elections, corporations driving us to war, and the physical brutality and economic oppression of the working people.

Corruption in the democratic process is nothing new, and fixed and corrupt elections are nothing new. What is new, is the idea that a few corporations might own all of the voting machines in this country one day, and that these corporations are self-proclaimed supporters of the Republican party. There have already been questions and possible fraud practiced by these companies in American elections, as evidenced in this article posted on CommonDreams.org by Andrew Gumbel from the Independent.uk.

Body and Soul linked to Mark Crispin Miller, who detailed electronic voting machine problems in the recent governor's race in California.

In the Gumbel article, it is noted that strict trade secrecy contracts between states and the voting machine companies, is making it difficult to re-count votes after elections:

It is still unclear exactly how results from these missing cards were tabulated, or if they were counted at all. And we will probably never know, for a highly disturbing reason. The vote count was not conducted by state elections officials, but by the private company that sold Georgia the voting machines in the first place, under a strict trade-secrecy contract that made it not only difficult but actually illegal - on pain of stiff criminal penalties - for the state to touch the equipment or examine the proprietary software to ensure the machines worked properly.

What American citizen, politician or no, in their right mind, would agree to a trade secrecy contract with an electronic voting machine company, that would prevent open and public counts, and recounts of votes in closely contested races. This is idiocy, and such a direct and obvious violation of basic democratic principals that even John Ashcroft ought to be able to perceive the violation.

The representatives of the people who agreed to such contracts ought to be run out of town. From the Gumbel article:

Astonishingly, these are the terms under which America's top three computer voting machine manufacturers - Diebold, Sequoia and Election Systems and Software (ES&S) - have sold their products to election officials around the country. Far from questioning the need for rigid trade secrecy and the absence of a paper record, secretaries of state and their technical advisers - anxious to banish memories of the hanging chad fiasco and other associated disasters in the 2000 presidential recount in Florida - have, for the most part, welcomed the touchscreen voting machines as a technological miracle solution.

We'd better wake up soon, or we will be living in the land of illusion. Illusory elections in which a winner is declared, with few bothering to vote, because the machines are rigged. Cynicism and helplessness will be rampant in those desiring change, apathy in those not wanting to know, and the corporations will run the country in collusion with corporate politicians. Oops, guess I just about described our current state of affairs.