Monday, March 25, 2013
How to rig an election (or save democracy)
But as the twentieth century came to a close, a brave new world of election rigging emerged, on a scale that might have prompted Huey Long’s stunned admiration. Tracing the sea changes in our electoral process, we see that two major events have paved the way for this lethal form of election manipulation: the mass adoption of computerized voting technology, and the outsourcing of our elections to a handful of corporations that operate in the shadows, with little oversight or accountability.
This privatization of our elections has occurred without public knowledge or consent, leading to one of the most dangerous and least understood crises in the history of American democracy. We have actually lost the ability to verify election results. Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting, which permits touchscreen machines and does not require a paper trail.
Few Americans knew that until shortly before the election, Hagel had been chairman of the company whose computerized voting machines would soon count his own votes: Election Systems & Software (then called American Information Systems).
GEMS turned out to be a vote rigger’s dream. According to Harris’s analysis, it could be hacked, remotely or on-site, using any off-the-shelf version of Microsoft Access, and password protection was missing for supervisor functions. Not only could multiple users gain access to the system after only one had logged in, but unencrypted audit logs allowed any trace of vote rigging to be wiped from the record.
Why the denial? There are at least 3.9 billion good reasons. In 2002, George W. Bush signed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), offering states $3.9 billion in subsidies to modernize their election administration and equipment, purportedly in response to Florida’s hanging-chad fiasco of 2000. “And if we were another country being analyzed by America, we would conclude that this country is ripe for stealing elections and for fraud.”
Diebold became the most infamous name in the industry in 2003, when its CEO, Walden O’Dell, a top fund-raiser for George W. Bush, made a jaw-dropping public promise to “deliver” Ohio’s electoral votes to Bush. The following year, California banned Diebold’s touchscreen system, and Secretary of State Kevin Shelley blasted the company as “fraudulent,” “despicable,” and “deceitful.” Concerned about its tarnished brand, the company removed its label from the front of voting machines. Then Diebold went one step further and changed the name of its voting-machine division to Premier Election Solutions.
Two years later, of course, John Kerry lost the presidency in Ohio. In this key swing state, election monitors were besieged by complaints of G.O.P.orchestrated voter suppression, intimidation, and fraud. Myriad voting-machine anomalies were reported, including “glitches” that flipped votes from Kerry to Bush. A phony terror alert in Republican Warren County (the FBI later denied issuing any such warning) allowed officials to move ballots illegally to an auxiliary building and count them out of public view. Presiding over the election was the Republican secretary of state, J. Kenneth Blackwell, a fiercely partisan fundamentalist Christian who also served as co-chair of Ohio’s Committee to Re-Elect George W. Bush.
Wouldn’t American voters eventually note the constant disparity between poll numbers and election outcomes, and cry foul? They might—except that polling numbers, too, are being quietly shifted. Exit-poll data is provided by the National Election Pool, a corporate-media consortium consisting of the three major television networks plus CNN, Fox News, and the Associated Press. The NEP relies in turn on two companies, Edison Research and Mitofsky International, to conduct and analyze the actual polling. However, few Americans realize that the final exit polls on Election Day are adjusted by the pollsters—in other words, weighted according to the computerized-voting-machine totals.
In Moore’s opinion, the NEP could resolve the whole issue by making raw, unadjusted, precinct-level data available to the public. “Our great, free, and open media are concealing data so that it cannot be analyzed,” Moore charges. Their argument that such data is proprietary and would allow analysts to deduce which votes were cast by specific individuals is, Moore insists, “specious at best.” He adds: “They have a communal responsibility to clarify whether there is a vote miscount going on. But so far there’s been no pressure on them to do so.”
The solutions are easy and obvious. All votes must have a paper receipt. Voting must be reported at the precinct or parish level, published online so that independent election watchers and pollsters can verify the tally independently. Finally, all electronic machines must use public open-source software that is wholly transparent, the corporations that produce them must be non-profit entities, with strict criminal consequences for fraud.