Voting used to be an orderly process. People never got too riled up about elections. There were usually two candidates, neither all that different from the other. Occasionally, there was a third candidate, but he was a lot like the other two. People went to the polls, voted, and the candidate with the most votes won.
2000 changed all that. After Bush was appointed president, there was an outcry and chorus about the optical scanners and other electronic voting machines that facilitated his “victory.” You’d hear people saying “It’s the optical scanner systems, stupid.” There was a lot of talk about reforming the way we vote, cleaning it up, making it transparent, incapable of sabotage. Now, 6 years later, after another national election, on the eve of yet another, it’s time to ask, “What happened?”
The answer, unfortunately, is: Not much.
Report after report proves that these machines, as well as other electronic voting systems, just don’t work. And that if they do, the people who operate them aren’t trained properly, making them dangerously error-prone. Even the staid Chicago Tribune
is worried. In fact, just Google "voting irregularities, optical scanners.” for more lurid details.
According to the consensus, optical scanners are easily hacked, manipulated, and contaminated. And many of them don’t generate a paper trail so we can figure out if and how they’ve been hacked, manipulated, and contaminated. Bottom line? Never has the potential for vote fraud been so massive as it is today. And that doesn’t even start to address the fact that the CEO of the company that makes many of the machines (Diebold) is a significant Republican contributor committed to Bush.
Seems to me if there’s anything we hold sacred these days (and I realize there’s not much) it should be our ability to vote and believe it might make a difference. Granted, stuffing the ballot box is not a new-fangled thing. In fact, Chicago has a rich tradition of it. (Quick: who coined the phrase “Vote Early and Often?”)*
But after the Florida nightmare in 2000 and the debacle in Ohio in 2004, I’m afraid we’ve become so inured to systemic corruption that we’ve become cynical and apathetic. We just assume the fix is in-- and we don’t bother to challenge it.
Well, we have another chance in less than two weeks. The pundits all say a sea change is coming. Is it? What should we do if it doesn’t? What if, for some unexplained reason, some of the Republicans who are expected to lose end up winning? Do we just say the media was overreaching? The polls were wrong? The issues people care about were “Republican issues” after all?
Or do we ask the hard questions: Who did the counting? How did they do it? Who trained them and how? And where’s the paper trail? I, for one, would sure like to know those answers. I’d like to know the “chain of custody” with the process. How the votes get transferred to a central collection point. Who enters the data. Who pushes the buttons, and which buttons they push.
Of course, we could simply eschew the exercise of voting altogether. We can always watch it on TV. Hey -- we could even let Paula, Simon and the rest of the gang decide who our next American Idol should be.
Come to think of it, we might already be doing something tantamount to that when we depend on optical scanners to tally our votes.
I think it should be an interesting evening. What do you think?
(By the way, David Skibbins, a fine mystery writer, has a book coming out in 2008 about how a Presidential election is manipulated through optical scanners. He’s calling it Hardened. Timely, no?)
*Answer: Big Bill Thompson, Chicago mayor, 1915-1931 (more or less)