When the Supreme Court issued its Citizens United decision in 2010, many in the media predicted that it would usher in a new era of corporate electioneering. They were right, of course, but they only had half of the story.
You won’t hear it anywhere in the mainstream media, but over the past decade or so our elected representatives have slowly but surely handed the power to decide our elections over to a handful of giant, mostly Republican-connected corporations.
And they’ve done so by giving them the right to count our votes.
At one time, counting votes was something done by people like you and me. It was done by volunteers, political party representatives, and government workers. If there was anything sketchy with the results, you could compare those results with exit-polls conducted by any one of the many reputable polling companies. This system worked for centuries and for good reason, too: exit polls were – and still are – the best way to detect fraud.
But something changed in America in the early 2000s. Private corporations armed with fancy new electronic voting machines – not everyday people – began counting the vote. They were helped out by President George W. Bush, who in 2002 signed the so-called “Help America Vote Act.” HAVA gave billions of dollars to states all over the country so they could buy electronic voting machines from big corporations.
Supporters of electronic voting machines say they’re safer and better than manual vote counting, but that’s just a flat-out lie. Anyone who wants to can easily use a voting machine to swing an election.
If you don’t believe me, just check out the 2004 video of Howard Dean playing around with a voting machine while he was guest hosting Tina Brown’s CNBC show.
It’s really that easy. In fact, according to BlackBoxVoting.org, a non-profit group dedicated to investigating problems with electronic voting, rigging an election with an electronic voting machine is so easy a chimpanzee can do it.
And if you think this all just a bunch of hand-wringing, then think again. Ever since the early 2000s, when the use of electronic voting machines really took off, things have gotten really weird.
Back in 2002, for example, polling showed popular Georgia Democrat Senator Max Cleland with a solid five point lead over his Republican challenger, Saxby Chambliss, less than a week before Election Day. But when the votes were counted using electronic voting machines made and operated by Diebold, Chambliss emerged victorious by about two points.
So what happened? Well, it might have something to do with a software patch that Diebold installed in machines in Democratic-leaning counties months before voters went to the polls.
But we’ll never actually know what happened. As Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. noted in his piece on the 2002 Georgia senate race, “It is impossible to know whether the machines were rigged to alter the election in Georgia: Diebold’s machines provided no paper trail, making a recount impossible.”
That’s the whole problem with electronic voting machines: we’ll never really know. Companies like Diebold don’t have to reveal their software secrets because they are protected under copyright law. And again, unlike paper ballots, you can’t really see when someone messes with your touchscreen vote. It happens outside of plain sight.
Ultimately, however, the biggest problem with electronic voting machines is that they violate the core principles of our republic. Whether or not election rigging exists – and my bets are on that it does – the whole idea of privatizing the vote is a crime against our form of government.
Think of it this way: the whole purpose of government is to administer the commons, you know, things like parks, healthcare, and roads that we all need in order to survive. And in a democratic republic, voting is the most important part of the commons. That’s because it’s the glue that holds everything else together. It’s how “We, the People,” hold the managers of our commons – our elected leaders – accountable for their actions.
Handing the one thing we use to hold everyone else accountable – that is, voting, – over to an institution – a corporation – that is only accountable to its shareholders, is the ultimate crime against democracy.
On Tuesday, millions of Americans went to the polls to vote for the candidate or ballot question of their choice. But thanks to more than a decade of election privatization, we’ll never know whether their votes actually counted. That’s a shame.
It’s time to return to paper ballots that are counted by actual human beings. Ireland and Canada tried out electronic voting machines and eventually abandoned them. It’s time we followed their lead.
Privatizing the vote is just absolutely insane. It’s time to scrap corporate-controlled electronic voting machines and return our elections to where they belong: in the hands of “We, the People.”
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