Are we really to believe that Karl Rove and other cynical GOP operatives who are engaged in massive voter suppression attempts right now would not take advantage of covert electronic rigging, which has repeatedly been proven feasible? What you can do.
“An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it. Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self-sustained.”
Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi
It has been an axiom of the election reform movement since the 1970s that “sunlight is the best antiseptic.” For that reason I spent more than a decade, including my two terms as a Democratic state senator in Vermont, attempting to shine a glaring light on the pernicious nature of money in politics. Much later, my political antennae led me to believe that finance reform was only one side of the coin, and that it is equally important to focus an antiseptic light on the machinery of elections – what is commonly called election integrity.
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That our computerized voting machines could be hacked, even in the good old US of A, has been pronounced a national threat by no less than the Department of Homeland Security. The fact that the machines are ripe for fraud has been proven repeatedly by computer scientists from Yale, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Rice, Stanford University, the GAO, the Brennan Center for Justice and government-commissioned studies in states like Ohio and California. The Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory – usually entrusted with matters of nuclear security – easily hacked into voting machines in a few hours with $26 dollars in parts.
Meanwhile, in this coming election, thousands of these privately programmed and serviced voting machines are counting the votes that will fundamentally affect the balance of power in US politics, perhaps irreversibly.
So it is vexing to me that, while our country is veering precipitously to the right, with dire consequences for the planet and society, some commentators in progressive and liberal media institutions refuse to believe that the GOP may not limit itself just to dirty tricks and voter suppression. These erstwhile defenders of democracy and justice immediately and emphatically deny the possibility that certain rogue right-wing elements, and GOP operators like Karl Rove, could possibly be complicit in rigging elections. This denial is preposterous; these right-wing operatives have proven that they will lie and cheat, so why would they not steal?
Harvey Wasserman and Bob Fitrakis of The Free Press, recently exposed the Romney family’s questionable ownership stake in a voting machine company, Hart Intercivic. This story has even been picked up by numerous media outlets, including the right-leaning Forbes magazine.
These stories are forcing a fundamental question into the public sphere: Should private corporations be allowed to control the machinery and software of elections without serious oversight?
But instead of asking this question, the liberal-leaning ThinkProgress posts this article: “Why Romney Isn’t Rigging Voting Machines,” when they adduce no evidence one way or the other to make such a statement.
Then MSNBC’s election “expert” Chuck Todd tweeted that concerns about e-voting machines are “conspiracy theory garbage.”
This is truly perplexing. With all other issues where potential political scandal or conflict-of-interest has emerged, it is practically a blood sport for the press to fish for evidence and discuss the possibility of foul play. Witness the amount of attention that Voter ID laws have garnered. Yet on the issue of rigging the voting machines, we see the opposite; the flag of “conspiracy theory” promptly gets waved, before the problem has even been examined. The liberal deniers also take the baffling position that “it can’t happen here,” as Steve Rosenfeld does in his article “Five Ways Karl Rove Won’t Steal an Election,” published on AlterNet and Salon.
Rosenfeld completely dismisses all evidence that the machines can be tampered with and says, “Don’t worry, I know it won’t happen,” offering reasons that have been proven wrong by myriad researchers. It is not true that elections administrators can catch or detect malicious coding inside the computer, and it is not true that discrepancies between electronic results and polling results will lead to an audit of the machines. And as the 2000 presidential race demonstrated, post-election audits and legal action can end up with a right-wing Supreme Court handing your opponent the election.
And are we really to believe that Karl Rove and other cynical GOP operatives engaged in massive voter suppression attempts right now, would not take advantage of covert electronic rigging? After all, we are talking about a cabal of slick operators who lied about weapons of mass destruction in order to start the war in Iraq. Why give them the benefit of the doubt?
What if Rosenfeld is wrong and Karl Rove is about to give orders to one of his dirty tricksters: “Hi, this is Karl. Hey, we need 70 voting machines to flip 5 percent of the votes to Romney in Ohio. And another 50 to flip 7 percent in Virginia. It’s the only way we can win. Call the boys. But be careful to do it only in heavily Republican counties, so no one will notice.”
Does Rosenfeld have absolute proof this above scenario can’t, and won’t happen?
Rosenfeld also smears Victoria Collier’s cover-story article this month in Harper’s magazine, “How to Rig an Election.” This document clearly exposes the corruption permeating our vaunted American democracy, and gives an example I find particularly troubling: Tea Party hero and radical Christian-right candidate Jim DeMint’s entirely implausible election to the US Senate from South Carolina in 2010.
DeMint somehow wound up running against Democratic Party candidate Alvin Greene, a homeless, 32-year-old accused sex offender, who was not only incoherent in media appearances, but essentially did not run any visible campaign, not even posting a lawn sign. Preposterously, in the Democratic primary, Greene beat Vic Rawl, a four-term state legislator, former judge, and 28-year National Guardsman with the rank of colonel.
The unknown Greene’s margin of victory was reported to be an astounding 18 percent, which was tabulated on ES&S voting machines that voters reported flipped votes from Rawl to Greene all during Election Day. Greene also could not explain where he got the $10,400 dollars needed to file for the Democratic primary. It became obvious to most unbiased observers that Greene was a GOP plant rigged onto the ballot by hacked voting machines. DeMint then sailed into the Senate practically uncontested.
Though Vic Rawl lodged a formal protest in hearings with the South Carolina Democratic Party, his demand for a new primary was denied. Meanwhile, the press never once suggested election fraud could have been in play in DeMint’s election. Why?
As a former state senator, I can offer this insight. Politicians won’t touch the issue of election-rigging, foremost to avoid being labeled “conspiracy theorists” in the corporate press. But more pointedly, I believe the silence of the Democrats is rooted in a deeper fear. Most politicians, and political aspirants, live in – and profit by – the unquestioned paradigm of American exceptionalism – the idea that we are the “greatest democracy on earth.” Democracy is what we Americans “export.” Questioning the fundamental integrity of our elections may be our right under the First Amendment, but in politics it’s the equivalent of openly supporting the Constitutional right to burn the American flag. Good luck running for dogcatcher afterward!
Democrats – who have the most to lose from a voting machine industry that is increasingly dominated by right-wingers – have therefore stuck their heads in the sand, fearing political suicide. Additionally, some Democrats clearly fear that voters will stay home if the truth is exposed about how unsafe our system has become. But I find this excuse wanting. Not only is there no evidence to support this conclusion – in fact, voters are often rallied to the breach – but also the American people are not children: They deserve to know the truth.
So we find ourselves in a desperate Catch-22. If political leaders won’t speak the truth, neither will the press. And if the press does not report the truth – or worse, attacks whistleblowers as “nut cases,” then politicians won’t speak out.
Consequently, that leaves “we the people” to mobilize, educate ourselves and speak out, so that the leaders will follow. If we don’t protest loudly, the cycle of implausible elections results spit out of corporate- and right-wing-controlled proprietary software will escalate, and the radical shift of American politics to the right will continue unabated.
The 2012 election may turn out to be the most fraudulent and contested election in US history. But we can perhaps deter outright rigging by shining a strong light on its potential – and also by turning out to vote in record numbers, making electronic vote “shifting” more difficult.
We must watch for the installation of uncertified software “patches” by voting machine companies, as has been reported this weekend in 39 counties in Ohio. This is considered illegal and probably constitutes fraud.
Most disturbing is that the GOP is planning to try to have voting machines “recalibrated” in many key states the day before the election, supposedly to correct errors. In a letter to election officials and secretaries of state in Ohio, Nevada, Kansas, Colorado, Missouri and North Carolina, the GOP’s Chief Counsel, John R. Phillippe, Jr., directed that the officials:
1. Re-calibrate all voting machines on the morning of Election Day, or, if necessary, the day before the election.
2. Make arrangements for additional technicians on Election Day in case of increased calibration problems.
These are prime opportunities for rigging, as the software patches are likely proprietary, and most of the voting machine companies are controlled by the right wing.
We must be vigilant for vote-flipping in heavily Republican districts; areas where Romney is expected to win, but where “glitches,” perhaps caused by “re-calibration,” could heavily inflate GOP totals and threaten the elections for President and Congress. Such manipulation can be masked as a plausible “heavy turnout” by Republicans, and could add enough votes to win the electoral votes of a key swing state.
I am particularly concerned about Virginia and Pennsylvania, where many of the voting districts use DRE machines without a verifiable paper trail. The Romney-Ryan team put Pennsylvania, a blue-leaning state with 20 electoral votes, in play this past week, which gives me pause. A flood of GOP and PAC money has recently inundated the Pennsylvania airwaves with anti-Obama ads, and both Ryan and Romney switched plans to campaign there over the weekend. Pennsylvania voters and election officials Beware!
Please circulate this message to your friends, and urge them to vote this election cycle. Tell them that the basis of American democracy – our right to vote and choose our various elected representatives, governors and president – is no longer assured, and they must get involved.
I ask that you then join the Election Integrity movement to organize for reform of our voting process before the next election cycle. Campaign finance reform and publicly observable ballot counting are the two pillars of democratic reform that should be the central campaign platform of Democratic and progressive candidates in the 2014 election cycle.
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