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Democracy - Americans Don't Vote, Machines Do, & Ballot
Printers Can't Fix That
Lynn Landes 4/6/04
will produce 99.4% of the election results for the upcoming 2004
presidential election. With all the hoopla over voting machine
"glitches," porous software, leaked memos, and the creepy
corporations that sell and service these contraptions, and with all the
controversy that surrounds campaign financing, voter registration, redistricting
issues, and the general privatization of the election process - we are
missing the boat on the biggest crisis facing our democracy.
aren't really voting. Machines are. Call it faking democracy.
And no one seems to be challenging it. As far as I can tell from my own investigations and from discussions with law professors, attorneys, and others, there has never been a lawsuit that challenges the right of machines to be used in the voting process. Recent lawsuits that have been filed by Susan Marie Webber of California and Congressman Robert Wexler (D-FL) are based on verification. The plaintiffs want voting machines to produce paper ballots so that voters can verify that the machine's output matched their input. They also want paper ballots for manual audits and recounts.
But these lawsuits, as well as proposed legislation in Congress from Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), leave voting machines in control of election results. The public is being offered a set of false choices - paperless touchscreen voting machines or touchscreen machines with ballot printers. Machine-free elections are not on the menu.
of the reason may be that people believe the Help America Vote Act
(HAVA) requires states to use voting machines. It does no such thing, not even
for the disabled. Anther reason the machine-free option is not
widely discussed is the popular misconception that people will not
"go back" to paper ballots. But they already have. Absentee
voting continues to grow in popularity despite real security
problems with the chain of custody of the ballots.
is particularly confounding to this writer that our foremost legal scholars
and political scientists have yet to address this issue. Instead, a
bold band of tech heads are leading a charge against paperless
voting machines. But, they are not looking at the broader
Constitutional issues. Being technical, they're calling for a technical
fix - ballot printers.
only fix that will give Americans back their constitutional right to vote
is to ditch the machines.
Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court said that a "legal vote" is one in
which there is a "clear indication of the intent of the voter."
Voting machines (lever, optical scan, touchscreen, the Internet, etc.) produce circumstantial
evidence of the voter's intent, at best. Think of voting as a three-step
process: marking, casting, and counting ballots. Once a machine is involved in
any one of those steps, the result is hard evidence of the machine's
output and circumstantial evidence of the voter's input.
activists are calling for ballot printers, hand counts, and strict audits to
ensure honest election results. That will not fix the problem of using
voting machines. Voting rights are for people, not machines. The voting
process must be transparent in order for voting rights to be enforced.
Machines are not transparent.
voting machines are used, critical parts of the Voting Rights Act can't
be enforced. Under Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.Code §1973f,
Federal Observers are authorized to observe "... whether persons who
are entitled to vote are being permitted to vote ...(and) whether votes cast
by persons entitled to vote are being properly tabulated..."
"Prohibited acts" in §1973i, the "Failure or refusal to permit
casting or tabulation of vote"...can result in civil and criminal
penalties. "No person acting under color of law shall fail or refuse to
permit any person to vote who is entitled to vote...(and) Whoever...knowingly
and willfully falsifies or conceals a material fact... shall be fined not more
than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than five year, or both."
Voting machines violate those provisions. Vote casting and tabulation take place inside of a box. Federal Observers can't observe "... whether persons who are entitled to vote are being permitted to vote ...(and) whether votes cast ...are being properly tabulated.." Voting machines by their very design "conceals a material fact."
Susan Marie Webber and Congressman Wexler are suing to force
states to require manufacturers to attach ballot printers to voting
machines, the resulting ballot would
still be only circumstantial evidence of the voter’s intent. It's been
predicted by election officials (and it makes common sense, to boot) that many voters
won't bother to verify their ballots. In which case, who is to say
if the vote cast matched the voter's intent? Some will say that it's the
voter's responsibility to verify their ballot, but that view misses the point.
Why should people verify the work of a machine? That puts the voter playing
second fiddle to technology. Whose right to vote is it?
contention that voters too often don't fill out ballots properly or the
elections officials too often don't count correctly is not born out by the
facts, but is moot, regardless. Again, the right to vote and to observe your
vote counted properly can belongs to people, not machines.
of time and convenience is another red herring in this debate. Those
issues have simple no-tech solutions, anyway. If officials want
a fast ballot count then they can limit the size of the voting
precincts or increase the number of election officials. If more elections
officials are needed they can be drafted into public service as is done all year around for
jury duty. Likewise, voters who don't understand English could order
ballots in their own language in advance of an election.
machines have been marketed as 'assisting voters' (i.e., President Bush's
Elections Assistance Committee), rather than what they really do, which is to
interfere with a citizen's right to vote. It's particularly galling
to see the needs of the disabled voters used to force voting machines down the
throats of the electorate. The simple ballot template, which is used in
Rhode Island, Canada, and around the world, allows the blind to vote privately
and independently, or as independently as possible. Actually, when the
disabled use voting machines they certainly are not voting independently. They
are relying on the machine to vote for them, just like able-bodied voters.
when you think about it. Using machines in elections. Yet, we've been
doing it since 1888. How can Americans be so naive? How can we surrender
our precious right to vote to some hunk of junk and so few people
seem to notice or to care? How can we call ourselves a democracy?
is painful to think that as African Americans intensified their struggle
for the vote in the 1960's, voting machines were already in widespread
use and perfectly positioned to control election results, and according
to some accounts, were already doing so. Just imagine how the Iraqi
people would react if the U.S. government told them that their elections will
be electronic and that Halliburton, the Carlyle Group, and Microsoft will
provide the machines and the software they run on? Exactly. The Iraqis
would burn the place down, some more.
here we Americans go again. Not connecting the dots. Shooting at the
wrong target. Attaching printer machines to the voting machines that don't
belong there in the first place. Asking voters to verify a
machine's output, leaving the voter's input indirect and in doubt.
wonder what the United Nations would think about a country that fakes democracy?
They probably already know.
Landes is one of the nation's leading journalists on voting technology and
democracy issues. Readers can find her articles at EcoTalk.org.
Lynn is a former news reporter for DUTV and
commentator for the British Broadcasting
Corporation (BBC). Contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org
/ (215) 629-3553
Lynn Landes is one of the nation's leading journalists on voting technology and democracy issues. Readers can find her articles at EcoTalk.org. Lynn is a former news reporter for DUTV and commentator for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Contact info: email@example.com / (215) 629-3553