Just As I Thought

Questionable results

The news is littered with stories about electronic voting machines these days, so much so that I wonder why any state or jurisdiction would even consider using them. More in today’s Washington Post:

Four years ago, about 2,300 voters traveled the winding roads through this remote county to cast their ballots before Election Day on state-of-the-art, push-button electronic voting machines. For 678 of them, their votes were never recorded.

Vice President Al Gore won this state by 366 votes. Even if the missing votes had gone for George W. Bush and given him New Mexico’s five electoral votes, it would not have changed the outcome of the presidential race.

But the missing votes in Rio Arriba County show that even in the finest electronic voting systems — New Mexico holds itself out as a leader after a decade of experience — serious miscounts that could sway elections can occur if the computerized machines are not correctly programmed.

With many states making moves to electronic voting machines this year, critics of the new technology say it is fraught with the potential for fraud. But what happened in Rio Arriba County shows what some computer experts say is a far more pressing concern: mistakes in computer programming by inexperienced local election staffs.

I’m terrified of electronic voting machines, not only because of programming errors and potential hacking, but because the machines are invariably owned by the Diebold company, which in turn is owned by a staunch Bush supporter and solid right-winger. Imagine if Fox News was the only media outlet you were allowed to access, and you’ll understand a little bit of the problem.

What happens when all the votes are received and tallied by one ultra-partisan company? I have a feeling that human rights groups would be appalled. Sounds like we’re simply a high tech version of some South American dictatorship that holds “free elections” but manages to lock up 99% of the vote.

The 2000 Florida incident aside, it seems to me that the old methods of voting work much better — paper ballots or maybe the mechanical “pull the lever” machines. Did we ever hear about problems with them? Of course, in Florida the problem was two fold: fraudulent purging of eligible (Democratic) voters from the rolls, and poor design of the ballot instructions. It was a seemingly isolated problem, yet the call went out to switch to touch-screen machines… which created a widespread problem instead. The Democrats pushed for it because they were incensed at the outcome in 2000. The Republicans pushed for it because they knew they had Diebold in their pocket and could cement their power forever.

I am a little glad that these things are being brought to light, at least a few people will be more careful and thoughtful about voting. But even more people might come to the conclusion that their vote really doesn’t count. They may be right.

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