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How They Could Steal the Election This Time | The Nation

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How They Could Steal the Election This Time

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Click here to help prevent disenfranchisment in this year's election.

Ronnie Dugger wrote the definitive warning essay about the dangers of computerized vote-counting in The New Yorker of November 7, 1988. Research support was provided by The Nation Institute. Dugger wishes to acknowledge the special assistance of Frances Mendenhall, Pokey Anderson, Peter Neumann, Rebecca Mercuri, Roxanne Jekot and David Jefferson, and his debt to hundreds of other reporters whose work cannot be properly credited here.

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Ronnie Dugger
Ronnie Dugger is the author of The Politician, a biography of Lyndon Johnson, and other books and articles, the...

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Not surprisingly, the starkest resistance to the voter-verified paper trail comes from Florida, where more than half the citizens will have to vote on touch-screen systems in November. The President's brother, Governor Jeb Bush, and Jeb's Secretary of State, Glenda Hood, express unqualified confidence in the trustworthiness of the DRE systems and militantly oppose providing a paper-ballot trail for them. Hood has denied that the electronic voting machines can be tampered with in the software, saying: "The touch-screen machines are not computers. You'd have to go machine by machine, all over the state." A spokeswoman for her says flatly that "a manual recount is unnecessary."

This past spring a powerful state senator proposed to make it illegal to recount votes in the DRE systems, but she backed down when called on it by activists. Then Ed Kast, director of Hood's division of elections, who has since resigned, sought to achieve the same purpose by diktat, issuing a formal ruling that, despite the extant state law requiring recounts under certain circumstances, supervisors of elections do not need to recount DRE ballots. The ACLU and other groups have sued to invalidate that ruling; a spokesperson for the state Republican Party excoriates the suit as a left-wingers' "ploy to undermine voters' confidence."

Representative Robert Wexler, a Democrat from the southern tier of the three big counties on the Atlantic, which for election scandals is to Florida what Cook County is to Illinois, sued state and county election officials in state and federal court to require the VVPAT on DREs. He argues that allowing some voters to have manual recounts but not others violates the Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore compelling equal treatment of voters (although the majority specified it was only for that election). To date his suits, opposed at every step by the Bush Administration in Tallahassee, have gotten nowhere. If he loses, half the voters in Florida, those voting on DREs, will be denied the manual recounts that the other half can have.

The Bush forces in Florida geared up for another purge of released felons from the voter rolls. Ion Sancho, supervisor of elections for Leon County, admits with shame that the state's felon purge in 2000 resulted in more than 50,000 legal voters being disenfranchised. The state elections division identified 47,000 more suspected felons, a list disproportionately heavy with blacks, and asked that local election supervisors purge them. The Bush people refused to make the list public, but were ordered to do so by a judge. Only then was it discovered that the list excluded felons who are Hispanic. In Florida Hispanics tend to vote Republican. This dandy error was "absolutely unintentional," the Bush people said--while abandoning the then indefensible list. Miami Herald columnist Jim Defede wrote that Hood--an "amazing incompetent or the leader of a frightening conspiracy"--must resign.

"What are we going to do if there's a close race?" Wexler asked in the Orlando Sentinel. "The voting records of these machines will have disappeared in cyberspace." He told me angrily: "Apparently their motives are to suppress the vote in Florida in a number of different ways. They are refusing a paper trail on a computerized voting machine. They are again preparing on the felons--they've got a new and improved process. I don't trust 'em to do the right thing." This summer, Representative Alcee Hastings, whose district includes Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, exclaimed, "Any way we cut it, these people are going to try to steal this election."

The Miami-Dade Reform Coalition asked Jeb Bush to audit the touch-screen machines this summer. Bush's spokesperson rebuffed that as "an accusation du jour." Undeterred, Democratic US Senator Bill Nelson of Florida demanded, "Why not do an audit when so much is at stake?... The national election for President could ride on the results coming out of Florida." Senator Nelson even sent a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft asking that the federal government audit the machines.

This past spring in California, Diebold systems malfunctioned in two counties, disenfranchising thousands of voters. Secretary of State Kevin Shelley discovered that the voting systems in seventeen counties in the state had not been certified, as required by law. After two days of tumultuous hearings in Sacramento, during which high-level election officials called the company's behavior "despicable" and accused its officials of lying, Shelley prohibited the use of Diebold's systems in four counties, the first time this has happened in the United States. Shelley, who has said to the Los Angeles Times that he doesn't want to be "the Katherine Harris of the West Coast," also made the certification of voting systems in ten more counties dependent on their adoption of twenty-three security improvements that he specified. One of these requires those counties to let citizens vote on paper if they want to, but Shelley flinched at requiring a DRE paper trail this year. Four counties and advocates of the disabled sued Shelley to block his actions, but a federal judge ruled he had the authority and had used it reasonably.

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