Unrigging an Election

Posted by M ws On Monday, October 29, 2012 0 comments
I like Miles Townes' blog because of the way he documents his dissertation research for the PhD in Political Science (George Washington University), and the occasional collision of his eclectic research interests with the real world. His major field is International Relations and his minor is Research Methods. His research focus is on the sources of and constraints on the state's capacity for violence, and how this determines the use of violence in both foreign and domestic conflicts. He is also interested in technology and politics, civics, democratic governance, globalization, and complex systems. The following article is a great example of his fine writing and insightful analytical skills.

This month’s Harper’s has as its feature article a piece by Victoria Collier, “How To Rig an Election”. It is damning, as the title suggests. Collier details the extent to which American elections have fallen prey to manipulation. If you vote in the United States, you should be deeply concerned by this story.

The problem is not voter ID — as the GOP would have you believe — but the computer systems now used to record and tabulate votes across the country. I am going to quote Collier at length because this is an important issue.

    …this era was inaugurated by Chuck Hagel, an unknown millionaire who ran for one of Nebraska’s U.S. Senate seats in 1996. Initially Hagel trailed the popular Democratic governor, Ben Nelson, who had been elected in a landslide two years earlier. Three days before the election, however, a poll conducted by the Omaha World-Heraldshowed a dead heat, with 47 percent of respondents favoring each candidate. David Moore, who was then managing editor of the Gallup Poll, told the paper, “We can’t predict the outcome.”
    Hagel’s victory in the general election, invariably referred to as an “upset,” handed the seat to the G.O.P. for the first time in eighteen years. Hagel trounced Nelson by fifteen points. Even for those who had factored in the governor’s deteriorating numbers and a last-minute barrage of negative ads, this divergence from pre-election polling was enough to raise eyebrows across the nation. 
    Few Americans knew that until shortly before the election, Hagel had been chairman of the company whose computerized voting machines would soon count his own votes: Election Systems & Software (then called American Information Systems). Hagel stepped down from his post just two weeks before announcing his candidacy. Yet he retained millions of dollars in stock in the McCarthy Group, which owned ES&S. And Michael McCarthy, the parent company’s founder, was Hagel’s campaign treasurer. 
Whether Hagel’s relationship to ES&S ensured his victory is open to speculation. But the surprising scale of his win awakened a new fear among voting-rights activists and raised a disturbing question: Who controls the new technology of Election Night?

Hagel’s surprise win is one of many Collier documents; another, Chambliss over Cleland, 2002:

    In 2002, the G.O.P. regained control of the Senate with such victories. In Georgia, for example, Diebold’s voting machines reported the defeat of Democratic senator Max Cleland. Early polls had given the highly popular Cleland a solid lead over his Republican opponent, Saxby Chambliss, a favorite of the Christian right, the NRA, and George W. Bush (who made several campaign appearances on his behalf). As Election Day drew near, the contest narrowed. Chambliss, who had avoided military service, ran attack ads denouncing Cleland—a Silver Star recipient who lost three limbs in Vietnam—as a traitor for voting against the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Two days before the election, a Zogby poll gave Chambliss a one-point lead among likely voters, while the Atlanta Journal-Constitutionreported that Cleland maintained a three-point advantage with the same group. 
    Cleland lost by seven points. In his 2009 autobiography, he accused computerized voting machines of being “ripe for fraud.” Patched for fraud might have been more apt. In the month leading up to the election, Diebold employees, led by Bob Urosevich, applied a mysterious, uncertified software patch to 5,000 voting machines that Georgia had purchased in May.

Bush over Kerry, 2004:

    Two years later, of course, John Kerry lost the presidency in Ohio. In this key swing state, election monitors were besieged by complaints of G.O.P.orchestrated voter suppression, intimidation, and fraud. Myriad voting-machine anomalies were reported, including “glitches” that flipped votes from Kerry to Bush. A phony terror alert in Republican Warren County (the FBI later denied issuing any such warning) allowed officials to move ballots illegally to an auxiliary building and count them out of public view. Presiding over the election was the Republican secretary of state, J. Kenneth Blackwell, a fiercely partisan fundamentalist Christian who also served as co-chair of Ohio’s Committee to Re-Elect George W. Bush.

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