The Silly Season is upon us early this year.
No. I am not talking about the Fall television schedule nor even the rush to Christmas. I refer, of course, to the recent feverish focus on voting that has the jaws of the Talking Heads flapping in overdrive. Specifically, the airwaves are glowing red-hot with excited gasps of horror or excitement (depending on which horse they're backing) at the prospect of the upcoming recall vote in California. Governor Gray I'm-Available-For-Birthday-Parties Davis magically transformed a budget surplus in that western mecca of wackiness into a nearly forty-billion dollar deficit. Some citizens of his sunny realm took umbrage at such creative behavior and -- against the expectations of the Powers-That-Be -- gathered enough petition signatures to force a recall election.
When the Davis camp sought to delay the vote until March, the state Supreme Court wisely leaped back to safety and, in effect, said, "We don't want this potato. You deal with it." So come October 7, the all-wise and powerful voters of California will have the opportunity to vote yea or nay to keep the gov. If they feel he should get the ol' heave-ho, they can select their favorite replacement from a field of well over a hundred candidates. [I was going to say "If they think...," but, well, this is California, after all...]
The recall effort has been on the receiving end of more insults than an umpire at a Little League baseball game. "Ridiculous." "Silly." "Unconstitutional." "Crazy." "Violates rights to equal protection." "Disenfranchises voters." "Confusing." "Inconvenient." "Costly." "A circus." "An insult."
While I think such loose talk is an insult to circus folk, the presence of a height-challenged has-been actor, a huge-chested woman famous (I guess...) for being famous, a comedian, the loser of the last gubernatorial election, a lieutenant-governor displaying remarkable "loyalty" to his boss, and various and sundry politicians, average folks, and publicity-seekers certainly makes for an...interesting...example of democracy in action. Entertainment on the half-shell. After all, government of the people and all that. Why should only the big guys have all the fun?
And speaking of "big guys," we have, of course, that biggest mensch of all in this rat pack...
The jokes and puns on Arnie and his film roles are already old-hat. But Americans worship celebrity, and despite a tarnished track record from his last few cinematic outings, Mr. Universe still commands attention wherever he goes. His dedication to winning and a savvy understanding of publicity makes Schwarzenegger a formidable opponent for Governor Davis.
In the midst of all the tittering, though, another issue faces the political elite in California. Indeed, this problem is spreading to other realms thousands of miles distant.
Remember that other circus of a couple years back? The Florida presidential election? The endless repetition of the word "chad" until you wanted to scream from the torture? (See my essay, "Marching Morons," for other thoughts on that political zoo.) Well, given the problem so many folks hand with things like punch cards and such, a big move is on to adopt electronic voting. This is the Twenty-First Century, after all. Must keep up with the times. The Feds so decree, and thus shall it be, by 2004. So there.
Billions of dollars of your money is at stake courtesy of the $3.9 billion "Help America Vote Act" passed last year. (Funny, isn't it, how Americans somehow muddled through for two centuries by deciding for themselves locally how to conduct elections...) Virginia, Maryland, North Dakota, Utah, Mississippi...everywhere you turn, state officials are trying to decide on what system and what supplier to use in switching over from the "antiquated" systems of the past.
The love-fest for these shiny new toys is beginning to fade a bit, however. A Johns Hopkins University report claims these systems are ripe for tampering and hacking. This in addition, of course, to the usual bugs and glitches and viruses and ignorant users that plague software running all that techie hardware engulfing our world. (Proponents of purely electronic voting who discount the reality of such problems must be sucking on some juice that sure ain't water...)
Providers of voting software such as Diebold vehemently deny reports of any endemic problems in their work. They boast about the reliability and security of their systems. Some contend that nay-sayers are simply paranoid.
Nah, suh. Nothin' wrong with dese dere ma-sheens.
What's the average person to make of these charges and counterclaims?
Well. Nothing much. Frankly, the twittering worries and wringing hands of state officials, company PR flacks, and voting activists have about as much importance and significance as an old lady's anxieties about which doily to place upon the dinner table.
All sides proclaim they want to ensure "fair and honest elections."
[Excuse me a minute while I catch my breath. Sorry. I can't stop laughing... Whoa. Okay. Okay. Better. Almost there...]
Some unhappy folks will accept "modern" electronic voting if and only if a paper trail is generated that permits auditing, recounts, and verification. For them, the paper vote would be the final, legal vote with the electronic record serving as a convenient way to quickly tally results subject to a recount. (Though I should think a clever invader could create a paper record reflecting the voter's intent while still electronically recording the hacker's interests that would go undetected in the absence of a challenge.) Libertarian Susan Marie Weber filed suit in San Francisco's Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals to prevent the use of "Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) touchscreen voting." Weber says that "'...nothing else matters if we have no vote.'"
While I understand Ms. Weber's concerns, given the society in which we live, her worries are also essentially irrelevant. What constitutes "voting fraud" these days is not first-and-foremost whether someone's vote goes uncounted, is applied to the wrong candidate, or attributed to a dead person. "Voting fraud" is not even primarily an issue of Republicrats or Demicans rigging the system by imposing onerous qualifications for minor parties or engaging in gerrymandering. I'd be hard pressed even to say that "voting fraud" is fundamentally about politicians buying the votes of their constituents with government programs, subsidies, and grants paid for by those same constituents' money.
The real "voting fraud" is not committed by dirty congressmen or petty thugs operating out of city hall. No. The fraud that exists -- and, oh, Lordy, is it widespread and deep -- the fraud that permeates our social web can be laid squarely and firmly at the feet of...
Those who pretend that elections as they are conducted today (by the 99% who mark a ballot for anyone other than a libertarian) that elections are anything other than a colossal, a stupendous, a witheringly intense fraud are abysmally ignorant, delusional, or lying.
The fraud that should worry us and that should be the aim of reformers lies not so much in the process of voting itself -- warts and all -- but in what the process is designed to accomplish.
This fraud emerges from the deeply held and unquestioned belief on the part of most Americans that one group of people consists of economic cows to be milked by those who outnumber them.
The fraud is embedded in the grossly false idea that a majority of the minority who actually vote can legitimately delegate to a few hundred greedy and sanctimonious souls the "right" to dictate to all how they may or may not live.
"Voting fraud" became a problem the instant people forgot that an election's goal is no more -- and no less -- than to select a group of dedicated individuals who will work tirelessly, ceaselessly, solely to preserve and protect the freedom, the rights, the lives of each and every American.
Fancy new touchscreens will do nothing to kill that particular virus or fix the hacking that has deleted the core, the heart from our Constitution and from our liberty.
Associated Press. "Company Defends Electronic Voting System." ABCNews.com. 7-25-03. http://abcnews.go.com/wire/US/ap20030725_1818.html
Associated Press. "Davis Sues in Bid to Delay Recall Vote." Cnn.com. 8-04-03. http://abcnews.go.com/wire/US/ap20030725_1818.html
Thomas Burr. "Electronic Voting May Pose Risks." The Salt Lake Tribune. 8-05-03. http://www.sltrib.com/2003/Aug/08052003/utah/81360.asp
Dan Gillmor. "Electronic Voting Questioned." The Post and Courier (Charleston). 7-28-03. http://www.charleston.net/stories/072803/bus_28gillmor.shtml
Holli Riebeek. "To Print or Not to Print: California Studies Electronic Voting Security." IEEE Spectrum Online. 4-23-03. http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/WEBONLY/wonews/apr03/calevot.html
Brigid Schulte. "Jolted Over Electronic Voting." Washington Post. 8-11-03. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A42085-2003Aug10.html
Bill Winter. "Libertarian's Lawsuit Targets Electronic Voting Machines." LP News. 8-02-03. http://www.lp.org/action/pagetools.php?function=print&page=%2Flpnews%2F0308%2Fvotingmachines.html
Kim Zetter. "E-Vote Machines Face Audit." Wired News. 8-12-03. http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,59976,00.html