Thursday, October 19, 2006

Thoughts Before and After the Election

This was written on October 19, but I never got around to finishing it.


I read a while back that in 1960, President Nixon was well aware that alleged vote fraud by the Democrats in Chicago helped Kennedy win the election. Nixon supposedly chose not to challenge the election because he didn't want to call into question the U.S. system of elections. Now this story may or may not be true, but I do believe that this kind of thing would have happened 40 or 50 years ago.

Nowadays, I wouldn't believe it for a minute. While the controversy in the 2000 Presidential Election took well over a month to resolve, with an army of lawyers and endless discussions of the absurdities of punch-card technology, the election was finally settled, and I believe the Rule of Law was upheld, even if in this case, the law was a poorly-thought-out law made by lazy state legislatures who obviously had never considered what would happen in the case of a close election. Of course, it's a given that the Democrats would bring race into the issue, but the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights concluded that while there was widespread incompetence, there was no deliberate voter disenfranchisement, yet another affirmation of the old adage, "Never attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by incompetence."

In 2004, the Democrats again called into question the integrity of the election system when Ohio, whose electoral votes put President Bush over the top, ended up being a close vote. Of course, there were other states where the vote was significantly closer, but of course they wouldn't have changed the election, so, I suppose, it didn't matter whether there were voting irregularities or not.


So now it's past the election and while I can't say I'm happy the Democrats won, I also can't say I'm sad the Republicans lost. Really, the choice it between the party that has 4 bullets in gun pointed at my head vs. the party that has 5 bullets in their gun pointed at my head.

Time to spin the cylinder...

The original piece was supposed to be about Electronic Voting and how flawed and unaccountable it is, something which has been covered in painful detail by people more devoted to the issue than I. My real fear this time around was that some party was going to once again question the legitimacy of the election, which is always damaging, except that this time they would have a good reason. However, I suppose the Democrats aren't going to complain because they won and Republicans aren't going to complain because even they have to admit they deserved to lose. Of course, the issue isn't going away, and if the 2008 Presidential election is again close, we will once again be forced to look at a system that probably isn't more accurate than the typical margin for error for any poll, which is plus or minus 3 points.

In Virginia we use optically-scanned ballots in which you fill in your choices with a black marker. The ballots are roughtly the size of a letter-sized piece of paper, which gives plenty of room to lay out the candidates in a non-cluttered way (none of that "butterfly" nonsense), and to include the entire wording of constitutional amendments, bond referenda or anything else we voters might be called upon to decide. After filling in the little dots, the voter feeds the ballot into a small machine which stores them. Afterwards they can be counted with optical-scanning technology that has been used and relied upon for many decades.

I think this is the most obvious solution as it allows for all the advantages of electronic voting, but there's always a hard copy of the vote to fall back on. Once you've got something in place to help the blind or otherwise disabled who cannot fill out the paper ballot, you have, what I think is a good solution, and I cannot imagine that this technology costs anywhere near as much as those hare-brained Diebold machines that can be hacked 7 ways to Sunday.

The biggest irony of this is that Diebold already manufactures machines that handle electronic transactions and record-keeping in a way that no one seems to have a problem with. They are called Automatic Teller Machines, and you can bet that if there were some question of ATMs being hackable or insecure, it would be big news, because unlike votes, which apparently have little value to most people, we're talking money here, and we all know that's what really runs the show.

Nevertheless, I am happy and relieved that our Great American System survived the election without any serious problems so our legislators can get back to squandering our money, security and future. After all, selling out the U.S. is going to remain a full-time job for quite a few years.

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