by Heidi Stevenson
You might think you have the right to vote. You might think your vote counts. You might think that there's a problem here or there, but that they're the exceptions. You might think that the 2000 presidential election was an aberration, in which the U.S. Supreme Court violated ethical and court precedents to crown the election loser, countering the will of the people. You might think it can't possibly be an ongoing problem.
You might be very sadly mistaken.
Voting rights are under systematic attack in the United States. Techniques include:
* Outright disenfranchisement.
* Vote switching in election machines.
* Refusal to allow the public to see how votes are counted.
* Use of the people's courts by political parties and corporations to subvert the law.
* Use of lawsuit threats by large corporations against cash-strapped local governments to prevent them from examining voting machines.
Each one might not seem like a major issue, but taken together, it's clear that there's a coordinated attack on American citizens' rights to vote.
Brad Friedman has been following the problem for years, but even he was stunned when it happened to him when he voted in Los Angeles during the June 3rd California election:
"Right before my very eyes, the computer-printed ballot produced by the voting system I was using, incorrectly filled in bubbles for four of the races I was voting in. Had I not been incredibly careful, after the ballot was printed out, to painstakingly compare what was printed to what I actually voted for, I'd have never known my votes were being given to candidates I did not vote for."
As Friedman went on to point out, if he'd been blind, there would have been no way to know that his votes were changed. Forty percent of his votes were flipped. Because of his prominence, the machine he'd voted on was quarantined. No one bothered to check out the rest of the machines at that polling place or others of the same type.
Legitimate voters who are likely to vote for the "wrong" candidates are identified and systematically excluded from the voter rolls. Different techniques are used, but one documented by reporter Greg Palast tells of one method.
Before the 2004 election, military personnel who came from predominantly black neighborhoods were targeted. The Republican National Committee sent them letters addressed "Do Not Forward". Most, if not all, of the addressees were serving their country in foreign lands. Lists were drawn up of the names on the letters that had been returned as undeliverable. The lists were sent to the RNC. These soldiers had been "caged".
Their voting registrations were challenged, based on the returned mail. Once their names had been removed from the voting rolls -- without any attempts to locate and inform them -- they lost the right to vote in the next election, whether they had returned home and gone to the polls or they had sent absentee ballots.
Through voter caging and other techniques, over half a million voters were disenfranchised during the 2004 election. The vast majority of those who were disenfranchised by caging were black military personnel.
Lack of Transparency in Vote Counting
In the recent June 3rd election in Monterey, California, two election observers were harassed and prevented from observing the process and the equipment used for tabulating votes. From the first, when they formally requested access, citing the California code that specifies the rules for observation -- which quite clearly gives the right to check out all phases of the election, along with all computer and tabulating equipment -- they were stonewalled.
In spite of the attempts to stop them, Valerie Lane and Brian Rothenberger were able to see obviously illegal activities and clear indications that it would be easy to tamper with the vote count. They were stalled, ordered to leave, and threatened with arrest.
The second article in this series will discuss the specifics of how Mr. Rothenberger and Ms. Lane were prevented from doing precisely what the law -- and democracy -- requires.
In New Jersey's Union County, paper records of the number of voters in the recent primary election did not match the results produced by Sequoia Voting Systems' machine printouts. Naturally, the County Clerk, Joanne Rajoppi, wanted the problem investigated. The Constitutional Officers Association of New Jersey, an organization of state sheriffs, county clerks, and other similar officials, concurred, calling for an independent review. They planned to have it done by a Princeton University computer scientist who has experience with voting machines.
It isn't going to happen. Sequoia claims, without any proof, that the errors were the result of errors by poll workers -- an interesting concept, considering it's never happened before. Using double-speak without a hint of embarrassment, they say that they "welcome all such responsibly executed review activities." How that can be done, though, they don't say -- but they aren't going to let Union County do an investigation.
Sequoia threatened a lawsuit against Union County, claiming that an independent investigation would violate their licensing agreement. The county has no option but to capitulate. The cost of defending such a lawsuit is prohibitive for them.
Left in the balance are the voters who have been disenfranchised.
A Chilling Subversion of Our Democracy
The implications for American democracy are chilling. A concerted and systematic effort has been underway to prevent the will of the people from being heard. The very basis of the governance of our nation is at extreme risk.
Thomas Jefferson wrote: "Should things go wrong at any time, the people will set them to rights by the peaceable exercise of their elective rights." He had faith in the people's ability to make good decisions through voting. What would he think now, when that most basic of freedoms -- the one at the heart of our society -- is becoming a ghost, nothing more than the image of what it was meant to be?
Alexander Hamilton said that a republic's right to vote "ought to stand foremost in the estimation of the law." Now, the right to vote is becoming little more than a shadow cast behind the actions of those who cast their votes into a void. Increasingly, it exists more in form than in substance.
Different techniques that have been used -- and continue to be used -- will be discussed in depth in upcoming articles. The only way to stop the theft of democracy is through awareness of what's happening. If you know that you're a potential target of vote theft, then you can protect both yourself and the future of the nation.
The Brad Blog, by Brad Friedman, (http://www.bradblog.com/?p=6043) , (http://www.blackboxvoting.org/)
Black Box Voting, (http://www.blackboxvoting.org/)
"Buffalo Soldiers Scrubbed by Secret GOP Hit List", by Greg Palast, ((http://www.gregpalast.com/massacre-of-t...)
"Plan for voting machine probe dropped after lawsuit threat", by Diane C. Walsh, Real-Time News, ((http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2008/0...)
"Sequoia Threatens Lawsuit Over E-Voting Machine Review", by K.C. Jones, Information Week, ((http://www.informationweek.com/news/man...)
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