Friday, November 2, 2012

The darkness: suppose computerized voting machines shift two per cent?


Wednesday I went in to cast my vote in Jefferson County, Colorado. I went to the machine, indicated my choices, including for the legalizing marijuana initiative (the ordinarily wretched Tom Tancredo rightly supports this; it would do a great deal to decrease the number of black, chicano and poor white teenagers caught in the prison-industrial complex, and for that reason alone, is very important), declined to vote for judges because there had been no publicity on this and so I had no idea who I would be voting for, and hit: submit.

The machine gave me a message that I had not voted in a number of contests. I hadn’t deliberately. I teach and follow this stuff, so the fact that often I can’t figure out what ballot measures mean (there was one constitutional amendment on this ballot that I voted no on because I couldn’t figure out what it was talking about) or that I have no information on judges, or even that I can’t figure out whether it is good thing to elect judges was ignored. "Democracy" here is: fill in the blanks, any blanks.

The contempt of both parties for the electorate – Romney is probably the gold standard in this regard - as well as that of the voting machine maker was right before my eyes.

I again hit: submit. It “recorded” my vote. But it left no paper trail.


If one deposits money at an ATM, one expects a receipt which spells out the money in one’s account.

But one gets no such record with one’s vote. It vanishes.

Money is important in America. Voting, without a fight, is not.


I went back to the two women helping people vote and asked: is there any overall paper trail associated with these machines? Is there a way of checking what the machine eventually reports, if necessary, against a paper record?

The obvious Republican of the two said distastefully: if you want a record, you should have cast a mail-in ballot.

I said I wasn’t worried about my vote. I was concerned with whether the overall vote was fairly recorded or could be altered by someone who knew how to program the computers.

We discussed it for a few minutes. I pointed out that I teach this stuff, inter alia. The other woman was genuinely concerned, gave me the card with the number for the election commission (I spent half an hour trying to locate someone to speak with this morning and then gave up).

But I pointed out to her that there was serious evidence from exit polling in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida in 2004 that the election was altered in this way. Exit polling got Kerry’s and Bush’s totals within .3 in 41 states; in these three, there were differences ranging from 4.9 to 6.6% all in the direction of Bush, something that could not occur randomly (probability: 1 in a million or so).

She said, in dismay: we didn’t get it wrong in Colorado, did we?

I said: actually, there was a difference of 3.9% between the exit polling and the recorded vote in Colorado.


The issue is not that Tagg Romney invests in voting machines in Ohio. This is, indeed, creepy; it is plainly a conflict of interest, and it may contribute to stealing the election. But the problem is, in general, the use of privatized voting machines. Voting is a public trust, not something that ought to be sold to private companies with secret programs for their computers which they are unwilling to allow even experts, let alone the public, to assess, and obliterating any independent paper trail (i.e. the machines do not issue contemporary paper receipts nor a running paper record for a possible recount).

That Democrats are and have been determinedly asleep about this issue – even though Kerry, who fell on his sword and accepted defeat immediately, did admit to some people working on this issue a few months later that he thought the election had been stolen; he then went back to sleep – is a great danger.


In 2004, I got the local and county Democratic party to adopt – as a resolution to act on, not a platform plank – fighting to make sure that no computerized machines that leave no paper trail were used. At the state convention, however, the platform committee, led by the law firm of Hyatt Brownstein, gutted many proposals that came from the rank and file.

At lunch time with many out of the room, they had a convention voice vote about the war in Iraq. The "now" won decisively. The chair recorded that the Convention supported the War (it is a pro-War party…)

And the resolution on voting machines was ignored.


Supposedly, Romney and Obama are “tied in the national polls” (actually, Talking Points Memo has Obama .4% ahead this evening). This is the headline.

But the intensive swing state polling shows that Obama is close to winning every state that is in doubt, often by 3 or 4% except Florida (currently he is down .2) and North Carolina. So Obama, in fact, ought to win pretty easily, but switch a couple of points and the national polling – and horse-race reporting, and even the Obama campaign's efforts to encourage everyone to work to the last moment, an important thing to do – all provide a cover for stealing the election.


This can be prevented - if it is to be prevented - only by working for Obama to the last moment and getting out every single person to vote whom one can talk to.


The 2004 was stolen on computerized machines that leave no paper trail – and the New York Times consortium would not release the exit polling data. After protest, they only released some in January which alleged that Bush’s total was underestimated because areas already 80% for Bush voted even more strongly for him i.e. that evangelicals in Ohio were somehow afraid to tell those nasty pollsters that they had voted for that godly man...

This time, the Times et al aren’t doing exit polls – also a sign of danger. The reason for this allegedly is that many vote before election day. But the way to sample people who have voted before is as obvious and sound as sampling those who just voted. The lists are easily accessible (my wife and I have both been contacted by the Obama campaign, who, acknowledging that we voted, urged us to get others out) and can also be sampled.

And exit polls are the sole thing about political “science” which is never wrong.


So we have to hope that it is too dangerous to do this twice, and that Obama’s army of lawyers (see "Campaigns Brace to Sue for Votes in Crucial States – Thousands of Lawyers – Lack of Trust and Tight Race Lead to Teams of Poll Watchers" – the lead story on the left of the front page in the New York Times this morning here), watching for important but different forms of voter suppression, will not be hung out to dry.


Last Wednesday, I asked my class at Metropolitan State College how many have a land line? 0 in a total of 25 students.

I would guess that for the 25,000 students at Metro or the 50,000 students at the Auraria campus that there are almost no land lines. Obama leads strongly among voters under 30...

So polling by phoning people on land lines skews polls away from Obama. And adding a few people to current land line samples, as most of the comparatively accurate polls which actually speak with people do (there are also some robo-polls), does not gauge Obama’s real support.


My wife took one call this fall from a push poller who asked whether Obama’s shifting of $718 billion from Medicare to Obamacare made her hate him. We block most 800 calls and do not answer them. I suspect we are not alone.

How do serious pollers overcome such difficulties?


Obama probably has a substantial lead in the election, particularly in the swing states. I drive home in our mountain area (a county that voted for Tancredo to be its representative) and count four signs for Obama and several yes on referenda 3a and 3b – to fund public education. There are none for Romney. Last time, Obama and McCain were even in my area.

My son went trick or treating with friends in Castle Rock (down toward Colorado Springs). There were Romney signs there. But there aren’t so many voters.


Let us hope that Obama is somehow tough on this issue, too, and that the lawyers guarding the polls scare the Republicans. But it must be tempting for Romney et al, however incompetent generally speaking – there are such huge stakes here. The Democrats are a corrupt, capitalist party (not as determinedly awful, representing an epochal shift about the destruction of unions, the death of social security, voucherization of medical care, and more "preemptive war," for instance, as the imperial authoritarian party). They have not awoken to this danger.

But it is worth doing every single thing one can to make sure that the margin is too large to be stolen in this way.

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