Robert F. Kennedy Jr. says in Rolling Stone that the 2004 election was stolen.
Farhad Manjoo says in Salon that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is full of shit.
Steven F. Freeman says in Salon that Farhad Manjoo is full of shit.
I say, I need a drink.
Actually, over the last few years, a number of readers have urged me to speak out on the subject of paperless, computerized voting and related voting fraud issues; I’ve always resisted.
It isn’t that I’ve ever doubted the topic’s importance — without a doubt this is one of the most important issues facing our democracy: What I have doubted is my ability to add anything intelligent to the conversation, given my very rudimentary knowledge of the technical issues involved.
But, on second thought, maybe that isn’t what’s important. Because fundamentally this isn’t a controversy about the merits of any particular voting machine’s programming, or even as to the actual risk of the vote tally being corrupted.
This is about trust — and in particular, the role that trust plays in forming the democratic consensus, defined for our purposes as the willingness of the political minority to peacefully accept the judgment of the majority, subject, of course, to the guarantee of minority rights within a republican framework (different definitions exist).
Today, for example, Democrats (and just about everyone else) absolutely abhor the things George W. Bush is doing to this country. Yet, you don’t see us arming ourselves for civil war.
That’s the democratic consensus at work: We may think that Bush is royally screwing-up this great nation, but we still believe in the democratic process; and we know — or at least think that we know — that come next election we’ll get a fair chance to throw the bums out.
It’s all about trust — trust in the machinery of democracy. Where that trust dies, democracy itself begins to unravel. And no one who has been paying the slightest bit of attention can doubt that many Americans have come to profoundly distrust the integrity of the process — and with good cause.
There have been numerous recent incidents and reports that raise questions about the reliability of e-voting, to take just one issue (check out Brad Blog for details). Here’s one of the most publicized screw-ups, from a report in January of this year:
(Washington Post): As Elections Near, Officials Challenge Balloting Security
As the Leon County supervisor of elections, Ion Sancho’s job is to make sure voting is free of fraud. But the most brazen effort lately to manipulate election results in this Florida locality was carried out by Sancho himself.
Four times over the past year Sancho told computer specialists to break in to his voting system. And on all four occasions they did, changing results with what the specialists described as relatively unsophisticated hacking techniques. To Sancho, the results showed the vulnerability of voting equipment manufactured by Ohio-based Diebold Election Systems, which is used by Leon County and many other jurisdictions around the country.
Similar concerns have been reported across the country.
And, of course, there’s also the matter of the partisan leanings of those in control of our voting technology: Is it really unreasonable, for instance, for Democrats to be a tad suspicious that the makers of most of the electronic voting equipment used in this country are run by rabidly loyal Republicans? Who can forget, for example, Diebold CEO, Walden O’Dell’s infamous letter committing “to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the President”?
Was election 2004 corrupted to such a degree that it actually changed the outcome? I don’t know.
But I do know three things:
First, I know that the electoral process in Ohio was corrupt, as reflected by the shameful vote suppression efforts of Republican Secretary of State (and current gubernatorial candidate) Kenneth Blackwell, as outlined in Kennedy’s Village Voice article.
Second, I know that the GOP nationally has shown a consistent willingness to engage in hardball and even illegal conduct in order to win elections, as shown, to give just one example, by the New Hampshire phone jamming scandal.
Third, I know, as demonstrated above, that the electronic voting process can be corrupted. The technical ability to steal an election by manipulating the results electronically seems to exist.
Democrats would be fools not to be suspicious.
And as we’ve seen, if we really care about democracy, regardless of whether any elections have actually been stolen, these suspicions must be addressed: It isn’t enough that elections be fair. They must also be perceived to be fair. And right now they aren’t.
For the good of the democratic process itself that must change.
And it must change soon.