No democracy without trust

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.

5 Responses to “No democracy without trust”

  1. iowametal76 Says:

    So what will happen in November if/when the GOP wins a sweeping victory again, despite all evidence (thus far) to the contrary? Will most people accept this and continue to trust in the democratic process? Even if they don’t, and the majority of the public actually calls them on it and cries “foul!”, will it matter? How far will the GOP push it? They lost the presidential election in 2000. They lost in 2004. My gut tells me (as opposed to my slightly less truthy brain) that they will win again in November and again in 2008. And if by some miracle they aren’t able to pull off another fraudulent victory, then I wouldn’t be surprised to see some sort of “terrorist attack” or “bird flu” outbreak that will be used to declare marshall law, thereby suspending elections or preventing a change in leadership. So even if they do actually lose (again) this time around, I fear they will simply refuse to leave.
    Then what?

  2. alwayshope Says:

    I’m with you, iowa
    Then what?
    Exit polling is forbidden. Why? Bacause it gets it right. It tells us how the people voted but it doesn’t tell us how their votes were counted. We NEED exit polling, we NEED a media that will follow through. We also need voters.
    I think I’ll paint my finger purple after I vote, the middle one on my LEFT hand. That way when some idiot, who has never voted (because he might get called for jury duty if he does) asks me about it, I can hold it up and tell him, “It’s because I voted, it’s because I love my country, it’s because no one threatened to chop my head if I voted and it’s because someone has to protect and defend idiots, like you, who don’t vote.
    I’m a little ticked today. I really thought Rove would be indicted.
    GRRRRRRRR. Why do I get my hopes up? What the hell is wrong with me?

  3. SWConnie Says:

    So glad that you addressed the e-voting issue. What we need to insure a fair election is for demonstration to take place across the country demanding paper ballots that are hand counted.
    Until we get those all important hand counted paper ballots we won’t have fair and honest elections. We can’t let this happen considering the way our country is being run by those who will go to any length to steal elections. The last 6 years have been more than enough prove to know that we need to change how elections are conducted. There should be no purging of voters without allowing enough time for those who have been wrongly purged to be notified and re-instated. We need to come together on this issue or lose our democracy. Those who are sleeping through this need to wake up and become more aware and involved. No more stolen election and no more lies about a candidate’s character. Just stick to the issues and how best to handle those issues. Abortion, gay rights, and stem cell research should not even be addressed. What should be addressed are the economy, jobs growth, wages, health coverage, education, infrastructure, crime which is on the rise under this administration,and all things that are for common good of all our people. Not just a handful of the wealthiest amongst us. We are losing our strong middle class, and without them we return to a thrid world state.

  4. Chuck Says:

    I do despair that we will have an election any more honest than those that have taken place in Iraq. But then I get my hopes up once again because I see no alternative.
    We’ve started at the local city & state level to require verifiable ballots & etc., but that seems to be a distant possibility. So I become alternately hopeful & cynical. But then again, I’m reminded of a quote (or mis-rememberd quote,) that said ” cynicism is what passes for insight by the mediocre.”, so I get my hopes up again because I don’t want to think of myself as “mediocre”, even though “mediocre” has connotations of being “average”, and, as they say in Lake Wobegon, “everyone is above average.”

  5. indiegreen Says:

    I agree adamently w/iowa. The big question is, how long are we going to wait? even my (few) Republican friends are waiting for martial law to be declared in order to simply take power. 2 elections have been stolen and we’ve done nothing, so, just like kids who push the limits, the current regime will more than likely just take power permanently. The only way to stop this, in my humble opinion, is to demand paper ballots for November’s election. I have helped with recounts at the state level. With 12 pair of eyes from both parties looking at the ballots, it is hard to steal an election.

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