28 November 2007: Voice of the Voters: A Novel and a Precedent
Remember Robin Williams’s splendid depiction last summer of a comedian who almost becomes president? In Man of the Year, though, he has the grace and wisdom to step down when it is discovered that the electronic voting machinery, for a change, fouled up.
Now there is a novel out, full of intrigue, murder, deception, kidnapping and love, centered around election integrity again because, says author Lani Massey Brown, people are uninterested in elections and fiction might be a better vehicle for spreading the word more widely. Amid all those grass-roots organizations all over the country, “not enough people are involved.” They get their news from talk radio and don’t have time to read the newspapers [they should actually go on line for the truest news, but that’s another story], and more than that, don’t think that their votes count. Remember that apathetic mass of one hundred million voters who don’t bother to register? Voting-age citizens of this country?
The title is A Margin of Error: Ballots of Straw. Don’t miss it, but more than that, make sure others less informed than you read it!
Mary Ann and Lani chatted long enough to reveal how very informed the author is on the issues; one might say that the real test of knowledge is to impart it through fiction. People are intimidated by computers, said Lani, but computers are stupid and controlled by people, and the election officials are not installing good business procedures.
They’re not testing the machines; faulty procedures allow the elections to fail; courts are deciding elections.
I hadn’t heard that Chris Jennings withdrew her lawsuit questioning the results of last year’s election in Sarasota, where eighteen thousand votes mysteriously disappeared. Vern Buchanan, her opponent, now sits in Congress while those lost votes languish and he was ahead by 358 votes when the counting stopped. Sound familiar? Jennings naively trusted in the GAO’s decision to investigate the situation and so dropped her lawsuit contesting the results.
“There’s a war between special interests and we the people,” said Mary Ann.
Like Mark Miller and Greg Palast and any number of other authorities, Lani expressed concern about election 2008; we’re hardly home-free, even though Florida will be voting on optical scanners—manufactured by ES&S, king of foul-ups from accidental to conspired, so easily invaded are they. Lani called this a “tragic decision,” enough to affect an election. ES&S maintains the machines and the “big number cruncher spits out the results.”
“Change a few lines of code and you’ve got it [the election],” said Lani.
If touchscreens are not calibrated, we have undervotes, she continued. Even if the break is intentional it can’t be discovered even with the source code revealed.
The top three vulnerabilities? 1) within the precinct, there is no way of knowing if the machines are configured correctly or not. Only a small number are tested. 2) Are the machines properly stored between elections, in climatized areas. Hard to determine.
Punch cards were safer than what we have now. They could be recounted.
“Our system allowed the chaos that followed! Our officials are allowing this.”
3) According to Ion Sancho, there is a “marriage” between election officials and the voting machine vendors. ES&S was lobbied by Sandra Mortham, Jeb Bush’s running mate in 1998 and subsequently Katherine Harris’s replacement as secretary of state, who paid the Association of Counties for their endorsement. The secretary of state tells the election officials what to do.