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Dreaming of Democracy

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Since the November 7th elections, there has been a flurry of activity among election integrity activists and others around the nation. At the center of this activity is the infamous bit of proposed legislation, H.R. 550, or the Holt Bill (named after its prime sponsor, Democratic Congressman Rush Holt of the State of New Jersey). This proposed legislation is controversial among election activists, who have become divided into two camps: those who support it and those who want to crush it.

550 is being proposed as an amendment to the Orwellian-named 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA). HAVA appropriated $4 billion from the American public for the sole purpose of technologizing our elections. HAVA monies were distributed to the States to pay for the development of computerized voter registration databases, which were designed, per HAVA, to communicate with other databases such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, Social Security, and who knows what else.

But the money spent on tracking American voters was chump change compared to the HAVA monies poured down the drain of the e-voting industry. A stroke of strategic, if not cynical, genius led e-voting industrialists to invest millions into disability lobbyists, resulting in the packaging of computerized voting as a disability solution to be dispersed unquestioningly throughout the nation's election systems. Entire states, like Georgia and Maryland, replaced paper ballots with invisible electrons. Post-HAVA, more than 40% of the nation is "voting" on touch screen machines, and another 40-50% is using computerized optical scanners, which may or may not read and count the voter's choice on his paper ballot as intended.

HAVA set up the perfect election crime, exposing more than 40% of our elections to tampering, hacking, and manipulation, with the perpetrators able to slither away leaving behind no evidence for forensic investigation. In the tradition of the 2000 Bush v. Gore debacle, election outcomes throughout the nation are now being litigated by judges instead of decided by the American people.

The three HAVA-legacy elections (2002, 2004, & 2006) have resulted in a steady degradation of our democratic processes. HAVA's e-voting solution has proven to be a complete and utter failure, that is, if democracy is your goal. If your objective is to disrupt democracy and to cause chaos in its foundations, HAVA has been an outstanding success.

Now 550 and its proponents want us to believe that more HAVA-like legislation is needed. They contend we should pour more good money after bad, add more bad technology onto bad technology, allow further destruction of our democratic processes. They call those of us who oppose 550 "dreamers" and "unrealistic". They will have us believe that amending HAVA is our only path out of the disaster it created.

But there is at least one other option we can consider: a disaster recovery plan to repair the damage caused by HAVA. Admit we made a big old mistake, but we are willing to toss it in for the sake of democracy. Heck, we have lemon laws in place to protect us from lousy automobiles being pushed into the American marketplace, how about a lemon law for democracy-demolishing technology?

The 550 controversy among election activists is interesting. I've been studying, analyzing, and writing about H.R. 550 for a year now, and the truth behind this piece of legislation remains just outside my grasp. I have always experienced 550 as some sort of tangible entity, like the Monolith in that Kubrick film, "2001, a Space Odyssey". 550 has an energy swirling around it, wrapping it in a hum and a noise that is palpable but elusive. It is not good energy. Even now, after all I have read and heard about this bill, its monolithic and opaque nature remains to me a mystery.

If I was a bad guy with a little money and influence (and with e-voting it only takes a little money and influence these days to throw an election), and I wanted to take over the world, I'd be a happy little camper. The foundations that support a free America are in shambles, the majority of the American people don't know anything about it, Congress is poised to cement the HAVA disaster, and the citizen watchdogs, the national election integrity movement, are handily divided.

As I work through the various activist list serv postings, there is some truth that begins to shine through. And I think that truth is very simple: either we are willing to come to democracy or not.

I have been honored to be a counter at the New Hampshire State recounts these past two weeks (we have recounts following every election - you can see how they work in our little video short). By tradition and law our recounts are all hand counts. We have two-person teams of counters; one person reads the votes aloud, the other marks the votes on the tally sheet. Candidates and other observers sit across the table and observe every single ballot as it is being counted and tallied. They have the right to challenge any count recorded, no questions asked. As the person often responsible for tallying, I always ask the observers to stay with me and watch me like a hawk. Because you can easily go into a trance when doing hand counts.

Last week, as we finished up counting and tallying a pile of about 500 ballots, my observer looks up with weary eyes and says to me, "I think we just found a new interrogation method!"

Hand counting is hard. It takes stamina, commitment, teamwork, and mostly just good process management. But in the end, when the counting is over and the ballot piles are returned to their boxes for storage, we are all in agreement that our democracy is working the way it needs to work, and that we have indeed elected the person the people chose to elect.

HAVA and H.R. 550 replace this trusted and trustworthy system of democratic election with an abysmal technological failure, turning entire states into democratic disaster zones. We have the incontrovertible evidence of this. Just Google "e-voting news" and you will see story after story of HAVA disaster zones. In the end, democracy is not a technological puzzle to be figured out. Democracy is not another round of taxpayer dollars going into the corporate e-voting pork barrel. Democracy is the freedom and honor that men, women, and children have died for, and continue to die for, throughout the world. If it takes a little work, a little commitment, a little community engagement, who are we to complain about that?

So who are the dreamers here? Those who, in their push for 550, continue to perpetuate the corporate, privatized, techno-democracy myth, or those who insist on open and transparent elections with citizen oversight?

For what it's worth, some of us who oppose the passage of H.R. 550, have offered a different proposal:

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Take action -- click here to contact your local newspaper or congress people:
No to H.R. 550! Moratorium, accountability, and Disaster Recovery instead

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https://www.youtube.com/handsonelections

Nancy Tobi is best known as a national leader in the voting rights movement for her seminal work exposing the dangers and fallacies in various election reform efforts past, present and future. Nancy is co-founder and former Chair of Democracy for (more...)
 
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