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Life Arts    H1'ed 4/12/15

CODE RED: Jonathan Simon's Hail-Mary for Democracy

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JS: That's just it. We, following the media, naturally assume that elections are the gold standard when it comes to deducing the political leanings of a state, a region, or the nation. So right now America is "red," more Republican than at any time since Herbert Hoover was president, and not just more Republican but far more radically reactionary (Hoover and Nixon would both be far too "liberal" to be nominated). Unlikely states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio have become right-wing bastions where it would seem, judging by election results, that the people hate unions, love corporations, don't give a hoot about exploding income inequality, and believe climate change is a liberal hoax. Well, at least their representatives do. But if our manifestly corruptible elections have been corrupted, and if we mock the exit polls, what is left to go on? How can we gauge where America is really at?

This is not exactly a mystery without any clues. Congressional approval rating, for example, plummeted once the new Congress installed by the E2010 Tea Party rout took office and began to show its colors. It has been hovering in single digits (e.g., 8% approve, 89% disapprove of the job Congress is doing) for several years now, and is very obviously a function of voter disapproval of the Republican-controlled House, which has succeeded in gridlocking Washington by doing everything possible to ensure that the Obama presidency fails (Obama's approval rating, by contrast, has remained roughly 40 points higher than that of Congress).

Apart from a seething discontent with a Republican Congress consistently expressed in polls, we have a direct electoral gauge of where the voters are at: in E2014 voters across a wide swath of states overwhelmingly approved a parade of ballot propositions that Republican candidates made it a core theme of their campaigns to oppose. From minimum wage increases to environmental protection and weapons control, these "liberal" measures passed by margins far too large to reverse with a rig that could pass the smell test, while the Republican candidates that inveighed against them somehow won reelection (often narrowly) in the same states and by the same voters. So in E2014 we saw a pervasive red shift from the exit polls, which we are agreeing to discard, but also a glaring red-flag mismatch between "candidate" and "issue" elections, and another glaring red flag: with a Congressional Approval of 8% (and, for the first time ever, a plurality of voters indicating that they did not believe their own representative deserved re-election), a grand total of TWO out of 222 GOP US House incumbents were voted out of office!

Where are the people of America? Why do they seem to now be voting consistently against their own interests? The answer from the punditry is that Democratic voters are not voting. But who then approved by overwhelming margins all those ballot propositions, even in "red" states? There is a great deal of corroboratory evidence that America goes into the voting booth blue-purple and comes out of the pitch dark of cyberspace "red."

CODE RED book cover
CODE RED book cover
(Image by courtesy of Jonathan Simon)
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JB: What would you say to someone on the Right who's convinced it's the Left that's cheating?

JS: That was just about the last Q&A I added to CODE RED--in response to several right-wingers who said that CODE RED was just a partisan cherry-pick! Well what I'm interested in, trying with everything I have to bring about, is an observable vote counting process--that's it! Not Democratic victories, except as a byproduct of that legitimate process. I'm not interested in looking backwards, overturning even the smelliest computerized elections or unseating any office-holders. I am after an election system and an observable vote counting process that all Americans can trust, and if it elects Scott Walkers and Mitch McConnells and right-wing majorities in the US House and 68 out of 100 state legislatures, so be it!

As for the evidence, however, any objective analyst of whatever partisanship will encounter the same data that my colleagues and I have encountered for the past dozen years, and it will still point in one direction. The red shift is a numerical fact, not a figment of our biases. The same goes for the glaring red-flag pattern found in Cumulative Voteshare Analysis (CVA), where Republican (and, in primaries, Establishment Republican) voteshare increases with increasing precinct size--demographically inexplicable but fitting perfectly a rigging algorithm that targets larger precincts for vote theft because taking X votes from a 20X vote precinct can pass the smell test but taking those same X votes from a 2X vote precinct cannot. Nor are we making up the political pedigree of the voting equipment corporations--it's sometimes a bit obscure but it's in the record. There's a boatload of evidence and a strong prevailing wind in its sails.

To my readers on the Right who believe the Left has been doing the rigging or would be if given the opportunity, I say simply this: with computerized counting neither of us has any reason to trust the other side--particularly in the current political environment, so rich in anger and poor in trust. Under these conditions especially, aren't we both entitled to an observable counting of the votes? Please, let's count the votes in public and let the chips fall where they may.

JB: I agree, the system looks pretty rotten from here. But getting from here to observable vote counting: well, it's daunting, hard to know where to begin. What's the take-away of your book? And what would you like us concerned citizens to do?

JS: Let's begin with this: in a vacuum, designing any serious electoral system from scratch, observable vote counting would be a no-brainer. You wouldn't trust a system where you handed your ballots to a man, dressed in a magician's costume, who took them behind a curtain, claimed he'd counted them and shredded them, and then came out and told you who won. So I assume you also wouldn't trust, or build, a system where the votes were counted in a place just as dark and hidden as the magic room behind the curtain. You wouldn't, that is, entrust your democracy--independent of any concrete evidence of actual fraud--to computers programmed and maintained by private (and partisan) corporations and insulated against virtually all scrutiny by proprietary protections. Add to that vacuum our growing recognition that cyber-security is an oxymoron; add to that all the evidence we have gathered and analyzed pointing squarely and insistently in the direction of actual computerized manipulation of votecounts; and add to that the enormous political and historical consequence of all these suspect elections: well, it should be Case Closed.

But we are not in a vacuum and powerful real-world inertias are at play. The computers took over vote counting in a flash when the Help America Vote Act was passed in 2002, at a time before computers had begun to show their dark side, before folks were getting their money and identities stolen and receiving those urgent CHANGE YOUR PASSWORD! notices. They were billed as quicker and more convenient and cheaper, and collectively America was content with getting its democracy on the cheap. So now computers are the duh! no brainer! when it comes to counting votes and, as you say, changing that and restoring observable vote counting is a daunting challenge and it is hard to know where to begin.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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