April 8, 2011
To every Journalist and Media Reformer assembled here in Boston:
How does the Big Lie flourish and prosper? By being criminal beyond belief. By operating in safety behind a towering "never happen here" wall of denial. By a foolish assumption of immunity. By being too big a story to be a story within the bounds of journalistic decorum.
The gruesome truth is that American elections can be rigged and are being rigged because the American media treats election rigging as something that--all evidence notwithstanding--could never happen here. Period, end of story, move on.
And we are moving on. To an unrecognizable America. An America in which, when even obscene amounts of cash can't buy enough votes, those votes can be manufactured (added, switched, deleted wholesale) in the darkness of cyberspace. It's too easy. And it's happening. A Big Lie is consuming America.
We ask each of you in turn--reporter, editor, commentator, reformer--are you willing to sit back and let this happen on your watch? Can you take 15 minutes to stand before this picture, taking it in, and then ask yourself, if we have been persuasive, what you are going to do?
Let's begin with the voting and counting process itself. It is now virtually everywhere in America a computerized process and those computers are under the proprietary control of a handful of corporations. Would you cheerfully hand your vote to a little man behind a curtain and wait for him to come back out and tell you who won? What if he were wearing a "Peace" button, or a "Palin-For-President" button, or some other partisan identifier?
How is what we are doing as we vote in America any different?
Study after study--from Princeton, to Johns Hopkins, to NYU's Brennan Center, to the California Secretary of State's office, to the GAO itself ( see http://tinyurl.com/3hz7xj2 ) --conclude that this counting process is obscenely vulnerable to insider manipulation and outsider hacking. So have many studies examining computerized voting abroad--which is why countries such as Germany, Ireland, and Holland have begun turning back to human counted ballots. There is consensus verging on unanimity among the experts.
How comfortable are you with that? Can you go about your business with democracy hanging from such a thin thread, with America that exposed to a silent coup?
Perhaps we should leave it there. Because it makes sense, does it not, that we can't continue to accept the risk of systemic sabotage inherent in such a counting process. Not when a return to public hand counting of the federal and statewide contests would restore transparency and remove the risk of wholesale manipulation, at a civic burden far smaller than jury duty. Surely we can take a few hours every two years to count some votes for our democracy.
It is a slam dunk. Or should be. Except . . . , as with global warming and other incipient disasters, mere vulnerability to something that might happen proves to be a poor motivator of decisive and courageous action. We reform in the wake of calamity, not in anticipation of it.
And here we come to the crux of our dilemma and to our Catch-22. Because as long as we speak or write about vulnerabilities and hypotheticals, there seems to be at least the hope of dialogue. Heck, some among the media--Lou Dobbs comes to mind--have raised the very issue in the run-up to elections: "Will Your Vote Be Counted? Tune in tomorrow." But that permissible question proves transient, and it evaporates as the votes are counted on Election Night and following. Any attempt to offer evidence of actual manipulation, actual theft? Not welcome. Forget it. Omerta.
How come? Is it because it remains beyond the pale of belief that such easy vulnerability is actually being exploited? This even in the age of Barry Bonds, A-Rod, Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador, Bernie Madoff, Goldman Sachs, and the whole parade of high-stakes cheating scandals, not to mention the mounting wave of cybercrime, to which even sophisticated financial institutions and the Pentagon have proven vulnerable? Elections are the highest stakes game of all.