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Election Problems, What Election Problems?

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Election Problems, What Election Problems?

by Bo Lipari,
Executive Director New Yorkers for Verified Voting,
Friday, November 10, 2006

The Media Narrative and Public Perception

If you watched the cable news coverage on Election Night, it was
easy to come away with the impression that few problems were
experienced with electronic voting - the predicted "train wreck"
had not materialized. But out in the real world, the HAVA
mandated changeover of voting systems resulted in real failures
that resulted
in long lines and lost votes. Just like the fancy new high tech
voting machines, the mainstream media has failed us yet again.

That there were widespread problems with electronic voting
equipment all around the country is well documented. Thousands of
citizens took part in a first time nation-wide effort monitoring
polling sites and reporting problems. The reports are still
coming in, but it's clear that hundreds and hundreds of problems
occurred. But the mainstream media has thus far barely mentioned
this, leading one to ask what vast scale of voting disaster would
it actually take for the media to report on it?


The Election Night Narrative

News organizations used to report the news, but nowadays they're
more concerned with telling their viewers a story. This story,
the theme of the day as it were, is called the ''narrative''. On
Election Night 2006, the media narrative was ''The Great
Tsunami''. The story was about the Democratic tide as it moved
from East to West, sweeping away Congress in its path. As soon as
the first totals started coming in from the East Coast the news
networks started framing everything solely in the context of this
narrative. There was no room here for voting machines failures,
long lines of voters, or anything else. The story was about the
horse race, about devastating loss, about the great wave sweeping
across the nation. Voting machine problems had no place here as
they would distract from the narrative, even worse, maybe even
undermine it. Raising the possibility that votes were lost? How
are you going to sell soap with that?

The Unspoken Narrative

Underlying the Great Tsunami story was a subtler narrative, one
that the media has consistently fed us on Election Nights for
years. This narrative is expressed by the often repeated mantra
''Even if there were problems, it wasn't enough to affect the
outcome of the election.'' It seems vitally important to the
media that the public believe that no matter what, no matter how
bad the problems, no matter how many lost votes and machine
breakdowns, the results are still basically correct, your vote
still counts, or at least close enough.

We've been told this story before, in 2000, in 2004, and now
again in 2006. Nothing to worry about folks, just a little
glitch, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. This
seems to be an essential narrative for the media, one that we
must be told and reminded of each and every Election Day. Because
imagine what would happen if the media told the public the real
story, and showed the real impact on real voters. Why, you might
not have just thousands of activists around the country demanding
change, you might have hundreds of thousands. If the real story
about broken voting machines and lost votes got out, you might
even have millions. Imagine, millions of citizens demanding that
their right to vote is sacred and not for sale to voting machine
vendors, demanding real accountability, demanding accurate
elections with results that we can have real confidence in.

Now that would be a tsunami.

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Bo Lipari is the executive director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting.
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