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Democracy Under Glass

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Message Paul Jacobs
Boycott may be the only answer

Besides writing many columns on the issue of election integrity, I have taken my concerns up the chain of command from our county supervisors to the California secretary of state. This week, I contacted the U.S. inspector general's office alleging possible violations of the federal Help America Vote Act in the county's purchase of 3,700 voting machines in early 2006.

It is disturbing that citizens have to struggle for a say in the conduct of the people's business and increasingly find themselves treated like gadflies to be shooed away from the halls of government.

Registrar of Voters Barbara Dunmore failed to provide adequate notice of the "logic and accuracy" testing for the city of Riverside's June 6 election. When Save R Vote founder Tom Courbat brought this omission to light, Dunmore staged a May 31 "demonstration" test that was well attended by local election integrity advocates, the press and myself with a video camera.

The only thing missing from Dunmore's show was the smoke, because the mirror-like reflections on the glassed room observers were supposed to peer into created a mockery of meaningful observation. We couldn't clearly read the screens that flashed before our eyes amid the hazy, glaring reflections of the parking lot and registrar's lobby.

Seventy-five ballot cards were zipped through a counting machine in a matter of seconds with a sound resembling a deck of playing cards being shuffled. It was almost like we were seeing a magic trick.

The demonstration did reveal that knowledgeable citizens asked some extraordinarily researched questions that befuddled most of the press and this columnist in attendance. But just like that glassed-in room holding the machinery that counts our votes and a solitary county employee, this democracy has been isolated from we, the people. In officialdom, there is no place for average citizens who have educated themselves in the interest of ensuring the legitimacy of the election process.

While I question authority, I am not one to continuously challenge it. If my government tells me that the people are excluded from the process and to accept that private companies count our votes in secrecy, I tend to be compliant -- to a point.

After voting in almost every election since I turned 18 almost 30 years ago, I am contemplating a boycott of the ballot. I see no point to participating in a charade of democracy and legitimizing an illegitimate voting system.

I would rather sacrifice my vote than allow for it to be stolen, because even when I can't believe my government representatives, I still value our country's constitutional framework.

I have done my part by attending hearings, contributing public comments, and spending hours observing the election process. The supervisors sit behind their bully pulpit dais and close the door on open government. This county is under siege and I'm banking on the state or federal government to step in like the cavalry.

Once our votes are on paper ballots and citizens can stand in the same room while those ballots get counted, I will embrace my polling place position in this representative republic. Pheasant under glass might be delightful, but it is no way to run a democracy.

Paul Jacobs of Temecula is a regular columnist for The Californian. E-mail:

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Paul has worked in health care for the past 30 years and writes a weekly column for a local newspaper in California. He is involved in local civics, a member of Citizens for Democracy, Temecula Valley and active in the election integrity movement. (more...)
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