Election machines are no friend of democracy
The purpose of elections is freely choosing our public servants by majority-rule elections. The essence of America is self-government, recognizing that all legitimate government power comes only from elections in government "of the people, by the people and for the people."
Secretary of State Debra Bowen's purpose is to regulate voting systems, which announce via election returns the one and only voice of We the People. She reviewed problems of computerized voting, then decertified Monterey County's Sequoia touchscreen voting computers and others because of high levels of product defects.
First, they count our votes under invisible secrecy. It's just like counting votes in a smoke-filled backroom, except only corporate insiders are allowed to count or watch, with corporate hard-drives providing the smoke. Invisible electrons are counted instead of paper ballots, and the process is claimed a protected commercial "trade secret." No information ever emerges from these vote-counting black holes of software. Because secrecy means no accountability, this defeats the primary purpose of elections to hold government accountable.
Second, Sequoia's purchase contract also improperly requires Monterey County to "cooperate" to defeat public records requests. Sequoia claims to own your electronic ballot as private intellectual property. This defeats the purpose that public servants be loyal only to the public.
It's unseemly for the government to count our votes in secrecy when (1) those votes determine all the government's power, and (2) the secret counts apply even to the re-elections of those same officials who voted for or approved Sequoia voting systems.
We all try to save face, so election officials are unlikely to tell us the full truth about this debacle after spending taxpayer's millions and swearing by the machines while failing to consider our nation's most important principles. Instead, they spin this as a "public confidence" issue or not "trusting" officials. America's not founded on "trust" or "confidence" it's founded on checks and balances, or DIS-trust. Checks and balances always involve distrustful oversight.
An August 2006 Zogby poll found 92 percent of Americans preferred "observable" vote counting over secret proprietary systems. The contrast between what the public wants and what it gets couldn't be greater. Can public "servants" pursue policies out of touch with 92 percent?
It's time for election officials to be checked and balanced. The only party without conflicts of interest is the public, but the public needs transparency to provide checks and balances.
Secrecy invites corruption. Secret vote counts by insiders represent a form of unaccountable, absolute power where the public can't remove politicians from office if an insider is willing to cheat. Secrecy insures we'll never know when cheating occurs. Whatever happens openly, what happens under secrecy is far worse.
Fully 92 percent of Americans remember the primary purpose of elections is the public checks and balances provided by observable vote counts. The purpose of elections is not "confidence," "convenience," or even cost, secondary concerns for voting systems that first meet the primary qualifications of transparency in the first place.
Countless Americans fought and died for democracy on the battlefield and in civil rights struggles. The least we can do is not let it go without a fight. Election officials can give us a system compatible with democracy, or they're not public servants. Democracy dies behind closed doors, because it is for all, not just the elite few.
Originally published in The Californian
PAUL LEHTO is a lawyer who sued Sequoia touchscreens from his home county of Snohomish, Washington.