By Paul R Lehto
As one of the attorneys just retained to investigate the June 6, 2006 Busby/Bilbray election in California's 50th Congressional District, I've not yet finished drafting the election contest complaint, so the San Diego Union-Tribune editor certainly hasn't read it. Yet, the editor has already pronounced as "unfounded" the case against invisible and secret electronic vote-counting and against burdening recount rights via the sky-high pricing that occurred in the Busby/Bilbray race.
But the same day's Union Tribune contained a remarkably parallel story, regarding the same 50th Congressional District seat. It notes that an independent investigation found that imprisoned former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham took advantage of the secrecy surrounding the House Intelligence Committee panel to slip in items that would benefit him and his associates. http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20060724/news_1n24duke.html
The article goes on: "Cunningham's case has put a spotlight on the lack of oversight" and "public scrutiny" of the Intelligence committee's secret budgeting process, the secrecy that enabled $2.4 million in bribes over a time span of years. Given these established facts, I wonder if the Union-Tribune previously dismissed as an "Internet conspiracy theorist" anyone correctly claiming the Congressman was on the take to the tune of millions of dollars by taking advantage of the secrecy in the process?
With elections, public oversight has been largely eliminated in favor of secret and nontransparent vote counting, and that elimination will be finalized and total when San Diego county changes over to 100% touch screen electronic voting this fall. With computerized touchscreen voting systems, ballots are rendered into invisible electrons the voter can never see, and counted secretly and unaccountably on corporate hard drives using processes claimed as proprietary or "trade secret." The magic numbers just pop out of these secret vote counting machines.
These computerized governmental vote processors constitute the government determining in secrecy the results of elections (and therefore determining in secrecy the government's power, tax money, and performance). Citing the difficulty of determining the intent of a very small number of voters' chads among Florida's millions of ballots in 2000, the Union-Tribune obviously prefers that the public no longer be troubled by information about vote counting, because it favors the "magic number" systems that eliminate all public oversight of vote counting. The Union-Tribune blindly concludes: "Give us electronic voting and its safeguards any day."
The electronic voting in the Busby/Bilbray race brings the stain of Cunningham onto the election to replace him. The common element in both is the impropriety made possible by secrecy from the lack of public oversight. This lack of transparency may be unavoidable in Intelligence matters, but it is totally avoidable in public Elections.
The idea that there are any safeguards whatsoever when computers process our votes would be laughable if the integrity of elections wasn't so serious. Even the Republican Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Peter Hoekstra was quoted in the article on Cunningham regarding the secrecy of the Intelligence panel: "even if you put in additional safeguards, it doesn't necessarily mean that someone who wants to enrich themselves is not going to be able to." And yet, the Union-Tribune says "Give us [secret] electronic [vote counting] and its safeguards any day?"
The situation in computerized elections is dire. A computer is something that simply does what it is told to, without any regard for law, morality or ethics. Because computers simply follow the commands of anyone (whether given on Election Day, or as an undetectable piece of "Easter Egg" code laid earlier) testing the machines by casting one or two votes on a few machines before and after the election is laughably beside the point, because the only thing that matters is what the computer was asked to do under Election conditions.
The best election systems feature low payoffs for cheating and force wrongdoing out into the open where it is deterred and caught. Transparency, then, is a critical check and balance. In contrast, the Washington Post recently noted that computers readily allow a single person to hit an election-cheating home run, which is a high payoff indeed, combined with the advantages secrecy has for improper activity. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/27/ar2006062701451.html
Moreover, the incentive to cheat in elections is enormous. Even with informal online polls, most people like to stuff the ballot box and distort poll results by notifying only their like-minded friends to vote, distorting the poll's results. Now, when the stakes are upped a bit to (say) control of the world's richest military superpower, billions in contracts and hundreds of political careers, might there be someone with enough incentive to move some electrons in an electronic ballot box with little likelihood of being caught, because a good hacker or rigger leaves no substantial evidence?
Anyone who doubts a strong incentive to cheat in real elections doubts the attractiveness of controlling America, and therefore suffers from a form of naivete' that is inconsistent with a commitment to truly defend democracy. The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial, typical of so many that end up tolerating electronic voting, enforces that naivete'.
Favoring blind trust in the secret electronic vote counts of the government surely isn't "conservative." The public needs to oversee elections, because the government can not oversee itself in the review of governmental performance and power limits that occurs in elections. Eliminating the public's right to know and oversee government "servants" sure isn't "liberal" either. So, who's pushing to eliminate election accountability?
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