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Invisible Ballots, Confirming Our Worst Fears About Democracy in Decline

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Message Anthony Wade
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October 8, 2005

No matter how honest and forthright you or I may be, history has proven one inescapable truth about the human condition. Given motive and opportunity, many people will choose to take whatever short cut is available, to achieve their objectives. Translation, they will cheat. One of the hallmarks of our democracy has always been free and fair elections. That hallmark is in grave danger as we enter into a cyberspace method of voting. The documentary, "Invisible Ballots", investigates this growing crisis.

The history of these changes to our voting systems was birthed during the "pregnant chad" debacle following the 2000 presidential election. Images of people holding up punch cards to the light to interpret the intent of the voter frightened the electorate and the push toward computerized ballots was on. Invisible Ballots correctly points out however that Florida was an aberration, not a microcosm of our voting system. Nonetheless, soon an unholy alliance was born between voting machine companies and governmental officials, where ridiculously expensive voting machines were now being mandated in the country through the Help America Vote Act, which unfortunately does very little to actually protect America's votes. Thus, in just five years, we have gone from being unable to divine our votes, to being unable to trust them.

The people interviewed in the documentary are not partisan operatives, nor unreliable alarmists. They are real people, experts, PhDs, and computer programmers, who have lived these problems for years now, trying desperately to get the word out. They weave a compelling story about vote fraud and the vulnerability of our current systems. Essentially there are two problems that can occur in any election. The first is error, as people are inherently human, and prone to mistakes. The second problem is fraud and as history has shown, it is a realistic concern. To not admit these two problems can and do exist in every election is simply inane.

Once you establish these two simple truths, the question becomes what can we do to reduce these threats and check to ensure they have not occurred. The core of the problem with computerized voting is that you will never know if either of these has ever occurred. The reason why is that the ballot, the record of who you voted for, is now invisible. It is stored electronically in cyberspace where it can be changed, manipulated, or simply never even be registered. The documentary talks with computer experts who detail very simple ways of introducing malicious code into the source code, designed to change the results. The source code for these companies is not made public by claiming it is "proprietary information." Nonsense. If you want to deal with the government and receive contracts, you should be mandated to have your source code exposed for inspection to ensure the validity of any election.
Invisible Ballots discusses the many security flaws discovered already in the machines, the cost-prohibitive nature of the machines, and the unsavory criminal records of many of the top players in the computer voting machine realm. Would you want someone with felony convictions for fraud designing and selling voting machines to your state? Well, it already is happening. Do you want voting machines that accidentally lose 16,000 votes? Well, Diebold has now admitted that is exactly what happened to Al Gore in Florida in the 2000 election. Those 16,000 votes would mean this country would never have seen the Bush administration.

There are plenty of other horrifying stories such as the Georgia debacle when as soon as the state went to computerized voting; a republican Governor was elected for the first time since the Civil War. These stories all point back to one main point. There is no way of auditing an election where the ballots are invisible. Without a fair recount, there is no trust in that election. Without trust, the elections are not fair and free. Once that occurs the democracy hinges upon a tenuous thread between decline and demise. Stalin once said that the person who votes is not nearly as important as the person who counts the votes. In America, we must ensure that the counting is free and fair to protect democracy.

The solutions are not that difficult. Every time a person votes a paper copy needs to be generated that the voter than visually verifies as his or her intent and submits to the election officials. Those paper copies are then held in the event of a recount or anomaly. The documentary then correctly points out that mandatory random recounts then need to be done each year to check the efficacy of the machines. I also believe that mandatory recounts for national elections should be implemented. Does this mean it may take a little longer to know the results? Possibly, but at least you could trust the results. Yet no matter how logical and common sense this sounds, there are political operatives working against it to ensure that your ballot remains invisible. These same politicians are either against the concept of free and fair elections or are seriously misguided. I am sure if you investigate you will discover that the companies in question have donated significantly to the politicians who are against paper trails. It is unconscionable that in this country that professes to spread democracy, that ANY politician would work to undermine democracy here at home. If someone does not want a paper trail, it has to make one wonder why? If a company does not want to reveal their source code, it has to make one wonder, what are they hiding? These are completely reasonable questions straight from the heart of democracy.

The only point I felt Invisible Ballots should have addressed is the confirmation for the need for exit polling. All of the problems the documentary outlined verify the need for reliable exit polling. The fact is that we use exit polling to see if there was chicanery in foreign elections and it has been successfully used in this country for decades until the Bush administration and the advent of paperless computer voting. Thus if we had a verifiable paper copy of every vote, then we can use exit polling to see where results do not match the projected outcomes and an audit can ensue. If that recount results in a confirmation of the machine count then no one can ever challenge the legitimacy of that election. That is democracy in action.

According to the official 2004 election results, George W. Bush received 11 million more votes than he did in 2000. To me, that is statistically impossible for a man who was not over a 50% approval rating going into the election. In Florida, Bush received over 175,000 votes from heavily democratic south Florida, clinching the state for him, another statistical improbability. In Ohio, exit polling was reversed with the final tallies, clinching the country for Bush. Every time a mistake is admitted by the machine companies, the caveat is it would not have changed the final results, but how do we really know? How do we know that was the only "glitch?" How can we be sure that the results would not be different? The answer is, we can't with invisible ballots.

The confidence in our system is in serious jeopardy. I wish I could trust the election results from 2004 but when you consider that 80% of the machine counted ballots in this country are run by two companies, run by two brothers who are beholden to Bush, the integrity of the results must be challenged. Then when you see the GOP counter any attempts at simply having a paper trail, the companies refuse to release their source code, and partisan Secretaries of State also acting as the chairmen of the campaign of one of the candidates, you have to wonder why people WANT these ballots to be invisible. It is a cancer eating away at our democracy in decline. I have heard plenty of people on the right say that this is sour grapes or the complaints are designed to undermine the credibility of the president. To them I simply say, "Support VISIBLE ballots" and they will never hear another complaint. To not support a verifiable paper trail is to not support democracy. If they wish to believe that George Bush received 11 million more votes than in 2000 just because of the "get the vote out" efforts of the GOP, then put your money where your mouth is and open the source code, demand paper trails, and let democracy once again be on the march. If you are being honest and forthright, then you should have nothing to hide.
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Anthony Wade, a contributing writer to, is dedicated to educating the populace to the lies and abuses of the government. He is a 53-year-old independent writer from New York with political commentary articles seen on multiple (more...)

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