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Your Vote Will Be Thoughtful, But Will It Be Counted?

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By the time November 2008 rolls around, you will have endured over two years of breathless horse-race election coverage.  (I, for one, am going to spend the next few days pushing Obama over Clinton, and then tune back in on Halloween to decide whether to vote for Obama, Nader, or McKinney.  There are too many important things to work on in between.)  But the big question (and one of the important things to work on) is this: will you have any way to know your vote is counted?

On February 12th, I'll vote for Obama in the Virginia Democratic Primary if it still matters (if it doesn't I'll vote for Kucinich).  And I will have no possible way to determine whether my vote is counted.  I'll be voting on a touch-screen electronic voting machine.  There will be no piece of paper generated and stored as I vote.  A "paper trail" may be produced later, but if the vote totals are monkeyed with by the machine, the paper trail will simply "confirm" the bogus numbers.

In the past few elections, and in the Florida primaries this week, we've seen such probems as: precincts turning out more voters than exist (is 110% voter turnout an achievement in some people's minds?), huge percentages of people voting in minor races but supposedly failing to vote at all in key contests, results that vary from unadjusted exit polls by unheard of margins, people forced to wait 12 hours to vote, people turned away in the general election who voted in the same location in the primaries, flyers advising Democrats to vote the day after the election, and dozens of other problems, most of them based in electronic voting machines, most - but definitely not all - of them swinging votes in favor of Republicans.

The new film "Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections" by David Earnhardt, tells this story powerfully and convincingly.  If I were a reporter outside the United States and able to publish the story, I'd watch this film and report on the complete breakdown of credible democratic elections in the U.S.A.  If I were an American of any political persuasion I'd have a hard time watching this film and not asking what I could do about this crisis.  I'd leave a theater that showed this movie with a very different view of recent history from the orthodox.  I'd come away understanding that the Democratic Party landslide in 2006 fell far short of what voters actually voted for, that George Bush has never once been elected president, and that the solution to the 2000 Florida debacle (the solution of buying electronic voting machines) took a relatively small problem and made it enormous.

"Uncounted" is a nonpartisan take on the issue that you can safely show to your Republican uncle.  It concludes with a list of things you can do: Contact your congress member.  Ask for election day to be a national holiday.  Write a letter to the editor.  Be an observer at the polls.  Et cetera.  But, as Brad Friedman of points out in the film, if the cheating is happening inside a computer, it will make no difference how many people are observing it.  What's needed is more than just ordinary involvement or passage of bills of the variety that George W. Bush will choose not to veto or erase with signing statements.  Think for a minute about recent scandals coming out of Washington.  I know there have been a great many of them, but the one I have in mind has been huge.  Take a look at this list of proposed solutions from Mark Crispin Miller and pay special attention to points #11 and #12.

1. Repeal the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).
2. Replace all electronic voting with hand-counted paper ballots (HCPB).
3. Get rid of computerized voter rolls.
4. Keep all private vendors out of the election process.
5. Make it illegal for the TV networks to declare who won before the vote-count is complete.
6. Set up an exit polling system, publicly supported, to keep the vote-counts honest.
7. Get rid of voter registration rules, by having every citizen be duly registered on his/her 18th birthday.
8. Ban all state requirements for state-issued ID's at the polls.
9. Put all polling places under video surveillance, to spot voter fraud, monitor election personnel, and track the turnout.
10. Have Election Day declared a federal holiday, requiring all employers to allow their workers time to vote.
11. Make it illegal for Secretaries of State to co-chair political campaigns (or otherwise assist or favor them).
12. Make election fraud a major felony, with life imprisonment--and disenfranchisement--for all repeat offenders.

The first thing you may notice is that none of these 12 things can possibly be accomplished with Bush and Cheney in office.  And, of course, the more election cycles we go through without accomplishing these things, the less likely it is that our elected officials will be people willing to attempt them.  So, there is some urgency to this.  

The scandal I hoped you might think of, of course, goes by the name "U.S. Attorney Firings," but it  actually encompasses the politicization of the U.S. Department of Justice and an array of hiring and firing and indicting and prosecuting decisions all aimed at winning elections for Republicans.  As this has played out in Congress, we've seen an attorney general unable to remember his own actions, and we've seen a president feloniously order former staffers not to comply with subpoenas.  We've watched as the Democratic "leaders" in Congress refused for over half a year to vote on holding those staffers in contempt, and we've witnessed the removal of the power of impeachment from the U.S. Constitution.

By all means, get out there and vote and observe and counter any intimidation you see, and report any fraud you find evidence of.  But, if you want to throw a monkey wrench into the gears of the machine that is stripping us of our hard earned franchise, you'll need more than computer software, you'll need a massive movement with enough force to compel the House Judiciary Committee to begin impeachment proceedings.



Interview with David Earnhardt:


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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at and and works for the online (more...)

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