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Framing Computerized Voting

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Message Paul Jacobs
"Electronic Voting" is the death tax of the election integrity movement. It is imperative that we change the vernacular to "Computerized Voting" to reveal that election systems are much, much more than simple electronics.

Recent news headlines warned of breaches in Homeland Security computers. United Airlines was grounded for 2 hours due to a computer malfunction. When was the last time you read about an "electronic" failure in mainstream news?

Most of us are familiar George Lakoff's books and publications on how framing is used to manipulate the public. One of the better examples of this ploy was the transformation of "estate tax" to "death tax." A tax that only impacts those with considerable wealth was repackaged as an evil monstrosity that sounds like it shakes the loose change from the pockets of dead people.

"Electronic" sounds innocuous and we are easily misled into believing that voting machines simply mark and count ballots, when the truth is nothing close to that. Computerized voting systems typically "define" your ballot on a touch screen and then "capture" votes by converting them into bits of data stored on a cartridge. A separate computer reads those cartridges and the "results data" is deciphered by software that tallies the votes. Described this way, computerized voting leaves few voters feeling warm and fuzzy about the machinery computing our elections.

Election integrity advocates must never utter the E-word again. It is computerized voting that threatens our democracy. Computers are programmable and prone to software glitches, while electronic systems are perceived as nearly infallible. We flip a switch and the light comes on. Most of us don't understand the science of electricity and the word "electronic" is equated with reliability.

Vehicles come with EFI - electronic fuel injection. If an automaker tried advertising computerized fuel injection, they would likely end up with a lot of unsold cars.

Computers offer many conveniences in life, but they are prone to problems. Most companies that rely on computers have stringent backup systems in place; otherwise United Airlines would have had their wings clipped for much longer than 2 hours. Election systems that are used maybe once or twice per year lack the troubleshooting that comes with regular use of computer systems. While banks routinely make backup information available for customers to verify transactions, the information contained within voting systems is treated as a closely guarded secret not available to the average voter.

Computers routinely suffer glitches, reboots, hacks and other vulnerabilities. There is no evidence computerized voting systems are an exception to the rule. In fact, because of their scarcity of use and the secretive nature of election officials and voting machine manufacturers, the computers that run and decide our elections are more prone to having problems that are never revealed to the public.

The battle to reclaim democracy also requires that we be armed with accurate words. Computers are prone to problems and computerized voting is a definite problem if we expect legitimacy from our elections.
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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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