October 16, 2003
Indeed, for a long time, I’ve resisted getting too exercised about this issue, because I simply couldn’t bring myself to believe how bad it is. Ken MacLeod articulated that sense of oh-god, this-can’t-be-true:
I find the whole thing almost literally unbelievable. How the hell can a great nation hand over control of its voting, for crying out loud, to corporations? Corporations who are deeply partisan? And deeply interested in the outcome of the elections? Hello? Some of them run by people who believe in theocracy? WTF?
To my mind, one of the most striking comments came from Billmon of the outstanding Whiskey Bar, who pointed out that one of the most disquieting aspects of the Independent story has nothing to do with computers or programming:
One of the conditions states have to fulfil to receive federal funding for the new voting machines, meanwhile, is a consolidation of voter rolls at state rather than county level.Said Billmon:
The consolidation of such a key function at the state level begins to erode what I had thought was the ultimate safeguard against trying to tamper with a national election—the voting process is so decentralized that an effective conspiracy would be impossible, much less easily detectable. While the same decentralization can lead to fiascos like the Florida recount, it’s also a check against the kind of election rigging that the PRI used to be so adept at in Mexico.Not that anything like that would ever happen here, perish the thought. Remember, power corrupts other people.
Like I said, I don’t know how alarmed we should all be about this. But after reading the Independent’s story it was hard not to be reminded of the 1988 presidential election in Mexico, when the computers at the centralized, national election bureau mysteriously “failed” after early returns showed the left-wing insurgent candidate, Cuautemoc Cardenas, in the lead. When the count resumed, the PRI candidate was declared the winner.
Billmon gets in the last word:
The fact that such an important and thoroughly researched story appeared in the Independent, and not the New York Times or the Washington Post, is a pointed comment, I suppose, on the long decline of American journalism.[02:22 PM]
It seems voting machines aren’t the only democratic devices in danger of failing.