by Milo Clark
"Bending straws is local, rigging electronic systems is not."
—Mary Magdalene, Making Things Right, Karlingenus Robotus, Tiberius et Ux, Rome, 119
(Swans - October 23, 2006) In terms of framing, holding elections is now the criterion for democracy. Elections in Kazakhstan, Ecuador, Myanmar, Eureka County, and South Chicago are cited as evidence of democracy in action. Nonsense!
Ever since folks first bent straws, rigging elections has been a way to power.
The number of ways we can expect next month's US midterm elections to be rigged are numbered by the counties within the states. Elections in the once United States of America are primarily governed by local laws only faintly guided by state laws within the shadowy context of federal law.
Electoral districts are an overlay of local offices working up the ladders of representation through to the state Electoral College processes, which, in aggregate and in theory, yield a national president.
At each step, determination of district boundaries, establishment of voting places, appointments of workers and bosses, voting forms, methods of collecting ballots and then counting them fall to a jungle of officials, authorities, and arbiters. Every step is inundated in politics. Control of local politics ends up as control of elections.
From the very first days of elections in the nascent United States of America, politicians worked diligently and tirelessly to craft the electoral processes to guarantee predictable results. Governor Gerry of Massachusetts (1810-1811) devised grotesque boundaries for districts and lent his name to the now very sophisticated redistricting processes worked to return incumbents to office (Gerrymandering). Computerized database modeling now yields over 90% re-election results.
At simplest levels, a ballot cast in whatever form is collected at precinct level, put in some kind of container and sent to the counting place. Rarely now are ballots counted at precinct level. Whoever controls that box or cartridge or electronic disk from precinct to counting place may manipulate the ballots as a first step.
We must go back, however, to understand those rules governing who actually ends up being allowed to vote in a precinct. Registration processes varying from rigorously excluding to very loosely including tend to be a function of state law administered at county level. Massive efforts are marshaled by various parties to (1) encourage or (2) to discourage classes of voters. That is, to get certain demographic profiles to the polls or to keep them away. From poll taxes to literacy tests, from specific forms of identification documents to remote locations to register, ever-new means are sought to restrict or to expand particular sets of voters.
Assuming a person manages to get registered and that person is in a demographic profile deemed favorable by the politicians controlling the local elections, then ballot forms will be designed that are judged to be easy to understand and to use. These people deemed favorable will also tend to find rides offered to polling places in convenient locations that will be well supplied with blank ballots, friendly poll workers and short lines.
A person with unfavorable demographic profile who manages to get registered will find little transportation offered, remote and inconvenient locations, ballot shortages, unfriendly workers slowly shuffling voters through long lines.
Ballot design is also open to manipulations. In Hawaii, primary elections are by party only. Any crossing of party lines will invalidate the ballot. Ballot design places the different parties in adjacent lines with minimal apparent separation. Parties are distinguished by very faint colors easy to mistake in all but the best lighting conditions. The infamous "chads" of Florida's 2000 election are similar ballot design manipulations.
"Paper ballots" are in the charade category also. Mark-sensed or optically scanned "paper" ballots marked with a #2 lead pencil or a special electronically sensitive lead are collected in a reader box, totals of which are electronically determined.
From entry into the collector box through registration in counting processes, the system is electronic and open to all the manipulations of any electronic system.
Theoretically, a recount would involve taking the marked ballots from the collecting boxes and re-running them again. They would not be hand-counted unless a court ordered them to be. Which, in part, was exactly where the once Supreme Court intervened in a grossly partisan 2000 ruling that gave the presidency to George W. Bush.
Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines were given great impetus by the Help America Voting Act (HAVA) which, superficially, was designed to facilitate voting by disabled or handicapped people.
DRE machines use touch screens or wheels to enter selections (votes). The votes are collected electronically into cartridges vaguely similar to ATM cards. The cartridges are programmed before the elections by the manufacturers and "read" by the manufacturers' proprietary programs classified as intellectual property and unavailable to public scrutiny. HAVA set up "testing" procedures by theoretically third parties that, in practice, proved laughable.
Computer experts by the droves have shown the ease by which these devices and their cartridges can be manipulated.
Years and years of work have gone into creating our present voting systems. Every attempt to make any process inviolate has only challenged those who want to use them.
The present Republican Party has worked most diligently in recent years to find ways to frustrate voting by those deemed demographically inappropriate. Their success has been registered notably in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, and California.
Whether or not their control of process will overcome the Foley and related factors we will know after November 7th.
My research suggests that it will take very heavy turns in numbers and reasonably accurate counting of those numbers to take Congress from the Republicans in 2006. The heavy turns in numbers are a possibility. Given those numbers, the temptations to manipulate results will be massive. The tools to manipulate results are in place.
Simply creating challenges has the potential of tying up election outcomes in legal battles dragging far into the coming years. Will the court system reflect the heavy efforts made to place judges in key positions?
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