“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Monday, October 15, 2012

Voting Machines

It's Magic!

Monday, October 15, 2012
by Greg Palast for FireDogLake

Here’s an easy way to spoil a vote: digitize it . . . then lose the digits.

Prestidigitation is the French-derived term for conjury, legerdemain, sleight-of-hand, presto-change-o hand-jive, disappearing trickery . . . or, in the language of Karl Rove, “Helping America Vote.”

Following what the media called the “Florida debacle,” the winners of the debacle agreed to “reform” the voting system. So the Bush administration proposed and Congress passed the Help America Vote Act.

The best way to prevent voting reform is to pass a voting reform bill—especially if it’s written by the folks that helped themselves to your vote in the first place.

The Help America Vote Act is not the most Orwellian named, satanic law ever passed by Congress, but it tries. To avoid ballots with hanging chads, the law simply does away with ballots, providing about $4 billion in subsidies for Direct Recording Equipment (DREs), better known as “computer ballots” or “black box voting.”

Not to be confused with votes changed via sophisticated software hacking, this is the system by which simple “glitches” caused the computers to break down or simply fail to record the vote which resulted in over half a million (546,000) votes to disappear in 2008, according to the US Elections Assistance Commission data. In 2012, expect even more to vanish.

This little-glitch-here, little- glitch-there pattern has the odd attribute that it occurs 491 percent more often in Hispanic precincts than white precincts, and in black precincts it’s worse.
Presto! And it’s gone!
From Greg Palast's brand new NYT bestseller: 

Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps

Computer voting machines have a lot in common with slot machines in Vegas. You pull the lever and the result is, you hope, a happy one. Except that slot machines are scrupulously honest, well regulated, and operate properly and transparently.

Now, you’re probably expecting me to tear off into a screed about how easy it is to fiddle with a computerized voting machine (it is), how there’s rarely a “paper trail” to verify your vote (there isn’t one), how the software can be hacked, cracked, hijacked, and name Donald Duck to Congress or Chuck Hagel to the US Senate. (Republican Senator Hagel, who founded the biggest voting machine company, ES&S, was elected with an astonishing number of African American votes, his skeptical Democratic opponent told me, right after his machines were installed. Obviously, a sore loser. Or sore winner. We’ll never know which.)

However the number one way to steal computer votes in America is to unplug the computer.

And dumb-ass variants thereof. The problem with computers is that they don’t work. At least not for voters.

Example: In Sarasota in 2006, Republicans held on to the congressional seat vacated by Katherine Harris by a mere 369 votes after new computerized voting machines simply failed to record a choice in the race on eighteen thousand ballots, mostly from Democratic precincts.

The Republican county elections supervisor claims that the eighteen thousand voters simply didn’t want to make a choice. It was the top, hottest race on the ballot; eighteen thousand drove to the polls, went in, then walked out without making a choice. Oddly, this seemed to happen among voters marked BLA in the records, as opposed to the WHI voters.

There’s always the innocent explanation, which is never, in fact, innocent. Florida marks the race of each voter in the registries. So we can see that in the BLA precincts, poll workers were given the wrong passwords for the machines so no one could vote.

While the software varies from maker to maker, all DRE computer voting machines have one thing in common: like the man who shot the youngster Trayvon Martin, voting machines are really afraid of black folk. And brown folk.

How does this happen? Simple. Low-income towns get crappy schools, crappy hospitals, crappy police service, crappy everything. It would be absurd to think they’d get anything but the crappy voting machines.

When I went to the Taos Pueblo, they were voting on ancient Shouptronic machines that should have been in the Smithsonian. We don’t give Natives used blankets with smallpox bugs anymore, just the used voting machines with mechanical bugs.

Even when the better machines are funded by the state, the training is lacking, the conditions of operation suck (see Georgia summer above), et cetera, et cetera.
It’s that class war thing again. And in America, class is race.

Is it deliberate? If you know it’s going on and you don’t change it, it’s deliberate.

That’s the word from the dean of county elections supervisors in Florida, Ion Sancho, the only nonpartisan election official in the state. He runs the elections in whiter-than-white Leon County, home of the state capital, Tallahassee. He let me try out the machine he set up for Leon voters: a paper ballot that is electronically read. I voted for Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan for president. That is, I deliberately “overvoted” (voted for two candidates for one office), spoiling it. When I stuck my ballot in the reader, it spit it back at me and told me I voted for both a consumer advocate and a pinhead bigot and had to choose one. In other words, I couldn’t spoil my ballot.

I got another ballot and made the correction. In Sancho’s last presidential election, there was not one spoiled ballot in his entire huge county. Hot damn! If Florida officials knew about these machines, there would not have been 179,855 hanging chads and "over-votes" in 2000.

The county next door, Gadsden, the poorest and blackest in Florida, had also installed these cool miracle ballot-readers but could only afford a couple of them, which were kept in a central office. The result: the machines would reject all “spoiled” ballots—but by then the voters were far away and long gone.

Sancho realized that this would disenfranchise a massive number of poor voters in that county. It did: the blackest county in Florida had the highest spoilage rate of all. Harris refused to fix it beforehand and refused to correct it afterward.

“I invited the secretary of state to look at these machines,” he said, “before the election.” Katherine Harris could see Sancho’s office from her window in the State Capitol Building. She just had to take the elevator down, or jump.

She didn’t jump, nor did she take the elevator, even after Sancho told her of a deadly urgent problem.

But it wasn’t her problem. Her problem was to elect Republicans, and the machines did it: the “spoiled” votes in Gadsden, nearly every one marked for “Al Gore,” far exceeded the 537 votes that “elected” George W. Bush.

And in 2012, it’s worse. Way, way, way worse….

Read the rest in Billionaires & Ballot Bandits.

Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Armed Madhouse and Vultures' Picnic.

Palast's brand new NYT bestseller Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps, is available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon or Indie Bound and on the NOOK and Kindle.


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