Environmental Ethics
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Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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The Gadfly Bytes -- November 5, 2004


Ernest Partridge

The issue of the reliability of paperless electronic voting is fundamentally misconceived: The citizen is not obligated to prove that his ballot is secure; instead, the citizen has a right to be confident that his vote will be counted, as he cast it. And for reasons acknowledged by both the critics and defenders of “e-voting,” the American citizen who votes with these machines, is denied this fundamental right.

Was the 2004 Presidential election “fixed”?

The question is virtually absent in the mainstream, corporate media, as if it is at least “impolite” and at worst paranoid and delusional even to ask it.. The final totals of this election are an undisputed “given,” and media discussion follows from this hard-core assumption. The issue of the validity of the final election returns, for the nation or for pivotal states such as Florida and Ohio, is rarely raised in the mainstream media.

Meanwhile, in “the internets” speculation as to the fairness and validity of the “official” vote count is active and increasing. Bev Harris’ BlackBoxVoting.org has filed the most extensive Freedom of Information action in history, in an attempt to prove that “fraud took place in the 2004 election through electronic voting machines. And Greg Palast has proclaimed straight-out that, had all the votes been counted, John Kerry would have won Ohio, Florida, and therefore the election.

It's my job to tell you who got the most votes in the deciding states. Tuesday, in Ohio and New Mexico, it was John Kerry.

Most voters in Ohio thought they were voting for Kerry. At 1:05 a.m. Wednesday morning, CNN's exit poll showed Kerry beating Bush among Ohio women by 53 percent to 47 percent. The exit polls were later combined with -- and therefore contaminated by -- the tabulated results, ultimately becoming a mirror of the apparent actual vote. Kerry also defeated Bush among Ohio's male voters 51 percent to 49 percent. Unless a third gender voted in Ohio, Kerry took the state.

So what's going on here? Answer: the exit polls are accurate. Pollsters ask, "Who did you vote for?"  Unfortunately, they don't ask the crucial, question, "Was your vote counted?" The voters don't know.

Thom Hartmann reports:

The hot story in the Blogosphere is that the "erroneous" exit polls that showed Kerry carrying Florida and Ohio (among other states) weren't erroneous at all - it was the numbers produced by paperless voting machines that were wrong, and Kerry actually won... [B]loggers and investigative reporters are discovering an odd discrepancy in exit polls being largely accurate in paper-ballot states and oddly inaccurate in touch-screen electronic voting states Even raw voter analyses are showing extreme oddities in touch-screen-run Florida, and eagle-eyed bloggers are finding that news organizations are retroactively altering their exit polls to coincide with what the machines ultimately said.

Mark Crispin Miller writes:

[T]his election was definitely rigged. I have no doubt about it. It's a statistical impossibility that Bush got 8 million more votes than he got last time. In 2000, he got 15 million votes from right-wing Christians, and there are approximately 19 million of them in the country. They were eager to get the other 4 million. That was pretty much Karl Rove's strategy to get Bush elected.

But given Bush's low popularity ratings and the enormous number of new voters -- who skewed Democratic -- there is no way in the world that Bush got 8 million more votes this time. I think it had a lot to do with the electronic voting machines. Those machines are completely untrustworthy, and that's why the Republicans use them.

Of course, the Republicans and the Bush Administration deny explicitly, and the media deny implicitly (by ignoring the story), that there was any fraud whatever in the election. The defenders of the paperless voting machines reply, correctly, that the critics cannot prove their charges. The machines yield no direct evidence of the alleged vote tampering. Instead, the critics must rely on circumstantial and statistical evidence. (In my next essay, I will outline the case for a fraudulent election. But that is not the objective here).

The defenders’ response is correct: the machines produce no independent paper record of the voting, and the source codes that transmit and record the voters’ selections are secret and “proprietary” – the property of the companies that build the machines and write the software codes. These are the simple facts, that both sides will agree to.

The problem for the defenders of the machines is that while the critics can not directly prove vote tampering, for the very same reasons election officials can not prove that the votes were cast and recorded as the voters intended.

So it comes down to this. How can we know that the software codes were not written to deliberately “throw” an election? The answer of the manufacturers, code writers and election officials is simple: “trust us.” Given the circumstances just presented, it is the only answer that they can give.

In a free society, where the legitimacy of the government must reside in the consent of the governed, “trust us” is a totally unacceptable response to the citizen’s demand for proof of the integrity of his vote. It is doubly unacceptable, when “trust us” is uttered by an employee of a private company, the officers of which have announced their support of a political party and of candidates whose names appear on the ballot.

And that is exactly the condition in which we find ourselves in the Presidential election of 2004.

Herein, as all too few observers have noticed, is the crux of this issue: it is not the ability of the critics to prove electoral fraud, but rather the inability of the manufacturers and software programmers to prove electoral integrity.

Let us state the fundamental moral and political issue clearly and emphatically:

The citizen has no obligation to prove that his ballot is secure; the citizen has a right to be confident that his vote will be counted, as he cast it. And it is the solemn obligation of the government to secure that right.

The right of the citizen to a secure ballot is the foundation of a democratic society and the guarantee that the government rules with the consent of the governed. If that right has been violated by supporters and/or agents of the government, that government has no legitimacy.

We do not know if Election 2004 was fraudulent. But equally important, the paperless machines have made it impossible to verify that it was fair, accurate and complete. And it is the inalienable right of a free people that their franchise be fair, accurate, transparent, and verifiable.

This, at least, we can affirm: there are disquieting indications that this Presidential election, like the previous, was a fraud and that in a fair election, John Kerry would now be the President-elect.

It is unlikely that the media will raise the issue and that there will be a thoroughgoing investigation of this election. Not unless an outraged public demands such an investigation. And so, if John Kerry was fraudulently deprived of his office, and a possible majority of American voters denied the election victory that they had earned, then that crime can not be rectified after December 12, when the Electoral College finalizes the election. If the case is to be made, and if Kerry and Edwards are to assume their fairly won offices, this must be accomplished in a mere five weeks. It is in the hands of the people.

If the election was rigged by the victors, American Democracy is dead today, even though few Americans are willing even to contemplate that possibility. If in fact the election was rigged, and if nothing is to be done to restore the integrity of the ballot, then the Democrats might just as well save their time and money and not bother to contest the next mid-term election in 2006 and the Presidential election of 2008. The outcome of these elections will be pre-determined, as was the election just completed. The rule of the Republican party will be permanent, and independent of the consent of the governed.

And that precisely defines a tyranny.


See also:  Why We Must Not "Get Over It"

Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .