Map showing the electoral college votes, US presidential election 2008 (from Wikipedia)

Dear Blog

As the entire world is aware (even if it doesn’t want to be), the US presidential election campaign is on. Will it be Hillary? Or Barack? Or John? Or Rudy, John, Mitt, Ron, Fred, Mike, Duncan, or Alan? Will there be change even if the Democrats hold the White House (I hope so!)?

I’ll leave aside the oddness of the caucus process, the length of the campaign, the obscene amounts of money spent (estimated by the FEC Chairman, Michael Toner, as in excess of US$1 billion), the troubling influence of the religious right in the process, the disenfranchisement of large numbers of the population, and the weirdness of some of the policies filtering out. What I’m primarily interested is the actual on-the-day voting.

I watched a documentary called Hacking Democracy the other day, and was frankly appalled. The documentary documents the problems inherent in the use of computerised and automated vote registration and counting in some counties and states in the US. It demonstrates the ease with which the voting machines can be ‘rigged’, and implicitly suggests that this may have occurred. It also describes problems encountered at the 2004 election.

I find it hard to believe, Blog, that a nation as proud of it’s democratic institutions as the US is would willingly compromise it’s electoral system in this way. How can you have a proper voting system if:
• Each voter who wants to vote can’t do so (people lined up for many hours to vote in 2004, and were ultimately turned away because there were not enough voting machines in some districts to cope with the demand);
• The vote cast by the voter isn’t made on paper directly by the voter and in form which they can then validate (they know they’ve voted as intended because they can see the cross or number in the box next to the candidate’s name);
• The paper votes aren’t held in case of the need for a recount;
• The votes aren’t counted by people, and scrutinised;
• The electoral officials are themselves elected officials or are directly appointed by elected officials – in Australia (and other nations) we have independent statutory electoral commissions which are responsible for local, federal and state elections – their responsibility is to the parliament, not anyone else.

Blog, if you used a voting machine how could you be sure your vote was registered? How could you be sure you’d voted for who you wanted? How could you trust the system at all. I couldn’t. And for those who want to argue that technology eliminates the possibility of error (think of Windows and laugh at this point) and fraud at a number of levels, witness the ease with which the machines were hacked, or problems identified. This seems to me especially pertinent when the companies supplying the machines are so enmeshed in the political process (yes, I mean potentially compromised), when the machines themselves are so liable to problems, and when the companies who supply the units and the software make the hardware and software proprietary secrets, and thus not able to be inspected or validated.

If I were a citizen of the US I’d be agitating for serious change to the electoral process. If, in Australia, we ever see such things coming, I’ll be out on the streets.


Creative Commons License

Conversation Morum by
Colin Thornby is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Australia License.


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