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Vanishing Act


It’s a shell game, with money, companies and corporate brands switching in a blur of buy-outs and bogus fronts. It’s a sinkhole, where mobbed-up operators, paid-off public servants, crazed Christian fascists, CIA shadow-jobbers, war-pimping arms dealers–and presidential family members–lie down together in the slime. It’s a hacker’s dream, with pork-funded, half-finished, secretly-programmed computer systems installed without basic security standards by politically-partisan private firms, and protected by law from public scrutiny.

It’s how America, the "world’s greatest democracy," casts its votes. And it’s why George W. Bush will almost certainly be the next president of the United States–no matter what the people of the United States might want.

The American vote-count is controlled by three major corporate players–Diebold, ES&S, and Sequoia–with a fourth, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), coming on strong. These companies–all of them hardwired into the Bushist Party power grid–have been given billions of dollars by the Bush Regime to complete a sweeping computerization of voting machines nation-wide by the 2004 election. These glitch-riddled systems–many using "touch-screen" technology that leaves no paper trail at all–are almost laughably open to manipulation, according to corporate whistleblowers and computer scientists at Stanford, John Hopkins and other universities.

The technology had a trial run in the 2002 mid-term elections. In Georgia, serviced by new Diebold systems, a popular Democratic governor and senator were both unseated in what the media called "amazing" upsets, with results showing vote swings of up to 16 percent from the last pre-ballot polls. In computerized Minnesota, former vice president Walter Mondale–a replacement for popular incumbent Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash days before the vote–was also defeated in a large last-second vote swing. Convenient "glitches" in Florida saw an untold number of votes intended for the Democratic candidate registering instead for Governor Jeb "L’il Brother" Bush. A Florida Democrat who lost a similarly "glitched" local election went to court to have the computers examined–but the case was thrown out by a judge who ruled that the innards of America’s voting machines are the "trade secrets" of the private companies who make them.

Who’s behind these private companies? It’s hard to tell: the corporate lines–even the bloodlines–of these "competitors" are so intricately mixed. For example, at Diebold–whose corporate chief, Wally O’Dell, a top Bush fundraiser, has publicly committed himself to "delivering" his home state’s votes to Bush next year–the election division is run by Bob Urosevich. Bob’s brother, Todd, is a top executive at "rival" ES&S. The brothers were originally staked in the vote-count business by Howard Ahmanson, a member of the Council for National Policy, a right-wing "steering group" stacked with Bushist faithful.

Ahmanson is also one of the bagmen behind the "Christian Reconstructionist" movement, an extremist faction that openly advocates a theocratic takeover of American democracy, with the imposition of strict Christian dominion, placing "the state, the school, the arts and sciences, law, economics, and every other sphere under Christ the King." This "dominion" includes the death penalty for homosexuals, exclusion of citizenship for non-Christians, stoning of sinners and–we kid you not–slavery, "one of the most beneficent of Biblical laws." As the movement’s leader–and Ahmanson’s fellow CNP member–R.J. Rushdoony puts it: "The Christian should therefore not fear laws in support of Christian social goals just because they interfere with personal freedom."

Ahmanson also holds a major stake in ES&S, where he’s joined by Republican Senator Chuck Hagel. Before his ascension to high office, Hagel was CEO of an earlier ES&S incarnation. Thus, when he ran for the Senate, his own company counted the votes. Needless to say, his initial victory was reported as "an amazing upset." Hagel still has a million-dollar stake in the parent company of ES&S. In Florida, Jeb Bush’s first choice for a running mate in his 1998 gubernatorial race was ES&S lobbyist Sandra Mortham, who made a mint installing the machines that counted Jeb’s votes.

Sequoia also has a colorful history, most recently in Louisiana, where it was the center of a massive corruption case that sent top state officials to jail for bribery, most of it funneled through Mob-connected front firms. Sequoia executives were also indicted, but escaped trial after giving immunized testimony against state officials. The company’s corporate parent is the UK communications and printing firm De La Rue, which even as we speak is churning out the colonial currency notes for the new Iraq, courtesy of a hefty Coalition contract. De La Rue, in turn, is owned by the private equity firm Madison Dearborn–a partner of the Carlyle Group, where George Bush I makes millions trolling the world for war pork, privatizations and sweetheart deals with government insiders.

Investigations by Bev Harris, Thom Hartmann and many others have forced some of these concerns about computer voting into the edge of the mainstream. Maryland, for example, was so worried about its fat new contract with Diebold that it hired another company to vet the software: SAIC. On the surface, this seems a bit like asking Pepsi to certify the taste of Coke, as top SAIC executives have now spun off into the vote-counting game. These include former CEO Admiral Bill Owens–former military aide to Dick Cheney and Carlyle honcho Frank Carlucci–and ex-CIA director Robert Gates, of Iran-Contra fame. Another SAIC executive, David Kay, has been hired by the Bushists to "find" Iraq’s elusive weapons of mass destruction. SAIC’s long history of fraud charges and security lapses in its electronic systems hasn’t prevented it from becoming one of the largest contractors for the Pentagon and the CIA–and it will doubtless pose little obstacle to its entrance into election engineering.

The mad rush to install unverifiable computer voting is driven by the Help America Vote Act, signed by Bush last year. The chief lobbying group pushing for HAVA was a consortium of arms dealers–those disinterested corporate citizens–including Northop-Grumman and Lockheed-Martin. The bill also mandates that all states adopt the computerized "voter purge" system used by Florida’s Jeb Bush to eliminate 91,000 eligible black voters from the rolls in November 2000. This was done by a private firm, the Republican-run ChoicePoint Inc., which delivered a list of supposedly "ineligible" voters–identified by race–to Florida officials. ChoicePoint was supposed to help local officials correct any mistakes, but despite taking several million dollars for this task, they somehow neglected to do it. Now Bush’s HAVA requires that all states conduct similar operations–and no points for guessing which Republican-run private firm is gobbling up the lion’s share of those contracts. (This gives a whole new meaning to the term "whitewash").

The unelected Bush Regime now controls the government, the military, the judiciary–and the machinery of democracy itself. Absent some unlikely great awakening by the co-opted dullards of the corporate media, next November the last shreds of a genuine American republic will disappear–at the push of a button.

CHRIS FLOYD is a columnist for the Moscow Times and a regular contributor to CounterPunch. His CounterPunch piece on Rumsfeld’s plan to provoke terrorist attacks came in at Number 4 on Project Censored’s final tally of the Most Censored stories of 2002. He can be reached at: cfloyd72@hotmail.com

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