The big losers on Election Day were of course President Bush and the Republican Party, but there was another loser too: the conspiracy theory that had it that a slick operation run out of Karl Rove’s office, and working in cahoots with the makers of the electronic voting machines increasingly being installed by voting districts around the country would steal the key elections electronically.
I always felt that this conspiracy theory was over the top, and that it moreover was having the pernicious effect of creating massive cynicism about elections that would keep many people from voting who otherwise might have.
There’s no way to know how many people didn’t go to the polls because they decided that it would be a waste of time, but I sure have heard plenty of people saying, over the past year, “What’s the point? The Republicans are going to steal the election anyway.”
Well, if they were ever going to steal an election, this would have been the one to do it to. The last thing a criminal president whose popularity is in the cellar needs is a Congress armed with subpoena power in the hands of the opposition party. Surely, if Karl Rove could have tinkered with the numbers on those voting machines in just a few dozen districts, or in states like Montana or Virginia where the margin was a few thousand votes, and where the key voter registrar officials were fellow Republicans, he would have done it.
Instead, we saw dozens of congressional races and a handful of key Senate races switch to the Democrats, and sometimes by the narrowest of margins.
I am certain that Rove and his legions of dirty tricksters did their level best to intimidate and discourage minority and low-income urban voters from going to the polls. Greg Palast and others have ably demonstrated how Republicans have mastered the art of removing people from the rolls who should not be removed, of tricking people into thinking they’d registered to vote when they hadn’t, and of threatening some groups of voters–mostly blacks and Hispanics–into not voting for fear of being arrested on some trumped-up charge. There have also been plenty of documented cases of Republican Party attempts to establish burdensome and illegal photo ID requirements. All these things have certainly lowered Democratic vote totals by millions of votes.
But the systematic tampering with voting machines that some warned would happen and that people have claimed happened in 2004 and 2000, simply didn’t occur–and I suspect didn’t occur those years either.
I’m not saying it couldn’t be done from a purely technical point of view. Techies at Princeton have proven that the machines made by Diebold can be hacked. Others have hacked machines made by Sequoia Systems. And certainly if ATM machines can be made reasonably safe and reliable, voting machines should be able to be made equally so. But all that being said, showing it can be done, and actually having it done are two very different things.
Certainly the idea of having elections that use electronic voting machines which keep no paper record of votes is stupid and is just asking for trouble. Just consider the election district where a voting official forgot to push “save” to record the vote totals before turning off the machine! Or consider the Virginia Senate race, where they can’t really do a recount even if Sen. Allen wants one, because a third of the voting machines have no paper record of what voters did. We don’t do our ATM business without a receipt, or buy gas at a pump by credit card without a receipt, so why on earth would we accept the idea of voting without a receipt?
So let’s fix the system so it has a verifiable paper trail.
But let’s also stop the paranoia about massive vote-stealing conspiracies.
Karl Rove is about as much a genius as George Bush is a talented leader. The sinking ship of the Bush administration and the Republican Party is proving that. The way I see it, if you can be beaten by the current Democratic Party, you’ve got to be pretty pathetic!
Instead of telling people that the Republicans are going to hack the vote, we should be telling people that voting is a critical responsibility. We should also be fixing the election system so that the real threats to a fair vote–the impediments to voting that we know are being erected by Republicans–become illegal.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s new book is “The Case for Impeachment“,
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org