|June 7, 2006|
Jim Crow Goes Digital
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
An excerpt from "Armed Madhouse":
JIM CROW GOES DIGITAL
Sharp readers notice that I've avoided a lot of the talk about computer voting and evidence that those computer "black-box" machines were just plain fixed. That's because we have a less dramatic answer at hand for missing votes: "There's this Hollywood idea of stealing them [elections]...this sexual thing where, ‘Ah, man! We caught'em!' and they were switching votes on the computer and stuff like that," Santiago Juárez told me, frustrated that Anglo "reformers" cared more about the unknown dangers of touchscreen machines and couldn't give a rat's ass about IDs for low riders.
"But actually, elections are stolen in ways that aren't elegant -- they're not Hollywoodish -- but they are real effective at suppressing the vote."
But computers can add a high-tech touch to the old game: Generating lots and lots of digital spoilage; and unlike punch cards, it's hard to detect, impossible to correct. And the Lords of the Voting Universe know it, and that drives Ion Sancho just nuts. The dean of Florida's elections supervisors is the one who posted the zero-spoilage perfect election count in 2002. He knew all about the Gadsden "Black-out" machines before the 2000 election and warned Governor Bush and his Secretary of State Katherine Harris.
Katherine, as her last act before moving to Congress, ordered all counties to switch to computer "touch screens." Now, that's downright odd, says Sancho, because:
1. Computer touch screens produce unrecorded votes at a rate 600% higher than paper ballots with "try it again" scanners.
2. Computer touch screens cost 400% more than the paper-and scanner combo.
3. With paper, you can recount the vote, check the vote and see with your eyeballs how the voter voted.
With computers -- forget it. So, why in the world would politicians rush to put in the system that costs a whole lot more, loses many more votes and can't be audited? Could the answer be that it's not their votes that are lost? The giant differential in spoilage between paper and computer is far higher in minority precincts than white ones, by a factor of three. And someone likes it that way.
One such someone is Governor Jeb Bush. After the 2000 embarrassment, Governor Bush appointed a high-sounding "Select Task Force on Elections Procedures." Apparently, Jeb Bush didn't select carefully because these experts, to his dismay, called for using paper ballots statewide. They rejected computers. Never mind. Bush overruled them. You can't recount a computer vote -- something the Bush family finds attractive. Florida's statutory right to a recount in close races was frustrating Jeb's desire to digitize democracy. The problem was overcome by Jeb Bush's replacement for Katherine Harris, Republican Glenda Hood. She helped her boss by issuing a fiat, voiding the right to recount ballots for counties with computer voting. Leon County elections supervisor Sancho objected. Hood replies that Sancho is "not a team player." He certainly isn't. Just for fun, and calling on my rusting skills as an adjunct professor of statistics, I asked Sancho, prior to the 2004 election, to calculate with me the number of Florida votes that would be spoiled because of computerization.
The prediction proved accurate in November 2004, with over 25,000 votes lost in computers in the counties where 53.6% of the state's African-Americans vote. Governor Jeb gave computers a test run in 2002 in Broward County. The computer system was chosen over the objections of Broward's Democratic elections supervisor, Miriam Oliphant. On the day of the 2002 gubernatorial primaries, the new computers crashed, machines wouldn't boot up into operating mode and, all agree, thousands of African-Americans lost their vote. In other words, the test was a success and the vote-eating system was immediately rolled out statewide. (In response to the computer fiasco, Jeb Bush fired the supervisor who had objected to their use.
He replaced her, a Black Democrat, with a Republican who would become, as we will see, very helpful to George Bush in the 2004 race.) If computers were good enough for Florida, they were good enough for America. Brother George's Help America Vote Act pushed $2 billion at the states to go digital.
Voting's Private Parts
Before the voting in November 2004, New Mexico's Secretary of State assured me that the voting machines were A-OK and would work perfectly. After the voting, she declared she would clean up the mess she promised could not occur. For the cleanup she hired Ernie Marquez.
Ernie certainly had experience with electoral disaster: He had been the elections director of McKinley County -- you remember, the Navajo county with the highest vote loss in the state, if not the country. Ernie's first task was to deal with questions about the handling of the 2004 vote tally by a private company, AES, Automated Election Services. Ernie knew all about AES. Between his misplacing Navajo votes in McKinley County and taking over the entire state's elections system, he worked for...AES.
The Secretary of State likes Ernie and AES. And they like her. Enough so that, state records show, in 2002 when Ernie was at AES, the company printed, gratis, the Secretary of State's campaign literature. This was just too much affection for Holly Jacobson. Holly's a soccer mom with a heightened sense of justice and a nose for baloney. She gathered some locals with similarly bad attitudes and good computer skills, pooled some cash, registered themselves as "Voter Action New Mexico," and teamed with a big-shot elections lawyer from California.
Now, the Secretary of State was hit with one nasty lawsuit to investigate the poltergeist votes and missing ballots. The case continues. Holly's crew asked Ernie for the "canvass" reports of vote details from each machine in the state. Ernie didn't have it in his state office. The vote totals were kept by his old employer, AES. Note what's happening: "privatization" of the voting system. States have been purchasing more than touch screens. They are outsourcing the blood and bones of vote counting.
In New Mexico, AES tallies the count from hundreds of machines at a remote location. Their work is mysterious, proprietary and beyond the scope of public scrutiny. Effectively, the privateers call the winners. Hopefully, the voters influence their choices. In New Mexico, AES had sole control of the tally files for the presidential election. So what? Here's what: Holly's group through sources already had gotten their hands on one canvass report of the presidential vote, machine by machine. When they finally got the state's official files from AES, something had disappeared: Some of the ghost votes had vanished. Ghosts do that, I suppose. But if ghost votes could disappear so easily, just like magic, from the private company tallying the votes of the state's machines -- maybe other votes could disappear, votes from dogcatcher to votes for President of the United States. And if done on Election Day, no one would know. But I'd rather not think about that.
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