The rise of the machines


The decline of democracy in the US – after black voters were purged from Florida’s electoral roll in the 2000 election clearing the way for Bush to steal the Presidency – appears to continue its downward slide with the introduction of electronic voting machines.

As anyone who has ever been prey to an email virus or tried to correct a data mistake after their phone has been mysteriously cut off will know – computers are not infallible.

These electronic machines leave no paper trail, thus defying a central tenet of democracy – that votes should be externally verifiable. That means there is no way to check your vote has been registered correctly, nor any method by which a meaningful recount may be conducted. Moreover, the software used to program the machines is not open to public scrutiny because of ‘commercial confidentiality’. Moves to amend this are still under discussion in Congress.

But if this all sounds paranoid, listen to Walden O’Dell at a Republican fundraiser last year: ‘I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the President next year.’ O’Dell is chief executive of Diebold Inc, whose voting machines are already in use across the US.

The introduction of these machines are part of the Help America Vote Act, signed by Bush in 2002 and encompassing the broadest voting reforms in a generation. They also require each state to computerize, centralize and ‘clean up’ voter rolls: as investigative journalist Greg Palast points out, precisely the technique that distorted the 2000 vote in Florida. The Voting Technology Project, a joint venture of the prestigious Massachusetts and California Institutes of Technology, says between four and six million votes were lost in the 2000 election due to flaws in the voter rolls. On the subject of electronic voter machines, the VTP researchers also reported that no method worked more reliably than hand-counting paper ballots.