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Thursday, 05 March 2015 07:33

Computerized Vote Counting: The Hole in United States' Political Bucket

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2015.5.3 BF Simon2(Photo: Keith Bacongco )JONATHAN D. SIMON FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Last month, I attended the Ninth Annual Voting And Elections Summit in Washington, hosted by Fair Vote, The Lawyers' Committee For Civil Rights Under Law, US Vote Foundation, and Overseas Vote Foundation, each a progressive organization dedicated to the betterment of elections in the United States. The summit was indeed a gathering of very bright, motivated, devoted, and patriotic individuals and organizations, whose efforts I deeply appreciate.

It was undercut, however, by a tragic, widely shared blindspot regarding the core vulnerability of the American vote counting process, both in theory and in concrete political bottom-line fact. That process, in the computerized voting era, has become and remains unobservable, offering an open invitation to targeted manipulation sweeping in its cumulative effect.

Many inadequacies of our electoral politics were addressed at the summit and many excellent ideas and reforms proposed. But my takeaway, as has often been the case at such well-intended gatherings, was that for all our attempts to redress the visible flaws of our imperfect voting system - from gerrymandering to Big Money to voter suppression to the Electoral College - if at the end of the day radically partisan and secretive outfits that provide the hardware and software that run our privatized system are counting the votes in the darkness of cyberspace, all those other reforms and initiatives will turn out to be unavailing in their effect. We have given Karl Rove, or any operative who views the bottom line and every means of "improving" it with gleeful cynicism, no reason not to keep right on smiling.

We can talk about the progress of democracy, talk about hope, pat each other encouragingly on the back. But the hard reality is that, courtesy of forensically red-flagged down-ballot routs like in 2010 and 2014 coupled with not-much-less-suspect damage control in the "blue" years of 2006, 2008, and 2012 - we now have, across the US, governmental representation more Republican than at any time since the Hoover presidency. And "Republican" itself has come to stand for something far more extreme than Hoover (or Nixon, or possibly even Reagan himself) could have imagined. Indeed, were Hoover or Nixon on the scene today, each would be unelectabl-y "liberal."

Does that remotely square with a fair reading of the current political sentiments of the American electorate? Does it square with a Congressional Approval Rating that plummeted to single digits in 2011 - once the Tea Party-driven new-GOP that took control of the US House in 2010 had begun to pursue its agenda - and has remained there ever since? Does it square with a parade of progressive ballot propositions (pro-choice, pro-environment, pro-public healthcare, pro-minimum wage increase, etc.) that passed in 2014 by landslide margins even in red and purple states, while the right-wing candidates who made opposition to these very initiatives the centerpiece of their campaigns were nevertheless somehow elected? Does it square with exit polls? Does it square with pre-election polls? Does it square with post-election polls? And finally, does it square with a claim that the hard and dedicated work of electoral reformers such as those gathered for the Ninth Annual Voting and Elections Summit has borne any real fruit?

Unfortunately the answer to each of these questions is No. The current political representation of the American public, the bottom-line result of America's unobservable counted elections, is more grotesquely out of sync with every other measure of the public will than it has been at any time since the achievement of general adult suffrage. It is easy enough to follow the media in refusing to connect the dots: a ridiculously vulnerable vote counting system; operatives with a just-win, ends-justify-the-means ethic, plenty of motivation, and access to the programming pipeline; a host of glaring forensic red flags; and the bizarre distortion and transformation of American politics we are now witnessing. Even for those who suspect a grave and growing malignancy, it is somehow comforting to see it as a function of strictly overt processes - gerrymandering and the like - politics as usual.

How do you tell the heavy-hitters at the summit that they are spitting at the wrong spot, or at the very least missing a critical one (with only our national, and indeed global, future riding on it)? We who aspire to electoral integrity would be far too bright to keep trying to fill a bucket without checking it for a hole, so why aren't we bright enough to apply that same logic to a voting system that has a fatal flaw, a hole in its bucket that keeps showing up on our forensic radar?

Why is it "unthinkable" to so many of us that that glaring flaw is being exploited? Why, in the age of scandal - of Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds, fake anthrax, massive data hacks and identity thefts, secret surveillance programs, Little League ringers! - do we continue collectively to act as if our elections, the highest stakes game of all, are essentially immune, worthy only of partial and, it must be said, desultory scrutiny and protection? Why isn't observable vote counting the very first priority of all who seek to rescue our democracy from the quicksand into which it has wandered?

An observable count is a voting right and, until we collectively recognize it as such and concertedly act to secure it, our sovereignty will continue tragically to disappear through the hole in the bottom of America's political bucket.