Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Don't Blame Me: I Voted on a Diebold Machine

That's one of my new bumpersticker ideas. I have others. My favorite other one, in terms of million dollar ideas, is "Said Yes to Drugs." I figure that it might be funny to slap that on dad's car, except that they might get confused and think that it was Rush Limbaugh at the wheel. My personal favorite, not in terms of the millions I could have made, is "I'd Rather Be Sleeping."

At any rate, the slogan is true enough, above. We have a number of I'm an X and I Vote ("I Hear Voices, and I Vote"), per a previous blog post, but we also have a cliche of "Don't Blame Me, I Voted Budweiser Frogs" and others of that ilk. It began as a demonstration of dissent, but it then got to be a joke in its own right -- first a rueful one and then a forgetful one.

"Democracy is the theory that the common man knows what he wants and deserves to get it good and hard." -- H. L. Mencken

See, the problem these days is that we didn't vote Kodos, didn't vote Kerry, surely didn't vote Gore. Nor did we vote Bush, of course. What we voted was Diebold. We all know that Diebold machines can be hacked, if we've been paying any attention to computers or the news. From Finnish hackers to Princeton professors, anyone can hack a Diebold. HBO showed a documentary about BlackBox Voting called "Hacking Democracy" the night of the election rather than the night before. Ok, so clever computer scientists like the chimpanzee can hack the voting machines, but so what? Can't corrupt county bosses do the same with paper ballots and manual machines? Well, yes, but there is a much greater insecurity now than there used to be when Sheriff Cletus had his hand on your hand on the lever: Diebold machines are centrally produced, distributed, and collected up, and all the data must go upstream to a single point.

In other words, it's hard to manipulate a vote to change a state wide election, when it's paper or mechanical. It's hard to manipulate a vote to change the county commissioner, when it's centrally controlled. Given the fact that Walden O'Dell, CEO of Diebold, raised more than $100,000.00 for George W. Bush, that he vowed to "do anything (he) could" to give Bush Ohio in 2004, and the fact that all the votes have to go upstream to a counting system (which can be hacked) from memory cards that each have executable files on them (which can be hacked) and that altering either program shows no intruders, we have a pretty dark horizon out there.

But The Geogre, you say, the Democrats won! Why are you bitching? I'm bitching because we may have won in spite of the voting machines. I'm bitching because, so far, every time there has been a recount where receipts are measured against recorded totals, Democrats have gained votes. I'm bitching because George Allen quit before a recount, when it's possible that the recount would not have made him look very good. I'm bitching because the vote is centralized in the hands of commercial vendors, and it's possible for a single corrupt person to swing a nation or a state wherever he wishes. I don't mean O'Dell, either. I mean an "unaffiliated group" somewhere, like the people who "served with John Kerry in Vietnam" (meaning that they served in Vietnam, not that they were in the Navy, that they were on the lines, or that they were on the boat with him) who just knew that he didn't deserve his medals.

When Sheriff Cletus coerces me, I know who it is. When a faceless freak with a Palm Pilot can knock me out of the booth and waft his employer into office, I get upset. The strong arm on my hand is bad, but the thumb on the scale is worse. I'm free to vote on the Diebold, but I'm not free to have the vote go through. It's rather like a videogame vote: it makes me feel happy, but it doesn't actually accomplish anything. You can play Halo all you want, but you're not Jack Bauer, and you can go vote with your Diebold all you want, but you're not participating in democracy, not unless we decentralize the process.

Anarchy in voting is bad, but it's better than a commercial vendor. For profit voting? Think about what we have invisibly and silently chosen: turning voting over to competition for profit. Should anyone be encouraged to go cheaper, faster, and with the highest margins when we're talking about voting? Why, exactly, can the government not manufacture voting machines? Why, exactly, can we not have non-profits make them? What is it about voting that makes the most profitable (and therefore those with the greatest ability to advertise, to organize junkets, to sweet talk, to man the phone banks) the BEST for us? What is it about intellectual property rights that makes you think, "Yeah, I want someone to own the methods of my voting, the display and storage of the data, and the access point to it?"

This is insane.

Republicans should be as outraged as Democrats. Everyone should be stopping well short of merely wondering if O'Dell is cheating and ask whether free market profits are proper, whether proprietary encoding is proper, and whether or not we need to have a Democracy Incorporated deciding how many votes to count, if not where they go.

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