Thursday, April 13, 2006

Let's Call The Whole Thing Off

No one seriously thought that this was going to be easy. After more than forty years of the old gray lever voting machines, federal law demands that we switch to something more modern and sophisticated. Here in Allegheny County, we (and by "we" I mean "people who are in charge of most of us") have rejected two electronic voting machines and are now looking at the third option. There's still over a month before the primary, but that leaves little time to get new machines in place. Some people agree, and are fighting to stop the changeover from taking place so soon:

A group of Allegheny County residents and the national People for the American Way filed suit in U.S. District Court yesterday to block the county from switching to touch-screen voting machines and paper ballots for the May 16 primary election.
The fact that the organization People for (a left-wing vision of) the American Way is a plaintiff casts a pall over the suit, yet some good may come out of this: We might get our old machines back, at least for a little while:

The group is seeking an injunction to require the county to continue using its lever machines instead of the iVotronic machines the county agreed to purchase last week from Election Systems & Software, or ES&S, for $11.9 million. The ES&S machines were the county's second choice after machines manufactured by Sequoia Voting Systems failed to pass state certification tests.
"Second choice"? Didn't I say "third choice" up above? Yes I did -- just like you forgot Poland, you also forgot Diebold. Our local civic fathers opted not to even consider Diebold because they are tools of the vast right-wing conspiracy, in case you've been ignoring the whiny excuses for why John Kerry isn't president today.

The lawsuit, with local community activist Celeste Taylor as the lead plaintiff, claims there isn't enough time to train poll workers and voters properly on the use of the new machines, and that the new machines are not fully accessible to voters with certain disabilities.
The suit makes more sense as you learn more about it. Poll workers need to know what the heck they're doing. At my polling station, most of the workers look as though they've been at it since before the lever machines were put in use. I doubt that these old ladies will have an easy time trying to learn the intricacies of the iVotronic. They may well experience a good deal of confusion, and that will transfer to those of us trying to come in, vote, and leave so we can go to work.

The disability issue is a major concern. This isn't about access to private property; this is about limiting people's ability to exercise a civil right. Not that the county hasn't thought about that already:

...the county unveiled plans to equip one of the two machines at each precinct with "sip and puff" technology, which allows disabled voters with restricted mobility to cast their ballots without assistance.
So what happens if we don't get these machines in place within the next month and a half?

If the county is not in compliance with the federal law by the May primary, it could face legal action from the U.S. Justice Department, including the loss of a $12 million grant to be used to purchase the new machines and fund an educational campaign for voters and election workers.
Of course this is federal tax money at work -- the law was passed in the wake of a controversial presidential election. Wouldn't it make more sense, then, to give it a 2008 deadline? The way things are going, this could screw up local and state elections.

Here's a good point made by one of the activists pressing the lawsuit:

That pressure from the federal government is forcing the county into a precarious position, Ms. Taylor said.

"I would hope that the [federal government] would chill out," she said. "They really need to realize what is happening here. Are we going to put a price tag on people's right to vote?"

Apparently we are. The federal government is behaving like the mob here. "Do what we say, when we tell you to, or you don't get what ya got coming to you." The only thing missing is G-men in body armor coming down on us like a pack of rats and wrecking the old voting machines with baseball bats. It's not government, it's Gangstament! And people wonder why we right-wingers are so cynical about the system. Government is supposed to work for us, not vice-versa.

County Chief Executive Dan Onorato has previously called the federal law "the biggest waste of federal money I've ever seen."
Onorato is a Democrat, but he's better than most of them when it comes to fiscal matters, especially when they affect the running of county government. It's unfortunate, then, that, owing to his position, he has been named as a defendant in the lawsuit, because it sure as heck sounds like he's on their side in this -- and so am I.


ConcernedVoter06 said...

This was in Investor's Business Daily. May be of interest.

Hugo Wants Your Vote
Posted 4/5/2006

Elections: If 9-11 taught us anything, it was to be wary of asym- metrical threats from hostile entities no matter what size. We might just get ambushed again if the Venezuelan government ends up controlling our elections.

Don't think it can't happen. A Venezuelan-linked company called Smartmatic has bought out a U.S. electronic voting device firm called Sequoia, which holds contracts for elections in Chicago and elsewhere.

U.S. foreign investment bureaucrats aren't worried because no military secrets are involved. But that kind of thinking can blindside our democratic institutions as we look for threats to our hardware.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is the foremost meddler in foreign elections in the Western hemisphere and has been accused of secretly financing candidates in Peru, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Mexico. Why wouldn't he be interested in influencing vote outcomes here?

He's already trying to influence our politics through a congressional lobbying effort and a cheap fuel program for welfare recipients explicitly linked to congressional participation.

These and other shenanigans signal interest in influencing perceptions in the U.S.

There's plenty of domestic white noise about electronic machines to cloud the issue. But the problems Chavez could cause are in a different league.

Even as regulators dismiss security threats, the performance of Smartmatic in Venezuela's own elections raises questions.

For example, 82% of voters there sat out last December's Smartmatic-operational congressional race on shattered confidence in the system.

The Smartmatic machines are capable of controlling the speed at which votes are transmitted, creating long lines to discourage voting. They can also instantaneously tally as results come in, giving favored sides information to manipulate turnout.

Mathematicians accuse them of flipping results. And combined with fingerprint machines, they can match votes to voters, violating ballot secrecy.

There may be no problem with Smartmatic working U.S. elections, but just wait for a close call and see how credible the result will be. With as many problems as U.S. elections have seen, the one thing it doesn't need is to import Venezuela's electoral wreckage.

jipzeecab said...

Of course I spent an hour the other day explaining to my mother why these machines we are getting are not even new but used ones from I think Chicago. She didn't like the idea of us having sloppy seconds for voting machines and couldn't understand why if they were so damn modern why weren't they still being used where they were first installed...