09 December 2011

Sweeping away irregularities 1

Another “regular” election

[The fourth part of a series of essays on the US Presidential Election 2004, written while in Florida as a member of a team of USinternational election monitors]

I am not sure who the first election monitor was.  I mean, the official, named, election monitor.  Ever since the Western World learnt about democracy and found in the idea an excellent way of pooh-poohing discontent a la “the people have so you shut up” there have been those who raised questions about the legality, legitimacy, and transparency of the process.   Somewhere down the line, there must have been more questions than answers, which is why someone would have got the bright idea of monitoring elections.  Of course, like most things, monitoring was embraced spoken, as both a remunerative business and yet another way of endorsing legitimacy of process.  The world is yet to develop the faculty of complete submission, however, and we still hear cries of foul-play.  Sometimes subdued and under-the-breath, sometimes loud and clear.  And sometimes, stuff is so unspeakably foul that even the most meticulously designed shuttering system cannot stop the bad news from spreading around.  Even in the United States of America (yes, there is a lot of tongue in my cheek).

Complaints about the refereeing typically come from the losing side.  True. So, does this mean that the loser is deemed to be out of order, out of hand, simply because he/she lost?  I don’t know.  What we do know is that there has not been a single election anywhere in the world where if the losing side happened to be Uncle Sam’s darling, Uncle Sam did not make a statement, in grave tones, about rigging and legitimacy. Yes, free-and-fair was never an issue for the USA.  What mattered, to spin Roosevelt’s infamous remark on Somoza, is not if the winner was a son of a bitch, but if he was “our son of bitch”. 

Salvador Allende was not a Rooseveltian son of bitch, for example.  Pinochet was!  Need I say more?  What is pertinent is the following assertion: Yes, it is okay to cry foul, Uncle Sam has taught the world this.  The important thing is that Democracy, that a divine being, that astral entity, intangible but worthy not just of worship, but worthy of fanatical reverence.  Yes, Democracy is such a revered deity that its followers have to be willing to kill, maim, displace, dismember and destroy in order to build its temple.  We saw this in Nicaragua, in Afghanistan, in Iraq (as we write) and probably in Cuba once Fidel Castro dies a natural death sometime in the near future.  And if killing, maiming, dismembering etc is free-and-fair, then some mild criticism cannot be out of order. 

There was a strong odor emanating from Florida in 2000, so strong that it spread all over the world.  It brought tears to the eyes of those who were naïve enough to believe that the USA was a model democracy.  The year 2004 is no different, and this is becoming increasingly clear as the foul air bursts through the tight containers called collective amnesia and nauseating euphoria 

The fairytale is that the 2004 election was free of fraud.  Sure, there was nothing like what happened in 2004.  There was, however, systematic disenfranchisement of voters by way of disinformation regarding the location of precincts, whipping up of fear psychosis regarding the possibility of arrest for traffic violation, non-payment of bills etc., and other forms of intimidation such as challenging voters at polling stations. Still, most people would agree, that Florida 2000 was not repeated to the letter.  What happened, if the initial reports trickling out from certain states are anything to go by, is that the fraudulent operated at a different, more sophisticated level.

Consider Broward Country, Florida, where the software started counting down after the number reached 32000.  Consider Collier County where 128,352 votes were cast for Bush although voter turnout was 127,409. Or Duval where he got 357 votes more than the number that actually voted.  The same goes for Glades, Highlands, Lake, Miami Dade, Okaloosa, Orange, Osceola, Leon, Palm Beach and Volusia. 

In LaPort County, Indiana, a “computer” glitch indicated that each precinct had an identical number of registered voters, 300 each, whereas there are actually more than 79,000 registered voters! According to LaPort County Clerk, Lynne Spevak, this may have been due to a power surge: “something zapped it!”  In Mecklenburg County, there had been a significant discrepancy in the original unofficial results, there being more early votes than early voters.  The culprit? Computer Glitch!

In Sarpy County, Nebraska, some votes are reported to have been counted twice.  In Carteret County, North Carolina, more than 4,000 early votes were lost because the electronic voting system could not store the volume of votes it received. The manufacturer of the voting system had said that the units could store up to 10,500 votes.  The limit was actually 3,005 votes.
In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, there had been an inverse relationship between voter turnout and support for Kerry. In Parma, at Precinct 6450, the turnout was 94%. 40% of the voters left the presidential candidate blank, according to county records.  Franklin County's unofficial results had Bush receiving 4,258 votes to Democrat John Kerry's 260 votes in a precinct in Gahanna. Records show only 638 voters cast ballots in that precinct.  An electronic voting machine added 3,893 votes to President Bush's tally in a suburban Columbus precinct, even though there are just 800 voters there.

Citing concerns about potential terrorism, Warren County officials locked down the county administration building on election night and blocked anyone from observing the vote count as the nation awaited Ohio's returns.  The Warren results, delayed for hours because of long lines that extended voting past the scheduled close of polls, were part of the last tallies that helped clinch President Bush's re-election. Bush actually received 365 votes in the precinct, Matthew Damschroder, director of the Franklin County Board of Elections, told The Columbus Dispatch.

Thom Hartman has posted an excellent piece about the possibility of hacking in Common Dreams, a progressive webzine.  He cites the inexplicably high gap between the percentage of registered Democrats and the actual pattern of voting. 

“In Baker County, Florida, for example, with 12,887 registered voters, 69.3% of them Democrats and 24.3% of them Republicans, the vote was only 2,180 for Kerry and 7,738 for Bush, the opposite of what is seen everywhere else in the country where registered Democrats largely voted for Kerry. In Dixie County, with 4,988 registered voters, 77.5% of them Democrats and a mere 15% registered as Republicans, only 1,959 people voted for Kerry, but 4,433 voted for Bush.  The pattern repeats over and over again - but only in the smaller counties where, it was probably assumed, the small voter numbers wouldn't be much noticed. Franklin County, 77.3% registered Democrats, went 58.5% for Bush. Holmes County, 72.7% registered Democrats, went 77.25% for Bush. Yet in the larger counties, where such anomalies would be more obvious to the news media, high percentages of registered Democrats equaled high percentages of votes for Kerry.”
Little drops of water make the mighty ocean, they say! As Harman point out, “Although elections officials didn't notice these anomalies, in aggregate they were enough to swing Florida from Kerry to Bush. If you simply go through the analysis of these counties and reverse the "anomalous" numbers in those counties that appear to have been hacked, suddenly the Florida election results resemble the Florida exit poll results: Kerry won, and won big.

But can computers err?  We know they can.  The problem is, how come they consistently erred in favor of George W Bush? Bev Harris, the Seattle grandmother who started www.blackboxvoting.org from her living room, has shown how. Bev points out that regardless of how the votes are tabulated, the real "counting" is done by computers. Be they Diebold Opti-Scan machines, which read paper ballots filled in by pencil or ink in the voter's hand, or the scanners that read punch cards, or the machines that simply record a touch of the screen, in all cases the final tally is sent to a "central tabulator" machine.

That central tabulator computer is a Windows-based PC. "In a voting system," Harris explains, "you have all the different voting machines at all the different polling places, sometimes, as in a county like mine, there's a thousand polling places in a single county. All those machines feed into the one machine so it can add up all the votes. So, of course, if you were going to do something you shouldn't to a voting machine, would it be more convenient to do it to each of the 4000 machines, or just come in here and deal with all of them at once?" In other words, anyone who can hack into a PC can hack into a central tabulator.  Indeed if the hacker happens to be operating the said tabulator, altering the outcome of an election and perpetrating grand electoral theft is a piece of cake!

 Diebold uses a program called GEMS, which fills the screen of the PC and effectively turns it into the central tabulator system. "This is the official program that the County Supervisor sees," she said on national television, pointing to a PC that was sitting between them loaded with Diebold's software. “Diebold wrote a pretty good program and you can’t tamper with the software, but it is running on a Windows PC. But all you have to do is to open the vote count in a database program like Excel and flip the numbers!  It can be done in 90 seconds flat!”
Yes the year 2004 is no different.  There is foul air bursting through the carpets.  The mainstream media and the people in general in the United States of America must be pretty odor-insensitive not to notice, not to comment.  It was, in the final analysis, another son-of-a-bitch of an election.  The people of the United States have to decide whether it is their son of a bitch or someone else’s son of a bitch.