Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Oh Crap! My Vote Will Actually Count

Okay, I'll admit I'm secretly pleased that thanks to the Democrats' split results for Super Tuesday, my vote won't be totally irrelevant - even though my nerves may put me in the loony bin by the time my primary actually rolls around on March 4. This election is giving me worse belly-butterflies than I had for my dissertation defense.

But here's the catch: I live in Ohio. Home of Diebold, evil maker of hackable voting machines. Epicenter of the 2004 election debacle.

Speaking as an Obama supporter, I think he may be able to swing Ohio, but it'll be an uphill struggle. Our Democratic governor, Ted Strickland, has already pledged his support to Clinton. This will no doubt give Clinton an organizational boost on the ground in a state that's already seen as tilting her direction. Even so, Obama's campaign coffers are full, and I think people here are hungry for hope and change.

Speaking as a proponent of democracy (a radical position these days!), I worry about bigger issues. The voting machines throughout the state are frankly junk, and they'll still be in place for our March 4 primary election. Last December, the New York Times reported
All five voting systems used in Ohio, a state whose electoral votes narrowly swung two elections toward President Bush, have critical flaws that could undermine the integrity of the 2008 general election, a report commissioned by the state’s top elections official has found.

“It was worse than I anticipated,” the official, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, said of the report. “I had hoped that perhaps one system would test superior to the others.”

At polling stations, teams working on the study were able to pick locks to access memory cards and use hand-held devices to plug false vote counts into machines. At boards of election, they were able to introduce malignant software into servers.

I'm not suggesting that Clinton's people would try to hack the machines. But even short of outright fraud, the system is vulnerable to technical snafus. For reasons both financial and logistical, it's highly unlikely that this equipment will be replaced by November, and there's no chance of any improvements before March 4.

In the fall 2006 general election, our spanking new machines malfunctioned during the counting process right here in my little town. It took hours for a tech to be located who could service them - and he then hit a deer while driving into town. We didn't know the results of our tightly contested Statehouse race for another two days. And the problems didn't end there. (The linked article is by a friend of Kittywampus, Nick Claussen, who does excellent work reporting for the Athens News, our twice-weekly independent local paper. Read it!)

Yeah, some of this is just dumb bad luck. That doesn't reassure me in the least. We've got lots more deer in them thar woods.

Map shows the distribution of voting machine shortages and other snafus. Note that my county isn't even represented on it, so the map probably understates the scope of the problem. The map is taken from Wikipedia's article on the irregularities in Ohio's November 2004 election. Read the whole piece, and abandon all hope.


Rence said...

I had a friend ask me how we could have electors who were able to switch their votes and commandeer an election. My response was "Electors don't steal elections, Ken Blackwell does." He, as Secretary of State for Ohio, both held stock in Diebold when convincing the state to use the machines and refused to step down from his position during the gubernatorial election in 2006. Scary stuff, but at least he's gone.

I read this article about a month back, and it sheds a lot of light on the debate.

I know I'm thankful that Cuyahoga county is scrapping their computerized machines and that Athens uses optical scanners with a solid paper trail to follow. Hopefully we can largely avoid the fiascoes involved in the 2004 election this time around.

Lastly, if you're ever bored, I've started a politics blog at Just figured I'd throw a plug in.

See you in class tomorrow.

Sungold said...

Rence, we can just be glad the Blackwell lost his gubernatorial bid. It's as if he's gone back to the evil galaxy from when he came. We haven't heard a peep from him.

The snafus here in Athens technically had to do with the *counting* of the ballots. I too am grateful that we have a paper trail.

And I'm delighted you've started blogging! I read through your stuff this evening and enjoyed it.