Friday, October 14, 2011

A brilliant idea, and not just for OWS

Riverdaughter suggests that the OWS movement focus on a clear, practical, achievable goal -- passage of Rush Holt's Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2005.
The bill was sponsored in 2005 and was reintroduced by Holt in 2009, probably with the sunny optimistic view that with Democrats in the driver’s seat, the bill would have a prayer. But it has been sitting in committees ever since. I guess it was too much to ask the Democrats to pass it when they had majorities in both houses, because that would have been politically astute and the right thing to do but Democrats don’t seem to have a good sense of self-preservation. Don’t expect the Republicans to do it. That’s not their thing. But if there is a movement demanding its passage, well, that would be a very big step in the right direction. Because no matter how popular this movement is, it can’t do a damn thing if there are irregularities with the voting system. When the vote is compromised and can’t be reliably verified, you’ve already lost.
Basically, this bill requires that each voting machine leave a verifiable paper trail. It will be amusing -- very, very amusing -- to see the Tea Partiers fulminate against that. (Sort of like when the baggers railed against net neutrality: Such a position gives the lie to their "grassrooots" image.)

The need for a paper trail should be obvious. See here and here.

It should be noted that Brad Friedman (author of the two posts referenced above) stands against the Holt Bill, for reasons given here. He doesn't like it because...
...the new bill fails to ban all forms of computerized touch-screen voting and, indeed, encourages it through federal funding to help jurisdictions move from DREs to similar, but non-tabulating, Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs).

We could well jump out of the frying pan, and into yet another frying pan, if the legislation passes as currently drafted.

BMDs, which often use touch-screens to allow voters to make selections, offer many of the same flaws and dangers that DRE voting systems do, such as: the possibility that votes may be flipped on the touch-screen to selections other than those chosen by the voter (as seen in state after state on DREs over the last several election cycles); failures to boot up and power outages which keep citizens from being able to vote at all; machine shortages which cause long lines, discouraging voters from waiting to vote; and the requirement for voters to attempt to verify the accuracy of their ballots on three separate occasions, before the computer-marked version of the paper ballot is actually cast.
As if the dangers of BMDs, as described above, aren't bad enough, further concerns about computer-printed ballots was illustrated by several academic studies. One, from Caltech/MIT described how some 80% of voters do not take the time to verify the accuracy of computer printed records or ballots. Another, even more disturbing, from Rice University in the Summer of 2007, found that, among those few who do bother to review the computerized summary of their selections at the end of the voting process, two-thirds of them don't notice at all when the computer has flipped a selection from one candidate to another, or changed a vote on a ballot initiative.
This is a serious argument. I think, though, that in these suspicious times the electorate can be easily trained to double-check to make sure the flipping has not occurred. Certainly, there would have been a lot of double-checking in Ohio in 2004, where many people became suspicious of the obvious signs of hugger-mugger which became apparent on that election day.

If there are too many flips, the official "just an accident" explanations will start to seem very threadbare and unpersuasive.

Lisa Pease of the Real History Archives offers a feisty response to Friedman's concerns.
Holt's bill says that an election cannot be certified until the audit has transpired.

In short, no federal election could be certified unless and until a percentage of the paper ballots had been counted by hand. So if Holt's bill institutionalizes anything, it's hand counted paper ballots, not secret software, as the hand count trumps the machine count, per specific language in the bill.

In the past, because we have no such legislation to date, paper ballots have been discounted by some courts in favor of the computer record. Holt's bill would reverse that completely, specifying in clear language that the voter-verified paper ballot is the legal ballot of record (unless it can be convincingly shown that the paper ballots had been tampered with. And even in that case, the Holt bill explicitly states that the electronic count cannot be the sole determiner of the election.)
My take? I agree with Brad that a simple all-paper system is preferable. In this situation, I dig analog over digital. If someone in Congress introduces such legislation, support that.

Until then, I say that Holt's legislation will do a lot of good. Sorry, but I think Brad, for all of his virtuous work on voting reform, is over-emphasizing the problems with Holt's approach.

One thing is for sure: Having OWS call for electoral reform will surely provide interesting spectacle when the bad guys mount a counter-propaganda campaign.

My only problem with Riverdaughter's suggested tactic is this: Electoral reform is not, in any direct sense, an economic issue. OWS is, or should be, about Wall Street versus Main Street. People who have lost their jobs want to concentrate on that. People furious at Wall Streeters who got away with moider want to concentrate on that.

Indirectly, of course, electoral reform has an impact on everything.

The enemy is libertarianism. The libertarians have made clear that they do not like and do not trust democracy, precisely because Social Security, Medicare, progressive taxation and workplace safety regulation are popular. Libertarians believe that democracy impedes their Nietzschean vision of a handful of heroic John Galtians galting heroically to the heroic heavens, trampling on the small in their smallness, fie upon them, envious knaves, let them die in the dust small small small.

Besides, I'm sick of hearing certain people spew defeatist horseshit about how we can't accomplish anything because the system is hopelessly rigged, and if you don't like what you see going on around you, your only option is to fester in your attic while listening to conspiracy theorists on the radio because there is nothing else you can do. I don't believe that spiel. Whenever I hear that spiel, I smell a libertarian in disguise.
In a supposed democracy, fair elections must be issue #1. All other outcomes flow from the outcome of elections.

The GOP knows this, and they have poured millions into redistricting and voter-ID restrictions. In my state, Missouri, we're about to vote for a mandatory photo-ID law, and even my liberal friends think it's no big deal and that "everyone" has a driver's license. (Tell that to my mom with polio and my two sisters with MS.)

The public doesn't realize how powerful the 50 secretaries of state are. Their main job is to regulate elections. That's how Ken Blackwell, who was also chair of GWB's Ohio re-election committee, was able to rig the vote in the Buckeye State (much like his counterpart Katherine Harris did in Florida four years earlier).

Blackwell is getting sued right now and may have to reveal the shenanigans in the off-site, privately controlled vote-counting center where Kerry's lead mysteriously turned into a defeat. Blackwell should be in leg irons--and so should any Ohio journalists who don't insist that this is a huge story.

On this issue in particular, keep punchin,' Joe.

(By the way, some operative misspelled "brilliant" in your headline, which is a brilliant way to sabotage everything that follows.)
I agree, Joseph. There's a lot of this: give it up, dig your trench, arm yourself to the teeth, bunker down tight and hope the storm blows over you and yours.

Well, there may be trench digging in the future but to give up before we try to push back has the whiff of fatalism to it. Or it could be the blood of a Libertarian I smell :0).

The problem with coming to an agreement of what 'is' the single goal of OWS or any future protest? There's just so-o-o much that's gone wrong. Yes, the legitimacy of elections is important but right now it's about the fraud and malfeasance on Wall St., while many in the country have suffered [with the help of friends in DC, of course]. There's simply no reason to excuse the rising rate of poverty, unemployment or the fact that 25% of American kids are now classified as 'food insecure.' And Wall St. takes bonuses, gives the rest of the country the finger?

In the late 19th century economic meltdown, bankers were hanged from lamp posts. There was a reason for that.

Peggy Sue
Peggy, I think there should not be a single goal. I do think that there should be an initial goal, and it should be chosen -- in large part -- on the "get it done" factor. How EASILY and QUICKLY can it be accomplished, in the real world?

One victory leads to the next.

Some people have told me that an initial victory will cause the movement to dissipate. I think that's crazy talk.
Oh, I'm not arguing the fact that at some point a goal will need to be established. You suggested tossing Geithner. Personally, I think that's perfectly reasonable--he's been a disaster [although I read this afternoon that Geithner is now saying that Wall St.investigations are underway and nearing completion. Is Timmy feeling ill winds blowing across his deak???]

Bill Clinton has suggested the same thing--choose a goal, be for something specific. I think the goal/demands will come from this movement. Will they be successful in pushing the reforms we so desperately need? I simply don't know. But what I do know is this is the first time I've heard actual discussion on the growing inequities enter the public sphere. That in itself is worth something.

So, I'm still watching and waiting. My local OWS is being run by an Obama lover, so I won't be getting involved here. But if the movement is still in force by next month, I'll be in Philly. I plan to check it out with my own eyes and ears. And if it lasts into and through the holidays? I plan on checking out the DC contingent.

We shall see.

Peggy Sue
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