Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Apparently Some Congresscritters Get It

Well. Based on today's E.J. Dionne column, it looks like Rush Holt may be reading my blog.
I do not pretend to know how large a threat [electronic vote tampering] is. I do know that it's a threat to democracy when so many Americans doubt that their votes will be recorded accurately. And I also know that smart, computer-savvy people are concerned about these machines.

The perfectly obvious thing is for the entire country to do what a number of states have already done: require paper trails so that if we have a close election or suspect something went wrong, we have the option to go back and check the results.

So it is heartening that a diverse group -- Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives -- in Congress has proposed legislation to give everyone, even the supposedly paranoid, confidence that our elections are on the level.

The bill has been pushed by Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), with strong support from Reps. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.). It has 219 co-sponsors, which happens to be a majority of House members.

The bill requires that voting machines produce a permanent paper record that voters themselves can verify. It requires random, unannounced hand-count audits in 2 percent of all precincts to make sure the machines recorded votes properly.


"The winners will always believe the results of elections," says Holt. "But it eats away at democracy if the loser thinks that something went wrong, for accidental or malicious reasons."
That is the money quote at the end there. If the Republicans care about anything other than giving democracy the finger to prove how much they can get away with and make us effete elitist egghead liberals stamp our little feet in impotent fury, they need to back election reform. Rather than showing off their power to manipulate the electoral system, they should want to affirm the legitimacy of their electoral success.

I considered the idea that provoking craaaazy conspiracy theories about stolen elections is actually part of the plan, a tactic to marginalize the left as a bunch of hysterical, paranoid cranks. But I think it's too dangerous a game, because if those theories gain a toehold in mainstream discourse, the Republicans are in a whole world of pain. And frankly, I don't think they're sophisticated enough to calculate just how much tampering they can get away with before it becomes a legitimate story that respectable people talk about. So I think they're just in it for the votes, and the marginalization is simply their strategy for turning the fallout into a positive.

My biggest problem with this reform bill is that it doesn't go nearly far enough. Dodgy electronic voting is only one part of the puzzle, and it is necessarily a small one, because there are limits to what it can achieve without creating suspicious discrepancies in exit polling like we had in 2004. Where the real bang for the buck lies is in vote suppression, through purges of voter rolls, voter ID requirements, voter intimidation, and withholding of voting machines. These techniques keep undesirable Democratic votes out of the system entirely, and leave no slime trail of clear-cut illegality. Until these issues are addressed and repaired, Republicans can easily afford to concede paperless e-voting and make themselves look like bipartisan reformers in the process.

spork_incident has blogged on this as well. He also has conclusive proof that there is a God.

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