On Jan. 2, 2004, God told Pat Robertson
that George W. Bush would be re-elected. Or rather, that was the
day Robertson announced the communiqué. Since 1998,
newspapers have published stories on the “aura of
inevitability” that surrounds Bush, as if he really is
“The Chosen One,” as his mother has called him. And
Bush himself has clearly stated that he will be elected once again.
He is not so much an incumbent as an incarnation. What could
possibly make Republicans so confident about themselves?

Steve Cotner

It begins with the 2000 selection, which was pulled off without
too much trouble. In that year, we know from Greg Palast’s
reporting in the Guardian and Salon that Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida
“moved to purge 57,700 people from the voter rolls,
supposedly criminals not allowed to vote. Most were innocent of
crimes, but the majority were guilty of being Black.”
That’s what made the vote so close — not any hanging
chads, pregnant chads, sadomasochist chads, etc. But even with this
ethnic cleansing, the vote was not delivered for Bush. So, as the
Florida Supreme Court became dangerously close to a Gore victory,
the U.S. Supreme Court stole it out of its jurisdiction and invoked
the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection clause — a
protection for minorities that the 5-to-4 Republican majority
ordinarily avoids like the plague — in order to say that some
60,000 “undervotes” should be thrown out in order to
protect the “fundamental right to vote.” Vincent
Bugliosi’s account in The Nation and the book that came of
it, “The Betrayal of America,” survive as the
unchallenged documentation of this crime against democracy.

So with that, Bush completed his quiet coup d’etat, mostly
undetected, while our reporters were busy laughing at punch-card
terminology. Now he has promised to do it again, and we have no
reason to doubt him. The 2002 Help America Vote Act has has done
two things for Republicans: first, it requires all states to follow
a Florida-style computerization of voter files, and then empowers
Secretaries of state to purge “suspect” voters. Second,
it provides a half billion dollars to move states into computerized
voting machines, and three companies have stepped in to help us
wayward voters. All of them Election Systems & Software,
Diebold, and Sequoia — have strong ties with the Bush
administration and other Republicans, along with the major defense
contractors Northrup-Grumman, Lockheed-Martin, Electronic Data
Systems and Accenture. ES&S and Diebold are owned by brothers
Bob and Todd Urosevich, who will be counting about 80 percent of
the votes cast in 2004. Bob, the CEO of Diebold, is a Bush
fundraising pioneer and has promised publicly to deliver the vote
for Bush in 2004.

How could he do that? The Diebold method is much cleaner than
dealing with felon lists and Supreme Court decisions. In the 2000
election, Diebold simply added and subtracted where it liked. In
Volusia County, Fla., 4,000 erroneous votes appeared for Bush, and
10,000 votes went to the Socialist Workers Party (half of their
nationwide total), while Al Gore actually received negative 16,022
votes. Yes, negative. Bev Harris documents this and nearly every
other voter machine fraud since 1980 in her book “Black Box
Voting,” which is freely available online.

OK, then, some people want to rig our elections. What1s new? As
Harris points out, we’ve been conducting elections for more
than a dozen centuries, and at one time or another, every system
ever designed has been rigged. But today the whole country is in
the hands of a few men and their army of programmers who hide from
public inquiry under proprietary contracts to protect “trade
secrets.” Our own desires are incidental to those of the
election industry. A company programmer can install a backdoor
hit-and-run code set to activate itself on Nov. 2, change the
original votes and then destroy itself. Every step of the
transaction is vulnerable to fraud. Whole ballot boxes hang on for
life in tiny memory cards, easily lost and replaced without a
trace.

This is not some vague complaint about new technology. It is
about the very specific group of men behind it, who now have the
power to simulate democracy undetected. Even if Kerry is elected,
the system is still the same. We cannot wait to be outraged when a
dictator takes power: The trap has already been laid. The radical
historian Howard Zinn likes to say that elections are not the most
important thing, that social activist movements are what forced
abolition and civil rights. But at a time when our votes are being
rewritten by the right-wing’s pet computer algorithms, a lost
election takes on a whole new meaning. It no longer means the
pendulum is swinging this way or that. It means it has stopped. We
are entering an age where democracy will no longer be a grassroots
thing. It will be completely underground.

 

Cotner can be reached at
“mailto:cotners@umich.edu”>cotners@umich.edu

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