5 Reasons Karl Rove Is NOT Going To Electronically Steal This Election
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4. Will millions of votes disappear on paperless machines?
That’s the thesis of Harper’s November cover story. It posits that voting machines that rely on computer touch screens and memory cards in key swing states like Pennsylvania and Virginia might massively fail—losing big blocks of votes. These worries are compounded because these computers are getting old, which, as everyone knows, means they are less reliable.
It's true that there’s no recount possible with most of the voting machines in these two states (you can look up what voting technology is used in your state here), which is not good. But there's a bunch of newer stuff that Harpers doesn't say, making things seem more dark than necessary. Also, the Harper’s piece completely ignores two other far-less-sexy issues that have led to millions of votes being lost across the country in recent elections: bungled voter registration bureaucracy and poll worker error. (This new CalTech-MIT report discusses all of these trends).
What’s missing from Harper’s? First, the use of paperless voting machines for nearly a decade has lead election officials, poll workers and voters to know what can go wrong in various phases of their use: from calibrating and testing before being deployed; to problems that a voter might face—such as choosing the wrong candidate, to recovering votes from digital memory cards. Most issues are known, as are the fixes to be taken.
Moreover, in some states—like California—paperless machines have been segregated to help people with disabilities, or replaced by optical-scanners using a paper ballot that can be recounted. The Harper’s report does not give readers any idea that election observers know these pitfalls and problems, and can take corrective steps. It suggests there might be massive voting failures, but cannot point to one in recent years where millions of votes vanished.
Finally, consider this counterpoint at CountingVotes.org. This summer, three respected voting rights organizations, Common Cause, the Verified Voting Foundation and Rutgers University School of Law/Newark issued a report grading states on their readiness for the 2012 election. It's notable that Ohio was among the six states earning its top rating. Florida was in the second-best tier.
5. Will old-school voter intimidation and suppression come into play?
This refers to all the steps that have been taken by the GOP in recent years to complicate the voting process, discourage participation and scare off new voters. As this recent report on Florida by DEMOS’ Tova Wang describes, these threats are real and have had an impact in 2012—in the Sunshine States and elsewhere.
But it’s also important to note that the GOP’s systematic interference—from new voter ID laws, to curbs on voter registration groups, to attempts to roll back early voting—have largely been beaten back in court this year. While there has been some thuggish behavior by GOP partisans—billboards to scare non-white voters, mailings and calls giving wrong information—the spectrum and scope of these vigilante and deceptive activities is sporadic and does not appear to be well-coordinated.
Moreover, people are watching—from voters themselves, to election protection groups staffed by lawyers, to political parties and presidential campaigns. The media has covered the GOP’s myriad voter suppression efforts and warned of obstacles that voters will face. In Florida, that includes one of the longest ballots in years—taking more time and likely causing waiting lines at polls. It includes changed polling locations and early voting hours.
That is not to say these worries are unfounded—but they are problems with the politics and legal fine print, not with the machinery. Florida’s GOP changed that state’s recount law—saying a recount can come only after the official count is turned in. Ion Sancho, the longtime county election supervisor in Leon County where the state capital is located, gave Florida an “F” for its testing, recount and audit process in this recent Miami CBS-TV report. But it’s also true that Florida election supervisors have stood up for voters against their GOP governor this year. They don’t want a repeat of 2000.