By Thom Hartmann
Thursday, November 4, 2004
The hot story in the Blogosphere is that the "erroneous" exit polls that
showed Kerry carrying Florida and Ohio (among other states) weren't
erroneous at allit was the numbers produced by paperless voting
machines that were wrong, and Kerry actually won. As more and more
analysis is done of what may (or may not) be the most massive
election fraud in the history of the world, however, it's critical that we
keep the largest issue at the forefront at all time: Why are We The
People allowing private, for-profit corporations, answerable only to their
officers and boards of directors, and loyal only to agendas and
politicians that will enhance their profitability, to handle our votes?
Maybe Florida went for Kerry, maybe for Bush. Over timeand through
the efforts of some very motivated investigative reporterswe may well
find out (Bev Harris of www.blackboxvoting.org just filed what may be
the largest Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] filing in history), and
bloggers and investigative reporters are discovering an odd
discrepancy in exit polls being largely accurate in paper-ballot states
and oddly inaccurate in touch-screen electronic voting states Even raw
voter analyses are showing extreme oddities in touch-screen-run
Florida, and eagle-eyed bloggers are finding that news organizations
are retroactively altering their exit polls to coincide with what the
machines ultimately said.
But in all the discussion about voting machines, let's never forget the
concept of the commons, because this usurpation is the ultimate
felony committed by conservatives this year.
At the founding of this nation, we decided that there were important
places to invest our tax (then tariff) dollars, and those were the things
that had to do with the overall "life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness" of all of us. Over time, these commonsin which we all make tax
investments and for which we all hold ultimate responsibilityhave
come to include our police and fire services; our military and defense;
our roads and skyways; our air, waters and national parks; and the
safety of our food and drugs.
But the most important of all the commons in which we've invested our
hard-earned tax dollars is our government itself. It's owned by us, run
by us (through our elected representatives), answerable to us, and
most directly responsible for stewardship of our commons.
And the commons through which we regulate the commons of our
government is our vote.
About two years ago, I wrote a story for these pages, "If You Want To
Win An Election, Just Control The Voting Machines," that exposed how
Senator Chuck Hagel had, before stepping down and running for the
U.S. Senate in Nebraska, been the head of the voting machine
company (now ES&S) that had just computerized Nebraska's vote. The
Washington Post (1/13/1997) said Hagel's "Senate victory against an
incumbent Democratic governor was the major Republican upset in
the November election." According to Bev Harris, Hagel won virtually
every demographic group, including many largely black communities
that had never before voted Republican. Hagel was the first Republican
in 24 years to win a Senate seat in Nebraska, nearly all on unauditable
machines he had just sold the state. And in all probability, Hagel run for
President in 2008.
In another, later article I wrote at the request of MoveOn.org and which
they mailed to their millions of members, I noted that in Georgia
another state that went all-electronic"USA Today reported on Nov. 3,
2002, 'In Georgia, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll shows
Democratic Sen. Max Cleland with a 49%-to-44% lead over Republican
Rep. Saxby Chambliss. 'Cox News Service, based in Atlanta, reported
just after the election (Nov. 7) that, "Pollsters may have goofed"
because 'Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss defeated incumbent
Democratic Sen. Max Cleland by a margin of 53 to 46 percent. The
Hotline, a political news service, recalled a series of polls Wednesday
showing that Chambliss had been ahead in none of them.'" Nearly
every vote in the state was on an electronic machine with no audit trail.
In the years since those first articles appeared, Bev Harris has
published her book on the subject ("Black Box Voting"), including the
revelation of her finding the notorious "Rob Georgia" folder on
Diebold's FTP site just after Cleland's loss there; Lynn Landes has
done some groundbreaking research, particularly her new
investigation of the Associated Press, as have Rebecca Mercuri and
David Dill. There's a new video out on the topic, Votergate, available at
Congressman Rush Holt introduced a bill into Congress requiring a
voter-verified paper ballot be produced by all electronic voting
machines, and it's been co-sponsored by a majority of the members of
the House of Representatives. The two-year battle fought by Dennis
Hastert and Tom DeLay to keep it from coming to a vote, thus insuring
that there will be no possible audit of the votes of about a third of the
2004 electorate, has fueled the flames of conspiracy theorists
convinced Republican ideologuesnow known to be willing to lie in
television advertisingwould extend their "ends justifies the means"
morality to stealing the vote "for the better good of the country" they
think single-party Republican rule will bring.
Most important, though, the rallying cry of the emerging "honest vote"
movement must become: Get Corporations Out Of Our Vote!
Why have we let corporations into our polling places, locations so
sacred to democracy that in many states even international election
monitors and reporters are banned? Why are we allowing corporations
to exclusively handle our vote, in a secret and totally invisible way?
Particularly a private corporation founded, in one case, by a family that
believes the Bible should replace the Constitution; in another case run
by one of Ohio's top Republicans; and in another case partly owned by
Of all the violations of the commonsall of the crimes against We The
People and against democracy in our great and historic republicthis
is the greatest. Our vote is too important to outsource to private
It's time that the USAlike most of the rest of the worldreturns to
paper ballots, counted by hand by civil servants (our employees) under
the watchful eye of the party faithful. Even if it takes two weeks to count
the vote, and we have to just go, until then, with the exit polls of the
news agencies. It worked just fine for nearly 200 years in the USA, and
it can work again.
When I lived in Germany, they took the vote the same way most of the
world doespeople fill in hand-marked ballots, which are
hand-counted by civil servants taking a week off from their regular jobs,
watched over by volunteer representatives of the political parties. It's
totally clean, and easily audited. And even though it takes a week or
more to count the vote (and costs nothing more than a bit of overtime
pay for civil servants), the German people know the election results the
night the polls close because the news media's exit polls, for two
generations, have never been more than a tenth of a percent off.
We could have saved billions that have instead been handed over to
ES&S, Diebold, and other private corporations.
Or, if we must have machines, let's have them owned by local
governments, maintained and programmed by civil servants
answerable to We The People, using open-source code and
disconnected from modems, that produce a voter-verified printed ballot,
with all results published on a precinct-by-precinct basis.
As Thomas Paine wrote at this nation's founding, "The right of voting for
representatives is the primary right by which all other rights are
protected. To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery."
Only when We The People reclaim the commons of our vote can we
again be confident in the integrity of our electoral process in the world's
oldest and most powerful democratic republic.
Thom Hartmann (thom at thomhartmann.com) is a Project Censored
Award-winning best-selling author and host of a nationally syndicated
daily progressive talk show. www.thomhartmann .com His most recent
books are The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, Unequal Protection:
The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights,
We The People: A Call To Take Back America, and What Would Jefferson Do?: A Return To Democracy.