Voting irregularities, 2006 edition — and No Umbrella

The early reports of election irregularities in Florida really burn me up.

If you’re just joining us: in Broward County, traditionally a Democratic stronghold, some voters are finding their choices flipped from the Democratic candidate to the Republican.

Debra A. Reed voted with her boss on Wednesday at African-American Research Library and Cultural Center near Fort Lauderdale. Her vote went smoothly, but boss Gary Rudolf called her over to look at what was happening on his machine. He touched the screen for gubernatorial candidate Jim Davis, a Democrat, but the review screen repeatedly registered the Republican, Charlie Crist.

That’s exactly the kind of problem that sends conspiracy theorists into high gear — especially in South Florida, where a history of problems at the polls have made voters particularly skittish.

Those zany conspiracy theorists. If only they’d remember to take their Wellbutrin.

After all, Broward Supervisor of Elections spokeswoman Mary Cooney tells us it’s “not uncommon for screens on heavily used machines to slip out of sync, making votes register incorrectly,” but the poll workers can fix things, so there’s no need to be alarmed. “No machines have been removed during early voting,” she says, “and she is not aware of any serious problems.” (Emphasis added.)

Is it just me? Or is the possible miscounting of any vote in a democracy a serious fucking problem?

Especially in a state like Florida, where you have a few hundred votes deciding national elections, where you repeatedly find that the exit polls don’t match results, and where the election chief of a major county has conducted tests showing that electronic results “can be manipulated under the right conditions, without a person even leaving a fingerprint.”

Even leaving aside the vote switcheroo scenario, how do we know the machines are recording the votes as cast? No one checks each vote as it comes in. No one receives a receipt denoting his or her choice. And when the touch screen reflects a ballot cast for the wrong candidate, the elections supervisor says there are no serious problems.

From election to election the same problems surface in Florida, the same questions are raised, and nothing changes. From election to election, voters are expected to take the results on faith. And when they ask for verifiability and accountability, they are cast as conspiracy theorists.

The other night I watched Laura Paglin’s No Umbrella, a documentary of Election Day failures in one of Ohio’s poorest neighborhoods. There the voting issues aren’t electronic ones. After gerrymandering the district just before the election to cram more poor voters into a small Cleveland polling location, the board of elections hasn’t provided nearly enough machines.

People stand in the rain for hours to cast their votes, and octogenarian councilwoman Fannie Lewis keeps placing calls to the board of elections for more machines. But when the machines arrive, they are unusable. No inserts have been provided.

After Lewis repeatedly calls the board of elections, and politely dresses down the mayor, she’s assured inserts are on the way. Hours pass.

“What’d they send them on,” she wonders, “a snail?”

Although the Ohio media reported that the election went off smoothly, interviews with many voters from poor neighborhoods revealed that they didn’t cast votes because they couldn’t wait for hours in the long lines. No wonder black voters believe national elections are rigged.


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