Sunday, October 29, 2006

Voting Machine Chaos Likely to be Widespread November 7?

George Will has a good take on the possible national crisis as the fall election approaches:
The hoariest jest in conservatism’s repertoire is that the three least credible assertions in the English language are "The check is in the mail," "Of course I’ll respect you as much in the morning" and "I’m from the government and I’m here to help you." Which brings us to the exquisitely named Help America Vote Act.

Having fixed Iraq and New Orleans, the federal government’s healing touch is now being applied to voting. As a result, days - perhaps weeks - might pass after Election Day without the nation knowing which party controls the House or Senate. If that happens, one reason might be HAVA, that 2002 bit of federal helpfulness.

Will expatiates on how the US got along for a long time without machines and how the US gradually improved the imperfect art of taking ballots.
States ran elections; some ran them better than others. Some ballots have been better designed than others, as have some voting machines. Most have been adequate. The gross defects of American voting practices were laws that established or permitted discrimination and other abuses. Tardily, but emphatically, those laws were changed and other abuses were halted.

Then came 2000 and Florida and the 36-day lawyers’ scrum about George W. Bush’s 537-vote margin of victory. In response to which, Congress passed HAVA, which in 2006 may produce fresh confirmation of the prudential axiom that the pursuit of the perfect is the enemy of the good.

The lesson that should have been learned from Florida was: In Florida, as in life generally, one should pursue as much precision as is reasonable - but not more. When, as very rarely happens, a large electorate, such as that state’s 6.1 million voters in 2000, is evenly divided, the many errors and ambiguities that inevitably will occur during the marking of millions of ballots will be much more numerous than the margin of victory. That is unfortunate, but no great injustice will be done, no matter who is declared the winner in a contest that is essentially tied.

Unfortunately, the lesson the nation chose to learn from Florida was that American technological wizardry could prevent such highly unusual events, and no expense should be spared to do so. Hence HAVA, which made $3.8 billion available for states to purchase the most modern voting equipment.

On Nov. 7, 38 percent of the nation’s voters will use touch-screens to record their choices, according to Election Data Services. Unlike optical scanners that read markings put on paper ballots, most touch-screen machines - including those which The New York Times reports will be used in about half of the 45 districts with the most closely contested House races - produce no paper that can be consulted for verification of the results, if a recount is required.

The Democrats, in case one hasn't noticed, are run by lawyers and for lawyers. The Clinton Administration turned overlawyering into a textbook example of how not to govern [by judiciary and ACLU], and Clinton even appointed an ACLU lawyer as a Supreme Court Justice---without a peep from compliant Repubs gulled into dementia by their own naivete. The election day results will predictably be challenged by phalanxes of Dem lawyers while the bumbling, fumbling, incompetent Hastert and Frist are, as usual, caught unawares. Since Delay left the scene, there is no guiding whip hand and Hastert bungles along to what appears to be a big Repub defeat. Frist is gone, and any dreams that this lightweight may have had for President are, or should be, gone also. But I digress, as my main point reflects George Will's thesis that the US government is slipping from very little competence to almost none at all. In a word, the US government solves problems, or makes them worse, by kludge, and the advent of Dems actually aiming for higher taxes and more government in American lives should scare the informed voter out of his wits. George Will may be wrong, but he is also pessimistic:
Maryland’s new $106 million touch-screen system melted into a chaos of mechanical and human errors in last month’s primary election. Lawsuits have been filed in five states seeking to block use of touch-screen machines.

Today’s political climate - hyperpartisanship leavened by paranoia and exploited by a national surplus of lawyers - makes this an unpropitious moment for introducing new voting technologies that will be administered by poll workers who often are retirees for whom the task of working a DVD player is a severe challenge. Furthermore, an election is, after all, a government program, and readers of Genesis know that new knowledge often brings trouble. So we should not be surprised if, on Nov. 7, new voting machinery does what new technologies - dams, bridges, steamships, airplanes - have done through history: malfunction.

Murphy's Law will be operating on Election Day. You can count on it.

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