Monday, January 29, 2007

Relics Of Democracy For Sale. Best Offer. You Pick Up.

This news report makes me very sad and very angry.
Sad because this mechanical lever machine voting is what I grew up with it and angry because it is such a waste to the taxpayer. The lever machines counted votes in Connecticut for decades, and I used these in New York State as well. Good working, vote tabulating machines are being tossed out so unnecessarily for what? To comply with new federal law that dictates to municipalities how we should vote. By November 2007, Connecticut's entire inventory of 3,300 lever machines are planned to be replaced with new machines in all 169 municipalities.

These old voting machines are perfectly fine to use. They count votes accurately and simply. I never minded that they weigh about 800 pounds each, are about 5 feet wide and have been in use since the 1950s. They worked! There really is no need to toss them out. It's so stupid. So wasteful.

As a result, towns either don't want to keep the old machines or can't, because of limited storage, and now must find a way to dispose of them. Some CT cities are recycling them for roughly $50 a piece, others have donated their machines to civic groups, schools and historical societies. It's certainly costing the taxpayer a pretty penny to replace them, whether it is federal money or state or local money .... IT'S STILL OUR TAX MONEY!!

25 towns and cities in Connecticut received optical scanner voting machines last year to replace the lever machines.
The secretary of the state contracted with LHS Associates to provide the state with 1,538 optical scan machines to replace all 3,300 mechanical lever voting machines by November 2007. LHS initially provided the state with 253 machines and 1,167 privacy booths. The state distributed these machines and booths to 25 municipalities chosen based on a survey. The 1,538 machines will cost the state a total of $ 15. 7 million.
They received these new voting machines from the state under the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The Act passed after the disputed 2000 presidential election. The act requires states to phase out mechanical lever machines and punch-card voting systems. I can definitely see why punch cards are a bad voting method, but the lever machines were fine.

There is lots of controversy over HAVA. This from Wikipedia
Critics of the bill point out that it imprudently attempts to solve one problem of punch-card voting machine errors seen in Florida in the 2000 election, by replacing them with expensive electronic voting machines that have no record of individual votes, and that it may represent an effort to help large electronic voting systems vendors such as Diebold Election Systems, Election Systems & Software, and Sequoia Voting Systems make millions of dollars throughout the country in selling electronic voting devices encouraged by HAVA
I tend to think that is probably the case; I mean, just follow the money. With regard to handicapped access to voting.. HAVA says that each polling place must have at least one voting machine accessible to persons with disabilities... so why scrap all the machines? How about just getting a few new machines to complement the ones we had in voting location? No.. we had to scrap them all. Looks like a good way to bring business to those voting machine vendors.

This Pro-Con piece tells how electronic voting machine manufacturers may have political party ties and that the new machines may give a particular party an advantage in winning an election. Actualy Pro-Con offers many interesting questions on their website with regard to HAVA. There have been many reports of bid-rigging and these vendors trying to sway states and municipalities to buy their machines.

Clearly vote tampering and inaccurate tallying can happen with these new machines, and the Op-Scan machines we'll be getting have their own issues.

In October 2006, The New York Times broke a story about the vendor Smartmatic/Sequoia having ties to Venezuela and Hugo Chavez. Some claim the Chávez government is some kind of secret partner in the company and is attempting to influence elections in the United States.

What I do know from all of this is that we need to restore faith in our voting system. With these new machines too much doubt has been injected into the process. The old lever machines were trustworthy, and understood by those operating them, and they were easy to use. The machines insured voting was private. They tabulated your vote with a lever click and that was that. We are moving into a world of computerized and untrustworthy voting systems, and I think that this will be a great loss for Democracy. People will tend not to vote if they do not trust the process. I'll bet you that lots of people will choose to vote via absentee ballot in this next election.