Sunday, January 7, 2007

Paper Trail or Lost Cause? Republicans Must Decide

By Mac McGuire

For the second general election in a row, no local, state or national Republican won Travis County. The 2004 election was very bad for Republican candidates but 2006 was much worse. The Republican/Democrat base trend chart pictured here removes the swing (ticket splitter) voter from the equation and deals only with base voters determined by the fewest voters of each party to vote for any candidate on a precinct by precinct basis. The trend line from 1990 thru 2002 projected the parties to get within 4% of each other during the 2004-2006 voting cycles—instead the base diverged to an 18.4% gap (59.2 minus 40.8) in 2004 and further expanded to a 25.6% gap in 2006.

It is not reasonable to blame this divergence on the dissatisfaction voters have shown nationwide for the Republican party although that certainly would affect the swing voter and to some extent would have converted some swing voters to Democrat base voters. The local divergence is simply too great for facile analysis such as this. It appears more is at work here and requires a closer look.

The closer look immediately reveals the fact that this divergence coincides with the introduction of electronic voting into Travis County. Readers (LTR February 2005) will remember that negative votes showed up in early returns in the 2004 election. The county clerk glibly explained this away but whether her explanation was valid or not is beside the point. The very troubling point is that negative votes can be programmed into the system and then become virtually impossible to trace. For example, as was pointed out in the Feb. `05 article, the individual precinct and early voting site electronic machines can be programmed for ten negative votes for one party and ten positive votes for the other (e.g. 100 voters who split their tickets 50-50 would be recorded as 60-40). This would cause a 20 vote swing at each location which would be impossible to pick up but would result in a vote swing of several thousand county or district wide. More than enough to change the results of several individual contests.

This radical change in voting patterns cannot ignore the possibility—even probability—of election fraud. It is extremely difficult to get anyone to act because you must deal with elected officials to correct the problem and they have been elected by the system currently in use and are reluctant to make any changes. The problem is not Democrat or Republican, it is the hubris of incumbency. A major effort needs to be made now to get a law passed requiring that a paper trail be provided whenever and wherever electronic voting methods are used. Until this is done all else is futile.

For example, after I testified on the need for a paper trail before the Elections Committee during the 2005 legislative session, a guy came up to me, introduced himself and shook my hand. He said “I’m your Democrat counterpart in Harris County. Looks like you have the same problem here in Travis that we have down in Harris.”

Unfortunately, he was very probably exactly right!

Note: HBO has produced a documentary entitled “Hacking Democracy” which makes precisely this point and then proves it by actually changing the results of a mock election to the consternation of voting officials overseeing the process. If you missed the show on HBO, you can review several of the points by going to HBO.COM, click on “Documentaries” and then click on “Hacking Democracy.”

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