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Editorial

Counted Out?
by Published on

Economic levees have burst. The water’s pouring in, and we’re being herded toward the Superdome, where we’ll be asked to sacrifice while lords of Wall Street hammer Congress to recognize the economic high ground as their birthright.

Pretty serious stuff. It may be time for a New Deal or a Better Deal. But if polling indicates just a few points between the candidates before the election, the machines are in place for the Same Deal. They’re not leaving it to chance, hanging chads, or voter whim. Legislation and intimidation have set the stage for an election that could be a fraud.

Not voter fraud. A number of prominent Republicans, including our own AG Greg Abbott, have tried to prosecute mostly poor and minority voters for alleged mail-in ballot improprieties (“Vote by Mail, Go to Jail,” TO, April 18, 2008). Art Levine reported in The American Prospect that John Ashcroft’s 2002-2005 voter-fraud crusade netted only 24 convictions nationwide. The flurry of state photo-ID registration laws popping up around the nation led to convictions of only 14 non-citizens. David Iglesias, a former U.S. Attorney for New Mexico fired for failure to prosecute fraud, told Levine, “It’s [voter fraud] very frightening, and it doesn’t exist.”

In this case, the fraud could be an election result triggered by voter suppression and intimidation, along with lingering vote count questions. The 2002 federal Help America Vote Act mandated states to keep voter lists current. Andrew Hacker in The New York Review of Books reports that Florida complied by matching voters to Social Security numbers. Because more than one-quarter of Social Security names are problematic (mostly due to name changes caused by marriage or divorce), women are especially vulnerable to this voter-purging method. Florida also purges names that have 80 percent of the letters of the name matching names of convicted felons. Black voters were 13 percent of the scanned pool but 26 percent of those purged. In Ohio in 2006, 303,000 voters were purged in three urban counties.

It’s rampant. Michigan tried to eliminate voters with foreclosed homes. Colorado officials told college students they couldn’t vote where they go to school if their parents claim them on their tax returns. Expect voter suppression to pop up across the country.

Nearly 30 states have considered legislation requiring proof of citizenship or a photo ID to register or vote. In a key decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Indiana Voter ID bill, requiring a passport or a driver’s license. According to Hacker, 673,926 adults in Indiana, most poor, do not have driver’s licenses.

If all else fails, elections can still be won the old-fashioned way-manipulating the count. In his ground-breaking 1988 New Yorker article on the potential of electronic vote manipulation, Observer founding editor Ronnie Dugger quoted Boss Tweed: “The ballots made no result; the counters made the result.” BlackBoxVoting, a non-partisan vote watch organization, put 49 Texas counties on its watch list for the November election because they use a paperless voting system considered “at high risk for fraud and errors.” BlackBoxVoting put eight other Texas counties on the watch list because they use machines whose “tabulation system is the subject of a product advisory. It has been discovered dropping votes….” As Dugger also reported, voting machine computer codes are vulnerable to manipulation.

All these tricks can determine an election if the race is close. But if a nine-point polling spread leads McCain to suspend his campaign, what perversity might a 15-point spread inspire?

It may be time for an international election commission. Bring in Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel. Let’s see if the longest-running democracy can still hold a democratic election.

-Geoff Rips

Geoff Rips is a novelist and a former editor of The Texas Observer.