This weekend I read an article by Clive Thompson in the NY Times Magazine about the reliability of electronic voting machines. Now that we're in the midst of another exciting (yawn) election year I guess it's a timely subject for the august newspaper that mostly serves the interests of the elite among us. I'm not one of them but luckily for me I do have a browser and some interest in the outcome of who will be #44.
The article is interesting enough but what really caught our attention was in how the issue was framed. He mentions computer errors not once but several times including the extraordinary remark: 'computers do not merely produce errors; they produce errors of unforseeable magnitude'. That isn't our normal experience as anyone who uses an ATM on a regular basis will attest. Can you imagine going to the machine for your $40. quick cash withdrawal and getting either $100. or nothing and saying 'Oh well, it's just another silly computer mistake - you win it or lose it - never mind'. No, you'd be on the phone to the bank in a flash. Computers run the stock market, advanced medical equipment, space exploration equipment, nuclear power plants, household items and your car. Flaws are not acceptable.
He also mentions that voting systems have always been subject to outside manipulation like ballot box stuffing which is true but was never so widespread and dangerous a practice as mandating electronic machines through the Help America Vote Act and then allowing private industry to develope and keep the programming of them secret. No open source code that can be validated by computer scientists at all. So, if they ever do feel like manipulating the national vote tally how would anyone know?
Someone he conveniently forgot to mention was Bev Harris at Black Box Voting who started investigating vote irregularities in 2000 and alerted computer professionals and activists nationwide. The term Mr. Thompson used is 'disgruntled citizens and scared senseless computer geeks'.
Another subject left out of the article was the practice of vote caging. Essentially, this is a trick used to deny large blocks of voters access to registration and is better explained by Greg Palast of the BBC.
Anyway, the article is there if you feel like reading it but my point here is that articles of this type allow those who feel superior to continue doing so. They have been informed by what they consider to be the most sophisticated news organization in the country so nothing the rest of us can say has any relevance to them. The issue has been framed and served on a silver platter and nothing needs to be added.
I did hear one funny thing about Huckabee when he was interviewed by Jay Leno the other night and asked why he thought he beat Mitt Romney in Ohio. He answered 'I guess they preferred to vote for someone like a guy they work with rather than the guy who laid them off'.
Okay, need more tea now. Back later.