'Hacking Democracy': Manipulative yet Important

Okay, I'll get my criticisms out of the way first: Those who watched Hacking Democracy last night got equal parts journalism and activist propaganda in the HBO documentary on the dangers of electronic voting machines. Now, far be it from me to dismiss journalism with a viewpoint – obviously, that is The Austin Chronicle's bread and butter. But still, I felt manipulated. Bev Harris and her cohorts are portayed as noble knights who have never made a mistake; I would like to have seen the instances when she went to an elections administrator or corporate voting machine executive and said "Gotcha!" and then, when shown an error in her logic, she said "Oh. I see. Sorry." Having done some investigative journalism myself, I've had the occasional moment like that. And maybe it just bugs me because I'm a print media guy, but I could have done without the Da Vinci Code-esque music intended to get my pulse racing. Nevertheless …

… when Harris has obviously hit the nail on the head, you're grateful for the work she has done. Let's face it, George Orwell wasn't really a fiction writer. People cheat, people lie, people kill for power. You can bet that if these machines are hackable – and the Black Box Voting activists give substantial evidence that they are – then somebody has likely already done it. It's agonizing to contemplate that there could be elected officials out there – including, possibly, our current occupant of the White House – who weren't really elected. And for the sake of argument, let's suppose human corruption ended tomorrow and no ever tried to steal an election again – are we really that confident that simple human incompetence won't result in incorrect vote totals? God forbid that anyone with my pathetic math skills is ever trusted with programming one of these machines.

I went to a press conference Thursday at the Capitol held by VoteRescue, a group committed to banning any sort of electronic counting machines and returning strictly to paper ballots. I'm not sure I agree with that, but I'd at least like to see a voter-verifiable paper trail (i.e., a printer attachment that prints out a marked ballot that allows the voter to confirm their choices) on these things. That way, we can have a true recount if necessary. VoteRescue's Abbe DeLozier said she's even against that, because some election laws require recounts be paid for by the candidate, which could run into tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. (Which, after I reflect on it, would still be the same if you used a strictly paper system, so I don't quite follow her logic.)

That quibble aside, I think she and I agree: Texas Election law (and those of every state) needs to mandate some sort of paper trail to our elections. I trust County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir – I know from years of covering her that she is busting her butt to make Travis Elections open and honest – but as long as she asks us to put complete faith in a computer box, we must always wonder about the numbers her office puts out on election night. Just as we liberals have our suspicions about Bush, don't you think Travis County Republican Party Chairman Alan Sager must have his own about whether the results of the state House District 50 and 47 races are correct? Regardless of your party or beliefs, the lack of openness in this technology harms us all in the long run.

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