Our resident scientist asks: Can we trust our voting machines?

  • Published on November 6th, 2012

By David Brin

After some introduction, my remarks this time will swerve specifically toward a special set of individuals out there called “henchmen.” But the rest of you may find it interesting. 

Will the 2012 election be stolen?  And if it is… can the theft be reversed?

Given the abysmal reputation that President George W. Bush earned — even among conservatives — there is no doubt that most Americans would send a warning back in time, to prevent the theft of the election of 2000, if only they could.  (If you demur, please answer my 6 year challenge: Name one unambiguous metric of US national health that improved across the span of 2001-2009 GOP rule; nearly all such measures of health plummeted.) Even if the likely outcome would have been President McCain or President Jeb Bush in 2004.
Another nail-biter election will be upon us in a week. The contest is not so much between Obama and Romney, or left vs. right, or Democrats vs Republicans, or even Red America vs. Blue America in Phase 3 of the U.S. Civil War. It is, rather, a crucial stage in the latest oligarchic putsch to reverse a 250 year experiment. And possibly a return to the way of life known by 99% of human societies.
What will happen if the outcome teeters close, as it did in 2000?  Can we expect sudden, surprising shifts in vote counts from crucial precincts, as happened in that fateful year? Shifts that coincidentally always err in one direction? Or weird anomalies from the early-voting tallies?  Or from absentee ballots?
Of course we can.  Other writers have analyzed the potential for fraud that has been building for years, whether through voter roll purging, vote suppression or direct shenanigens by the companies who own and operate most of the nation’s electronic voting machines.  I urge you to get educated; Look at reports by an NSA analyst and others about these incredibly brazen campaigns to outright cheat the process we rely upon as citizens and heirs of the Founders, who counted on us to carry forward their Great Experiment. 

The blatant examples are one-sided

I’ll offer just one detail here, though it screams the travesty.  In most blue states (e.g. California) the voting machines are either fed a hand-marked paper ballot to read, or else they provide a printed receipt that the voter can inspect and drop into a separate box. Either way, all votes made in that precinct can be audited.  No matter how many back doors and cheats might be built secretly into the machines or programs, no one will dare pull a major electronic switcheroo, if enough precincts will be randomly hand-counted and audited.
The same is not true in many red states, where GOP-run legislatures gave voting machine contracts to a trio of companies alll of whom have strong Republican Party connections. (The address of one of those companies?  ES&S: 11208 John Galt Blvd. Omaha, NE   I kid you not.  John Galt Blvd.)

Moreover, in most red states that use electronic voting, the process does not involve a separate box of auditable paper ballots. No way for anyone to catch a glitch or falsified result.  Now why… why would they do that? Why would anyone do that, except in deliberate furtherance of fraud?
This potential theft will be exacerbated by the fact that news organizations and polling firms are cutting down on exit polls, this year.  Exit polling has proved to be a major deterrent to cheating, because of its high degree of accuracy.  In precincts that are neither exit-polled nor auditable by paper receipts anything — including skullduggery and cheating — can happen.  And many folks expect that cheating will happen… say in Virginia or Florida… if the election is tight.
Now, at a macro level, this says an awful lot about the deep and growing difference in philosophy and psychology in Blue viz Red America. An attitude of win-at-any-cost prevails as a way of life in one realm, while the other moves deliberately in the opposite direction, toward accountability and adult behavior.  Want backup for that assertion?  Only in blue states have citizen revolts ended the foul practice of gerrymandering, returning a meaningful choice to voters.  In California, for example, districts are now compact, reasonable, and are much more competitive, giving citizens some real leverage, for a change. Even if you are a republican living in a largely democratic district, as the Berman-Sherman run-off shows, you now have a chance to be heard and heeded, as never before, because gerrymandering, a blatant crime, is gone in California.
No red state has done this.  The picture is complete; and I will say it even more starkly, below.
But first… I must now stop talking to the majority of you and address the bulk of message to a very small subset. (The rest of you are welcome to listen in! This involves you too.)
Henchmen, pay attention 
There is an old saying. 

When you’re playing poker, if it’s not immediately evident who the patsy is…
…the patsy is you.
I have something to say to a very special audience.  Those of you out there who are actually involved in endeavors to game or cheat the electoral process.

Yes, I am talking to you guys — the henchmen (because that really is the word) of those conniving Blofeld types who plan to manipulate voting machine results, or who are purging voter rolls or arranging for “accidental” losses of ballots or biased disqualifications or any of the other shenanigens at issue here.
You know that we know it’s going on. And despite that, you’ve already decided on your path. Perhaps you’ve let Roger Ailes convince you that your fellow citizens cannot be trusted with a decision this vital. Or that we have a muslim, commie, satanist-usurper in the White House and you are cheating for the nation’s good. Or else you are being very well paid! Or you’re being blackmailed. Or some combination of the above. You know that, in this day and age, it is vital to keep conspiracies small, but have you ever sat down and thought about why?

(Elsewhere I’ve made clear I’m an equal opportunity skeptic. I opposed the USSR’s evil empire and frequently inveigh against some of the idolatries and stupidities we sometimes see from the extreme left, such as “Loose Change” conspiracies about the tragedy of 9/11. Stupidities so awful that across any year they add up to a whole day‘s worth of the spew we get from Fox. Yes, that bad.)

I discuss the difficult situation of henchmen in both my novel EARTH and in my nonfiction book The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?  For in this modern era, with cameras and recording devices getting ever smaller, the chances that you’ll get caught with firm evidence showing you committing illegal acts will grow with every passing day.
Indeed, if you have discussed details in meetings with co-conspirators, you had better assume the other fellow was recording you, and stashing the record somewhere, in case he ever needs it.  To blackmail you.  Or to offer in a plea bargain.
Moreover, if you have not already done this — recorded your compatriots in secret, in case you will ever need leverage — then you have proved you are the patsy, the stupid one, the pawn who will be sacrificed, if things ever fall apart.

This lesson applies to all conspiracies, not just to present efforts aimed at stealing the U.S. elections.  If you are a henchman, but do not want to be sacrificed like the hundreds who die for the villain in every Bond film, then you had better prepare a little blackmail of your own.
The henchman’s dilemma

If you are going to play, you really must read up. Be knowledgeable, an intellectual henchman. Because you’re doomed otherwise.  Read about positive sum versus zero sum games.  And especially the type that fascinates scientists today, called “Prisoner’s Dilemma.” To save time, do a first-cursory wiki before coming back here.  Go ahead, I’ll wait. Understand what it means! It applies to you.
You are in a prisoner’s dilemma with other members of the conspiracy. So long as the cabal stays very small and is richly motivated, there’s a chance that everyone will hold together. But consider… what if someone breaks?

Suppose some news reporter, or FBI agent, or unhappy spouse or younger brother, gets wind of the conspiracy well enough to start bugging the meetings?  Or to threaten one of your comrades and get him to turn states’ evidence?  Or someone decides they are sick of being blackmailed that that it’s time to be a man. Or suppose there’s a counter-offer on the table that’s hard to refuse?  (I’ll talk about just such an offer, in a bit!)
What’s to stop one of your colleagues from blabbing? Consider the tradeoffs.
Whoever blabs first will get:
  • Amnesty or a pardon.  Or else (at worst) a wrist slap.
  • A big fat book deal.
  • Appearances on a hundred talk shows.
  • A top “security” job some California tech billionaire who hates Roger Ailes.
  • A new identity, if you want one.  (It won’t be needed.)
  • Admiration & adoration from grateful citizens. Positive mention in history books.
  • To be on the inevitable winning side.
All the other members of the Cabal will go to prison. For conniving to steal elections, they will be reviled and their names cursed, not only in this generation, but in tones now used for John Wilkes Booth and Benedict Arnold.  Some will simply die, as the top guys cover their tracks.
Oh, yes, some of the top folks may have insulated themselves.  They are the ones who have already recorded you making incriminating statements and actions, but have been careful, themselves. They already have contingency plans and know who the patsies are, who will be tossed to the wolves if anything goes wrong. Be assured, you are one of them.
In fact, I believe these top fellows are wrong about their own insulated safety, this time. Transparency is likely to skewer them like bugs, when the light starts shining. But that’s a future thing, driven by coming technologies. I admit that, in past times, Blofeld often got away.
He did so by sacrificing pawns. And that’s your role in Plan B. Furthermore consider this. The very best way to sacrifice a pawn is to make sure that the pawn both takes the blame and is dead, so he can’t squeal. What? You think they wouldn’t do that to you? Gosh, there’s one born every minute.
Happy with the position you are in?

Oh, but if I have planted uncomfortable thoughts, you can still shrug it all off.
 “Brin wants me to be the squealer.  He’s trying to talk me into being a whistle blower, so he can help that Blue America filled with scientists and intellectuals and city folks and evil muslim-satanic-commie presidents!”

Go ahead and rationalize all you want.  But the fundamentals of what I’ve said here apply, no matter who is saying it, and you know that’s true.  They apply to all conspiracies. And yes even to good ones! Those that are working against tyranny.
Well, except for the part about book deals and talk shows and being a hero and getting to party with starlets and the rest. That will only happen if you blow the whistle on nasty stuff. And the public will call your cabal of vote stealers nasty. Sooner or later, even a century from now, they will hate you.
Oh, there’s one more thing.  I know some of those tech billionaires.  And take my word for it – they will match whatever you are currently getting from the conspirators!  If you spill the beans convincingly on a nasty cabal that is stealing elections — or anything similar — you will be paid at least as much as the Blofelds are now paying you to help them cheat. Double… triple! And Blofeld can’t offer you the book deal, talk shows or starlets.

In fact, I am letting a cat out of the bag. (I have permission to say this much.) If we see a repeat of 2000, with an election — even a local Congressional race — stolen by weird electoral veers in suspicious precincts that stink to high heaven, those billionaires will go public with their offer! Millions in exchange for proof that is iron-clad and solid. 

Now look at your co-henchmen in the conspiracy. Consider that they have already recorded you. They have such proof, stocked and hidden away. While you twiddled your thumbs. They are positioned to take advantage of such offers, while you are not. And only the first one to blab will get the bonanza.
I’d get busy, if I were you.
Other ways of stealing the election

Enough talking to henchmen. Now back to you regular readers.  

Of course, the problem is about more than electoral cheating. This putsch is being waged across a broad front. By far the biggest part is the tsunami of money, the insane degree to which our democracy is being bought.  The very same Supreme Court that gave us George W. Bush and the plummet of America that followed, has opened the floodgates of private cash — and even secret foreign lucre — to inundate our electoral process.
Who bought your candidate? See the top corporate donors for each candidate for the house and senate… and remember, we don’t get any of this info re the real graft… the super-PACS. Are you happy with this?
There are some incredibly smart and wise suggestions for how we could get most of the money out of politics. (Currently, legislators spend HALF of their time fund-raising.  Think about that.) Professor Lawrence Lessig, in particular, has a set of well-backed changes that are deliberately NOT socialistic, but that would still level the playing field and make politics about competing fairly for our votes, again. Ah, but can it happen during Civil War Part III?
Not only are corporations people, but the tradition of One-Person-One-Vote will be replaced by Wallstreet-style “corporate democracy” in which votes are tallied according to the number of shares that you own.
Make no mistake, that is the objective.  We have seen that they cannot claimcompetence at war… or at peace… or at fiscal management… or science.  Every “social” issue from abortion to religion to flag waving… all of those things are secondary, mere ways to marshall emotion from Red America. The way slave-owners marshaled a million poor whites to march and die for the oligarchs’ privileges, during the first phase of the American Civil War.
The Chief Result: an America that no longer negotiates

The utter demise of the species “moderate republican” is best illustrated in this fantastic graphic from the XKCD online series. It demonstrates the blatantly obvious — how the GOP has become the most tightly disciplined and partisan political force in US history, marshalled and commanded by one man… Roger Ailes… at the behest of several petro-princes and foreign billionaires.
What can the rest of us do?

Send emails to the news networks and polling firms, demanding that they beef up exit polling this year, instead of letting it decline.
Volunteer to do poll watching and/or get-out-the-vote.  And tell your friends who despise both major parties to go have a look at Gary Johnson.
Write about this online and maybe viral this posting you are reading now.
Start talking to others about the notion of a “henchman’s prize” to accomplish much the same good work that is being done by whistle blower laws.
Tell especially any henchmen you know! Or anyone who might know a henchman. They need to read this. To think about it. Hard.

Talk about how angry you will be, if 2000 is repeated, and how vigorously you will resist, if the election is stolen.  And — if it is — come back here.  I’ll have suggestions.
(Originally appeared at Contrary Brin.)

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  • rkw

    i dont believe that i can trust anything you say.