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MAY 26, 2004




by Myriam Miedzian


How would you feel about depositing your money in an ATM machine that didn't give you a paper receipt? If some of your checks bounced, even though you were absolutely sure you had deposited enough money to cover them, you would have no way to prove you did. If you complained, it would be up to the bank to check its records. If they told you that you never deposited the money, you would have no further recourse -- you'd be out whatever you deposited. With recent scandals surrounding corporations like Enron, WorldCom and others who depleted employees of their hard-earned savings, and past savings and loans scandals that cost taxpayers billions, it seems doubtful that many people would be willing to trust their banks to not make mistakes and always do the right thing -- and not have any protection just in case they didn't.

So why should we be willing to use computerized voting machines that don't provide a receipt confirming who we voted for? We certainly had enough problems in Florida the last time around to want as secure and trustworthy an election as possible this November. Experts -- including professors at Stanford and Johns Hopkins universities -- tell us that the computerized voting machines are extraordinarily easy to tamper with. It wouldn't take a computer geek to figure out how to turn an election around. Why cast doubt on our next presidential election by using machines without paper trails, if only the company that makes them can do a recount?

Fears about the machines have only increased since last summer when Walden O'Dell, chief executive of the Diebold company -- one of the largest manufacturers of voting machines -- and a staunch supporter and financial contributor to the Bush campaign, sent a fund-raising letter to fellow Republicans telling them that he is "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." The company was at that time vying to sell its voting machines to that state. By mid-December 2003, it was revealed that at least five convicted felons were in managerial positions at a subsidiary of Diebold, including a programmer jailed for falsifying computer records.

As early as May 2003, Congressman Rush Holt (D-N.J.) introduced a bill in the House requiring all voting machines to provide a paper trail. The bill has 140 co-sponsors (133 Democrats and 7 Republicans), but has remained locked up in the House Administration Committee chaired by Ohio Republican Robert Ney. More recently, Democratic Senators Boxer, Clinton, and Graham have introduced similar bills in the Senate. These bills have been locked up in the Senate Rules and Administration Committee chaired by Senator Trent Lott (R-Miss.).

Aware that keeping a bill locked up in committee is the best way to make sure that it is never enacted, groups concerned with a clean election – foremost among them, an online activist organization – decided that the only hope was to educate secretaries of state, who are responsible for the purchase of voting apparatus in their states, about the dangers of the machines.

So far nine states, among them Missouri, Illinois, Oregon, and most recently, California, have decided not to allow machines without paper trails to be used. This represents an important step in the right direction, but federal legislation would be much more effective. And so one cannot help but wonder why Republican-controlled congressional committees are so scared of a paper trail? And why have only seven Republican members of Congress lent their support to Congressman Holt's bill? Don't they want an honest election, one where we don't have to go to the Supreme Court to choose our president? It is a question that constituents should be asking their Republican representatives before it is too late.


Myriam Miedzian, Ph.D., a New York-based researcher, is the author of “Boys Will Be Boys: Breaking The Link Between Masculinity and Violence” (updated edition: Lantern Books November 2002).

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