The Election System

The following is an article I wrote back in 2017 for a different website, in light of the election fraud that happened in the primaries of 2016. I found myself referring back to it in working on a letter about the left’s and the UUA’s response to the events of January 6th. (Which will be the next post to this website).

 

Elections are broadly unverifiable, and offer little confidence that the results in fact represent the voters.

Voting in elections is the mechanism by which we the people direct our government’s activity: the way we decide who writes the laws under which we are obligated to live. It is absolutely critical to a democracy that the results of elections in fact represent the true votes that the people actually cast. Without election integrity, a representative democratic republic cannot exist.

Surely we can be sure our election results reflect the votes of the people, right? Anyone who claims otherwise must be either a “sore loser” or “conspiracy theorist”. Well, instead of forming an opinion based on fear of what labels might be placed upon us, let’s look at the evidence:

  • Voter suppression is basically political strategy these days, as is the propagation of the “voter fraud” myth/red herring.
  • Polling places across the country are rife with provably hackable and unverifiable voting machines, running proprietary software whose source code is known only to certain private corporations.
  • Exit polls, which should provide a “sanity check” of election results, are systematically manipulated, and suppressed and/or ignored by the mainstream media.
  • Recounts which should provide validation of election results are rife with hurdles, and flat-out impossible in some places.

 

Voter Suppression

Playing the political game goes beyond just saying the right words and championing the right policies and positions to convince citizens to vote for you. It involves tinkering with the mechanisms by which people actually cast their vote. The willingness to do so is not unlike an athlete’s willingness to take steroids to gain a competitive edge over their competitors. It is highly unethical, but it is an effective tool if the goal is simply to win.

Voter suppression is a fairly straightforward concept: minimize or eliminate the ability for certain people to actually cast a vote. If I can successfully suppress the vote of enough people who would vote against me, then a higher percentage of those who do vote will be in my favor.

The strategy has been applied in various different ways, such as with voter ID laws and voter roll purging. Investigative journalist Greg Palast discovered a blatant, clear-cut voter suppression program called “Crosscheck”. The stated purpose of the program is to identify voters who vote multiple times; to address voter fraud. The actual effect of the program is voter suppression.

Abby Martin and Greg Palast discuss interstate Crosscheck, and the dismantling of the voting rights act.

Greg Palast spends most of his airtime of late talking about crosscheck and the coordinated misdeeds of republican politicians, likely because it directly challenges the legitimacy of the sitting president. However, do not take that to mean the Democratic party is innocent. Evidence of suppression by way of voter roll purging and other tactics during the 2016 democratic primary was seen in California, New York, Arizona

 

Hackable and Proprietary Voting Technology

We could have 100% voter turn-out, but it doesn’t do much good if the votes are flipped after the vote is recorded. Votes that are stored electronically are particularly vulnerable to such flipping, as flipping hundreds, thousands, or millions of people’s votes is ultimately a matter of changing a few numbers in a computer database, or a few lines of code.

Computer software exists in the election process at multiple levels:

  • Electronic Voting Machines (touchscreens – alternative to paper ballots)
  • Ballot Counting Machines (optical scanners that count the paper ballots)
  • Central Tallying Software (central server to which pulls together results from constituent precincts)

In any of the computer systems at these levels, some software is running in which we are placing our trust. We are placing our trust in the corporations that developed the software that: (a) they made it secure enough so that a 3rd party hacker could not tamper with its code and data, and (b) no one involved in the development of the software deliberately included a back door that would allow tampering. We are also trusting the entire chain of custody of the devices running the software, trusting that no one within that chain has been corrupted.

With so much money, power, and influence at stake from who wins elections, is it really so crazy to think that computers used in the election system get tampered with?

For years there has been a fair amount of media discussion around hacking vulnerability of voting machines. (here are articles from 2006, 2008, 2011, 2015, 2016, 2017) The interesting thing about the following video is that they are discussing not voting machines, but a different computerized part of the election system: central vote tallying. Furthermore, they are not describing security vulnerabilities (which can be simple oversight or sloppy engineering), but rather they are describing deliberately built-in hidden functionality allowing the covert setting of tallying results. It is a discovery made by Bennie Smith and Bev Harris of blackboxvoting.org about the GEMS system.

 

If interference is occurring in the voting process, and someone is deliberately flipping votes in favor of a particular outcome, there would be some red flags that would arise upon statistical analysis of the data. Well, here is a study that did in fact found statistical evidence of deliberate manipulation of voting data for both the 2016 presidential election, and the democratic party primary. In the following video, journalist Jordan Chariton interviews Lulu Fries’dat about that evidence.

 

Validation: Exit Polls

Exit polls are a mechanism by which we should be able to confirm the validity of the results of an election, providing a statistical “sanity check” that the results are consistent with the actual votes cast. This is done by simply asking voters how they voted after they exit their polling place, and tallying their responses. If that tally differs too much from the actual election results, it should raise a flag that fraud may have been committed, and that further investigation is necessary.

However, the results of exit polls in the US are systematically manipulated, as the public is presented with “adjusted” results that have incorporated the official election results after the fact. Typically unadjusted results are kept hidden from the public, but when they are revealed, and indicate discrepancies, media outlets tend to ignore or suppress that information, and deflect and obfuscate with articles and commentary about how unreliable/inaccurate election polls are.

In the following interview, Lee Camp interviews Richard Charnin, an applied mathematician who has been applying statistical models to election results since 2000.

 

In the following talk, Bob Fitrakis, lawyer, professor, and election integrity activist, talks about some of the insanity behind our uncritical acceptance of exit polls going back to 2004, and about his lawsuits against Edison Research Group, the corporation conducting exit polling.

 

Validation: Recounts

Another mechanism by which we should be able to confirm the validity of election results is the recounting of the ballots. It is straightforward concept: take the ballots that were cast and perform the tally a second time. In a functioning democracy, recounts should be an automatic part of the process in any close race. However, this is not the case in the United States. Due to a variety of bureaucratic hurdles across the states, a true hand recount is effectively impossible, and partial recounts require volunteer work on the part of tens of thousands of citizens, as well as raising millions of dollars from the citizens. Furthermore, the prevailing attitude toward performing a recount is one of hostility: it is frivolous and ridiculous to think there may be anything wrong with the official results. It is drilled into people’s minds that wanting a recount is NOT a matter of transparency and integrity, rather it is a matter of paranoia and being a sore loser.

Green party presidential candidate Jill Stein led the effort to perform recounts of the 2016 presidential election in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconson. In that effort, her team reports receiving resistance at every turn:

  • In Pennsylvania, administrative hurdles made it effectively impossible, requiring 3 voters from every district (27,000 voters total) to file notarized petition by an unspecified deadline.
  • In Wisconson, there were financial hurdles, as the cost jumped from 1 million to 3.5 million dollars. Additionally, only about half of the counties did a hand recount; the rest recounted by simply inserting the ballots back into the same machines that might have been mis-programmed to start with. The ones denied a hand-count tended to be low-income communities of color.
  • In Michigan, state law requires that recount must be requested by an “aggrieved candidate”, which a judge cited in denying Stein’s right to request a recount. Effectively, if requesting a recount on the grounds of possible fraud, the burden of proof is on the person requesting the recount to show evidence of said fraud before they are willing to order a recount (which would uncover evidence of fraud). The dismissal wasn’t before it was discovered that ballot boxes determined to be “unrecountable” contained a number of ballots many times that of the margin of victory.

In the following presentation, Dr. Stein fills us in on the issues with the recount (as of October 2017), and also offers discussion on corruption and broader voting justice issues.

“The system fails, and it fails with a bias towards failing in under-resourced communities.”

The mountain of election integrity issues is disconcerting in and of itself, but the media treatment of the issues and of Jill Stein’s efforts warrants a whole different level of concern. If you read through various articles on CNN, New York Times, CBS, etc., you’ll notice how the story stays centered around Jill Stein, her recount, the money she raised. In reality, her efforts represent an entire segment of the population: concerned citizens that donated to effect the recount, those that volunteer their time in support of the recount. But mainstream media is compelled to portray the story in a certain way that distracts from the message she is attempting to convey, to distract from the underlying movement of citizens, to marginalize her and them, to imply that recounts only serve to undermine confidence, and that “questioning” the results is some sort of underhanded, nasty thing.

This is an example of how media can “report” a story while setting a narrative with the intention of influencing the attitude of the readers. Instead of conveying the message “there are people who are concerned with the integrity of the election system”, they prefer to convey the message “this crazy lady who had no chance of winning the presidency is trying to undermine confidence in our election system.”

 

“Nothing to see here”

Given the issues with voter suppression, hackable and manipulable technology, and inability to validate results through exit polls and recounts, it’s a wonder that our system works at all.

Dr. Mark Crispin Miller gives his take on the big picture:

Let us consider for a moment this statement: what if our election system actually flat-out doesn’t work at all, and we are all just kind of going along with it, thinking everything is fine?

It would mean our country couldn’t possibly be a real, functioning democracy.

But clearly there are people in power in the country: people making decisions, with some benefiting from those decisions. It’s not a stretch to imagine that many of those people – those enjoying their power along with their friends and beneficiaries – aren’t so concerned about whether or not we live in a democracy. After all, they’re doing well with the system as it is, democracy or not. It would make sense they would not be keen on folks paying attention to information that exposes the system as nonfunctional, as such information delegitimizes the authority of those in power and threatens the status quo.

On the other side of the coin, there are those of us that would prefer the country’s government be in democratic control of the citizens, and certainly we would not be keen to believe that our democracy is a game of make-believe. We’d be much more comfortable believing that our democratic institution is sacrosanct in the minds of all citizens, with elections that are ultimately reliable, and would be eager to dismiss anyone who questions the validity of the process as paranoid kooks. Needless to say, that inclination on our part pairs well with the preferences of the powerful to maintain status quo, giving them ample opportunity to play into our wishful thinking.

The wealthy and powerful would have the means and incentive to use their influence over mainstream media to propagate a message that reinforces that comfortable belief that questioning the validity of the election system is a fringe, loony thing. We are seeing something like this with the aforementioned spin on the reporting of “hippy lady no-chance-of-winning” Jill Stein’s recount efforts. We’re also seeing certain stories and demonstrations being flat-out ignored by mainstream media in support of protecting the illusion:

 

“Well… Maybe there is something to see here…”

Let’s be clear, however, that election integrity issues are not completely ignored by mainstream media. As mentioned earlier, there have been a smattering of stories over the years about security vulnerabilities in voting machines. It isn’t a new problem. But in 2017, the hacker’s conference DEFCON drew much more attention from mainstream media when they held a “Voting Machine Hacking Village“, in which conference participants were given the opportunity to hack 25 voting machines. Of course the results were unsettling, as it was demonstrated that the machines could be hacked with relative ease.

We might ask this: If the vulnerabilities are in fact being exploited, who could be pulling the strings? Well, if you read pretty much any mainstream reporting on the event, you’d likely walk away thinking that surely it must be foreign entities who hate our country, or want to destroy our country and start wars. It couldn’t possibly be any powerful domestic players who motivated by furthering their own interests.

The official report from DEFCON, whose forward is written by a US army general, contains the word “Russia” 15 times in as many pages. When discussing vulnerabilities of our election system, the authors have made a concerted effort to keep Russia at the forefront of the reader’s mind. This is also true in most of the reporting in the media is doing (e.g. CNN, Newsweek, Politico). There is a concerted effort to reinforce the connection between these voting machine vulnerabilities with Russia and “National Security”, and there is no effort draw any attention to the broader issues with election integrity detailed above on this website. And certainly there is no mention of the need to correct the validation mechanisms that might actually uncover proof of election meddling. Just persistent repetition of the statement that Russia is a threat.

Why is this interesting? If you have been watching mainstream media since 2016, you’ve been hearing a great deal about this Russian threat. There are plenty of reasons to be highly critical of the narrative surrounding that threat. Such reasons are well articulated in this article by Caitlin Johnstone, as well as in this article on The Nation.

http://www.ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/featured-articles/2018/august/31/how-the-department-of-homeland-security-created-a-deceptive-tale-of-russia-hacking-us-voter-sites/

There is more discussion to be had about “Russiagate,” but for now let’s hold that thought and transition to the next section with this brief summation:

  • In the US, Election integrity is shaky at best, nonexistent at worst.
  • The folks who have the power, connections and money to influence and rig elections would have a lot to gain by doing so: tipping the scales for candidates and measures that would protect and increase their wealth and power.
  • Power, connections, and money are also handy for directing narratives of mainstream media, and there is a lot to be gained by manipulating the attitude the reader/viewer to remain ignorant or dismissive of certain stories and narratives (ones that threaten their power and the status quo), and focusing on others (ones that reinforce their power and the status quo).

With those points in mind, consider this undeniable truth about the way our current system works: there are vast fortunes being made to be made from war, and from the threat of war.

And just as there are those who don’t care so much whether or not America is actually a functioning democracy, there are those who don’t care so much if their fortunes are being made at the expense of mass destruction and mass murder.

 

Other resources/links

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czaj6EH8bSI (charnin w/ sane progresive)
  • http://trustvote.org/recount/
  • http://www.jill2016.com/voting_justice_america
  • https://blackagendareport.com/US-elections-recount-proof-audit-proof
  • https://www.cartercenter.org/peace/democracy/index.html
  • http://download.hollerbackfilm.com/
  • https://electionfraud2016.wordpress.com/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shelby_County_v._Holder
  • https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/13/america-history-voter-suppression-donald-trump-election-fraud

 

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