COLUMN EIGHTY-SEVEN, MARCH 15, 2003
(Copyright © 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)
HOW TO WIN THE VOTE?
OWN THE COMPANY THAT OWNS THE MACHINES
Subject: Fw: a very
Date: Mon, 10 Feb 2003 17:46:49 -0500
From: "Fred Viebahn" email@example.com
To: "Al Aronowitz" firstname.lastname@example.org
Published on Friday,
January 31, 2003 by CommonDreams.org
"If You Want To Win An Election, Just Control The Voting Machines"
by Thom Hartmann
Maybe Nebraska Republican
Chuck Hagel honestly won two US Senate elections. Maybe it's true that the
citizens of Georgia simply decided that incumbent Democratic Senator Max Cleland,
a wildly popular war veteran who lost three limbs in Vietnam, was, as his
successful Republican challenger suggested in his campaign ads, too unpatriotic
to remain in the Senate. Maybe George W. Bush, Alabama's new Republican governor
Bob Riley, and a small but congressionally decisive handful of other long-shot
Republican candidates really did win those states where conventional wisdom and
straw polls showed them losing in the last few election cycles.
Perhaps, after a half-century of fine-tuning exit polling to such a science that it's now sometimes used to verify how clean elections are in Third World countries, it really did suddenly become
are no longer available
for public scrutiny
inaccurate in the United
States in the past six years and just won't work here anymore. Perhaps it's just
a coincidence that the sudden rise of inaccurate exit polls happened around the
same time corporate-programmed, computer-controlled, modem-capable voting
machines began recording and tabulating ballots.
But if any of this is true,
there's not much of a paper trail from the voters' hand to prove it.
You'd think in an open
democracy that the government---answerable to all its citizens rather than a
handful of corporate officers and stockholders---would program, repair, and
control the voting machines. You'd think the computers that handle our cherished
ballots would be open and their software and programming available for public
scrutiny. You'd think there would be a paper trail of the vote, which could be
followed and audited if there was evidence of voting fraud or if exit polls
disagreed with computerized vote counts.
You'd be wrong.
The respected Washington,
DC publication The Hill (www.thehill.com/news/012903/hagel.aspx)
has confirmed that former conservative radio talk-show host and now Republican
U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel was the head of, and continues to own part interest in,
the company that owns the company that installed, programmed, and largely ran
the voting machines that were used by most of the citizens of Nebraska.
Back when Hagel first ran
there for the U.S. Senate in 1996, his company's computer-controlled voting
machines showed he'd won stunning upsets in both the primaries and the general
election. The Washington Post (1/13/1997) said Hagel's "Senate victory
against an incumbent Democratic governor was the major Republican upset in the
November election." According to Bev Harris of www.blackboxvoting.com,
Hagel won virtually every demographic group, including many largely Black
communities that had never before voted Republican. Hagel was the first
Republican in 24 years to win a Senate seat in Nebraska.
Six years later Hagel ran
again, this time against Democrat Charlie Matulka in 2002, and won in a
landslide. As his hagel.senate.gov website says, Hagel "was re-elected to
his second term in the United States Senate on November 5, 2002 with 83% of the
vote. That represents the biggest political victory in the history of
What Hagel's website fails
to disclose is that about 80 percent of those votes were counted by
computer-controlled voting machines put in place by the company affiliated with
Hagel. Built by that company. Programmed by that company.
"This is a big story,
bigger than Watergate ever was," said Hagel's Democratic opponent in the
2002 Senate race, Charlie Matulka (www.lancastercountydemocrats.org/matulka.htm).
"They say Hagel shocked the world, but he didn't shock me."
Is Matulka the sore loser
the Hagel campaign paints him as, or is he democracy's proverbial canary in the
In Georgia, Democratic
incumbent and war-hero Max Cleland was defeated by Saxby Chambliss, who'd
avoided service in Vietnam with a "medical deferment" but ran his
campaign on the theme that he was more patriotic than Cleland. While many in
Georgia expected a big win by Cleland, the computerized voting machines said
that Chambliss had won.
The BBC summed up Georgia
voters' reaction in a 6 November 2002 headline: "GEORGIA UPSET STUNS
DEMOCRATS." The BBC echoed the confusion of many Georgia voters when they
wrote, "Mr. Cleland - an army veteran who lost three limbs in a grenade
explosion during the Vietnam War - had long been considered 'untouchable' on
questions of defense and national security."
Between them, Hagel and
Chambliss' victories sealed Republican control of the Senate. Odds are both won
fair and square, the American way, using huge piles of corporate money to
carpet-bomb voters with television advertising. But either the appearance or the
possibility of impropriety in an election casts a shadow over American
"The right of voting
for representatives is the primary right by which all other rights are
protected," wrote Thomas Paine over 200 years ago. "To take away this
right is to reduce a man to slavery.."
That slavery, according to
Hagel's last opponent Charlie Matulka, is at our doorstep.
"They can take over
our country without firing a shot," Matulka said, "just by taking over
our election systems."
Taking over our election
systems? Is that really possible in the USA?
Bev Harris of www.talion.com
and www.blackboxvoting.com has looked
into the situation in depth and thinks Matulka may be on to something. The
company tied to Hagel even threatened her with legal action when she went public
about his company having built the machines that counted his landslide votes.
(Her response was to put the law firm's threat letter on her website and send a
press release to 4000 editors, inviting them to check it out www.blackboxvoting.com/election-systems-software.html)
"I suspect they're
getting ready to do this all across all the states," Matulka said in a
January 30, 2003 interview. "God help us if Bush gets his touch screens all
across the country," he added, "because they leave no paper trail.
These corporations are taking over America, and they just about have control of
our voting machines."
In the meantime,
exit-polling organizations have quietly gone out of business, and the news arms
of the huge multinational corporations that own our networks are suggesting the
days of exit polls are over. Virtually none were reported in 2002, creating an
odd and unsettling silence that caused unease for the many American voters who
had come to view exit polls as proof of the integrity of their election systems.
As all this comes to light,
many citizens and even a few politicians are wondering if it's a good idea for
corporations to be so involved in the guts of our voting systems. The whole idea
of a democratic republic was to create a common institution (the government
itself) owned by its citizens, answerable to its citizens, and authorized to
exist and continue existing solely "by the consent of the governed."
Prior to 1886---when, law
schools incorrectly tell law students, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that
corporations are "persons" with equal protection and other "human
rights"---it was illegal in most states for corporations to involve
themselves in politics at all, much less to service the core mechanism of
politics. And during the era of Teddy Roosevelt, who said, "There can be no
effective control of corporations while their political activity remains,"
numerous additional laws were passed to restrain corporations from involvement
Wisconsin, for example, had a law that explicitly stated:
"No corporation doing business in this state shall pay or
contribute, or offer consent or agree to pay or contribute, directly or
indirectly, any money, property, free service of its officers or employees or
thing of value to any political party, organization, committee or individual for
any political purpose whatsoever, or for the purpose of influencing legislation
of any kind, or to promote or defeat the candidacy of any person for nomination,
appointment or election to any political office."
The penalty for violating
that law was dissolution of the corporation, and "any officer, employee,
agent or attorney or other representative of any corporation, acting for and in
behalf of such corporation" would be subject to "imprisonment in the
state prison for a period of not less than one nor more than five years"
and a substantial fine.
However, the recent political trend has moved us in the opposite direction, with governments answerable to "We, The People" turning over administration of our commons to corporations
is a 'sin'
answerable only to CEOs,
boards, and stockholders. The result is the enrichment of corporations and the
appearance that democracy in America has started to resemble its parody in
But if America still is a
democratic republic, then We, The People still own our government. And the way
our ownership and management of our common government (and its assets) is
asserted is through the vote.
On most levels,
privatization is only a "small sin" against democracy. Turning a
nation's or community's water, septic, roadway, prisons, airwaves, or health
care commons over to private corporations has so far demonstrably degraded the
quality of life for average citizens and enriched a few of the most powerful
campaign contributors. But it hasn't been the end of democracy (although some
wonder about what the FCC is preparing to do---but that's a separate story).
Many citizens believe,
however, that turning the programming and maintenance of voting over to private,
for-profit corporations, answerable only to their owners, officers, and
stockholders, puts democracy itself at peril.
And, argues Charlie Matulka,
for a former officer of one of those corporations to then place himself into an
election without disclosing such an apparent conflict of interest is to create a
parody of democracy.
Perhaps Matulka's been
reading too many conspiracy theory tracts. Or maybe he's on to something. We
won't know until a truly independent government agency looks into the matter.
When Bev Harris and The
Hill's Alexander Bolton pressed the Chief Counsel and Director of the Senate
Ethics Committee, the man responsible for ensuring that FEC disclosures are
complete, asking him why he'd not questioned Hagel's 1995, 1996, and 2001
failures to disclose the details of his ownership in the company that owned the
voting machine company when he ran for the Senate, the Director reportedly met
with Hagel's office on Friday, January 25, 2003 and Monday, January 27, 2003.
After the second meeting, on the afternoon of January 27th, the Director of the
Senate Ethics Committee resigned his job.
Meanwhile, back in
Nebraska, Charlie Matulka had requested a hand count of the vote in the election
he lost to Hagel. He just learned his request was denied because, he said,
Nebraska has a just-passed law that prohibits government-employee election
workers from looking at the ballots, even in a recount. The only machines
permitted to count votes in Nebraska, he said, are those made and programmed by
the corporation formerly run by Hagel.
Matulka shared his news
with me, then sighed loud and long on the phone, as if he were watching his
children's future evaporate.
"If you want to win
the election," he finally said, "just control the machines."
Thom Hartmann is the author
of Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human
This article is copyright by Thom Hartmann, but permission is granted for
reprint in print, email, or web media so long as this credit is attached.
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