Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why Bother, One Asks?

I remember the first conversation I had with my parents about voting. I was just turning eighteen, had no interest in politics or politicians and was planning on sitting the whole thing out. My mistake, apparently, was mentioning this out loud. This horrified my mother, whose parental generation were the ones fighting and dying in the second world war, the generation that the war physically touched, whether they had enlisted or not, and had friends and relatives and entire neighbouring families wiped out whilst in the "safety" of their own homes. "By God'n you'll vote!" she said, almost threateningly.

For her generation, the vote is a sacred voice. Civic duty. She comes from a time when the wounds of war were still fresh and when the very real loss of liberties and rights were a puddle away. Really. The French channel is so small that people can swim from one end to the other. Oh sure, people like to crow these days about how the fighting forces are "defending our freedom", but they really aren't. Our freedoms aren't being threatened. At least, not by an exterior force.

Well, some time has passed since those heady bygone days, when I wore a younger man's clothes. Many things have changed, I certainly respect my parents a lot more and I no longer believe they're the reactionary fools who just "don't get it". But one thing hasn't changed; I'm still not voting.

What happened the first and only time I exercised my civic duty? I voted for Tony Blair, and look what happened. Talk about leaving a bad taste in your mouth.

I'm often asked when I'm going to become a citizen, particularly now I'm well past that period where I'm not allowed to apply. Oh sure, I could claim test anxiety. I could claim that my British citizenship is more important to me. The real reason is this: As a permanent resident, which is the position I hold now and one that automatically renews and doesn't expire, there are very few things that you can do as a citizen that I'm not allowed to. I can't be charged and convicted of a federal crime or I'll be deported, I'm not eligable to work for the government (including VOA) and I'm not allowed to vote. Other than that, you and I are exactly alike. I pay taxes. I was blackmailed into registering for draft eligability. Everything you can do, I can do sexier. Except vote. And therein lies the rub.

The question is 'why bother'? I mean, really. I could go on and on about how the way the 2000 election was handled was an utter embarrasment and made me trust the American electoral system in the same way that the Rodney King trial helped me to trust the American judicial system, but that's practically ancient history. What scares me is electronic voting machines. Regular reader(s) will know that I'm a huge fan of technology and that I'm utterly thrilled to be enjoying the bountiful pleasures of the twenty-first century. Who now would want to live without wi-fi, TiVo, the ability to make phone calls wherever you please? Only nutjob survivalists and fans of the Victorian era! The two-thousands rawk, make no mistake. But when it comes to something that's supposed to be so important, simplicity is king. It's a whole lot more difficult for someone to get cheeky and mess with twenty thousand individual ballot papers, to re-punch a hole or rub out a check mark and put it somewhere else, than it is for someone with a working knowledge of "e-voting machines", a USB keydrive and a political agenda to make things swing his way. And it only takes seconds. Less time than it took Ferris Beuller to change his grades to 'A's.

When you've got the CEO of the company that makes voting machines saying at the last general election, ''I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year'', how can one NOT be suspicious? A CEO's job is to deliver the company line. He IS the company. How can one have hope that something didn't go on in a state (and maybe beyond) that was known to be vital to both sides' victory, particularly amidst claims of huge differences in the straw polls and the final numbers, and other irregularities, when the CEO of the company that makes the voting machines says that he is committed to delivering such an important state. That's almost an admission of guilt.

One would hope that the debacle of 04 in Ohio would be enough warning for the rest of the country to steer clear of something so inherantly tamperable, but no. My own home state of West Virginia has since adopted the machines for this election cycle, with great success.

voters say electronic voting machines changed their votes from Democrats to Republicans when they cast early ballots last week.

This is the second West Virginia county where voters have reported this problem. Last week, three voters in Jackson County told The Charleston Gazette their electronic vote for "Barack Obama" kept flipping to "John McCain."

Shelba Ketchum, a 69-year-old nurse retired from Thomas Memorial Hospital, described what happened Friday at the Putnam County Courthouse in Winfield.

"I pushed buttons and they all came up Republican," she said. "I hit Obama and it switched to McCain. I am really concerned about that.

Bobbi Oates of Scott Depot said her vote for incumbent Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller was switched to GOP opponent Jay Wolfe.


Well, at least the good news is that the organisers are confident that this very obvious problem with the software and/or hardware can be fixed before anything else happens.

"People make mistakes more than machines," said Jackson County Clerk Jeff Waybright.
...oh. OK, so let's recap. The voting machine are changing people's votes. But it's not the machine's fault, it's the people who are voting wrong. Gotcha.

So with that in mind... why bother? I mean, really. If it's already decided, why spend the hours on end queueing that are being predicted when the machine, owned by a company that is ''committed to helping [state] deliver its electoral votes to [candidate]", will tell me who I'm supposed to be voting for?

Nah. Keep it.


All Click said...

Isn't this incredibly worrying? Yet hasn't really seemed to gather much interest. Which makes me worry more.

Do you know that you won't even be allowed near the voting building if you can't vote? I doubt I will become a "citizen" but if you did you get to keep both citizenships :-) If you still want them, that is.

Chris James said...

I voted early and it all checked out.

Although the machine did print out free coupons for WalMart whenever I voted for a Republican...

RedZeppelin said...

Although I do agree with your folks that voting is a civic duty, that's not why I vote. I'm a firm believer in the "If you don't vote then STFU" philosophy. So for me, voting is a license to gripe about politicians for which I didn't vote.