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Friday, August 27, 2004

Hood-lums 

One thing you have to admire about the Florida Republicans: they do not miss an angle. Glenda Hood replaced Katherine Harris as Secretary of State two years ago, and Ann Louise Bardach of Slate set out to tally all the improvements made to Florida's notoriously corrupt voting system since then. She came up with a round number of . . . . well, let's just say the number she came up with was quite, quite round:
Following the contentious 2000 recount, e-mails on former Sec. of State Katherine Harris' computer revealed that she had been in contact with Jeb Bush during the recount, contrary to both their claims. Miami Herald reporter Meg Laughlin discovered that e-mail messages sent to Jeb Bush from Harris had been deleted after the recount. Harris then had the operating system of her computer changed, a procedure that erased all its data. "What was odd about what she did," said Mark Seibel, an editor at the Herald, "was that they installed an old operating system—not a new one—which makes you wonder why they did it" . . . .

But rather than allay those doubts by selecting an election supervisor of unimpeachable integrity, Gov. Bush seems to have found an equal to Katherine Harris in Glenda Hood, the former Republican mayor of Orlando. True, Hood is not juggling Harris' other job—state chairman for George W. Bush's campaign—but she has done little to assure Floridians that all the votes will be counted this time around.

For one, Hood and Jeb Bush have strongly endorsed the state's Republican-controlled legislature's new rule that outlaws manual recounts. This means that if any of the new optical-scan or touch-screen machines fail—as they did in the 2002 elections; and the recent March primaries; and just last week, when a backup system failed in a test run in Miami-Dade—there will be no recourse for counting votes. A coalition of election-reform groups has challenged this rule, and Rep. Robert Wexler of Palm Beach sued in federal court after a state appeals court dismissed the matter, ruling that while the right to vote is guaranteed, a perfect voting system is not.

To the embarrassment of Hood and Jeb Bush, even the state's Republican Party has voiced its doubts about the electronic voting system. A flier disseminated last month by the party, featuring a picture of a smiling President Bush striking a thumbs-up sign, urged Republicans living in Miami-Dade County to vote by absentee ballot even if they will be home on Election Day. "Make sure your vote counts," read the flier. "Order your absentee ballot today.'' Now many Democrats also believe that the only safe vote is an absentee ballot vote.

But it is in the "low-tech area" of absentee ballots, as Miami Herald columnist Jim DeFede puts it, "that things get really funky." Most critically, Hood and Gov. Bush have championed a new state law that abolishes Florida's longtime requirement that absentee ballots be witnessed. While some other states, like California, do not require witnesses, no state has Florida's history of institutional vote fraud.
And please -- don't get us started on the felon purges . . . .

UPDATE (8/27): David Corn of The Nation reports that the manufacturers of paperless voting machines have a special way of making friends wherever they go:
At a time when there is much controversy over electronic voting and some election experts are raising concerns about the integrity of such voting, should the leading manufacturers of electronic voting machines be wining and dining state and local officials responsible for conducting elections? Well, they are.

This week, scores of elections officials from across the country have gathered in Washington for a conference sponsored by the Election Center. A Houston-based nonprofit, the Election Center is an organization for government employees responsible for voter registration and elections administration--such as voter registrars, elections supervisors, city clerks, state election directors, and secretaries of state . . . . And to impress the local officials at the conference, three leading manufacturers of voting machines have been paying to make sure the attendees--the government employees who decide what voting machines are purchased--have a swell time.

According to the center's program for the conference, the conference's welcoming reception on August 26 was underwritten by Diebold Election Systems. The next day, a scheduled "Dinner Cruise on the Potomac and Monuments by Night Tour" was cosponsored by Sequoia Voting Systems. And Election Systems and Software (ES&S) agreed to pick up the tab for the final day's "Graduation Luncheon and Awards Ceremony."

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