William Rivers Pitt: A Day of Chicken-Counting
A Day of Chicken-Counting
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Wednesday 06 September 2006
The Labor Day weekend is traditionally considered the starting gun for Congressional midterm races. The work to gain or hold seats has been going on for months, of course, but Labor Day is when everyone is supposed to start paying attention. Only 63 days remain until the votes are cast. Remember, remember the seventh of November.
Anyone reading the newspapers over this past weekend, however, may have been left with the inescapable sense that the outcome of these midterms is a fait accompli. The printing press punditry appears to have decided that the GOP is doomed, that the Democrats will at minimum regain control of the House of Representatives, if not the entire Congress. One could not turn around on Monday without bumping into an article predicting blood on the moon for the Republican Party.
The New York Times's article was titled "G.O.P. Seen to Be in Peril of Losing House," and read, "After a year of political turmoil, Republicans enter the fall campaign with their control of the House in serious jeopardy, the possibility of major losses in the Senate, and a national mood so unsettled that districts once considered safely Republican are now competitive, analysts and strategists in both parties say."
The Washington Post's headline was "More GOP Districts Counted as Vulnerable," and the article beneath read, "Facing the most difficult political environment since they took control of Congress in 1994, Republicans begin the final two months of the midterm campaign in growing danger of losing the House while fighting to preserve at best a slim majority in the Senate, according to strategists and officials in both parties. Over the summer, the political battlefield has expanded well beyond the roughly 20 GOP House seats originally thought to be vulnerable. Now some Republicans concede there may be almost twice as many districts from which Democrats could wrest the 15 additional seats they need to take control."
The Boston Globe's headline was "GOP Fears Rise as Election Nears," and the article read, "Republicans are beginning the final two months of a midterm campaign in growing danger of losing the House, while fighting to preserve a slim majority in the Senate, according to strategists and officials in both parties. The party is facing the most difficult environment since it took control of Congress in 1994. Over the summer, the political battlefield has expanded well beyond the roughly 20 GOP House seats that had been thought to be vulnerable. Now, some Republicans concede there may be almost twice that number of districts from which Democrats could wrest the 15 additional seats they need to take control."
CNN's web site carried a story titled "Voters Are Anti-Incumbent and Angry, New Poll Finds," which read, "Most Americans are angry about 'something' when it comes to how the country is run, and they are more likely than in previous years to vote for a challenger this November, a new poll suggests. A majority of Americans surveyed - and a higher percentage than recorded during the same time last year - said things in the United States are going 'badly.' Among this year's respondents, 29 percent said 'pretty badly' and 25 percent - up from 15 percent a month ago - answered 'very badly.' By comparison, 37 percent described the way things are going as 'fairly well,' and 9 percent answered 'very well.'"
Americans angry about "something?" You think? The economic health of the country is poor, the war in Iraq is an execrable disaster, the realization is growing that the war in Afghanistan is far from over, the city of New Orleans was washed away, personal freedoms have been stripped by NSA wiretaps, and the best this White House can do when they hear people complaining about all these "somethings" is to call anyone criticizing them fascist appeasers. The Republican-controlled Congress, for its part, has been on vacation for six years, showing up only to cut taxes for rich people while denuding the rights and freedoms we have enjoyed for 230 years.
So the pundits have decided the GOP is in deep trouble, and the numbers do seem to bear this out, but anyone who thinks these elections are a done deal should have their head examined by a whole team of specialists.
For starters, the GOP base is the single most motivated voting bloc in the country; if it starts raining live jaguars on November 7th, that base will still come out and vote. Midterm election turnout is always low, and is always a battle between the bases of the two main parties. The Democratic base is fired up, to be sure, but will have to eat its collective Wheaties to match the passion of the folks on the other side come voting time. The GOP's get-out-the-vote machine is far more efficient and effective than that of the Democrats, and the RNC has more money to throw into tight races.
And then, of course, there are the variables.
Recall, if you will, the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. John Kerry was slated to make his acceptance speech on the evening of July 29th. Hours before he took the podium, the White House made a dramatic announcement: a major terrorist had been captured in Pakistan.
"The timing of this announcement," wrote The New Republic magazine, "should be of particular interest to readers of The New Republic. Earlier this month, John B. Judis, Spencer Ackerman, and Massoud Ansari broke the story of how the Bush administration was pressuring Pakistani officials to apprehend high-value targets (HVTs) in time for the November elections - and in particular, to coincide with the Democratic National Convention. Although the capture took place in central Pakistan 'a few days back,' the announcement came just hours before John Kerry will give his acceptance speech in Boston."
Hm. Would the White House play politics with American terrorism fears in order to disrupt the midterm elections? Perish the thought.
Beyond that, sadly, are serious questions about the votes themselves.
Josef Stalin once famously remarked, "Those who cast the votes decide nothing, those who count the votes decide everything," and it is as true today as when he uttered it. Today, votes cast on electronic machines owned by companies like Diebold become the private property of whoever manufactured the equipment. Once a vote enters the software, it no longer belongs to the citizen who cast it. All too often, there is no paper trail after an election to verify the results.
This is, to say the least, lethal to any democratic process. It becomes all the more dangerous when these voting machines, either through poor craftsmanship or deliberate tampering, change the outcome of elections. Diebold machines, specifically, have been riddled with errors. Several institutions and organizations have performed exhaustive tests on Diebold equipment, and have comprehensively determined that they are not worth the paper the Help America Vote Act was printed on.
David Dill, professor of computer science at Stanford University, wrote in March of this year, "There is a rapidly expanding body of literature on the Internet about the 'stolen election of 2004,' and several books on election fraud have recently been written. More are in the works. Theories of widespread election fraud are highly debatable, to say the least. Some people enjoy that debate. I do not.
It encourages a sense of hopelessness and consumes energy that could instead be focused on long-term changes that could give us elections we can trust. The election fraud debate frames the problem incorrectly. The question should not be whether there is widespread election fraud. It should be: 'Why should we trust the results of elections?' It's not good enough that election results be accurate. We have to know they are accurate - and we don't."
The editorial board of the New York Times wrote on Tuesday, "A recent government report details enormous flaws in the election system in Ohio's biggest county, problems that may not be fixable before the 2008 election. Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, hired a consulting firm to review its election system. The county recently adopted Diebold electronic voting machines that produce a voter-verified paper record of every vote cast. The investigators compared the vote totals recorded on the machines after this year's primary with the paper records produced by the machines. The numbers should have been the same, but often there were large and unexplained discrepancies. The report also found that nearly 10 percent of the paper records were destroyed, blank, illegible, or otherwise compromised."
According to Diebold's web site, there are more than 130,000 of their electronic voting machines deployed across the United States. They are used in Iowa, California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, Colorado, Indiana and elsewhere. Many of the states with these machines have elections in November that will centrally determine whether the GOP can maintain its majority in congress. At this point, there is absolutely no reason to believe the counting of the votes in these states will be done with any kind of accuracy.
The pundits can prognosticate all they want about looming electoral catastrophe for the GOP. Anyone who counts these chickens before they hatch is a fool.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.