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Stateside: Miss Feasance And Her Brother Mal

Stateside with Rosalea

Miss Feasance And Her Brother Mal

The Bush administration should institute the draft. Oh, I'm sorry - there already *is* one? Of course, silly me - it's called "unemployment". Poor kids fresh out of high school enlist with an eye to learning a trade or getting a leg-up on college tuition and get blown to bits in Iraq while Bush stumps around the country raising millions in campaign funds. It's disgusting.

Unsurprisingly, the leading Democratic presidential candidate, Howard Dean, has said he's going to abandon campaign finance limits and be another pig at the contribution trough. His supporters voted to have him do that because they think that's the only way he'll win. Why doesn't he call for the draft and show a bit of spine? Oh, his supporters wouldn't vote for that, most of them being draftable age or with children who are? And middle class.

That's that then. The US will continue to be undermanned for the task it invented for itself in Iraq because there's an election coming up, because there's an election coming up and a draft would be unpopular. And, no, I didn't repeat myself by mistake in the previous sentence.

Where's Walter Karp when you need him? Dead, of course, but Harper's magazine is issuing a four-book retrospective of his work for $40 so there's no excuse for not having The Politics of War, Buried Alive, Indispensable Enemies, and Liberty Under Siege: American Politics, 1976-1988 on your bookshelf. Karp died young in 1989.

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Okay, I've got an excuse - I don't have $40 - but I did find The Politcs of War at the local library and it has probably explained more about this country's politics and foreign policy than anything else I've read. Mind you, I'd already been softened up for the message, having quite independently come to the conclusion that for fifty independent states to be perceived as speaking with one voice in the world, something had to give.

And that something was democracy. You only have to look at the European Union to see what truly independent voices trying to come to an agreement looks like. No wonder the Founding Fathers opted for a republic. But they also envisioned a nation that didn't have an aggressive foreign policy. That has changed since 1894, when the Democrats and Republicans, worried that they were losing voters to the Populist Party, leveraged a dispute in South America into an international crisis in order to get themselves elected.

Which is why the kerfuffle about the integrity or otherwise of electronic voting machines has not interested me one bit. Elections in the US are just a giant parlour game, kept going in order to keep the populace amused - the ultimate bread and circus. Shonky election results are the least of the problems; in fact, undermining people's faith in the integrity of election results just serves the purpose of the vote-shapers, who've been practising their craft for over a century.

Still, since the topic seems to be a hot one, I recently went to a public meeting about voting options. The speaker was a university professor whose work formed the basis of the last-minute appeal against the recent recall election in California, in which it was said that the use of punch card voting machines disenfranchised voters because punch cards are unreliable.

At the meeting, Prof. Brady said of punch card voting machines: "I'd do anything to get rid of them." Seemingly he would. His presentation had some graphs of figures from his research showing how unreliable punch card results were by comparison with "non-punch" systems of collecting votes. One sharp-eyed member of the audience pointed out that he had (very accurate) Ventura County's punch card results over on the "non-punch" side.

Let me back up a bit. Brady started his talk by saying that most errors in vote counting are due to misfeasance - mistakes - not malfeasance - fraud. All of the five types of voting system used in the US, he said, are open to errors and fraud at several points in the voting process, and even before the type of voting system comes into play - at the time of voter registration.

Quick overview: elections here are run at the county level and it is at that level that the voting system is decided: paper ballot (used by about 10 percent of US voters), lever (think Wizard of Oz behind a curtain pulling down levers), punch card (think Florida), optical scanning, and electronic. The steps to voting are: registering to vote, obtaining ballot access (for example, on the day of voting at the polling place), having your vote recorded, having your vote counted.

Whoa! Steady up, there. "Think Florida" in connection with punch cards is what people like Brady want you to think. The problem with those punch cards is that they don't have anything on them apart from numbers to check if you've voted correctly, and when there are sometimes fifty races on a single ballot that makes it extremeley unlikely that individuals will check their vote.

Ventura County, on the other hand, has punch cards that are printed with the names and measures you're voting on, making it easy to verify that you've punched a hole in the right place. This method of voting is every bit as accurate as electronic voting supposedly is, which is why Ventura's little bar graph didn't look at all out of place over on the "non-punch" side of the slide Brady was showing.

Well, all hell broke loose when this was pointed out. At first he tried to imply that the audience was stupid - hadn't he told us several slides back that when he used the term "punch card" he meant numbered punch cards only? Nonetheless, the querulous woman in the audience insisted that the good results for Ventura County didn't belong over on the side that said "non-punch".

Then he said that it was a mistake and that it didn't matter. "It matters if you presented that data in a court of law," said another member of the audience, referring to the recent court case trying to stop the recall election. To which the good professor practically spat in reply: "It's a mistake. It's misfeasance. Not malfeasance."

You have to wonder if Brady has got some sort of financial interest in the solution he proposes to the problem of voter fraud, which is to apply statistical analysis to election results in the same way that the Securities and Exchange Commission applies it to the stock market to see if there's any insider trading going on. He and his research team have already done such analysis, and they're ready to go if the idea catches on.

In short, his solution is to identify fraud by looking at the variance of an election result from the status quo. Just the kind of totalitarian solution the Republocrats will love, since it meets the parlour game's critera of seeming to be democratic and concerned with honesty, while disallowing any variance from the established order.


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