Machine Politics

A few years ago, when computerized voting devices came into use, some software professionals reviewed the devices and their software and found them deficient.  There is a YouTube video about finagling a particular brand of voting machine with a hardware change.  New York missed out on this: state law requires that all of the candidates and issues on a ballot appear on a single page, and so we have paper ballots and scanners, which are really clunky, but seem to work.

I’m not a software jock, but I know something about computers.  Given a couple of days, I could write a functional emulation of one of the old mechanical voting machines for a Windows PC.  You’d have to partition the ballot to make it readable on the screen, but other than that, it would work.  It wouldn’t be certifiably bomb-proof, but in the hands of professionals, it could be used to run a real election.

After the November elections, reports surfaced that many districts in Pennsylvania and Ohio recorded not a single vote for Romney.  In other districts, the number of votes recorded exceeded the number of actual voters.  There were scattered reports of people who were clearly not from the area (out in rural areas where people presumably know each other) appearing in significant numbers to vote.  There were also reports of people being unable to vote for Romney in that the machine would change their vote to Obama.

None of these events was reported widely in the media, but then again, when the votes from the 2000 election in Florida were counted a few months later, Al Gore would have one, and that story was buried, too.

I’m beginning to believe that the complaints about deficient software and hackable voting machines may be misplaced.  The software in an election device may be imperfect—is there ever such a thing as perfect software?—but running an honest election is really simple stuff.

But what if the election authorities, or someone behind them, didn’t want to run an honest election?

In another time, I would have considered the thought preposterous.  But if someone did want to run a corrupt election, voting machines would be just one tool among many.  And whatever software certifications the machines might have had are beside the point.  No machine is incorruptible, if you want to corrupt it badly enough.

But why?  And why has the mainstream media reported nothing about this?

4 thoughts on “Machine Politics”

  1. I often wonder since 2000 how many presidents were elected not by us but by someone else. Sounds cynical but I remember how unpopular Bush was in 2004 yet he got re-elected. Obama wasn’t as unpopular as Bush seemed to be, but I knew a lot of people who hated him (and they were Democrats). I don’t think Romney would have won because he was a weak candidate without a lot of people behind him unlike Bush or Obama.

  2. There’s an old acronym in the computer industry: GIGO, for garbage in, garbage out. It should be relatively easy to use software to “rig” an election just through faulty touchscreens or simply having the totalizer fail to register every Nth vote for a particular candidate. I think that Rolling Stone did an article on this years ago.

    There was a lot of discussion over “voter suppression” because people had to get photo ID in some states to vote. I’d pay a one-time tax of $10 or whatever the fee is in a given state to fund low-income IDs. It might need to be an annual tax of $2 or so because there will be a need for renewals. It’s interesting that some states have gone to mail-in ballots. Oregon is mail-in ballot only, and Colorado gives you the option for a mail-in ballot.

    One of Romney’s more interesting comments is that Obama won because of “gifts” that he gave to lower-income people. New Wave Princess will probably be scandalized to learn that people with three children who earn between $12,750 and $16,700 can get a fully refundable earned income tax credit of $5751. Unlike the child tax credit, the earned income tax credit is fully refundable. A family of four will have no federal income tax liability in this range, so they don’t qualify for the child tax credit, but do qualify for the earned income tax credit. If you are single and have no children, the most that you can get from the earned income tax credit is $464, good for incomes between $6000 and $7600. These are 2011 income levels, but they won’t change that much for 2012 returns.

    Colorado began offering Medicaid to single people without children in 2012. However, you’re limited to $175 per month in income and there is a cap of 10,000 people who are covered. There is a waiting list, but if someone no longer qualifies and is dropped from Medicaid, it is a lottery to pick who gets covered next, not the person who has been waiting longest. I could see triage as a way of determining who gets covered next by taking the sickest person or someone who has chronic illness.

    Consider the possibility that people just don’t want to know. As long as they have their creature comforts, many people are disinclined to be curious about anything outside of their immediate concerns. For a long time, the power of the President was that of the bully pulpit. More recently, we have seen a move toward the Executive Branch seeking power that the Constitution does not give it.

  3. I have heard about that Earned Income and think it is a problem when people get more than they pay in taxes. Sadly though having worked in Illinois politics I have seen this often. I’d just like to know how someone can raise three kids on that amount of money but I assume how they can do so. In Illinois single people don’t qualify for Medicaid except I think in emergency cases but if that did happen it would require more taxes. I am waiting to see what happens with Obamacare in Illinois.

  4. The logic behind the earned income credit is that the payment is supposed to bring the person above the poverty level in return for working rather than being on welfare.

    A somewhat amusing fact about tax returns is that something like five million fewer dependents than expected were declared the year that the IRS began requiring Social Security numbers for dependents. The number might have been larger, but even in 1994 when I worked part-time as a tax preparer, who got to take the children as dependents this year was a topic of dispute between unmarried people.

    Where people go wrong in claiming the earned income tax credit is by failing to LIVE with the child or children for at least half the year. This is necessary to qualify for the earned income tax credit. If one is divorced and paying child support, they might qualify to take the child or children as dependents, and so get a lower tax rate as a head of household, but wouldn’t qualify for the EITC. The custodial parent might, but it would be based on their earned income.

    One reason that I am willing to pay a small tax or have the cost of my state-issued ID increased to subsidize low-income IDs is to allow addresses to be collected and crosswalked as a way to discover welfare and tax fraud of this nature.

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