In a few days, Barack Obama will be sworn in as our 44th president. Some see this as a vindication of our electoral system and American democracy -- "conspiracy theorists" who warned that Republicans would very likely attempt to steal the election were proven wrong. We should all be grateful that the system worked.
I am grateful, but not to the system. I give thanks to Verified Voting, Common Cause, the Brennan Center, the National Campaign for Fair Elections, and all the other organizations, activists, and honest election officials who worked tirelessly to assure that the election would not be stolen. I am grateful to the foundations and individuals whose financial contributions made their work possible. For some, their efforts started as early as 2003.
New Jersey Democratic Congressman Rush Holt's May 2003 bill mandating that all voting machines have paper trails was a wake up call. Co-sponsored by 133 Democrats and 7 Republicans, the bill remained locked up in the House Administration Committee chaired by Ohio Republican Robert Ney; this ensured that it would never be enacted. It was clear that most Republicans did not want computerized votes to be verifiable.
Groups concerned with a clean election decided that the only hope was to educate Secretaries of State, who are responsible for the purchase of voting apparatus in their states, about the dangers of DRE (direct-recording electronic) voting machines which provide no paper trail. Thanks in large part to their efforts, by November 2008, numerous states including Illinois, California, and Oregon banned the use of paperless DRE machines and mandated that votes have to be verifiable. Optical scanners -- voters fill out paper ballots which are then scanned -- have been the most frequent replacement. Already by January 2007, Adam Cohen of the New York Times wrote that, "voting machines are one of the few areas recently in which a reform movement, in this case a truly grass-roots one made up largely of ordinary Americans, has not only made a huge difference -- it is also well on its way to winning." While the battle has not yet been won -- voters in seven states still vote exclusively on paperless DRE machines, and in another dozen states, some counties continue to use these machines --progress has indeed been significant.
NYU professor Marc Crispin Miller, environmental attorney and author Robert Kennedy Jr., Ohioans, attorney Bob Fitrakis and journalist Harvey Wasserman, as well as many professors of Computer Science including Johns Hopkins professor Aviel Rubin, have for years been writing and lecturing about how voting machines without paper trail facilitate stolen elections. There is almost universal agreement among them, that the 2004 presidential election was stolen in Ohio. In 2008, their research and concerns were corroborated by Stephen Spoonamore, a lifelong Republican, founder and former CEO of a company which works with major credit card companies and banks to run programs to detect fraud. According to Spoonamore, no bank would ever consent to using ATM machines as unreliable as the voting machines in use in much of the country. He is convinced that the 2004 Ohio election results which put Bush over the top were not credible because of voting machine irregularities favoring Republicans.
The information gathered and publicized by these individuals as well as pressure brought by organizations led previously skeptical media outlets such as the New York Times, and CNN -- commentator Lou Dobbs in particular -- to begin to warn of the danger of a stolen election. This served as a deterrent.
Voter fraud activists also deconstructed the "Acorn scandal" that Republicans were eager to focus on. They made it clear that while Acorn had acted irresponsibly in hiring some unqualified people to register voters, Mickey Mouse and other such registrants had been flagged by Acorn administrators and brought to the attention of voting officials. If any erroneous registrants remained their numbers were minute.
Computerized voting was not the only problem in the 2008 election. Organizations worked tirelessly around the country, but especially in swing states to prevent a large array of dirty tricks intended to prevent people from voting.
In Virginia, days before the election, robocalls misinformed hundreds of thousands of minority Democrats that due to heavy turnout Republicans would be voting on Tuesday and Democrats on Wednesday. Common Cause responded by recruiting actor/activist Danny Glover to tape a robocall alerting voters in more than 325,000 homes across Virginia and Pennsylvania about this misinformation campaign and telling them to go to the polls on Tuesday, November. 4.
Long before election day, the National Campaign for Fair Elections set up a toll free phone number -- publicized and used by all the organizations dealing with voter fraud -- to help victims of intimidation and suppression tactics. Many were told that if their homes were in foreclosure, or if they had unpaid bills they would not be allowed to vote and might even be arrested if they tried. Tens of thousands of voters were purged from state voter rolls because of "no match/no vote" laws which mandated that if for example an individual signed her name as Louise K. Morgan on her drivers license, but registered to vote as Louise Morgan, she would not be allowed to vote. Flyers at some universities claimed there would be undercover police officers at the polls on election day searching for voters who has outstanding warrants or parking tickets.
The lesson of the last three elections is that we must not take for granted that the electoral process will work, that the winner will gain office. We must continue to work for a voting system in which votes can be verified. Federal and state initiatives to criminalize deceptive practices need to be enacted. We must apply vigilance to every aspect of future elections.
President-Elect Obama was helped by the fact that he won by a large margin. The margin may not be as large in the next election. By focusing our efforts and media attention on the potential for stealing elections and working to prevent it, we can ensure that the real winner takes office.
Myriam Miedzian is the author of Boys Will Be Boys, and writes frequently on social and political issues. Her website is: www.myriammiedzian.com.