Over the weekend, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen took the courageous step of decertifying Diebold Hart and Sequoia electronic voting machines. She did this after an exhaustive study by the University of California that demonstrated clearly the violability of such machines. In short, she acted to assure when we vote for president beginning with the primary on February 5 and then finally in November of next year, we'll know that our votes are counted.
This makes perfect sense to me. As 2,000 Californians have said in the last four days in a Courage Campaign petition supporting the Secretary of State's review, if we have time to vote, we damn well want those officials to count our votes. Democracy is far too fragile to allow doubt of any sort to enter the minds of an electorate already weary of manipulations by media and money. (Over at Brad Blog, you'll see that even Lou Dobbs' asserts that Bowen is right on target.)
Then there's the Sacramento Bee's Dan Walter's who thinks what Secretary Bowen did makes no sense, principally because he is fundamentally confused about the concepts of public trust versus crime and punishment. In today's column, Mr. Walters says that "Secretary of State Debra Bowen, a lawyer by trade, should reread that (the reasonable doubt) section of the Penal Code. She cast aside the principle of reasonable doubt when she tried and convicted electronic voting system manufacturers of making unsecure devices."
Mr. Walters misses the point, no doubt purposefully. He uses his ideological bias (he says that Bowen's appointed Republican successor certified Diebold machines, so it must be okay) to assert that those who worry about voter fraud or at least worry about lack of transparency in the process when electronic machines are involved are somehow "conspiracy theorists... akin to--and about as rational as -those who worry about an invasion of space aliens in flying saucers."
So let's be clear: the University of California, one of the most respected institutions of higher learning in the world, has concluded that Diebold machines are hackable. In short, UC confirms the lack of trust in the system that many voters have had for years. Yet Mr. Walters concludes that UC's process would somehow similarly prove the existence of flying saucers.
It gets even worse. In impugning an open, transparent and fully accessible set of data from an exhaustive set of studies, Mr. Walters states that California's top elections official should wait for an actual crime to be committed, even though we now know clearly that a crime easily can be committed against the most sacred right in democracy: voting. In short, it's okay if votes can be stolen via Diebold machines. Mr. Walters thinks that the concept of crime prevention is the same thing as the concept of judgment at trial after the crime has been committed.
If we follow Mr. Walters' logic, we should not inspect luggage or people at airports because by so doing we are judging everyone guilty of a crime. Or perhaps Mr. Walters would assert that to force an audience through metal detectors at an event at which Mr. Bush is appearing would be to imply that we are all guilty of some horrible crime. And maybe Mr. Walters would like to demand that we have no border controls at all because to do so would imply that everyone trying to cross the border in either direction is guilty a priori of an illegal crossing.
California is the largest state in the union. We may tire of having that repeated, but it's a key point here. When California takes an action, the rest of the country notices and quite often follows. Perhaps Mr. Walters fears that by undergoing an open, clear and demanding process to protect votes in advance of them being cast, somehow other states or even the nation will do likewise. Maybe Mr. Walters would prefer to have doubt reign in the sphere of vote counting. That would likely suppress voter turnout because people already concerned about manipulation by large media conglomerates might have another excuse to stay home. "After all, if they are not going to count my vote, why bother?"
Surely Mr. Walters would not want to do anything to make it more possible for a few to decide the fate of the many in our state or our country. At least I hope not. Mr. Walters concludes his column by quoting a reliable source on this entire issue, Mr. Dave Byrd, the president of Diebold Election Systems, who says, "Secretary Bowen's top-to-bottom review was designed to ignore security procedures that are used during every election."
So let's think about this: Mr. Walters seems to think that the very vendor that has hundreds of millions of dollars at stake is more reliable than dispassionate University of California. Hmmm... Diebold or UC. Whom to trust? The choice is clear for Mr. Walters. It's also clear for me.
I remember when tobacco executives literally swore on the bible before congress that they had no knowledge that cigarettes cause cancer and that the idea of putting nicotine in cigarettes was somehow never designed to addict people. But then there was a memo that contradicted all of that. And oh yeah, the surgeon general warned people that smoking might kill them, even though the courts at that time had never once ruled that cigarettes cause cancer.
Mr. Walters probably thinks that it's best to leave these weighty decisions to leaders like Diebold's Mr. Byrd. If Mr. Walters smokes cigarettes, I hope he doesn't read that nasty little warning label. After all, a puff of smoke might not hurt him at all. He'll want to wait until he's sick before imagining there's a problem.
Debra Bowen did the right thing and of course entrenched conservative interests, such as those representedy by Mr. Walters, don't like it. She knows the system of electronic voting machines is already sick. As any sound-minded public official would do, she gathered information, made a public report and then took a stand to defend democracy. Thanks to Debra Bowen for standing up for the voters. And thanks to Mr. Walters for underscoring why she had to.