“It’s Magic”: Prestidigitation and Other Ways to Steal an Election

(photo: bryankennedy / flickr)

(from Billionaires & Ballot Bandits by Greg Palast with an Introduction by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and Comics by Ted Rall)

Here’s an easy way to spoil a vote: digitize it . . . then lose the digits.

Prestidigitation is the French-derived term for conjury, legerdemain, sleight-of-hand, presto-change-o hand-jive, disappearing trickery . . . or, in the language of Karl Rove, “Helping America Vote.”

Following what the media called the “Florida debacle,” the winners of the debacle agreed to “reform” the voting system. So the Bush administration proposed and Congress passed the Help America Vote Act.

The best way to prevent voting reform is to pass a voting reform bill—especially if it’s written by the folks that helped themselves to your vote in the first place.

The Help America Vote Act is not the most Orwellian named, satanic law ever passed by Congress, but it tries. To avoid ballots with hanging chads, the law simply does away with ballots, providing about $4 billion in subsidies for Direct Recording Equipment (DREs), better known as “computer ballots” or “black box voting.”

PRESTIDIGITIZING: The art of making votes vanish into the ether by employing paperless computer “DREs,” direct recording devices, or “black boxes.”
Not to be confused with votes changed via sophisticated software hacking, simple “glitches” that caused the computers to break down or simply fail to record the vote caused over half a million (546,000) votes to disappear in 2008. In 2012, expect even more to vanish.
This little-glitch-here, little- glitch-there pattern has the odd attribute that it occurs 491 percent more often in Hispanic precincts than white precincts, and in black precincts it’s worse.
Presto! And it’s gone!

Computer voting machines have a lot in common with slot machines in Vegas. You pull the lever and the result is, you hope, a happy one. Except that slot machines are scrupulously honest, well regulated, and operate properly and transparently.

Now, you’re probably expecting me to tear off into a screed about how easy it is to fiddle with a computerized voting machine (it is), how there’s rarely a “paper trail” to verify your vote (there isn’t one), how the software can be hacked, cracked, hijacked, and name Donald Duck to Congress or Chuck Hagel to the US Senate. (Republican Senator Hagel, who founded the biggest voting machine company, ES&S, was elected with an astonishing number of African American votes, his skeptical Democratic opponent told me, right after his machines were installed. Obviously, a sore loser. Or sore winner. We’ll never know which.)

I once suggested to President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela that if he didn’t like US foreign policy, he should buy into a voting machine company. So, his buddies did just that.

But I’m not going to talk about the vulnerability of these “black box” machines to hacking and unknown software manipulation. [cont’d.]

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