Sunday, December 07, 2003

Bev Harris interview

The best part from the excellent BuzzFlash Interview with Bev Harris:

" . . . we need a voting system that is in keeping with the vision of our founding fathers - and this is a public policy issue, not a computer issue. The most important thing that we keep forgetting is that the founders, especially Thomas Jefferson, felt that it was critical - not 'important,' but CRITICAL to democracy, to keep the vote directly in the hands of the people themselves. Any solution which requires us to trust a handful of experts will, sooner or later, result in the demise of our democracy.

That means we need to retain (and enforce) policies to tally the votes at the polls, in front of observers. In some countries, they let as many regular citizens as can fit in the room in to watch the physical counting.

It is this neighborhood tallying, and the open and public nature of it, that is the embodiment of democracy. We've been taking that away, and yet we wonder why people say 'it doesn't matter if I vote.' Here's a concept: Let's actually SEE our own vote (the real vote, not a video screen representation); let's count our votes before they leave our neighborhood; and let's invite everyone to watch the counting. Let's not remove the people from 'we, the people.'"

While the technological issues are vitally important - it is the abuse of technology which enables the fraud - it is even more important not to lose sight of the community aspects of voting and counting the votes. There is a big danger that the corporadoes turn voting into another consumer product, akin to online shopping, with voting done alone in front of a computer by a mouse click, and no more thought given to the process of voting or the tabulation of the votes, all of which is trusted to the good will of corporations with very particular political agendas and not an ounce of integrity. I don't want to sound like Heidegger or Foucault (or maybe I do), but there is a constant peril that we allow technology to 'solve' the problems of society, when of course the technology just hides the problems and usually makes them worse. Without getting too philosophical, there is something inherent in technology itself which is profoundly anti-democratic. In this particular case, the solution proposed by voting machines was essentially just a marketing opportunity for corporations who had technology that could be used in the voting process. As usual, the importance of making profits for individual corporations is allowed to take precedence over all other goals of society. The actual physical process of voting, and the physical process of counting the ballots in the presence of scrutineers from all interested parties, is vitally important both for the health of the ideals of democracy in society, and the certainty necessary to democracy that the count fairly reflects the will of the electorate. Even if the computer count is fair, once you sever the connection between the voting process and the electorate you have grievously injured democracy, and are well on the road to dictatorship. It's dumb to allow the self-interested greed of a few well-connected corporations to destroy democracy in order to make a few bucks.