Lyndon Hood - small-d democrat, Lower Hutt

Thursday, July 01, 2004

My Brother Became Governor of Florida and All He Got Me Was This Lousy Country

Since at least one reader appeared to be surprised by my bald assertions about corruption in the 2000 Presidential Ballot in Florida, I'll take the opening and explain myself. This has all been thrashed out elsewhere (not, of course, in US mainstream media), so I'll consider being brief.

The short answer to the question of where I got this is: Greg Palast (you can see his website or read the book for the gory details). Now, if you happened to think that Paul Krugman was a hack then, hoo boy. Palast has the strident, outraged tone, the bombardment of details building what's often a circumstantial case, that I used to think marked out the crusading left (apparently they call themselves progressives in the US). Then I discovered the crusading right writes like that as well.

Palast is also an actual investigative journalist - someone who goes and winkles out information rather than just asking the people in charge and then taking their word for it. Apparently he's also a leaked-memo magnet. His initial stuff on Florida ran on the BBC and in the Guardian. Much of it has been supported by the result of a court case brought by the NAACP and an investigation by the US Commission on Civil Rights.

And so to the rolls: Florida, under Governor Jeb "My Brother is a Presidential Candidate" Bush, privatised its electoral roll management. The successful company produced a list that it now admits was seriously flawed. For this it was paid a premium rate. First off, it excluded a goodly number of ex-felons from out of state who, according to the constitution, had the right to vote. Then there were people with the same names as ex-felons. And then there were a lot of other people. Mostly black. Running into the tens of thousands. People who, if they voted, would mostly vote Democrat. Gore, on the official count, lost Florida by 537 votes (the media-consortium recount is worth a look if you missed it the first time).

The whole incorrectly-completed-ballots thing (the thing that actually led to the President being elected by a supreme court vote) has a dodgy angle too. The higher spoiled-ballot percentages in poor, black counties, as opposed to rich, white ones, was noted at the time. The implicit conclusion was that voting was too hard for some people. One actual cause was that the Republican-county ballot spoilers were generally told to go back and have another go, while the black folks had their hanging chads accepted into the process to be voided later.

I recall a foreign leader saying that, what with the family connection and the controversy, if his country conducted an election like that the US would invade them. But, at least as far as the vote-casting goes, Florida was eventually forced to clean up its act by the NAACP court case and other scrutiny it received. However, that's been rendered irrelevant by the Helping America Vote Act.

Because the President's alarming "solution" to unprecedented electoral screwiness is to up the ante even further by encouraging electronic voting. There is nothing legitimate about this rise of the voting machines. The work on this is compiled at www.blackboxvoting.org and is regularly updated on scoop. The machines, and their Act, destroy any possibility of recounts, they are made by partisan companies (including, yes, a Democrat one), they are eminently hackable for easy, copious vote-rigging and it's not clear they work very well even when they're not tampered with. And so on. If that's free and open elections then I'm Ralph Nader.

Oh, and there's no real evidence the Florida roll's been fixed.

The leaders of the United States have clearly learned the lessons of Florida 2000. I'm sure they'll try to do much better next time. That's what worries me.