Friday, April 15, 2005

Will Machines Defend Democracy?

by Kyle Michaelis
Thursday, former State Sen. Don Eret took his case to court challenging the constitutionality of a 2002 legislative provision that prohibits hand recounts in Nebraska counties that use voting machines for their original tally.

The relevant portion of the bill, LB 1054, reads:
The procedures for the recounting of ballots shall be the same as those used for the counting of ballots on election day...Counties counting ballots by using a vote counting device shall first recount the ballots by use of the device. If substantial changes are found, the ballots shall then be counted using such device in any precinct which might reflect a substantial change.
I'm not sure of the constitutionality of this law, but its logic is certainly lacking. The original statute was perfectly fine calling for manual recounts where it above insists on "using such device." Coming in the wake of the 2000 Florida recount, I appreciate the Legislature's seeking to clarify state law, but what the hell were they thinking putting the entire weight of our democracy on machines, especially, as this law dictates, in those situations when the same machines' original counts have already proven defective?

Is this not the very height of absurdity? It's like sending an appeal of a court decision on the basis of a judge's incompetence back to that very same judge to decide - except worse because humans, in theory, can see the error of their ways.

Is this what we've come to - we'll put our trust in broken machines before people with eyes and ears and the ability to reason? And really, let's face it, we're actually putting our faith in the corporations that programmed these vote machines, as if they were infallible, rather than trusting our friends and neighbors on an election commission to do their job honorably and with competence. How can democracy thrive when we're more willing to accept errors by machines without accountability or oversight rather than trusting real live people in a system subject to both?

Of course, human error is real and it's a problem, as evidenced by the fact that this ridiculous change ever got passed by the State Senate and signed by Governor Johanns. Maybe they were on to something. If the machines can count our votes so much better, it's hard to believe they couldn't do a better job than this crafting responsible and sensible legislation.

Hell, who needs Skynet when we can have President IBM?


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