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The system is rigged: Steven Freeman.

Stealing Democracy

‘What can we do other than go out and start a civil war against all these Republican shitheads?” asks an otherwise demure Albany grandma. She has just finished watching Truth in the Booth, a documentary about the alleged 2004 election rigging.

“It wasn’t just Republicans,” a cooler head reminds her. “Democrats refused to investigate.”

“Well, then,” she concludes, “kill them all!”

The couple are sitting with 30 other people, gathered together Saturday (June 2) in the Bethlehem Town Hall to take part in a panel discussion centered on the question: Was the 2004 election stolen? The popular consensus in this crowd is a resounding ‘yes’, which leads to the second question: What can be done to ensure it won’t happen again?

Why would you vote on a computer that can be rigged without detection? You wouldn’t. At least, you wouldn’t want to. But since 2000, argues Steven Freeman, professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Was the 2004 Election Stolen? Exit Polls, Election Fraud and the Official Count, that is exactly what the people in 49 states have been doing—voting on machines that, with a simple software hack, can be seized and manipulated by anyone with brief access. These states have invested in computerized voting systems, operating on the proprietary software of private corporations. New York has until 2008 to decide if it will make the same investment.

“In India, when they tried to institute democracy,” Freeman says, “as you might imagine, there was some resistance to that idea. What happened in many villages in the country is that the upper caste, the Brahmans, were a little uneasy about allowing the lowest caste, the Untouchables, to vote.” So instead of allowing the Untouchables to vote themselves, the Brahmans would ask the Untouchables who they wanted to vote for and then they would fill out the ballot for them.

“As you might imagine, there are some problems with that system. The Brahman might make a mistake. They might not hear right. Or they may have different interests, and no matter what the Untouchable says the Brahman will cast the vote the way they think it ought to be cast. Obviously, that is a system that we would find unacceptable, right?” He pauses. “Well, in fact, that is the system we have in this country now. A person goes into a box, presses a button, and something happens in a million lines of proprietary code and out comes a vote. As cast or not, but we have no way to know.”

That would be bad enough, he says. But what makes it devastating is that three private companies control the software accounting for 80 percent of the votes in this country. The former chairman of the largest of these companies, Diebold, was a member of President George W. Bush’s Rangers and Pioneers, a wealthy group of business and political leaders who raised funds for Bush’s 2000 and 2004 election bids.

“The former leader of the second biggest company is now a U.S. Senator—Republican Chuck Hagel from Nebraska,” Freeman says, “who won two upset victories where his own company counted the votes.”

“Can elections be stolen?” he asks. “There is virtually no debate on the subject. Yes, elections can be stolen and they can be stolen easily. . . . It comes down to two lines of code.”

But have elections been stolen? There is more disagreement on this matter. For Freeman, there is no question. He bases his opinion on the nine months of research he invested to write his book, comparing the exit polls from the 2004 election to the “official” results.

“The history of exit polls, up until 2000, the big debate was that these things are too accurate. They let the press know who won the election before the polls closed,” he says, pointing as an example to the 1980 presidential race between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter in which Carter conceded the race to Reagan based purely on the exit-poll results coming out of the western states.

Exit polls are also used in other countries for election-result-verification purposes, he points out. “But, all of a sudden, in 2004, they don’t work anymore.”

In 2004, where votes were counted by machine there was a 7-percent disparity between how the people said they voted in the exit polls and the official results.

“If people in fact voted as they said they did” in exit polling, he says, “George Bush did not win nationwide by three million votes, but rather lost by six million.”

In Ohio alone, there was a 12-percentage-point disparity. In states where votes were counted by hand, however, there was no disparity at all.

“Zero,” he says.

The conclusion for Freeman is glaring: Election rigging in electronic-voting systems is a simple reality. It can happen and it has. So what can be done about it?

“Voting is just the minimum requirement for democratic behavior. Democratic behavior implies learning, understanding, and this kind of thing,” he says, gesturing around himself to the gathered. “Organize, organize, organize.”

—Chet Hardin

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