Guest Commentary

When Arizonans go to the polls, will our votes really count?

Voting time is nearly upon us here in the great state of Arizona, and again it is time to ask a bothersome question: Will your vote count? Or, more to the point, who will count it?

This year's primary season has provided the usual orgiastic media spectacle, with legions of pundejos (a handy cross between "pundits" and "pendejos") breathlessly proclaiming pre-emptive nonsense. (Memo to Wolf Blitzkrieg and his carefully coifed peers: Iowa and New Hampshire represent a grand total of 2.2 percent of all delegates awarded in the primaries--so relax!)

Well, here are some questions the pundejos have studiously ignored, questions that are far more important than Hillary's sniffles in a cramped coffee shop or Obama's tokes during the dark days of his youth. Did you know that one company, LHS Associates, has an exclusive contract to maintain, repair and replace the voting machines upon which 81 percent of New Hampshire's primary votes were counted (as noted by Black Box Voting's Bev Harris)? And did you know that the resumé of a key player in this company, marketing and sales director Ken Hajjar, sports a conviction for trafficking narcotics? How about the fact that Mr. Hajjar and other LHS employees see no problem driving around with memory cards for Diebold electronic voting machines in the trunks of their cars and swapping them out in the middle of an election?

You wouldn't know any of this unless you spent time digging through the Web sites of citizens' groups such as Black Box Voting, Brad's Blog and others who are desperately trying to preserve our precious democracy (formerly the responsibility of the now-pointless pundejos).

Why would they swap the cards? Well, according to an investigative report in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, as many as 10 percent of the cards failed in some Florida counties in the 2006 election, a fact that Diebold has gone to great lengths to keep quiet. Why is swapping cards bad? These are the same cards that were infamously compromised in the HBO documentary Hacking Democracy (now available on DVD). The star of that show was Black Box Voting's Bev Harris, the proverbial "grandma in tennis shoes" who travels around filing public-records requests and videotaping her confrontations with nervous elections officials. Very entertaining.

Anyway, Bev and her band of pesky activists proved that you could pre-program the cards with negative and positive vote totals, pass a "zero test" showing that they're clean, cast votes and wind up with an erroneous result at the end of the day, all while leaving no trace of the hack. Swapping the cards is an opportunity to commit fraud, which is one reason why it's illegal in Connecticut, another of several states where LHS manages voting machines, a conflict to which Mr. Hajjar responded, according to the Brad Blog, as saying: "I don't follow every little law." Ya don't say?

At this point, you might think I'm going to cite polls that diverged wildly from results in New Hampshire and conclude that Hillary Clinton somehow benefited from a vast right-wing conspiracy. That's absolutely beside the point. The real point is that New Hampshire, like so many other states, has basically ceded the responsibility for the technical and security integrity of its electioneering to an unaccountable private contractor.

Compounding this insidious privatization dynamic is the fact that Diebold and other voting-technology companies have been caught in numerous lies regarding the accuracy and security of their products, while manufacturers, contractors and even elections departments have been conducting their vote-counting business in secret, ostensibly for security reasons. The real reasons tend more toward proprietary profit motives and ass-covering, but regardless, how are any of us supposed to know whether the results of vote-counting by electronic machines are accurate, when the private companies doing the work have proven their lack of integrity; the machines are utterly unreliable; and it's all done in secret?

You may know that here in Pima County, the Democratic Party, with some success, has been pestering the county to spread a little sunshine on the process. Kudos to them, and count me as a brand-new Democrat, with a capital D.

Now if only I could confidently count myself as a democrat with a small d ...

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